Warp speed: birth of an aileron

Instead of shifting its weight to right itself, as every bird-watching, would-be aeronaut assumed their winged subjects did, the buzzards flexed one wingtip up and the opposite down. Could there be a more unlikely, less romantic bird to bestow the gift of flight upon humanity?

The $2,400 pair of sunglasses

“Hey! You wanna see a $2,400 pair of sunglasses?” The C-17 crewman yelled and waived a pair at me on a trip to Afghanistan. “No!” My official United States Air Force escort screamed. The crewman plugged his pie hole and sulked away, and that’s the last I saw of either the glasses or the crewman.

Fields of vision: carving hills into airports

When the Wright brothers finally had a flying machine that could take off and fly under complete control, they still had no place to fly it from. Phil Scott shares the fascinating history of how airports came to be, from grass fields to WPA airports in the 1930s.

The chocolate bomber

They were ragged and starving, these kids who had gathered, amid the ruins, to watch airplanes bring food to Berlin. It was mid-July 1948. Twenty-seven-year-old Lt. Gail Halvorsen had been on the airlift for two weeks, flying an exhausting three round trips each day.

Spelling relief

People complain about my lack of …endurance. Turns out, I’m not the only pilot with a bladder of clay. For as long as airplanes have been able to sustain vast distances, they’ve been flown by people who can’t.

12 aviation books I like

Here is a brief list of my favorite aviation books, making special note of the practical hands-on airplane knowledge they impart. And what’s more important, they’re all in easy-to-understand English. Do you have a favorite aviation book? Add it to our list.

WWII Watson’s Whizzers

It was a mission late in the war. Lieutenant Robert Anspach was flying cover in his P-47 Thunderbolt for a group of B-26 Marauders near the Messerschmitt factory airfield at Lechfeld, Germany. From out of nowhere an enemy airplane rocketed past, blasting off a few rounds. It looked like nothing they’d seen before. Ever.

Blackbirds and the Colored Air Circus of 1931

More than two decades after the Wright brothers made history, only one African American, Bessie Coleman, possessed an international pilot’s license. That didn’t sit well with William Powell, who sought to expose more African Americans to the art of flying. In the process he inspired blacks to take a greater role in aviation, and along the way he formed history’s first all-black aerobatic team.

Crappy runways

It’s known as the Pucker Factor, and everyone contracts it at that particular airport where, frankly, it sucks to land. Phil Scott reviews some of the worst, from Catalina Island to the Himalayas. Read his list, then add your own nominees.

Mnemonic Devices: words to fly by

Who can forget how much there is to remember piloting an airplane? FARs, cockpit procedures, and a bunch of other stuff I can’t recall right now. To make it worse, after age 26, the brain starts shrinking to the tune of two grams of tissue each year. Sometimes I’m just happy to remember to put on socks in the morning. Luckily for pilots, there were the ancient Greeks.

Power to the people

Birds did it. Bees did it. Even uneducated fleas did it. But every time a man strapped wings to his arms and stepped into the void, he simply ended up splattering himself. It felt as though winged creatures mocked mankind for mocking them. Then one day in 1809 a man stood up and did what any wealthy guy does when he keeps losing a game: he changed the rules.

Speaking our language

Look, I rarely fly during the wintertime. VFR, warm blooded, no way to get to Lincoln Airport except on the motorcycle, that’s me. Instead, I—nerd alert—build model airplanes and—double-nerd alert—read and reread The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright (Volumes One and Two). Don’t hate me—I led a wasted childhood.