Naval Aircraft Factory N3N

            The “N” is certainly not one of the more glamorous aircraft, but it remains close to my heart because I logged 500 (mostly) happy hours in our “Yellow Bird.”  I always said that I got my license in Cherokees but learned to fly in the N3N, thanks to Dad’s patient indulgence.  A solid, sensible airplane that could be demanding on landing.

Beechcraft Staggerwing

Budd Davisson for the Staggerwing

            Excellent performance in one of the most distinctive airframes ever: that’s the Beechcraft Model 17.  Whether pulled through the air by Wrights, Jakes or P&Ws, the Staggering exuded style and sophistication in one impressive package.  An owner summarized the appeal: “We get to the airshow almost as fast as a Bonanza and still park with the antiques!”  The last one I heard of went for nearly $1,000,000.

Convair B-36 Peacemaker

            The B-36 remains an icon of my youth.  Our ranch in NE Oregon was on the low-level route from Spokane, Washington, to Mountain Home, Idaho, and some of my most vivid childhood memories are huge honking Peacemakers motoring overhead.  The sight was impressive enough, and so was the sound, but the ’36 exuded a feel unlike anything else.   That thrumming, pulsing in the air remains unforgettable.

Douglas DC-3

            The first time I left the ground was in a DC-3.  I still remember hearing my name announced in the drawing at the Walla Walla airshow in 1959.  What a thrill for a ten year old who was crazy about airplanes!  Only later did I begin to appreciate the “Gooney Bird’s” immense influence upon air travel and transportation generally.  Seventy years after the first flight, Dizzy Threes are still going strong. 

 Douglas SBD Dauntless

            Aside from the fact that the Dauntless exerted more effect on the Pacific War than any aircraft before the B-29 (Coral Sea, Midway, Guadalcanal), it’s my high-time warbird.  We restored and flew an A-24B as an SBD-5 in the 1970s, and I liked it so much that I wrote three books about it.  I was extremely fortunate to get to know the designer, Ed Heinemann: a fabulous engineer and cherished friend.

 Focke-Wulf 190

            I used to have a Champlin Fighter Museum polo shirt showing “Yellow 10”, Doug’s beautifully restored FW-190D.  A Mustang ace asked why I selected an enemy aircraft and I replied that it wasn’t enemy: it was now friendly in Doug’s collection!  Aesthetically it’s still a beautiful machine, combining sex appeal with brooding lethality.

 Fokker D.VII

Commons.Wikimedia for the Fokker

            As long as there’s going to be a totally senseless war, you should be able to choose our equipment.  So: if I could dial my time machine an pick my air force, it would be the Luftstreikrafte in 1918.  Never mind that it’s the losing side: in such a fanciful world the paint on the airframe matters less than the quality of the machine, and the D.VII’s immense success is legendary.

 Travel Air Biplanes

Popularaviation.com for the Travel Air

            For looks and nostalgia you can hardly do better than “the Wichita Fokker.”  The Travel Air Manufacturing Company was established by pioneers Walter Beech and Clyde Cessna, who require no elaboration.  So there’s small wonder that their trim, classic line of commercial biplanes were successful, even in the Great Depression.  I seldom got to fly a Travel Air but always enjoyed the opportunity.

 Vought F4U Corsair

            Sleek, potent, innovative: that was the Corsair.  Even today its significance is not widely appreciated though it was the first American carrier aircraft that outperformed most land-based opponents.  Its distinctive configuration with charisma and longevity assure the “U-bird” a lasting place in aviation history and legend.

 Vought F-8 Crusader

            When I was in grade school I wanted to grow up to become a Crusader pilot.  The F-8’s long, lean looks appealed to me from the start, so there’s no wonder it became the subject of my fifth book.  Those who flew “the last of the gunfighters” retain stratospheric morale, and I still relish many friendships in the ‘sader community.



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