Flying, Biplanes, and Museums

This morning when I got up, I began trying to catch up on some of my reading. One of the emails I read came from AOPA_ePilot@aopa.org and the lead article, titled, “Plane Jane makes last flight,” made me reflect on some of the flying I enjoy the most. Written by Sarah Brown, the article told the story of a 1929 Fleet biplane carefully and lovingly restored by Gene Breiner.

Breiner, 86, and his daughter, Joyce, are donating the rare antique airplane to the Smithsonian. It was a sad story to read; part of every aviator wishes all airplanes will fly forever. Richard Bach wrote very well of this phenomenon of placing airplanes into museums. He, as with many other pilots, believes museum managers and curators should make every effort to keep the museum aircraft airworthy.

It would be a noble effort to maintain the older planes in flying condition. In reality, Brown brings up cans the point in her article that as the older airplanes age, it takes more work and dedication to keep them in the air. She also reported that Breiner, a retired FAA maintenance inspector, talked about the enthusiasm and dedication required of those who would maintain old airplanes.

Additionally, the article also pointed out the field of qualified pilots and mechanics with the knowledge and the experience of working on antique airplanes is becoming as thin as the old airplanes themselves. Like the airplanes, the pilots who flew them in the prime of their youth when the airplanes were new, are almost museum artifacts also.

Very few of the young pilots and mechanics of today are willing to devote the work it takes to keep the old antiques flying. For them, working on a plane three hours to go fly 30 minutes to an hour is unthinkable.

Breiner, however, has figured it out. He knows the secret.

In the article, Brown quotes him as saying, “You haven’t flown until you’ve flown a double-winger.” Indeed, fewer pilots today have experienced what famous aviation author, Ernest K. Gann, has described as “the peculiarly sensual delight” of flying an open cockpit biplane. It is something I wish every pilot today could experience.

I think that if more pilots had the chance to fly in an antique airplane with an open cockpit, two wings, struts, and a birdcage of flying wires and anti-drag wires, we would be in a far less precarious situation with our freedoms to fly. We would probably also have a new crop of young pilots who would be willing to work on an airplane for three hours just to go fly for one.

Sarah Brown did a great job writing about this event. If you would like to check out the rest of the story and photos, click here.

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©2011 J. Clark

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