Friday, January 30, 2009


Months before I admitted it to myself, Ed Rankin called me out on it. "You're a puddlejumper," he said. "A puddlejumper, just like me."

Ok. I admit it. I'm a puddlejumper. There, I've said it, and I don't feel guilty. On a nice day, that's all I want to do. I didn't want to climb in the Seminole and roar off into the wild blue yonder. I wanted to hop in the Cub and meander around.

What to do on a beautiful Saturday morning? Puddlejump.

A nice evening? Puddlejump.

Puddlejump. Puddlejump. Puddlejump.

That's what I like to do. And if you string a bunch of puddlejumps together, you can even go somewhere! In short legs, the trip is enjoyable. You can get out, stretch your legs, and meet some new people along the way. Not a bad deal.

I'm trying to reveal a bit of what has been termed a mild obsession with all things Cub, and why I reference that cute-as-a-button little airplane so often. This isn't the first time I've contemplated such things. Hence, here's something I wrote back in November of last year, which I hope will demystify a few things.

"There are some things in life which we must admit we cannot explain. Why do little brothers find it necessary to pull hair? Why does the dog drink from the toilet when she has a perfectly good bowl of water? Why are yawns contagious? Or how about why we love certain people, why we’re still fond of Spaghetti-Os, why we’re ticklish or not, why we love flying, or why we’re so attached to certain aspects of it. To attempt to box these concepts in deprives them of their inherent, imperfect beauty. Chaos is a part of family life. The dog has personality quirks, but we still love her and she loves us. Yawns . . . well, that’s one that’s more difficult to explain. The fact of the matter is, many things in life don’t make sense, and efforts to quantify them often falls short of fully conveying what we feel. Regardless, I’m going to attempt to offer you some insight into my unnatural affection for Piper-produced yellow taildraggers.

The little Piper Cub is so iconic and identifiable for a reason. It has trained generations and introduced them to the wonders of flight. Young pilots prepared for war by beginning their flight training in humble Cubs. It is simple, pure, and unadulterated fun with its entire lack of complexity. Its basic nature teaches the pilot feel, not reliance on instruments.

By and large, Cubs are organic. Each one has an individual character and its own unique quirks. Just like people, they respond best to a confident and firm, yet gentle, approach. The fabric stretched taut over their bony frames possesses a living quality not found in metal aircraft. Drumming your fingers along the fabric, the vibrations sound much like a heartbeat. The fabric itself is reminiscent of skin.

Beginning in the cockpit, you see that few instruments crowd the small panel. This is a straightforward, honest aircraft, a throwback to the ways things—and people—used to be. It does not smell sterile, but lived-in and casual. The fit of the cockpit is snug, making one feel much like they are wearing the airplane and are connected to it on a very intimate level. Sitting in the back seat (the primary seat), one’s view of the instruments is typically blocked by the instructor sitting in front of them. One of the things you realize is that, in a Cub, you don’t need the instruments. If you care enough to listen, the airplane will speak and tell you everything you need to know. It takes a while to finally hear all of the whispers, but it’s well worth the effort.

The skylight above offers an upward view, while the right-hand door drops down for a heartstoppingly wonderful view. Unlike other aircraft, the Cub makes no attempt to isolate you from your surroundings, and, in fact, makes every effort to ensure that you are in touch with the environment you exist in. The world we live in has many different beautiful facets, from sparkling city skylines to mountain ranges to infinite rows of corn to brilliant emerald green fields and pine green forests, and it’s a shame to insulate oneself from these surroundings. Flying is an escape, but it is also a simple, yet profound, change in perspective. Winging above the earth gives one pause to contemplate their place in life, or simply to refresh their own views and reconnect with the rest of the world outside of their work and other stresses.

I can’t claim to be a grizzled veteran who’s flown everything with wings, but I’ve logged time in a fair variety for my level of experience, I think. So far, my logbook contains a 152, 150, Cherokee 140, Luscombe 8F, two Piper Seminoles, a Beech Bonanza, two J-3 Cubs, a PA-18 Super Cub, and my favorite “no, really” entry, a Citation CJ1. Each airplane has taught me something. I made my first two landings in the 152 (hey, those first two were really nice!) and sweated through some landings in the Cherokee. I struggled landing the Luscombe at first until I convinced its owner (politely) to let me try landing on my own, then promptly greased the first landing on, though I can’t say they’ve all been that nice. I still think it’s reluctant to come unstuck from the ground, at which point I’m reminded of its “high-speed” wing (can I legally put “high speed” and “Luscombe” in the same sentence?) but still enjoy flying it when I can. The Seminoles are a really expensive weight training program so far, as they’re heavier on the controls, and I’ve only managed one really nice landing in one. I kept getting in trouble for starting to level off at 20 feet off the ground, and then I figured out that it was all my Cub training coming back—except you can’t three-point a Seminole, or at least Piper doesn’t recommend that practice. The Bonanza made me feel short as I still couldn’t get full rudder deflection even with a couch’s worth of cushions. Hence, I had some peculiar-looking wandering take-offs. It served as a great intro to more complex airplanes like the Seminole. The Citation was pretty cool, and I got to take off once, which isn’t bad for a first logbook entry.

Every airplane has taught me something. Each one has caused me to ponder a while, both about my place in aviation and about how to fly correctly. What, to me, separates the J-3s and PA-18 is that I truly feel like I’m flying. Perhaps it’s simply a mental thing, but I can’t quite shake it. There is something about those classic fabric-covered taildraggers with the drop-down door. They have a heart and soul all their own, an intangible quality that can only be experienced and never fully explained. Even then, not everyone gets it, and that’s ok. Bonanzas are fabulous airplanes for what they’re designed to do, but they are not intended to fly simply for the sake of flying. My beloved Cubs are carefree, nostalgic, and rather unpractical. Maybe that’s their appeal. They are simply fun. Cubs are not in a hurry like the rest of the world. For a lesson in patience, fly a long cross-country in one. You’ll notice things you were moving too fast to notice before, and therein lies the highest education a Cub can give you—don’t get caught up in the rush of your everyday life and forget to notice the little things, to take a little time to do something for yourself, to challenge yourself and to enjoy yourself, to take a second look at something or to do something you might otherwise call “illogical” just for the experience.

Flying can teach you a lot about life, but only a Cub can really show you how to live."

I guess what this comes down to is a simple joy of flying, and the little airplane that enabled it. I can safely say that I would not be where I am today without the influence of the Cub. Sure, I'd probably still be flying, but likely without the same mildly insane passion for it. I wouldn't be writing this. I wouldn't be trying so hard to share my passion with others and simultaneously show others how to share their love of flying. In sum, I owe a lot to those Cubs. They have shown me what it means to be passionate. They have made me believe in myself and my ability to influence the lives of others for the better.

They've also made life a bit difficult. You see, now I have a nearly deified airplane to which all others are compared. I wondered at the beginning of the school year (and still wonder today) if professional flying is for me. Will it suck the fun right out of flying by making it work? And would it be fun anyways, since I've already established my definition of fun? That was half of the reason I decided to double-major in economics. I wanted the flexibility to have a good job that would support my Cub addiction after college so that I could still fly and enjoy it, even if it were not my job.

But then I sat in statistics class for three and a half hours. It was, in a nut shell, horrendous. While the material wasn't bad, the whole atmosphere was oppressive and forced. Apparently no one majors in a business-related field because they think it will be fun, and so the whole class carried with it an attitude of only putting up with the misery. Though I enjoy the intellectual aspect of economics, I wonder if that world is right for me.

In case you haven't noticed, pilots are a different sort. They experience the world and view it differently, having seen it from a spectacular new perspective. Maybe, then, I'm just struggling with how to live in two different worlds--that of the business world, which is endured rather than enjoyed, and that of the flying world, which is filled with passion.

I still haven't decided which is best for me, which is ok, though frustrating. I don't intend to force anything in my life. I have a fairly generic life goal, and it's my theory that there are a myriad of roads leading to that end goal. I'll take life easy, like the Cub taught me, yet still work for what I want, without forgetting why I want it.

Truth be told, I feel that too many people forget why they are doing what they do. Perhaps I'm completely wrong, but it seems like generally (and certainly not always) people today fly to become airline pilots, versus being an airline pilot because they couldn't fathom doing anything other than flying. It's a problem I see and ponder. Where has the fun of flying gone?

I know it's still out there, because I've seen it. What I don't see is that side being presented to most students; certainly it is not shown to many students who start flying through college curricula. Even the flight school I worked at had a very rigid feel to it, and that's why I didn't learn to fly there.

Maybe I'm entirely off my rocker. However, I absolutely loved the way I learned to fly, and that wonderful experience only enhanced my passion for aviation further. Thus, I can't help but wonder if I would have ever felt this way had I learned to fly at more regimented, sterile flight school. These thoughts and musings are why I started this blog. Though it may be selfish of me, I want everyone to see aviation the way I do, so that they see it's not just schedules and flight plans.

I want the young child down the street to know how I feel when I gaze out the door of the Cub and survey the beauty around me. I want the elderly man across the road to feel the emotion welling up inside when we float away from the cares of the earth. I want people to feel enthralled and whimsical once again.

I want them to dream of things beyond their reach again. And I'd really like your help in spreading that message.

1 comment:

  1. Well said.

    Ones passions only have to make sense to you. The way you pass those passions on to the others will make a huge difference on how the other prospective pilots would look at it as well. Aviation needs more people to have a passion like yours in order to survive as a sport and love of flying.

    To some, flying is just a mode of transportation and they miss out on the simple pleasures. To others it's their love, stopping at the airport just to drag the plane out for a quick flight to relax. There have been many times I have done that on the way home, even if it was just around the patch one time (maybe 3 minutes)or an hour flight, it was still relaxing for me.

    Those that truly love flying do not try to justify why they fly, they just do. One of our friends looks at the cost of flying in a rather unusual way, the first hour of flight covers the entire years expenses and all the rest of the flying for the year is free. If that is what it takes for him to justify his passion, great. He loves flying either way.

    I hope the passion you express in your blogs will catch the attention of our current aviation community, we are the future of aviation and we must share that passion with the next generation of enthusiast.