Having begun my flying career less than a year ago, I've already gone and made myself a pariah at the little upstate New York airport where I aviate on sunny weekends and on stormy days sit at the feet of the Old Pilots, soaking up lore about the birdman's art. The trouble started when I bought a secondhand Ercoupe, one of those tiny, twin-tailed, two-place jobs with tricycle landing gear which used to be featured in Macy's and other big department stores back in the early postwar period when flying optimists foresaw a family plane in every two-car garage.
I was delighted with my purchase, and so was my wife. The plane had had very little flying time despite its age, and I got it for less than the difference between our 1951 Plymouth and a new model. Of course I thought the Old Pilots would be happy for me too, but almost to a man they were disgusted.
"It's got no rudder controls," snorted Old 6,000 Hours (2,000 hours of it ferrying freighters).
"It's not a real airplane. It'll spoil ya rotten," said 1,500 Hours with an Instrument Rating.
"How ya gonna slip it in cross wind with no rudder?" snarled 3,200 Hours.
"It's crazy, like a car with no steering wheel," said 400 Hours, who last year celebrated the acquisition of his private pilot's license by flying his family to Florida in a thick fog and still brags about it instead of lighting candles to St. Christopher.
But the real attitude of the Old Pilots was best summed up by a taciturn ancient who hasn't even bothered to keep a logbook since 1931.
"Flyin' that contraption is just confessin' that you're old, tired, or scared," he said, in the longest speech I ever heard him utter. "The damn thing is too safe."
Stung, I made the mistake of quoting Wolfgang Langewiesche on the subject of rudderless safety airplanes, and this really clobbered me with my friends, because they don't like to hear fledglings quote flying books, especially Langewiesche's books. This author is an Old Pilot of scientific bent and eloquent language, and in a volume called Stick and Rudder he has compounded some of the goldarndest theories that ever assaulted veterans' ears. Langewiesche starts out by saying that amateur flying—that is, piloting which does not involve instruments and pinpoint navigation in zero-zero weather—is not necessarily a High Art requiring the reflexes of an athlete or the eyes of an eagle. He says, in effect, that you can get along just fine as a Sunday pilot in no time at all if you learn the proper theories of flight at the beginning.
HERESY UPON HERESY