Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Trusting Souls

The heaviest load in aviation is flying someone else’s airplane

A vaguely hysterical voice inside my head literally screamed, "You have got to be kidding!" Or something much less PC. He would be in back where he not only couldn't control the airplane but couldn't see enough to even offer advice. Holy…!

I was dumbfounded! Not only was this their company prototype, but the only Sherpa in existence: the airplane upon which the company's future depended. And he wanted me to take off and land on a piece of soggy real estate that wasn't even suitable for a decent crash, must less a landing. I argued. He argued. He won. I did it. We survived. I was thankful.

Making that one landing totally reset my view of what a STOL airplane should fly like. I've never done anything as seemingly risky, or as easy, as that one takeoff and landing.

Except that the airplane totally managed the risk by being so good at what it does. I'm smiling, as I type this, because it was so much fun and said so much about an airplane. But, of course, Byron knew that or he wouldn't have let me attempt it.

I remember so clearly sliding down into Lloyd "Jim" Butler's Midget Mustang. But this wasn't just a homebuilt Midget Mustang. It had been an Oshkosh grand champion homebuilt two years in a row. And it was the only retractable- gear Midget Mustang extant. And it wasn't an airplane: It gave the appearance of being a solid ingot of aluminum that had been carefully hewn into the shape of an airplane, and then polished to an eye-shocking, flawless luster. And I was wildly intimidated during the whole flight: What if I dinged it? How quickly would I be able to dig a hole afterward and climb into it? The horrible weight of the responsibility permeated the flight. But it couldn't kill the thrill or out-and-out fun of it.

So here's to the crazy airplane owners, over 300 of you, who let me fly their airplanes in search of new types. Thanks, guys, for creating so much of my life. Sorry if I worried you while I was aloft in your baby. If it makes you feel any better, I was worried, too.


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