I’m a sick man. Yup… infirm, afflicted. Infected with an illness for which there is no cure. It’s an addiction, really. I love airplanes. I’d rather be flying than doing most other things, I suppose. There, I said it. Always been that way; don’t know why.

A 20 year Air Force career was followed by 22 years of commercial flying, after which I was tossed to the ash heap of old airline pilots in 2018.

About 18 years ago, I decided to get back into general aviation. I had to relearn nearly everything and wisely joined a local club (briefly) for a checkout. Purchasing our 1974 Bellanca Turbo Viking was a seminal event. Coincidentally, my “condition,” thus far dormant, emerged. My loving and understanding wife of 45 years, who knows me better than I know myself, cleverly noticed I would fly for several days at work, only to return home eager to fly more… in our little airplane. She feared an “intervention” might prove necessary, and from her lips I first heard those words, “You are a sick man, Krikorian!”

She was right, of course, but it was an epiphany for me. As though smacked upside the head, I realized I am more than a pilot; more than someone who makes a living operating aircraft. All things aeronautical are part of my DNA. As a kid, I used to fly my fork at the dinner table and plan cross-countries by laying charts out on my bed. I am an aviator! Ordained in the cosmos and possessing the sickness for which there is no cure, I am either cursed or blessed with this wonderful malady which defines my being and from which there is no escape. Perhaps you, reader, are also an aviator.

Bellanca

When you name your airplane, you know you’re sick with the aviation disease.

Maintaining our aircraft, while painfully expensive at times, is part of the journey. Mrs. Krikorian noticed this fact in short order, and one day mentioned, with every intended sarcasm, “Whatever Precious wants, Precious gets!” Henceforth, our Viking has been affectionately addressed as “Precious.” These positives and negatives are the practical side of ownership. An aviator’s affliction flares up in earnest when the engine starts.

Now, to bathe in the nirvana which follows, music is recommended. Suggested composition for the moment is
“Corral Nocturne” by Aaron Copland.

As I open the hangar, sunlight, with razor sharp precision, slices the darkness inside, creeping slowly, illuminating first a sliver of gray painted floor baring evidence of vague tire tracks and oil, then slowly revealing more and more of a beautiful flying machine. The expanding light eventually identifies the structure as a Bellanca Viking, and I imagine I am shaking hands with the man some historians regard as the most influential designer of aviation’s first 100 years: Giuseppe Mario Bellanca. We call him G.M. All his friends did, and do. He was a genius in every sense of the word. His remarkable, early achievements predate Bill Piper, Clyde Cessna, and others. After immigrating from Sicily to Brooklyn and having survived the launch flight of one his own designs, with himself in the wicker seat, Bellanca promptly opened a flight school. One of G.M’s first students was Fiorello La Guardia.

I am taken aback by the realization I am an airplane owner. What a privilege. This wonderful bird is mine! I feel this specimen of painstaking craftsmanship is entrusted to me from those who built it as well as the previous owners who loved and cared for this aircraft. They improved it and nursed it back to health after an emergency landing in Carson, Nevada, in the early 80s damaged the landing gear. They refurbished the interior and exterior and overhauled the engine. Now we have the reins and have updated the avionics, including ADS-B compliance. Someday, we will pass the torch to another owner. Not just any buyer will do. I hope to find someone with the sickness.

“Stand clear!” After just a few blades, Viking 41’s Lycoming quickly rumbles to life. The deep, throaty, choreographed grunts and clanks of a cold start soon give way to a smoother rhythm… and it talks to me. After its awakening yawn, the six-cylinder heart of my plane, says, “Oh, yeah… I’m back in business!” Donning my headset, the noisy world around me quiets, and an emotional, therapeutic catharsis begins. (Yes, it’s a noise-canceling headset. Just go with me here, alright?!)

I advance the throttle for takeoff and Mr. Lycoming does his best work. But it’s warm and my home field lives at an elevation of 5500 feet. The density altitude today is 8000 feet. Like Scotty from Star Trek: “But Captain! She’s giving all she’s got!!” So it is. I can help, Scotty. The twin Rajay turbos begin to spin upon manual activation. I feel the added acceleration. Manifold pressure is barely set, but Precious is eager and doesn’t want to wait for me. However, I’m in charge. I am always in charge (hopefully). A tug on the yoke and the Viking exclaims, “Whoa, baby! We are outta here!” The Bellanca takes a smug glance at the other machines occupying the ramp below. “I’m flyin’ and you’re not!” it thinks. We’re working on some attitude issues.

Mountains

Only a light airplane can deliver views like this.

Cleaned up and throttled way back, we trot below Denver’s Class B, just barely 1000 feet AGL, headed west. Buckley AFB clears us through as we make our way westbound. The Viking, like a dog anxious for a treat, is excited and struggles to contain itself at just 20 inches. It doesn’t have long to wait. I’m on a photo mission over the Rockies. It’s remarkably smooth this afternoon, unusual for Colorado. The Bellanca B airfoil, the same wing G.M. designed and debuted at the Chicago Air Show in 1937, is in its element. At 120 mph IAS and turbos cookin’, we are climbing at a solid 800 feet per minute all the way to 12,500. No need for higher since it’s smooth and very light winds are whispering across the ridge line south of North Arapahoe Peak. Still, the rocks just look close. A few hundred feet more, please.

The nearly perfect control harmony of the Viking still, after 17 years of ownership, captures my consciousness. It is nimble, immediately responsive, and cries out to dance the skies in ways not authorized by the Normal category type certificate. Discipline is required. The strong wood wing with long-span, push-rod ailerons can roll my ride in excess of 90 degrees per second. Don’t ask me how I know that.

Spying something below, I cross-control Precious to take a peek. Releasing the rudder, the large shark-fin vertical stabilizer returns her to straight-ahead-stable with barely a noticeable yaw overshoot. We are now on station amidst the majestic sentinels of the front range of the Rocky Mountains.

Suggested music: “Fanfare for the Common Man,” also by Copland.

For my purposes in the Viking, autopilot is a good assistant for my photo runs. Another pass… I want tight turns to get back into position without wasting time. Glancing in, airspeed is holding nicely where I want it, about 110 or 120. Autopilot off, I touch the yoke, but Precious says, “I’ve got this, Steve-o!” Just “think” 60 degrees of bank and you’re there, whipping around a level turn like nobody’s business. As if riding rails… smooth, stable, less than 15 mph bleeds off as the plane pirouettes on a wingtip like a confident ballerina. Speed recovers quickly with a little assistance.

Sometimes the turn is so tight, our new Avidyne 540 gets confused for a moment. This 68 year-old aviator likes it when a $17,000 piece of smart-ass, do-it-all avionics can’t keep up! We’re yankin’ and bankin’ at 12,000 feet and reduced airspeed, mind you. It’s poetry in motion, my friends… pure poetry! Mrs. Krikorian doesn’t appreciate this type of poetry and will express her displeasure, if aboard. I am never happier than when she is beside me in-flight.

Mission complete, I head for home. When it’s bumpy, managing the descent can be troublesome. The airplane picks up a lot of speed with just a slight rate of descent. I am rather deliberate with the throttle, but eventually, power must be significantly reduced to descend and keep the needle closer to maneuvering speed. Slower is better to minimize turbulence induced stresses. Today, however… oh yeah, we’re smokin’ at the yellow arc, crossing the ground circa 200 mph. I return to base the same way I left: right across downtown Denver and below the Class B. South of Colfax Avenue, hang a left at Watkins and Precious is in the pattern. I can sense that cocky attitude from her again (sigh)… honestly!

Giuseppe Bellanca

Giuseppe Mario Bellanca designed a sweet flying airplane.

I used to describe the Viking’s characteristics to fellow Airbus A330 pilots some years ago by saying, “The Viking flies just like a 330 (I now have their attention). It’s a wonderfully stable IFR platform with very light, beautiful control harmony, and it runs out of elevator authority shortly after touchdown!” In the 330, if you’re not proactive at lowering the nose, you quickly find yourself just along for the ride. A propeller airplane has a solution. Carry a little RPM to blow extra wind over the elevator. It allows more control to keep the nose up longer, center the rudder pedals, and gently lower weight onto the nose gear.

I accomplish a post flight inspection and vent the engine case via an open dipstick every flight, usually followed by a wipe down and a little TLC. The open hangar is a big invitation for others. A pilot may drop by for a chat. Love the airport crowd. I thank them for the nice compliments they bestow upon Precious, and shortly, will lower the hangar door.

Before I leave, Precious and I have a little talk about attitude and getting along with others. Doesn’t seem to do any good. Turning the lock on the hangar door, I start to step out, when I sense it. Precious reminds me, “You’re a sick man, Krikorian.” I grin, offer an approving head nod, then shut the door.

Steve Krikorian
Latest posts by Steve Krikorian (see all)
30 replies
  1. Dale Hill
    Dale Hill says:

    I like your choice of music while flying. Had a fellow aviator who once told me, “Life should have background music just like in the movies!” One selection I often hummed at the gunnery range was Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’!

    Reply
      • Sid
        Sid says:

        Thanks for the very nice Bellanca Viking story Steve. I was fortunate enough to be able to fly a friend’s Bellanca Viking from FL to San Juan to attend a meeting and after that we flew around the Caribean and landed in some of the picturesque island airports & visited their islands nations and then flew back to FL. Thanks for reminding me how smoothly the Bellanca handles and its nice cruise speed. This was a marvelously fun 2 flying weeks and the visits to the island coyuntries was a wonderful adventure. Keep more flying stories coming for us Steve. Sid

        Reply
  2. RichR
    RichR says:

    I know I’m in similarly afflicted company if when I’m pulling the prop thru (radial) and ask them to watch for wrinkles in the aft fuselage they smile.

    Reply
  3. Andris Golde
    Andris Golde says:

    Steve, thank you for admitting to being ill. As a physician, I sometimes have a hard time acknowledging that I too may have a medical problem. However, this one is true – I too am an aviator. The only cure is to go open my hangar door and stare at my Bonanza and smile. She has two names – my kids named her Caroline, but SWMBO formally christened her “The Mistress”. I would rather fly than work, play golf. Wish I had become a pilot earlier in life, but other priorities got in the way. I always fly to music – Xm radio in the background! Thanks for so accurately describing the affliction. Cheers.

    Reply
  4. Terry
    Terry says:

    I will never forget the first time I flew a Super Viking. After over 500 hours in a Bellanca Scout I was getting my high performance/retractable gear endorsement. Felt like a sports car on takeoff. The beautiful rivetless wood wing seemed like a high speed elevator.
    Thanks for your description of the flight in Precious.

    Reply
  5. michael b sigman
    michael b sigman says:

    Nice piece of writing. I feel the same way about our airplane, a 1967 Beech Debonair that we call “The Deb.” An absolute dream come true for me. I came up through GA and got back in about 8 years ago or so in a flying club that had 3 F model Bonanzas. The only regret I have is that The Deb didn’t come into our lives sooner (she wasn’t available!). We try to fly once a week taking my wife on lunch dates, clean her after each flight (shoot, I sometimes just clean her because I like to) and you can bet your sweet bippy I talk to her. Yeah, I’m REAL picky about maintenance with her as you are with your airplane. We celebrated our 40th anniversary during covid with her by flying her on an airport picnic lunch date, we found out we were going to have our first grandchild standing in front of her, we’ve made so many memories (one was flying to your neck of the woods to visit friends using O2) with her. Even after 40 years with AA and learning a thing or two along the way there, The Deb is teaching me something new each and every time I fly with her. She is truly a part of our family.

    Reply
  6. Jim Preston
    Jim Preston says:

    Great story, Steve. Back when we flew A-37s together, I never knew you were a poet. As I recall, you were the first guy I knew with a Macintosh. Obviously, you were ahead of your time. I had a Cardinal RG once, based at Meadowlake, just a little south of you. Drop me a note!
    Maggot

    Reply
  7. Greg, former AF pilot
    Greg, former AF pilot says:

    Steve,

    Yes, those were the right tunes for your story. I had them running in the background and they made your story like a movie.

    Reply
  8. Jeremie D
    Jeremie D says:

    Steve, thanks for sharing this eloquent glimpse into your “illness”. I fear it’s contagious and I’m showing symptoms myself. Thank you for the passion and enthusiasm you bring to the aviation community!

    Reply
  9. Chip Martin
    Chip Martin says:

    Wow… I had the same childhood dreams everything was about flying. Such Lofty dreams. I’m at your age now and the only difference in our happy lives is the fact you fore-filled the dreams. While I also did the Air Force and the airlines just not in a cockpit. Later in life I did get my license but I only flew rented equipment. Thanks for filling in the gaps. Loved reading it. Continued good fortune and safe flying.

    Reply
  10. Wiliam R Vrastil
    Wiliam R Vrastil says:

    Howdy there Major!

    Back at the Zoo one of my fondest memories was when you took me and a couple of our classmates up to Tahoe in your Dad’s 182. Then you and I rented a 150 on one of our Chorale trips. Those were fun times!

    Your article was a nice piece of work. Didn’t know you had it in you! Thanks for such a wonderful job describing the “illness” we all share in our aviator lives. While flying fighters was absolutely the most fun in the world, and airliners were challenging to fly well, it is GA that has proven to be the part of aviation you and I have shared the longest. Say hey to Kath for me…

    Bill

    Reply
    • Steve Krikorian
      Steve Krikorian says:

      Major!! Like it happened yesterday! I shudder to think back at how much I didn’t know at that age. As long as the plane cleared terrain, everything was fine, right? I must have had a legion of angels watching over me. Oh, the memories! My logbook records that trip as late March, 1974.

      Reply
  11. J.W."Corkey" Fornof
    J.W."Corkey" Fornof says:

    Great story Steve. The Super Viking is one of my favorite airplanes.The Company hired Bob Bishop and I, we Flew one acrobatically in airshows around the country for several years. As you described, I also loved the light, quick response and control authority. I use to say it was like a four place Pitts Special.
    Enjoy flying your Viking.
    J.W.”Corkey” Fornof

    Reply
    • Steve Krikorian
      Steve Krikorian says:

      Corkey, I hope we can meet someday. I went to AF pilot training at Reese AFB in Lubbock, 1976-77. During that year, Kathy and I and another couple drove to Plainview for a public airshow. I had long forgotten watching a Viking perform. It may have been YOU! Decades later, I discovered that visit on old Super 8 movie film. About 30 seconds of the Viking show was captured on film. Surely, you must know Debbie Gary who also demonstrated the aerobatic Viking. Recently, we’ve been flying to Tradewind Airport (TDW) in Amarillo, TX, as our son now lives there. Not long ago, at TDW, I struck up a conversation with a guy (older than I, if you can believe it), one John Whitaker, whose face lit up at the mention of my Bellanca. Turns out he spent some time as the Chief Instructor and delivery pilot at Miller’s Flying Service there at Plainview. Thanks for responding!

      Reply
      • J.W."Corkey" Fornof
        J.W."Corkey" Fornof says:

        Hi Steve,
        1976/77 were the year’s Bob and I demonstrated the Viking for the factory. We flew every major airshow around the country, along with our BD5J Jet team, The Acrojets.
        Debbie Gary is a good friend. I first met her when I was flying my Bearcat and Mustang shows. I later hired her to be our third team member when I led the BD5J Jet Team. When we stopped flying the Viking she followed up, also married the Bellanca President. You truly have a classic, most pilots today don’t realize how great a flying machine the Super Viking is.
        Hope we meet someday. Your article brought smiles to my face.
        J.W.”Corkey” Fornof
        http://www.corkeyfornof.com

        Reply
  12. Steve Krikorian
    Steve Krikorian says:

    To all who have been so kind to respond to my silly article, I have a confession to make. I was unaware of Air Facts online. I think I saw a magazine of such many years ago, but it was another’s article, apparently forwarded to me, that introduced me, quite recently, to Air Facts. I noticed the website invited others to submit writings, so having written that story for the Bellanca-Champion Club magazine, I thought perhaps the readers of Air Facts might enjoy it. It apparently met standards, was posted, and I am overwhelmed at the response from all of you. Secretly, I hoping some of my friends from a career in aviation might drop a note, and as you can see, more “older friends” are actively reading Air Facts.

    While I may not respond to everyone, please know how much it means to me that you fellow aviators have taken time from your busy day to express delightful sentiments of your own. I can’t describe how much fun this was. Thank you to the staff at Air Facts, and a most sincere thank you to all of you. I’ve known a couple of respondents nearly 50 years! For all you young people, I’m glad you enjoyed a glimpse into how airplanes operated before pilots flew them with their forefingers!

    Reply
  13. Jay Wischkaemper
    Jay Wischkaemper says:

    Have close to 800 hours in Vikings. I’ve had to step down to a flying club and a Piper now, and it’s flying, but not like the Viking. Really miss it.

    Reply
  14. joe godfrey
    joe godfrey says:

    Hi Steve,

    Great writing. I have owned my 1974 17-30A since 1990 and flew it yesterday. Hope to meet you at one of the Viking events someday.

    Reply
  15. Fred Olson
    Fred Olson says:

    Steve Krikorian—-, the name sure sounds familiar. Everything you’ve said about the flying and handling qualities of the Super Viking is absolutely true. They are the best! Pilots who’ve never had the chance to fly in one are always amazed.

    The first thirty four years that I’ve been a pilot, I owned Cessnas. A 175, a 182, and a 206. I thought they were nice airplanes. Then, thirty years ago, in 1992, I bought my first Bellanca Super Viking. I immediately realized I had missed out on years and years of fun flying. The Super Viking is in a completely different class than the Cessnas I owned. It’s a pilots airplane!

    Even though the handling is the same, the later Super Vikings offer a few clean ups and options, as should be expected. The IO-550 engine gives the airplane a little more high altitude performance and an extra 15 mph cruise speed. We fly out of Pagosa Springs, Colorado without a problem, where the DA can easily be 10,000’.

    It’s a real shame there aren’t more Vikings available. Steve would never have had this story to share if he was flying anything else!

    Fred Olson
    Super Viking IO-550

    Reply
  16. Jon Jefferies
    Jon Jefferies says:

    Another great story, Steve! There just is no way to read or hear about the beloved Super Viking without breaking out in a cool smile. Mine is awaiting a visit from me at the 3CK hangar as we speak and I have a bright, steady, low-level light on in my flying currency presently. My third Viking calls out from the corrugated aluminum shelter and I hope to respond this week. With help from your fine article and a little addition from the Mercury tube, I think it’s doable. Keep up the great work, Sir. I’m proud to call you a friend and fellow Super Viking owner, sharing the same affliction!

    Reply
    • Steve Krikorian
      Steve Krikorian says:

      Well, Jon, Fred, and the other Viking owners and pilots…we are “the choir.” My article was “mask free” and I hope to “infect” as many aviators as possible! There are so many magnificent airplanes to read about and appreciate. Akin to the old adage, “What’s the best airline?” (Answer: the one that hires you), I’d say the answer to the question, “What’s the best airplane?” is the one you’re flying. As many of us just can’t fly much anymore, I hoped to put the reader in my right seat with the article. Amplifying that are the wonderful comments above. Any more of this and I’m gonna log the reading time! Thanks for joining in…we’re having too much fun.

      Reply
  17. Mace Moore
    Mace Moore says:

    Great article! After 1100 hours and 30 years of ownership, my dad handed me the keys to our 1971 Super Viking. I’ve got my own 500 hours behind her now and look at my 3yo son in the back who will learn to love the Super Viking as I did. Truly a pilot’s airplane. Rolling into a turn in a BSV will put a smile on your face- a challenge to any pilot out there. As much of an exercise of the mind than the hands, the airplane and pilot one.

    Reply

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