• Buzzing Teterboro Tower

One of my earliest recollections is seeing famous radio personality Arthur Godfrey waving from the cockpit of a DC-3. Even though I was only 4 or 5, I can still hear his folksy, gravely voice coming from the radio on the kitchen wall, and the aura of affection it generated among listeners. His radio show was sponsored by Chase and Sandborne, and we affectionately called him Awful Coffee.

After a stint in the Navy and then the Coast Guard before WW2, Godfrey won a talent contest in 1930 singing and playing the ukulele. His success landed him a weekly radio show, and he went on to become an announcer at Baltimore's WFBR, now WJZ. He moved to Washington and became a staff announcer for NBC-owned WRC until 1934.

He started flying in 1929 but in 1931 was invovled in an automobile accident on the way to a flying lesson. The injury kept him from flying duty in WW2, but he served in the Navy as a public affairs officer.

As a celebrity, he cajole the Navy into qualifying him as a Naval Aviator and he eventually became carried qualified and earned a green instrument card. He played those tickets against the Air Force, who successfully recruited him into their reserve corp as well. At one time during the 1950s, Godfrey had flown every active aircraft in the military inventory at one time or another.

His continued unpaid shilling for Eastern Airlines earned him the undying gratitude of good friend WW1 flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker who was the president of the airline. Captain Eddie is featured in the following 48 minute movie shot in 1953. Wait till you watch them feather three engines leaving just #4 to keep the Connie aloft! This flick is a virtual time machine back to the post-war years of vintage aviation, including a GCA approach and a supersonic dive with famed Lockheed test pilot Tony Levier (and a totally inaccurate description).

Godfrey was such a good friend of United that Rickenbacker took a retiring DC-3, fitted it out with an executive interior and DC-4 engines, and presented it to Godfrey, who then used it to commute to the studios in New York City from his huge Leesburg, Virginia farm every Sunday night. Today, a young friend—a Falcon captain for BAE—has a house on the land that was Godfrey's "Old Cow Pasture."

In January 1954, Godfrey buzzed the control tower of Teterboro Airport in his Douglas DC-3. His license was suspended for six months. Godfrey claimed the windy conditions that day required him to turn immediately after takeoff, but in fact he was peeved with the tower because they wouldn't give him the runway he asked for. Unrepentant, this song, written and sung by Godfrey, followed.

• A Different Era

Lets all stand around and watch the excitement, and then after the crash run right over and get a close look. But on the topic of close looks, when was the last time you saw anything like the third segment in this old video on an airliner? Maybe the good ol' PSA days?

• Don't Knock the Knocker

The Aeronca Champion is often refered to as The Champ, the Air Knocker or simply, the Knocker. The company name usually is pronounced "Er-on'-ica" with emphasis on the i, probably for the same reason that shimmy dampers are called 'dampners' with emphasis on the n.

I've never been quite sure why in either case. But this story from Flying magazine, way back in 1974, suggests the answer for the Knocker.

I sip my coffee and wave off the autograph-seekers. Through the restaurant window I keep an eye on my plane and the curious masses that swarm around it. It always attracts the masses, this great beast from out of the past.

The throbbing of the idling engine, burping little wisps of iridescent blue smoke, travels through the ground up to the lunch counter and leaves little rings in my coffee. I always leave the engine idling when I'm having my morning coffee. It pleases the masses so.

The morning sun glints on the golden wings the same way it did so many years ago when we screamed out of the sky with guns blazing, ending the career of the infamous Baron von Doppeldecker (450 kills confirmed)...

"More coffee, Ace?"

The Golden Moment is shattered by an uncaring waitress with her pot of battery drainings. The throb of the engine fades and, through the window, I watch a shimmering wave transform my snarling beast into a squat, dumpy, and bug-bedecked caricature of an airplane. It leans ungraciously to the left and leaves its calling card on the asphalt in a random pattern of oil drips. Sounds a little like an Air Knocker, you say? You know, you could be right.

At some obscure moment in the annals of aviation, a group of frustrated designers decided it was high time to come up with the perfect lightplane, one that would be in every hangar throughout the land, being flown by every type of aviator. In order to compete forcefully in the mish-mosh that was the present competition, this Dream Plane would have to be powered by an efficient, albeit modest, engine that promised more speed than horsepower; carry a great payload faster and farther than the competitors; climb higher faster, land slower and be more patronizing to the ham-fisted student; have unexcelled crosswind capabilities; ad infinitum. All of these requirements were compiled, annotated, reworked, and then thrown out. And what did they come up with? Aeronca Champion is what it was.

An Aeronca is a lovable parody on flight—an animated cartoon that can become airborne. Its shape would give the Wright Brothers second thoughts about their bicycle business. There are bends and lumps where there shouldn't be and there are straight, architectural lines where there should be bends and lumps. Put any more hardware into the slipstream and it would fly faster sideways. Come to think of it, it will fly sideways.

What the Kon-Tiki was to yachting, the Aeronca is to powered flight. But miracle of miracles, the people came and, for some warped reason, embraced this flying chamber pot. They accepted the "Knocker" just like it was a real flying machine. From everywhere they came to learn to fly this critter and, shortly, more fledglings were given wings (one way or another) in the Aeronca than were in the famed Piper Cub, even.

Why, you ask? Hell, I don't know, I answer. Maybe what it took was a flight in the thing to open your eyes. All I know is that's what did it for me. One turn around the pattern and I was hooked.

For those uninitiated few of you (the rest can ride along and no smart comments, please), let's check you out in this son-of-a- wrinkled blueprint. Hop in front, or in back if you wish. Both seats go the same places. Hopefully.

First note how sensibly appointed the roomy cabin is. Instruments (both of them) right up front where you can see them. Fuel indicator, that piece of bent wire bobbing up and down on the nose. Keep an eye on the wire—when it goes down, so do you. Switch? Merely twist your left arm into its most uncomfortable position and grope around near your hip for a loose handle; we'll assume you're sitting front seat. You won't be able to read the markings, but take my word that all the way forward is BOTH. The little knob next to it is the carb heat, and to use this it would be best to climb into the back seat and use both hands to pull it out. Not too hard, or you'll really pull it out. Not to worry—dead-stick landings are good practice.

Out front, some patient soul will have to twist the prop for you while you are untwisting yourself in the cabin. After the tenth flip of the prop, you will notice the quizzical look on his sweat-beaded face. He is likely pondering the Continental nameplate staring at him with its motto: "As Dependable As the Nation."

In the interest of time, we shall assume that the engine is churning and that all systems are "go."

Someone once commented that an airplane is the most awkward and stupid means of surface transportation ever devised by man, being paralleled only by a sack race. He must have at the time been watching an Aeronca taxi. The most time-consuming and laborious chore you will ever log is getting from tie-down to take-off. To begin with, it will take full power to get the Knocker to consider moving. This theory is carried on into flight. Any of you who have ever tried to taxi over your chocks know the feeling.

Once rolling, the plane will generally head into the wind. Any wind. Even in dead-calm air, it will find some passing zephyr to favor, and no amount of rudder-and-brake combination will do anything but aggravate the situation. Its course is predestined and all you can do is hope there is a taxiway somewhere along that route. It will wallow and creak along prehistorically, responding only to generous amounts of throttle and coarse language.

For the take-off, push throttle full forward and it will begin rolling down the runway at a speed somewhere between a fast taxi and a trundle, exhibiting all the style and grace of a Dixie cup in a windstorm. However, an Aeronca Champ will actually become airborne faster than a Cub, pound for pound. Usually, because it instinctively favors the grassy areas alongside the runway, before flying there is a 50-50 chance you'll end up heading for the fence or those hangars on your left. This is known as the "cross-runway" take-off technique. Once mastered, it can be stimulating and quite showy, and everyone will notice your take-offs, including the FAA examiners. Tower personnel are legion who have hit the deck upon seeing a grinning Aeronca face heading straight (or, roughly straight) for their office.

Once aloft, you establish an "Aeronca Pattern," which is best described as something between an ellipse and a rhomboid octagon. No traffic problem here. Most of the other aircraft will follow you—if only out of fascination or curiosity.

Control surfaces are overabundant, so be tender with the rudder pedals or you are likely to find out what racing drivers refer to as "swapping ends." Other than that, the Aeronca is quite forgiving in its flight characteristics. There is ample time to consider all of your actions because you are not moving at exactly breakneck speed. This you will assume by the blowing bits of paper and leaves that pass you up, later by the bug splat on the trailing edge of the wings.

But the view is unparalleled! More-or-less clear plastic windows abound, and you will become increasingly aware of this facet as the day heats up.

Now for the landing—and here comes the part with the meat on it. Get a good line-up with the white runway stripe and mentally mark an "X" where you wish to touch down. Then forget it. Chances are good the only white line you will see after touchdown will have a sign: AUTO PARKING ONLY. Cut the throttle and notice how immediately nothing happens. No sweat. The Knocker has merely decided it doesn't want to land. This "Schweizer Effect" can be overcome by generous bursts of more coarse language and by energetically bouncing on the seat to shake it loose from the sky.

The landing itself is a thing to behold. From the ground, at least. They come from miles around to watch an Aeronca land. The last Super Bowl lost money because the word got out that there would be a Knocker landing.

Next we come to the "No-Bounce" gear. Aeronautical Corporation of America commissioned someone to come up with a snappy name for its new patented landing gear. I think it was Woody Allen who suggested the phrase, "No-Bounce." Some 15 feet up you can feel the tires groping for the runway—like sticking a toe in a hot bathtub. At five feet the Knocker will act as if it's trying to find a lost contact lens. Then touchdown comes. This normally will register between 2.6 and 4.5 on the Richter Scale. No matter where you think the ground is, it isn't. There's always about three feet left when you run out of fly. "No-Bounce" means that the wheels never leave the ground after first contact. The fact that the rest of the plane is performing a crude Lomcevak is beside the point. The wheels stay glued, even when you go careening off into the grassy area. I know some pilots who think it's salty to taxi around with their earphones around their neck. In a Knocker, that's where they end up after touchdown.

So much for the basic Aeronca familiarization. Perchance you find the tenor of this article deprecatory? Knock the Knocker? Me? Never!

I speak of this thing called Aeronca as a husband would speak of the wife who occasionally burns the toast and comes down to breakfast in hair curlers, or sometimes forgets where she parked the car. Little things that will either endear her to you or drive you to early basketweaving therapy. It is a conditioned love affair. You become conditioned. I'm fresh out of Aeroncas at this writing, but you can catch me doing my biweekly Trade-a-Planing with red pencil busy circling and deleting in the "Aeronca" column. I was spoiled many, many years ago by a squat and dumpy barge with a huge shamrock on its nose, and I am conditioned. I like earphones warming my neck.

Aeronca? If you have no particular place to go and don't have to be there at any particular time, fly it—you'll like it.

• Bird In The Cornfield

This (Air Force) tale is floating around the web, but in case you haven't seen it ...

58-0787 is the famous "Cornfield Bomber". In 1970, while assigned to the 71st FIS at Malmstrom AFB, Montana, its pilot ejected during an inflight emergency. The pilot somehow got himself in a flat spin -- this is considered generally unrecoverable in an F-106 and the book says to get out. After the pilot did just that, 58-0787 recovered itself from this unrecoverable position. In a vain attempt to recover, the pilot had trimmed it to takeoff trim and engine throttle back. After it recovered itself, it flew wings-level to the ground and made a near-perfect belly landing in a farmer's snow-covered field. When the local sheriff arrived on the scene, the engine was still running. On a slight incline, the F-106 would move slightly as the snow under it melted which got the sheriff quite energized.

A depot team from McClellan AFB recovered the aircraft and it was eventually returned to service. When the 71st FIS was disbanded in 1971, 58-0787 went to the 49th FIS, my first squadron. Some considered it a lucky ship, others a jinx ship. We all referred to it as the "Cornfield Bomber".

We would occasionally run into ex-71st FIS guys at William Tell and ragged them unmercifully about the "emergency" so dire the plane landed itself.

58-0787 is in its 49th FIS markings at the USAF Museum and I have been to see this old friend several times. As pleased as I am to see the 49th FIS Eagle immortalized for millions to see, a part of me wishes they would paint one side in 71st FIS markings to ensure visitors know it wasn't the 49th that abandoned this perfectly good airplane.

That story reminds me of 'Flip' Wilson jumping out of an A-7E. He had compressor stalls and the engine would not run above idle. He made a precautionary approach to Crow's Landing (outlying field around Merced, CA), landed long and ejected as he went off the end of the runway. The plane rolled to a stop undamaged in the field. Flip sheepishly went over, shut down the engine and retrieved his camera and jacket out of the cockpit.

UPDATE: An excellent source of additional information on this incident and F-102 and 106s is here.

One of the accompanying F-106 pilots, IP Major Jimmy Lowe, observed the ejection and watched 58-0787 straighten out right after ejection. He reportedly transmitted "Gary - you'd better get back in it!".

• On Whether to Become and Air Force Pilot or Naval Aviator

The piece is written by Bob Norris, a former Naval aviator who also did a 3 year exchange tour flying the F-15 Eagle. He is now an accomplished author of entertaining books about U.S. Naval Aviation including "Check Six" and "Fly-Off ".

In response to a letter from an aspiring fighter pilot on which military academy to attend, Bob replied with the following :

Young Man,

Congratulations on your selection to both the Naval and Air Force Academies. Your goal of becoming a fighter pilot is impressive and a fine way to serve your country. As you requested, I'd be happy to share some insight into which service would be the best choice. Each service has a distinctly different culture. You need to ask yourself "Which one am I more likely to thrive in?"

USAF Snapshot: The USAF is exceptionally well organized and well run. Their training programs are terrific. All pilots are groomed to meet high standards for knowledge and professionalism. Their aircraft are top-notch and extremely well maintained. Their facilities are excellent . Their enlisted personnel are the brightest and the best trained.

The USAF is homogeneous and macro. No matter where you go, you'll know what to expect, what is expected of you, and you'll be given the training & tools you need to meet those expectations. You will never be put in a situation over your head. Over a 20-year career, you will be home for most important family events. Your Mom would want you to be an Air Force pilot...so would your wife. Your Dad would want your sister to marry one.

Navy Snapshot: Aviators are part of the Navy, but so are Black Shoes (surface warfare) and Bubble Heads (submariners) . Furthermore, the Navy is split into two distinctly different Fleets (West and East Coast). The Navy is heterogeneous and micro. Your squadron is your home; it may be great, average, or awful. A squadron can go from one extreme to the other before you know it. You will spend months preparing for cruise and months on cruise.

The quality of the aircraft varies directly with the availability of parts. Senior Navy enlisted are salt of the earth; you'll be proud if you earn their respect. Junior enlisted vary from terrific to the troubled kid the judge made join the service. You will be given the opportunity to lead these people during your career; you will be humbled and get your hands dirty.

The quality of your training will vary and sometimes you will be over your head.. You will miss many important family events. There will be long stretches of tedious duty aboard ship. You will fly in very bad weather and/or at night and you will be scared many times. You will fly with legends in the Navy and they will kick your ass until you become a lethal force.

And some days - when the scheduling Gods have smiled upon you- your jet will catapult into a glorious morning over a far-away sea and you will be drop-jawed that someone would pay you to do it.

The hottest girl in the bar wants to meet the Naval Aviator. That bar is in Singapore.

Bottom line, son, if you gotta ask...pack warm & good luck in Colorado.