On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced his plans for the United States to put the first man on the moon by 1970. The space race officially shifted into high gear. His announcement also triggered events that led to the manufacture of one of the oddest looking planes in aviation history—the Pregnant Guppy, an aircraft that would help make Kennedy’s goal a reality.
In the Siegfried family tree, there’s a Cub that flies from branch to branch, as each generation introduces the next to aviation. Whereas some parents pressure their kids to play piano or throw a football, the Siegfried’s child-rearing checklist revolves around taildraggers. “Old Bob” took his first flight in a J-3 in 1943; his five children each soloed gliders at age 14 and Cubs at 16. And while granddaughter McKinley’s classmates were cavorting on spring break this year, the high schooler devoted 50 hours per week to building a Texas Sport Cub, the kit version of an American Legend Cub, with her father. We joined them in Lakeland, Fla., where 16-year-old McKinley soloed the low-and-slow derivative, extending family tradition another generation.
If you were to drive across the country, you could point your car in the right direction and eventually you’d get to your destination, though perhaps not by a straight-line route. Before leaving, you’d need to consult a map to ensure that you’re heading in the right direction and don’t get lost. Likewise, to get your first airline job, it’s best to have a carefully thought-out plan so that you get where you want in the shortest amount of time. Increasingly, that means adding glass-cockpit experience to your checklist.
There was a time in each of our lives when we weren’t yet pilots. Born as aviators, perhaps, but not licensed pilots. We jumped at any opportunity to get closer to the sky, and more often than not, passion overruled reason. Countless childhood hours have been spent polishing aluminum in exchange for 10-minute rides around the patch. At age 15, Senior Editor Bill Cox even endured frostbite in minus-40 degree temperatures at Ladd Air Force Base in Alaska, but he got to fly in a Northrop F-89D Scorpion—so never mind that his fingertips nearly fell off.
In the late ’50s, the Air Force began researching whether a pilot could survive bailing out of a high-altitude, supersonic fighter. There was only one way to find out: find a human who was willing to conduct such an experiment.
The other evening, I was flipping through the channels looking for something to watch on TV when I landed on a show about Concorde’s final flight, back in October 2003. Hard to believe it has been almost five years. Knowing that last flight would occur sooner rather than later, I flew Concorde New York to Paris return in the spring of 2000, just a couple months before its first and only crash, on July 25, 2000. It was something I just had to experience, and I’m glad I did, because it seems the days of supersonic airliners are behind us, at least for the foreseeable future. And because my flight was also before 9/11, I spent some time during our 11-mile high, Mach 2.02–cruise sitting in the jump seat at the pointy end, which, in Concorde, is really pointy. (Can’t imagine that happening now.)
There are few things as rewarding for new pilots as flying with their first passenger. I know that was true for me. Part of my whole motivation for completing my ticket was to share the excitement of flight that I’d discovered during my lessons and prelicense flight experiences. And once I passed my checkride, I wasted no time in filling whatever rental I was flying with as many friends as I could.
About a year ago, I was driving north on the 405, a freeway in Los Angeles that’s usually a huge, 10-lane parking lot unless it’s during the wee hours or a weekend. It was nighttime and I was probably scooting along at about 80 when I saw a flash of lights in my rearview mirror. My heart skipped a beat, though traffic often moves that fast on the freeway. I reflexively let up on the gas and looked back again. This time, there wasn’t just one police car, but many, in pursuit of a single vehicle, not a police car, closing on me fast. I darted rather urgently to the innermost lane as a white Honda or Toyota, followed by about seven police cars, passed me like I was standing still—and I was only down to about 70. I thought, “Welcome to Los Angeles, land of the car chase.”
A CNN correspondent reflects on flying as a family affair
For me, it all began a few thousand feet over some Michigan farmland about 40 years ago. We were somewhere between Detroit and Alpena when my father gave me a heading, told me to keep it straight and level, and then let me grab the yoke. I’ll never forget the joy I felt when that 172 began responding to my whims. It was love at first flight.
Not long ago, I was flying commercial from LAX to Boston Logan. As I settled into my seat in the back of the bus, I was chagrined that, right behind me, sat a young boy of maybe six or seven. When he started to kick the back of my seat, I gave his father one of those looks, but the kicking never really totally stopped. That’s what I get for a $300 ticket, I thought to myself—unwashed masses in steerage. Fast-forward to our plane racing down the runway and lifting off: I’m absentmindedly looking out the window when this same kid behind me reminds me with only a few words why I learned to fly.
Or, a not so funny thing happened on the way to the Vineyard
I was looking forward to a much needed weekend on Martha’s Vineyard, away from the city and the noise and smells of summer in the Meatpacking District. And though brunch at The Black Dog and grilled lobster at the Oyster Bar and Grill beckoned, the last thing I wanted to do was spend my Friday afternoon sitting on I-95 for five hours, inching my way to the Vineyard Haven–bound ferry. At times like this, nothing could be more perfect than hopping into a small plane with my girlfriend and a couple friends, although, in this case, they were all a bit more rambunctious than I would have liked.
It’s dangerous. It’s competitive. And it’s hard on the body. So why fly hardcore aerobatics?
Explaining why I do what I do is surprisingly easy. The quick answer is that flying air shows is what I’m passionate about. I love it. But beyond that is a story of inspiration, physical endeavor, ongoing learning and camaraderie.
From the Wright brothers to The Right Stuff, the thrill of flight has sparked the imagination and stirred the human spirit. We take to the skies to experience the freedom and exhilaration of flight. Now more than ever, people look to general aviation as a way to speed travel and increase business. Consequently, it’s important for those of us who love general aviation to step back and examine the health and strength of this great industry.
When I was a kid in grade school, I had this friend named Jonathan Meyer. His dad was a minister and had a collection of Revolutionary War–era muskets, flintlocks and a blunderbuss. That name alone was enough to get us kids laughing. One day, the reverend came to our school and gave our class the ultimate show-and-tell: He loaded one of his muskets with black powder, aimed it high at the ceiling and pulled the trigger.
Aviation is facing increasing pressure—is it time for an altitude change?
The end is near! For hundreds and perhaps thousands of years, humans have been making predictions about the end. The end of the earth, the end of cheap oil, the end of life as we know it, the end of free WiFi—I hate this kind of gloom and doom stuff.
A few weeks ago, I was flying from L.A. to the Bay Area for an afternoon with some friends in town from New York and Toronto. As we were cruising up the Salinas Valley on autopilot (the airplane, not me), listening to some tunes pumping from my iPod, my friend Hillary piped up from the backseat. “Hey, can we do a stunt?” she asked with a big smile. “A stunt?” I replied, amused, as visions of the late Bobby Younkin gracefully rolling his red-and-black Beech 18 flashed through my mind.
In what has turned into an unintentional theme this issue, I seem to have focused on, twice, people or groups that broke new ground in aviation. They were, in some way, told that they couldn’t or shouldn’t, or that it was unusual or possibly inappropriate, to fly. Not only did these people and groups fly, and prove wrong the legions of naysayers, defeatists and perpetuators of negative stereotypes, but they each rose to legendary status in aviation lore.