When our Grumman-American Cheetah left the runway of Pearson Field, Vancouver, Washington, on that Saturday morning, my wife and I anticipated a pleasant, scenic flying weekend. It turned out to be that and much more. But we had no idea that this takeoff was the beginning of a trip that would mark a milestone in our lives.
When planning this Bavarian vacation, I wanted to include some flying, perhaps an hour of dual with an instructor at a local flying club. Searching online, I came across the website of a company called Classic Wings Bavaria, offering scenic flights in a 1957 Soviet-built Antonov An-2 biplane. Here was the unique flying opportunity I was looking for, even if it did not involve actual stick time.
An airplane is a wonderful history teacher. From above I have surveyed the battlefield at the Little Big Horn; I have followed the Oregon Trail through the plains, and the original path of the Transcontinental Railroad through the forbidding Sierra Nevada. Not long ago I flew to Farmington, New Mexico, to seek out a small story from the waning days of the Old West.
I knew that trading in my IFR K35 Bonanza on a VFR-only Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) meant that my 38 years of flying IFR were probably over. No need to recite here the reasons for the move (if you’re wondering, no medical issues or bad IFR experiences), but the decision was not hastily made and there were no regrets. I always enjoyed IFR flying, though, and my last IFR trip was one of the very best and most meaningful of all.
By the mid-1960s general aviation was booming, but airplanes and pilots were still regularly coming to grief in stall-spin accidents. Robert McCulloch sought to revitalize the autogyro concept for the mass GA market. Surely there must be demand for a stall-proof, slow-speed-capable flying machine that was both easier to fly and less complex than a helicopter.
Soon I found myself on the ramp with Ron, walking around the DC-3. Having never before flown anything larger than an Aztec, I was overwhelmed with the airplane. It was daunting, yet familiar, like one’s first approach to an ancient Roman edifice theretofore known only from picture books. Even the fabric-covered control surfaces were massive and substantial. The DC-3 was regal in form and formidable in character, and I approached it with awe bordering on reverence.