Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Gettin’ In Dance

You can’t fly ‘em, if you can’t get in ‘em

A P-38 is head-high, so knowing where the boarding ladder is located is important. Without it, there's nothing a pilot can grab that will help him hoist himself up to the second floor. 
We all love to fly/drive something new. However, it often appears as if the most "interesting" vehicles require the most difficult dance moves to get into them. In fact, in some cases, the dance constitutes a test in which you have to prove yourself willing to contort your body into unnatural shapes to earn the right to fly/drive something out of the ordinary.

This thought came to mind as I was watching a student trying to insert himself into the front pit of my airplane. He hadn't learned the dance steps and was in danger of getting a charley horse, so I climbed up on the wing walk and demonstrated: left foot well up on the wing walk, hang onto the flying wires with your left hand, lay your right leg/knee horizontally on the cockpit edge, grab your right pant leg cuff with your right hand, and lift your foot into the cockpit. Don't lean on the rear wind screen. Step on the seat, learn far right, and bring the left leg in while avoiding the bottom of the top wing with your knee. Then wiggle down inside and breathe a sigh of relief. Easy, cheezy!

And then there's getting out, but we don't have space to discuss that here. The process flows more smoothly if you're silently singing, "You put your right foot in. You put your right foot out..."

Bottom line is that to a lot of edge-of-the-bell-shaped-curve aviators, the character of the airplane is somehow linked to the character of the boarding procedure. If an airplane is easy to get into, there's a high probability they won't find it interesting.

Take the J-3 Cub, for instance: Getting in either seat requires a full checkout by a qualified CFI or an official dance card that details every step of the proper choreography. Otherwise, you stand a chance of hurting yourself or the airplane. Or both. At the very least, done poorly you can severely damage your airport image: displaying a high klutz factor is never good for our public image. This is especially true in boarding a Cub's front seat, where your final seating position includes being folded up like a cheap pocketknife with the control stick hitting you in the chest. However, the knees-and-panel-in-your-face seating position somehow seems in character for the type, and the resulting flight is well worth the effort.

For whatever reason, when I think about vehicles and the feeling they engender while boarding, two totally disparate vehicles usually pop into mind. One was a 1942 M3A3 "Stuart" light tank (owning a Stuart was number one on my Christmas list, when I was 14, and again when I was 50, and again when I was…). To wiggle through the mail-slot opening of its front viewing port requires that you learn a salamander dance with a butt-squirming wiggle being the major move. It also helps if you're short, skinny and extraordinarily limber. Did I mention being skinny helps?


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