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.

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