Lessons Learned During a Field Trip to the Cyber-Museum of Aviation
I grew up a girl.
So since I became a pilot and joined the aviation world I often feel several paces behind my mates when the inevitable conversations about airplanes begin. I mean these guys can remember every detail of every airplane EVER manufactured. And I am like, “Well, the 152…” Because I trained in the Cessna 152 it’s really the only airplane I can speak about. That doesn’t leave many conversations I can participate in.
That needed to change.
With my clearly defined mission, to the computer I went.
Conducting a research project on the internet is like watching music videos on You Tube. You start by watching one artist, then you click on “Suggestions” which leads to another, which leads to another, and finally you are watching someone you didn’t even know existed, and really liking them.
In the course of one afternoon I discovered not only what I set out to find and that is some history of the mechanical device we call the homebuilt airplane, I unexpectedly and simultaneously unearthed a portion of the emotional archeology that is embedded within that history. And of course for me, that is where the good stuff is.
My research and story line took flight with “the winged gospel”.
For during my journey I learned of the idea of “the winged gospel”, a phrase coined during the 1920’s to describe the almost religious enthusiasm that embraced aviation in its earliest days. I was reminded of a quote by Vincent Van Gogh,
“For my part I know nothing with any certainty but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”
I thought of how, for many centuries, the idea of man penetrating the heavens in a machine of his own invention has stirred the imagination of so many.
What must it have been like in those early days of flight, to have experienced an event not before seen by man? Such notions appeal to this romantic and touch upon several favorite subjects, dreaming, experiencing something for the first time, persevering and appreciating that which came before.
Airplane building connects all of these. There is that list of ‘firsts’ between a builder’s initial inspiration and the takeoff roll. There is the follow-through, the strength and the sweat that comprises the magic of a dream coming true.
Finally, there is the history to which it belongs. To think, 108 years since the Wright Flyer first soared, today’s 21st century builder can be transported back to a time when aviation was new and experience the sensation of the birth of flight through the process of creating his own flying machine.
And although there is not an airplane in every garage as “the winged gospel” forecasted, I believe those who do have a plane in their garage, homebuilt or factory made, embody the very same enthusiasm as our aviation forefathers. The gospel lives on, perhaps only on a scale slightly smaller than first envisioned.
May we always look towards the heavens and dream.
The following are highlights from aviation’s rich tradition of dreamers.
Source of following photos and information, Wikipedia.com
Bernard Pietenpol, “The Father of Homebuilt Aircraft”
A self-taught engineer, Pietenpol’s dream was to design an affordable plane that could be built and flown by the “average American” of the 1930’s. The result was the Air Camper, powered by a Model A and whose plans were published in Modern Mechanics in 1931. In those times the Model A was considered too expensive so Pietenpol created the single-place Sky Scout which used the cheaper Model T engine. With the exposure he received from multiple appearances in Modern Mechanics, his aircraft became the favorite homebuilt airplane of its day.
Alberto Santos-Dumont, The Demoiselle.
Plans for the plane were published for free in the June 1910 edition of Popular Mechanic and stated “This machine is better than any other which has ever been built, for those who wish to reach results with the least possible expense and with a minimum of experimenting.” The airplane could be constructed in 15 days. It easily covering 200 m of ground during the initial flights and flying at speeds of more than 100 km/h, the Demoiselle was the last aircraft built by Santos-Dumont.
Orland Corben, The Baby Ace
The first homebuilt airplane to be marketed nationwide. Orland Corben designed a series of aircraft for the The Ace Aircraft Manufacturing Company, the Baby Ace, Junior Ace and the Super Ace. The Baby Ace and its Ace cousins have remained popular through the years. Kits or plans are still available. 1929
Burt Rutan, The VariEze
An innovator in both airplane and spaceplane design. Rutan introduced the canard design to homebuilding. The canard is the small surface in the front and the much larger wing is in the rear. The goal in this design was to make the airplane more resistant to departure stalls and to increase the long-range cruising efficiency. It is said he was successful with both. Additionally he pioneered the use of composite construction. More VariEze’s were made than any other kit plane of its time. 1976-85.
Richard VanGrunsven, The RV
A mechanical engineer by training Dick “Van” VanGrunsven began his design career by altering his Stitts Playboy. His modifications included a bubble canopy and replacing the wood and fabric wings with aluminum ones of his own design. Completed in 1965 this first attempt became know as the RV-1. His goal was to design an airplane with enough power and maneuverability to do basic aerobatics and cruise as fast as possible. He accomplished this with the RV-3 in 1972. He has since taken metal construction in kitplanes to a new level in his RV Series. The RV-6/6A became the most successful kit aircraft in history. Today over 6,000 RV’s have been built.