The Pilot’s Perch and Other Neat Stuff
Lately, we’ve been on a “theme binge,” where we build issues around themes. Sometimes it’s on purpose, sometimes it just happens, and other times it’s because we stumble across some stuff that is similar in character but different in the details. This is one of those issues, with cockpits being a common core.
As magazine editors go, there’s the possibility I spend more time in an airplane cockpit than most. I average about an hour a day, every day, in a Pitts Special, teaching whatever that rambunctious little toad has to teach—which is a lot! I’ve done this for 46 years and logged about 7,000 hours of Pitts time in the process. That cockpit is my office away from the office. The net result is that I like knowing what other cockpits feel and look like, and this issue echoes that interest. Yes, I’m indulging myself and bringing you along. In that vein, at least three of the articles show the reader what the pilot sees when he’s on the job.
In Eric Hammel’s “Captured!,” the story of Korean War ace Harold Fischer, we get to see the F-86’s cockpit details. Just about all pilots who ever flew a Sabre lists it as their favorite airplane. Fischer did too, but as he fell through the sky dangling beneath a parachute, that was irrelevant. A MiG’s cannon shell had turned his gallant steed’s engine into a fire hazard, and his war was over. But it wasn’t. War 2.0 was about to begin for him as he became the guest of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army for the next two years.
In “The Marines’ Lost Squadron,” Mark Carlson puts us in the cockpit, and we feel the fear, sweat, and desperation of VMF-422 on what was supposed to be a benign 800-mile ferry flight of 23 Corsairs from their base at Tarawa to Funafuti Atoll (about 2,500 miles northeast of Papua New Guinea). Although the enemy in the Pacific was theoretically the Japanese, it was the ocean and its often-violent weather that threatened Allied and Nippon forces alike. On this flight, the cyclone just over the horizon rightfully claimed victory.
The joys of being a young Marine fighter pilot with his very own RF-4 Phantom, at a time when military flying had a slightly wild, Old West feel to it, are recounted by Roy “Shadow” Stafford in “Buzz Job.” Telling a story that today would land him in the brig, Roy explains in detail how he put the pedal to the metal and showed a trucker the real meaning of “west bound and down.”
And just to make sure readers get their fill of cockpits, the Gallery features six full pages of Dan Patterson’s cockpit photos lifted from Donald Nijboer’s new book, Fighting Cockpits, which Dan illustrated.
In “10 Aviation Myths of WW II,” Barrett Tillman tilts at a few windmills and kicks a few sacred cows in their butts as he gets some opinions off his chest. As a lifelong historian, he has a “just the facts, ma’am” approach to everything he does, and in this borderline rant, he takes on some commonly held “truths” and proves them to be otherwise. I’m expecting some serious nastygrams to arrive, which we can use to populate next month’s Airdrop letters column. Don’t disappoint me.
Dan Patterson’s image of a B-29’s flight deck, as seen in Fighting Cockpits.