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Old Things

   I was sitting in my van at the airfield the other day, sipping a coffee,
listening to the traffic and watching a very old bird taxi out and clear for
This old bird was a Cessna 140, a wonderful old airplane, which I learned
on, and never seems to lose its aura.
This old girl had a new paint job and looked better than when she rolled out
of Wichita....
Some things are indeed timeless and the years and age don't even seem to
figure into it.
   Which brings me to another topic of years and time, and this time, I
speak of flyers and wars and airplanes and airfields of very long ago.....
     The only thing that has changed in all of this is the players......we
were all young once, and the photographs of some who never did get old only
tell me the more that young men and women are merely players in the calendar
of the time...we all felt love and heartbreak and adventure and courage and
commitment to flying, country, hopes, dreams and companions.
    When the weather is least conducive to flying, and I am tired of
building, I go back again to the great bookstore of which I have extolled
before, to seek in the page and word and picture, a story, an inspiration, a
memory, or anything else which ties me to my love of aviation.
    I see here, many before and after photographs of the fields of battle,
like in France, where the old grainy photos in black and white, show the
funny old airplanes of WW1, the men who fought in them and I used to feel so
detached....how relevant is that to me?
Well, I now see the same fields in color photos, buzzed over by a brace of
Me109s, flown by young guys just as full of piss and vinegar as our guys,
thinking they were invincible...and now, the fields green and beautiful,
reclaimed by nature, without the flak batteries and bomb craters, and song
birds in the trees.....it is indeed haunting and mystical to know that
mortal combat and beauty and serenity both occupied the same space in the
photos of these grand books I now browse.
       I asked old Franz about the Star of Africa, what kind of fellow was
he ?
" A gentleman, in every sense"...was the reply....
This of course being Joachim Marseilles, a remarkable fighter pilot who shot
down 17 planes in one morning and later was killed when his chute hit the
tailplane as he bailed out after an oil line failed and stopped his
 Gone at 22, forever blond and young and smiling......gone to the mists of
        Guynemer, Nungesser, Falck, Tuck, Hartmann.....names extinguished
and only kept alive in enthusiasts such as you and me when we read these
books and become transported to a fliers' world.
      Some lost at sea in a Trans Atlantic race after the war, some shot
down, some just claimed by time.....
       All of us who love airplanes and to fly are cousins to all who went
up there before us, to see the Earth and sea and cloud and desert as very
few others ever will, and we will follow..sometime.
      What romantic names and places the airplane has brought us to
explore....the Masai Mara, where Africa spreads the grasslands out forever,
where daily life is a combat of survival,
the stark beauty of the Sahara, where the blaze of noon turns to freezing
nights and air mail pilots of old set down in distress in the hope of being
discovered by a caravan.....
        The Falcon of  Feltre, Frank Link-Crawford, WW1 ace for the other
side..a legend to this day, or Kiss, another be-medalled ace whose loss was
never reconciled by his lover who visited his grave every day for 52 years
...and never married......
         I can see the yellow noses of the 109s as the "Abbeville Kids" rise
up to meet the Forts and the fighters over France, ..but now, I see in this
book, that the story bids you come to fly over and stay in comfort and
safety on a holiday in France...enjoy dinner and wine and never think of the
sounds of Daimlers and Merlins.......the grass is green and the birds sing
     I have sat and drank tea with old Franz who bears the scar on his
forehead of a .50 caliber..courtesy of some 20 year old tail gunner...now
about 80 if he is still with us, listened as Gunter Rall tells of having his
thumb shot off while holding the stick and rolling out of the line of fire
of a P51..........all old guys who rode the thunder and dodged the guns
while dancing through halls of air to try it all again another day....
         The pictures and the books tell of airplanes doing what they always
did.....save a life and lose a life and run with the wind where you bid it
carry you......albeit some faster than others...
Isn't the human race at once terrible and wondrous both ? that a youngster
can hold 3,000 horses or more in 5 fingers and blaze a trail and history
through the sky ?
       Yes, the old 140 made me smile and remember how to be grateful and
respectful of a time when my solo with her was one of the most life changing
experiences I will ever have...and love..
Get a book and read of airplanes for a dark and stormy night.
It will transport you safely and happily to what flying compelled you to
answer the call..