Monday, December 28, 2015

What Would You Do?

I was sitting at the table when Ginger asked, "What would you do if you had six months to live?" Among my answers was to call friends and let them know their friendship had been appreciated, sail across the ocean, and eventually disappear into anecdotal sightings of a feral American burning up famous roads and courses in a De Tomaso Mangusta. I’d stop only to watch the sunset, and most reports would come from those who shared a drink with the itinerant.

Next she hit me with the question, "What would you do if you were given a million dollars?" I said, "Nothing. You can't do squat with a million. Make it a spare ten and we'll talk." Looking at me with the usual frustrated eyes, she agreed. My answer was to...

Actually, my response to that last question is unimportant. What counts is that both questions arrived at a time I was already stewing over a related thought - I'm running out of time and need to prioritize.
When I was in college, I created a list of things to accomplish in my lifetime. Today, most people call these bucket lists. By the time I was 26 I had done them all. It took me a while to realize it, but there were two valuable lessons contained within the experience. First, think big. You'll accomplish much of what you set out to do; therefore, make the items huge. Second, the size of your dreams directly relates to the amount of time they'll take to accomplish.

Back then, the second one wasn't a problem. Now that I'm older, my aspirations have increased to meet a crossover point with my remaining life expectancy. Essentially, my dreams and time left are at L/D Max. From here on out, my desires will have to work against the ever-increasing parasitic drag of decreasing time. Bummer. Now I have to make choices.

If you’ve ever experienced this yourself, you know it can be stifling. Similar to reducing your pack for a long hike, many items previously believed important are revealed for what they are, dead weight. Setting them aside can be tough. You might even have to walk away and come back.

I walked away to the blogs of others. Surprisingly, one friend had recently discussed the same problem. His post left me with company, but it also reinforced the idea it was time to trim and focus. Future objectives would have to be clear.

Do you have a list?

One report was that he sat silently as the horizon recaptured the sun.
Looking away to order a drink was all the time it took.
The American was gone.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Why Angels Have Wings

After escaping an endless string of near misses, the band of new friends loaded themselves, a suitcase of cash, and their pet elephant onto a military aircraft. An old friend was doing them a favor. What started as a forgettable end to life, became a few days of memorable madness. This was the crescendo. Then it was gone.
Lifting gracefully and unhurried from the runway, the takeoff was the escape. The island where they went, the environment, and a new outlook on life were the results. It was the aircraft’s departure, though, that represented freedom.
What I have described is a scene from a B-movie Ginger and I watched recently. Its plot was very familiar, as was a specific scene. Be it books, movies, or stories told, the moment of survival, the actual point where escape is made, is the moment people depart and are transported to another place. In all three, this is most often an airplane.
Think back to how many movies you’ve seen where the goal was to get to a plane and take off? The more you think about it, the more you’ll begin to see the pattern. There’s a reason for this.
Aviation offers humans what may be the greatest window to freedom. So much so that the mere sight of a plane lifting off washes you with the feeling of relief. That is why it is commonly used. It’s an easy way to trigger a positive emotion.
Since the beginning of aviation, pilots have attempted to describe it. Most have felt it, strongly. Nearly all are compelled to explain it. The expression of sights, scents, and sounds have been used. Emotions and physical sensations have been, too. Few, if any, have ever achieved a perfect verbal painting of that thing aviation offers most, freedom. As for me, I believe there’s a reason for this.
One cannot touch, taste, or own good. Good is good. This also means one cannot create good. It exists with or without us. Yet, though it is beyond what we are, we can see it, use it, experience it, and benefit from it.
When it comes to the language of physics, a common method of getting people to think about a dimension beyond ours is to say each is a cross-sectional shadow of the next greater. A one-dimensional shadow on the ground, a line, is cast by something two-dimensional, length and depth. Add width to length and depth and you have three dimensions. When light hits this, it will leave a two-dimensional shadow on the sidewalk. Can you imagine something that would leave a shadow in three dimensions?
Although there are many technical problems with the example above, it does serve the purpose of explaining what good is; something we will never be able to draw a picture of or easily explain yet something that is clearly present.
This is why I believe flight has captivated so many. Those who experience it, uncorrupted, see and feel what others do not - the freedom offered by another dimension; a dimension in which good is created. Read the works of aviation’s best poets and you’ll feel it in all of them. One man, John Gillespie Magee, finished off “High Flight” with the following words.
“And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God."
This is why angels have wings. It’s why the soul is always said to lift from the body. And it is why only the coldest of hearts or pure evil seek to restrict it.
Flight is a medium in which good travels. Climb the highest mountain and you will still be Earthbound. Deliver open eyes to the heavens and you will glimpse another realm. It is there, behind the curtain of clouds. Enter it and you are changed. Life, from that point on, will be a battle between the chains of society and your unwillingness to accept them.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

How to Know if You're Qualified for the Aviation Job

I was perusing the internet today and came across a young pilot who was curious if his qualifications were enough to get him hired.  Sadly, it was easy to see his ideas of "employable" were not up to date with current hiring standards.  His big concern?  Did he need to add the "double I" to his CFI ratings.
After thinking this this through, I decided there needed to be a written set of rules of thumb for people like him.   Knowing they had to be easy to understand, even if you were on life support, I came up with these.  Please share them with everyone who dreams of a job in aviation.
Step one:
Do you have a pilot license?
If you answered YES, you could be employable with a little work.  See step two.
If you answered NO, click here. 
Step two:
Do you have a commercial pilot license?
If you answered YES, you are most likely employable.
If you answered NO, get a commercial license now.
Step three:
Are you a minority(includes female)?*
If you answered Yes - Congratulations, you are employable.
If you answered No, please move on to step four.
Step four:
What kind of aviation job do you seek?  (INSTRUCTIONS for completing this step.  Find the specific job you desire and answer the question yes or no.  If your answer is "YES" you are employable.  If the answer is "NO" see instructions for rectifying the problem.)
Can you pump gas?
Answered No?  Learn to pump gas.  Tug driving skills a bonus.
Was there ever a time in your life you could fog a mirror?
Answered No?  Lie; they expect it.
Passenger (regional):
Could you fog a mirror yesterday?
Answered No?  Accept the interview (everybody gets one).  Once in the interview, make it clear you are so excited about the job that the management person, in the panel part of your interview, begins to salivate.  If you are unsure how to do this, repeat after me, "I can't believe I'd get paid to do this job; I'd almost do it for free; it's my dream."  Commit it to memory and use it freely.
Passenger (major airline, except Delta and American - see Freight Major):
Assuming regional and or military experience, can you fog a mirror?
Answered N0?  Find a new medical examiner.
Freight (Major - includes Delta and American)
Can you fog a mirror, do you have a degree, are you in possession of internal references, and were you in the military?
Answer No?  It's too late.  Consider all other options unless your references are from management.
This one earns the Classic Foreshadowing Award.
After all, .orgs are reserved for non-profits.
I sincerely hope these rules of thumb make your job search easier.  If you or a friend find them helpful, and you wish to thank me for their creation, share them with all your pilot friends so they too will have a chance.  Nothing makes me happier than seeing people succeed.  Misery loves company.
*Use everything to your advantage


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Spirit of St. Louis Replica Takes Flight

Photos by Tim Haggerty
If you haven’t already heard, the Spirit of St. Louis Replica, at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, has flown. The project, spearheaded by Ken Cassens, lives up to its inspiration. Hopefully, it will do for Rhinebeck what the original did for aviation.
The long term project has spanned several decades, outlived a hostile takeover, and emerged during an overall decline in aviation. It all began in the 70’s when Cole Palen bought a batch of New Standard projects. Contained in the stash of old aircraft parts was a J-5 power plant. Those in the know say he felt this gave them what they needed to create a replica. He was right.
When the original NYP was built the J-5 was the key to its success. Everyone in the race knew it. The vast majority of aircraft registered with the Orteig Prize had the same Wright bolted to the front end. Since that day many have championed the pilot, aircraft design, numerology, and more. Ultimately though, it was the engine that drug man and machine across the pond.
Americans love a hero. Lindbergh knew this. Today, thanks to much of what he recounted, he remains one of the most famous people ever to live. Unfortunately, as we learn more about the man and his story, we begin to see how much of it was true (or wasn’t). In time, this will likely focus more attention on the plane, the engine, and the people behind the scenes who made it all happen. I think that would be fitting. After all, these are the things that made Rhinebeck’s project a success.
Notes on the first flight of Rhinebeck’s NYP replica:
From Rhinebeck's website - Cassens said of the flight, “It was uneventful, which is a good thing, and I was happy with the way it performed. I was pleased with the flight characteristics…nothing unexpected, other than it being nose-heavy. It trimmed out really well. A little bit hard to slow it down, because it’s so clean, and a little heavy on the ailerons, but that’s to be expected. No real surprises. It’s gratifying that it flew and I hope it keeps flying successfully. We have a lot more flight testing to do.”
From Rhinebeck's Chief Pilot Clay Hammond - "I thought a recap of the day might be in order. Morning broke clear and calm, no wind, blue sky. Ken had finished last items on checklist to completion. No reason not to. Frost this morning, but forecast temps in the 50's by lunch hour.
We pulled the Robin out about 11 and shot an hour's worth of landings with Ken in the back seat again and the cardboard blocking the forward view. After getting to the point where he felt a groove setting in we called it good and Ken decided to give it a go. Ken, Mike DiGiacomio, and I had a short discussion briefing the intended flight and Ken's intention to climb up overhead, circle for a short period, feel out the aircraft, and then return for the first landing.
Crew pulled the NYP out and Ken climbed in. We commenced with starting procedure. Took three proppers and ten minutes to get it going, still figuring that out a little. Warmed it up for 15 minutes or so. Good sound, good temps using an infared thermometer, ready to go.
Tim Haggerty and I climbed in the Robin to fly a high cover and to get some stand off photography. Launched in the Robin and started climbing for altitude. Five minutes later observed Ryan pull onto runway lane and start its roll. Ken climbed up to altitude promptly, around 3000 feet, we circled above him the whole time, making it a point to deconflict and also observe for other traffic.
Tim was shooting with a nice long lens the entire time. Observed Ken do a couple stalls, steep turns, dutch rolls...feeling it out. He circled for a while longer and then started heading down. We in Robin descended in trail, staying off the right rear quarter.
Ken made one low pass to shoot the approach at speed one time, and for the benefit of those on the ground, then came around for the landing. Stayed on his wing all the way around. NYP lined up on the runway, descended nicely down into the notch, rounded out just beyond the road and proceeded to float, and float, and floated some more. Touched down about even with the sausage factory. Rolled out and down the north end a ways. Mike D was down there to wing run and assist if needed. Circled around into pattern and landed the Robin.
Shut down and walked over to Ken, who was cooling down the Whirlwind on the NYP. He said the stalls are extremely docile, no tendency to drop a wing, everything straight ahead and sets up into a steady and stable mush rather than any hard break. Better visibility than Robin, which is good! Means the Robin served as a good trainer, making the job harder than it was.
Ken stated that on takeoff he noticed a great deal of nose heaviness, to the point that he subsequently inputted full aft trim and kept it there for entire flight, yet was still holding back pressure on the stick at all power settings. In calculating the weight and balance for the NYP on paper, everything had pointed towards a tail heavy situation, leading us to install a significant amount of lead ballast in the nose section just ahead of the firewall. After the flight Ken has decided to remove half of this weight to bring the aircraft into better trim. No adjustments necessary for roll or yaw tendencies. Additional test flights ahead to dial in the pitch. All in all Ken stated that it is a wonderful flying machine that he is very happy with!"
The crew celebrating the occasion.


Friday, December 4, 2015

Finding Christmas

On our way to town, Ginger mentioned a blog post she had read. A person well known to those who push boundaries had been at it again. Instead of the usual anti-wireless rant, he was singing cellular smartphone praises.
Accompanying his pro-instant communication words was a photo of people on a train a hundred years ago. They were isolated from one another by the newspapers they held outstretched at eye level. Riding along, they read about the world and contemplated it in a frame of mind relative to their beliefs; together, but alone.
I have often had this same thought. When others are crying out at the disconnect modern communication devices have created, my mind wanders to the people who have found their way into my life because of them. Today’s smartphones, tethered to the internet, have taken the world and made it our neighborhood. A friend for everyone awaits online. It’s wonderful – to a point.
Year after year Christmas sneaks up on me. I know it’s coming, the signs have been up for weeks, and yet it vanishes without a memory. My small and contracting family barely makes a family these days. And even if it did, we all have different tangents to address. As for Ginger, she's indifferent to my idea of a celebration. That leaves making this holiday memorable to friends.
Pondering this issue at length, the other day I came up with a fun and easy solution to my search for Christmas. I would tell everyone that I would be sitting at a certain establishment, between the hours of 4 and 8 pm, on December 12th and to stop by for a drink. The location was to be a piano bar, serving excellent bourbon*, to the sounds of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Since I couldn’t find such a thing in Louisville, The Old Seelbach Bar would have to do. It’s close.
While imagining the fun of seeing friends, sharing a drink, and swapping great stories, reality hit me. Chances are pretty good I’d be there by myself. Time and again, I have read the old adage, “If you have more than one true friend in life, then you are a lucky man.” I believe that’s true. Now, more than ever, in a society where everyone is called “friend,” true ones are difficult to find. I’ve been lucky enough to end up with a few. There’s only one problem.
This would have been a nice touch - an ugly sweater get-together.
Thanks to modern communication devices, my friends are out of reach. All but one live hundreds to thousands of miles away. Smartphones and the internet are largely to blame for this.
Combine a background of flying with technology and people are sure to spread out. Living almost anywhere and keeping a job is possible and that’s what many do. Add that mobility to families and some will live where the wife wants to live. Others will pick a place where their Olympic-bound child can get the best training. And others will be helping out elderly parents in some random town. Whatever the case, there’s a great chance friends aren’t going to be anywhere near each other. That sucks.
I wonder if my Samsung Galaxy likes bourbon?

*Reading over this now that it's done makes me laugh.   Although I rarely drink, someone who doesn't know me very well would likely think otherwise.   Oh well, when I do something I try to do it right.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Who is Captain Love?

Is it this guy?
Who is Captain Love? Do you know? I do, and he’s pretty damn funny.
If you fly for a living, by now you’ve probably seen the videos titled, “Living the Dream.” Currently, there’s LTD Part I and Part II and I’ve written about both. Some things are funny in a slapstick way. Others are funny in a verbal way. And as Joe Pesci pointed out, some things have to be clarified in what way they’re funny. When it comes to the “Living the Dream” videos, they’re funny because of the fine-tuned description of aviation life displayed.
Acted out on screen, by Lego people, are the situations you once attempted to explain earlier in life but quit because nobody believed you. They say “misery loves company” and that’s what these videos do. Spend a few minutes on YouTube and you realize you’re not alone. You haven’t been imagining things; they’re real. And, given the choice to laugh or cry, most of us in aviation will laugh. The rest of us, those who were missed in Part I and Part II, are doomed to appear in “Living the Dream Part III.”
But who is Captain Love? I recently found out. Attempting to choose company over misery, a few weeks ago I decided talking to the creator of the videos might be fun. A few emails and a phone call later and all my questions were answered.
Who made the video? What inspired, him to do the work of creating it? And, what are the characters’ names? These are a few of the questions I asked. The answers to most of them are below.
First of all, it’s important to know Balroc12, as the creator of the LTD series is known to his viewers, is a seemingly normal, well-adjusted airline pilot trying to stay sane. Like I said earlier, we all have a choice. Balroc12 chose to laugh.
When asked about the inspiration for the original video, B12 (if he gets to make up names, so do I) said it came from a conversation with a friend. His buddy was going off on the guys who are always saying, “LIVING THE DREAM,” and the idea hit. He’d do a video about the moronic people and things seen at work. But, it was the reason why he did it I found funnier.
B12 has a small bucket list. Prior to March 2015, “make a video that goes viral” was on it. Earlier, attempting to mark that off his list, he made one about people who have that annoying whistle tone on their phones. It didn’t go so well. But, he kept looking for a subject and his career of choice provided it when his buddy went off.
From that point on, B12 did the rest; ideas, scripts, all the voice overs, set creation, lighting, stop motion, editing and more. Had you even thought about that? It’s amazing how much effort goes into a short stop motion video. “Living the Dream” took him around 35 hours. When it came to Part II, others pitched in with ideas, but that’s it.
Check out the photos of the sets created for the videos and you can’t help but be impressed. Printed on paper, glued or taped to cardboard, lit with soft light, and shot with a focus on depth of field, they produced something appearing much more elaborate. But again, look at the photos. It’s amazing what a creative person can do with so little. As for the equipment, the idea is much the same.
Using a Canon DSLR to capture the images, and free software to edit, B12 was able to make something very nice for very little. Few of the over 400,000 people who’ve seen the videos would believe it was made on a table in his house. That’s the beauty of a driven artist matched to open source programs and a good camera.
Having never been one to ask for autographs or other cheesy things like that, I did not ask B12 to say something to me in the different voices. But, I did ask one last thing, “What are the characters’ names?
Captain Love is the guy flipping out in his chair, and Brickheart is the pilot always bitching about the contract. The main character though is still somewhat nameless. Yet, the rules for script clarity demanded something so he currently goes by a call sign of “Frustrated Pilot.” Admittedly, B12 said he needs to come up with a better name but he’s already thinking about a third video. This one he hopes will address life at the regionals. Meanwhile, he’ll go on about his life at work work work work…

Notes and Links:
Free programs used in the making of the videos were Movie Maker, and Audacity for voice overs.
Although a few of B12's friends know it is him who made these videos, he didn't want me to publish his name or the name of the airline for which he works.  To me, that was understandable for many reasons so he gets B12 instead.

Click here to see Living The Dream
Click here to see Living The Dream Part II
Click here to see the Phone Whistle video that didn't go over so well.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

They Don't Make Them Like They Used To

I had been sitting in the right seat for only three months when I found out I was moving left. Arriving at a regional with more hours than most allowed me the quick move. Things were different then.
9/11 had not happened. It was still moderately fun to work for an airline. A life hauling passengers held promise. The roll-on bag of choice was a tank.
As usual, I had done things differently. When I arrived for ground school, I was asked to switch classes and learn the jet. Again, being relatively high time, opportunities were presented to me. I can still remember the shock on the guy's face when I said, "No, I'd rather start with the Saab." Every ladder climber wanted the jet and turning down the ERJ was unthinkable. That didn't matter. I was sure of my choice.
Having come from the DC-3, I already knew I would enjoy the Saab. The cockpit sat at the same level as the Douglas, the gross weight was extremely close to the C-47's, its gear had the same track, it was the same length, the tail was the same height (leveled), the power plants turned props of the same diameter and they even had the equivalent shaft horsepower. In fact, it even had a unique flap mechanism loved by those who flew it. The instructor was so impressed with it that he gave kudos to Saab for designing such a fail safe system. Unknown to him, it was identical to the "three's." So amazingly similar were the planes, I'm positive the engineers at Saab used the DC-3 as a baseline for their design.
Another great aspect of the Saab was that it had become the red-headed stepchild. At every airline since the beginning of time, the coolest people to work with have always been on the least respected aircraft. Fortunately, it also had the quickest upgrade. The guy who took my spot on the jet would wait two years. I was in class at five months.
Check it out - a show room fresh model.
Every pilot has that one thing he or she intends to do when they upgrade. Myself, I was tired of crappy roll-on bags and had decided to buy the best. It was known to most people as "the Purdy Neat Stuff bag." Framed in steel and fitted with smooth rolling skate wheels, its solid metal handle covered in a soft foam grip felt like the wheel of an exotic car. Drag one five feet and you would never drag anything else again. It was that much better than the others.
Walking out of Flight Safety with a type rating and a mission, the crew store was in my sights. A certain black bag would soon be mine. I still remember picking it out. At the time, spending almost $300 dollars on anything was a big deal to me. Gazing upon its beauty, the thought of how to get it home safely crossed my mind.
I have no idea why I didn't think to dump the old bag, but it never occurred to me. Instead, I decided I would check the new one and make the switch when I made it home. Looking back I have to laugh. What an idiot. A thrifty idiot, but an idiot no less.
Laying down the money for that bag felt like the purchase of a new Harley. Again, it was the nicest roll-on out there in a world where your bag spoke volumes about your life. No more trash for me. From there on out it was only the best.
Arriving at the gate for my flight home, I carefully attached a carry-on tag and handed it to a ramper. Passing it over to him, a guy I knew from work, made me feel better about putting it with the others in the back. You try to look out for each other at the airlines and I knew he'd take good care of it. We'd be home an hour later and that old bag would get the boot.
At the other end, I waited patiently for the Rolls Royce of roll-ons to appear in the jet bridge. One bag after another was handed up and still it was nowhere to be seen. Finally, the gate agent suggested I look at the carousel. Walking into the terminal en route to find my bag, the agent shouted to get my attention. My bag had made it into the jet bridge after all and she opened the door to let me walk down to grab it.
Walking toward it, I couldn't help but admire its shiny new paint. Clearly, it was the nicest bag in the terminal. Then I took the last two steps. That's when I saw its nearly indestructible frame and the thirty-degree radius bent into it. Yeah, that's right. It hadn't even been used and it was already damaged beyond what most thought possible.
See the bend?  This is how both sides look after straightening.
To end up with such a bend would require a ratchet strap torqued to extreme tension. I stood there in disbelief. Really. I'm not joking. I stood there speechless. What the f.... Then I began to laugh. Hell, I'm laughing now just thinking about it.
So much for the best bag on the planet. It was a new car which had been wrecked pulling out of the dealership. The shine was gone in one trip.
Telling my story to a friend, between fits of laughter he pointed out the company was well known for repairing any and all damages. His suggestion was that I take it to the store and get a loaner while they fixed it. And, that's what I planned to do. What I actually did though was straighten it as best I could so that it would work until I had time to take it back. That time never came.
Eventually, the bend in the frame grew on me the way a scar comes to represent a chapter in your life. It was part of its character and it was part of my career. Every time I looked at it I laughed. To this day I still do.
Fourteen years later, the frame's black paint is nearly gone. Scraped away by a thousand curbs in dozens of countries, its appearance tells a story only I can translate. To spare you the hours I'll make it a rundown.
It has been to every continent except Antarctica. Along the way it visited over fifty countries, traveled on almost that many airlines, and covered around six million miles. It has flown in hundreds of different aircraft and in some of the world's rarest. It was squeezed into a Pitts and traveled on a case of 120W in the belly of a B-24. A Taperwing WACO, New Standard, square tail Stearman, and a Harpoon are but a few of the planes that carried it. Once it even rode an OX-5 Swallow dead stick into Kalispell.  
What I've done it's witnessed. My career has left its mark. Among its fibers are the DNA of a Saab, ERJ, 747-400, -8, Dreamlifter, and now the 757 and 767. It rode along with a quarter of a million passengers, Formula 1 cars, bombs, flowers, major components of the 787, the first shipment of iPhone 6's, and just about everything else you could imagine. In a few days it will also go along on its last flight.
In much the same way every pilot has that thing he intends to do after upgrade, I've been holding onto this bag for the upcoming trip. I'm planning on this being my last airline and after the next few legs it will have flown with me at all of them.
All things considered, it's hard to believe it's over 14 years old.  They made
them right back then.
Yes, I will miss the people walking up, looking at my bag, and saying, "You flew for the regionals, didn't you?" Those who've been around the block can look at the worn metal frame and tell me my story. Remnants of customs tags reveal extensive international travel, the "Our pilots carry less than $20 cash" decal tells of scraping to get ahead, and the bend in the frame reveals a life 121 pilots know all too well.
Ultimately, though, I am left with a problem. The company which made that bag was sold to a Chinese company that cheapened the materials. Mine is 14 years old and new ones of less than two look twice its age. I could rebuild mine and remove its character in the process. Or, I could go out of this industry the way I came in, dragging crap. Maybe I'll create my own line of baggage instead.


Goodbye Old Buddy Old Pal

When life accelerates there's no time to look away.  The approach of every curve demands more focus.  Masked by the speed, wonderful things flash by unseen.  It's a one lap race.  They are gone for good.
I have been trying unsuccessfully to put to words the last four months of my life.  This morning I sat down, looked at my screen, and the words appeared.  That's them above and they'll have to do. 
Starting in July, the governor was removed and the pedal was planted.  All at once, a flag dropped and it was off to the races.   I prefer to choose my competitions and had done just that.  Unfortunately, there was no controlling the schedule and they all showed up at once.  Planned or unplanned, once the engine starts you're committed to drive.
Pulling onto the track things felt pretty good.  Then I approached Mario's line.  Mr. Andretti famously said, "If everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough."  I hope he's proud of me.  At some point back there nothing was under control.  Yet, somehow I've recently popped out the other side alive.   Some of my friends not so much.
While I was buried deep in the books, two of my friends, Jay and Art, passed away.  One went quickly in a plane crash.  It was a shock.  The other died when his body gave out at the age of 93. I had known both of them for some time and the news was depressing.  When people affect your life, they're hard to forget.
Jay and I first met because of my interest in cars; particularly models best labeled fast & exotic.  He was about to climb in such a beast one day when I stopped to ask a question.  "That's not stock is it?  The fact I had noticed an odd detail surprised him and we ended up talking automobiles.  Because of that first conversation, through the years he would end up putting me in the seat of several exotic cars typically seen as posters on a teenager's wall.
Later, he would go on to help me with a project I was trying to get off the ground.  That project started the trajectory which eventually landed me at a major airline hauling boxes.  I never forgot that.  Not long before his death, I sent him a note to tell him the news and thank him once again.  Despite the sadness of his passing, I was happy I hadn't waited.  Many others had similar stories.
Jay liked to live.  After he passed away, the news of his crash was everywhere.  Self-made but from a different generation than Art, he had connected with a lot of well known people.  When he died, it seemed as if everyone had a story to share about his kindness.  Because of this, there's not much new I could tell you about him other than I wish he was still around.  I will never forget him.
A GP Jeep.
When it comes to Art, I don't now where to begin.  He was from a different country; the old USA.  We met when he flew his Stearman into one of the first fly-ins at Lee Bottom.  A friend introduced us and I instantly liked the man.   The day he died I had yet to find anything about him to dislike.
Once you've lived enough decades, you've seen enough to begin to understand life.  You've also learned some truths.  People who don't like to work rarely succeed.  Folks who have done very well for themselves are rarely down to earth and approachable by those who have not.  And finally, truly good people are as rare as musgravite.
Naturally, there are other truths to be learned.  I only mention these three because of Art.   That man never stopped.  If he wasn't tinkering with some old car or building something he was cooking up an excuse to.  There was always a project and he finished them at a far greater rate than I ever will.  That drive, I'm sure, contributed greatly to his success in business and life.
Art was also easily one of the most gentle men I ever met; kind and stately in a down home way.  Simply standing by his side made you feel like a better one.  Yet, he never made you feel inferior.  He loved everyone.
During gatherings at Art's house, it was common to meet people from many walks of life.  I remember one guy who looked at him like a father and whom Art described as a top notch man.  It turns out the guy had worked for Art in a position many would consider beneath them. 
Everyone was a friend and he always had something nice to say when you met.
Hold on.  This isn't working.  I've been wanting to write about Art for a few months now and continued to put it off because I could not think of a way to fully explain what a great guy he was.  I started here by trying to spell it out point by point but I see that's no good either.  I think I'll try something else.  Here goes.
There was a time in my flying career I had overnights in Lexington.  Our hotel was right down the road from Art's.   When I told him I was going to be staying there occasionally, he insisted I call when I was in town.
The first time the overnight came around, I dialed his number.  Answering the phone, he sounded excited and quickly asked, "Do you have a jacket?"  I did, and he said,  "I'll be right over."
By the time he headed my way it was dark and the temperature was in the high fifties.  While standing outside waiting for him to arrive I heard a familiar sound.  It was the distinctive whine of a WWII Jeep.  "Who in the heck is out in a Jeep in thi_" is what I was thinking when around the corner came Art.   He was behind the wheel of his GP.
Art bought the vehicle right after the end of WWII and he and some friends drove it to Alaska and back!  Yeah, no joke.  Not only was he the type guy who would drive a 40mph vehicle to Alaska, but he was also prescient enough to hold onto it.   As I jumped in the right seat, he looked at me and said, "Is this ok?"  I felt honored to be there.
Knowing I loved military vehicles we talked about other machines he owned and pondered how many other people would be crazy enough to drive this thing across town for a burger.   He was so much fun to be around. 
Our arrival at the restaurant was something I'll never forget.   A cute little country girl hostess greeted us with, "Hey Mr. Francis - haven't seen you for a while.  You been doin okaaay?"   She had the sweetest voice and it carried with it an obvious tone of respect.   It even felt as though she saw him as family.  Like I said, everyone loved him and that is the moment I realized it.
One by one, nearly every employee of that restaurant stopped to say hello.  His character stood out in the world.  Like a colorful masterpiece hanging on the wall of an abandoned building, you couldn't help but notice.  If there was ever anyone who didn't like him, I can guarantee you they were evil.
Looking back, that was easily one of the best overnights I ever experienced.  It's followed closely by the other handful of overnights I had in Lexington, driving the GP about town.  Recently he reminded me of them.
Earlier this year, I was visiting a fly-in next to Art's place.  He had hosted such gatherings at his end of the field when his health was good.  Now they were held at the other end.  With his health going downhill, Art would instead do his best to make an appearance to say hello to all his friends.  With the day drawing to a close and not having seen him, I wondered if he wasn't feeling well and was unable to come out.  Saying my goodbyes and preparing to fly home, another friend walked by and said with a smile, "There's an old guy around the corner who is asking if you're here."
Rounding the corner of the building I found Art seated in a car.  A family member had driven him to the event but he was too weak to get out.  Therefore, as soon as he arrived, a line had appeared next to the vehicle.   When all those people cleared out enough for me to reach him I walked up and said, "I'm sorry, I thought this was the line to see Elvis."   He laughed and said, "Rich, old buddy old pal, I'm so glad to see you."  "Glad to see me??  Are you kidding??" I asked.  "You've made my day."
Sitting on the kick plate of the open car door, I asked Art how he was feeling.  He responded, "Not so good."  I rebutted that it looked like he was doing great and he laughed.  "You know better than that," he said.   Then I told him, "Not true.  To be as old as you are and have one foot in the grave, I think you're doing exceptionally well."   He loved the honesty and laughed with the strength I hadn't seen from him in a while.  "I can always count on your for the truth," was his response and we moved on to all the subjects we both enjoyed.
Cars, the women in our lives, projects we still wanted to complete, and airplanes were all included.  Then he brought up the day we met at Lee Bottom.  From there the conversation moved to those overnights in Lexington; two guys who were fifty years apart, acting like kids, driving around in the cold, in a Jeep.  That's when someone walked up to tell him there was another person there who wanted to see him.
Art asked who it was, and when he found out he said, "I don't want to do that.  I'm catching up with my friend."  At that moment, I could have been told Pete Peterson had proclaimed me the greatest pilot to ever live, the Nobel Committee could have given me a prize for logic, and a Pulitzer award for most offensive blog post could have arrived simultaneously and hearing Art call me his friend would have made them all pale in comparison.  Unfortunately, the requests kept coming.
Finally, after the fifth or sixth mention of someone else who wanted to say hello, I said, "I'm thinking I better go so you can say hello to these people.  Otherwise, we're both going to be in trouble."  He laughed, looked at me like a kid whose mom was making him come inside, and said, "Ok friend.  You're probably right.  Take care."  That was the last time I saw him.
If you never knew Art Francis, you missed out.  As I attempted to convey earlier but couldn't do so properly, he is easily one of the greatest men I've ever known.  From the examples I've given you may have the impression he was merely another nice old man.  But how do you describe true goodness?  I'm unable the task.  Therefore, I've shared with you how he made us feel.
If you're wondering why I said "Us," I did so because he affected everyone the same.  Anyone who was his friend felt special and loved him.  In fact, many of us called him "Dad."  He was someone you looked up to, wished you could be more like, and wanted to be around. 
The traits he held were like gravity; that mysterious force that draws things together.  Everyone knows it exists, but among the greatest minds its origin is still up for debate.  All I can say with absolution is that whatever it is, Art had it.
Goodbye old buddy old pal.
Jay Gordon
Art Francis

Thursday, November 12, 2015

More Vision, Less Images

So nice to see something moderately original in aviation photography.

While faithfully pursing the end of the internet, I stumbled upon this photo and it shouted at me.  A horse, car, and airplane racing cross the finish line.  Wow, that's cool!
The color isn't great, nor is the composition.  And the overall feeling of the image is that a bystander took it without any forewarning of what was going on.  Yet, to me it's a more moving image than 90% of aviation photos taken today by professionals. 
When civilian aviation photography took off in the 70's, the big thing was air to air images.  A good prop blur came along with it.  Shortly thereafter it was head on shots (air to air) of warbirds taken out of B-25s.  Then it was formation air to air, unique angles, and sharper images.  Then came the prop disc, aerobatic planes in different attitudes, aerobatic planes in formation in different attitudes, planes ghostly lit on the ramp at night, the occasional plane overhead an event, and wildly varied planes flying together.   When you combine like compositions and traits, you have formation air to air, big fancy prop blur, and different attitudes plus different aircraft; that's it.
There's no shortage of aviation photos but there's a big shortage of something different.  We need different.  We need art.
Ask around and many photographers will tell you what they do is art.  I think it's photography.  I'm not taking away from what they do.  I merely think they are confused about what art is.
This tells a story.  Art by Dietz
Yes, I know art is subjective.  But when it is all boiled down, there's a difference between photos and art.  Art either tells a story or it forces your mind to create one.  Think Dietz if you're confused.
Most of today's aviation images are little more than micro PR campaigns designed to make the pilots and photographers look cool in order to sell magazines to the simple minded.  Observe how easily a corrupt politician can convince people to vote for them over and over again and you'll see how handily people can be impressed by an image.  That's not to say our photographers don't have it in them to create art.  They simply do not feel the need to and they may have a point.
One of my favorite quotes is from a book about business.  In it is a story about a highly skilled author who is pissed off about and  insulting a less skilled author who had been receiving awards for his "lesser" work.   The author receiving the awards stopped the complainer and said, "Notice, the award says best selling, not best written."  When you can make money and build a reputation by doing something easier, most are going to do just that.  Unfortunately, when it comes to airplanes, simple only relates to the people of aviation.
Notice the image at the top.  It has fans of beautiful scenery, horses, cars, and planes as potential customers.   If one of the three unrelated to aviation were to hang it on their wall, there would be a new home into which aviation had poked its head.  Art speaks to people and makes them think.  Art opens news minds to new things.
Photography may elicit reactions but nobody thinks deeply about a Corsair flying with a Citation.   Create something memorable though, something that tells a unique story, and people will never forget it.  I would love to see some our best give it a shot.  They certainly have the talent.