W o r d s F r o m A u s t i n
Old ThingsI 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 takeoff. 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 engine.... Gone at 22, forever blond and young and smiling......gone to the mists of history....... 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 here....... 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..Austin.