Friday, September 19, 2008

Wing to wing

Jim Sweet and his 1946 Ercoupe off my port beam, September 18, 2008

Heads up, wingman -- bandits at twelve o'clock low! See 'em? Roger. "Maintain radio silence," I mouth across the fifty yards separating our Mustangs as Captain Sweet spots the approaching Messerschmitts. Give 'em a few seconds. Sweet looks my way and I point downward. He nods. Saluting, I thrust the 1,440-horsepower Merlin into war emergency power and snap-roll the fighter into a quick split-S, screaming for the enemy a thousand feet below . . .

Flying formation with a fellow pilot does tend to throw me into the vivid daydreams of the small boy I once was and, in many ways, still am.

Yesterday Jim Sweet, a high school classmate who is now a dentist in Marengo, Illinois, and I met at his grass airfield, the aptly named Grandpa's Farm near Union, Illinois, northwest of O'Hare, and flew wing to wing -- I in my little old 1959 Cessna 150 and Jim in his even littler and older 1946 Ercoupe -- roughly 25 miles north to Lake Lawn Airport near Delavan, Wisconsin.

The most highly trained pilots, those who fly military jets, can tuck their wings into their neighbors' armpits and keep them that way for impossibly long times. Jim and I flew a safe 75 to 100 yards apart, I a bit higher and slightly behind, ready to break away at the slightest hint of danger. Not that a couple of old air-beaters barely making 100 miles an hour and flying in the same general direction are in much peril of collision.

But it took all my concentration to maintain speed, altitude and course through the thermal bumps while keeping one eye on the Ercoupe. It was a good day to brush up on aviating skills as well as lighten the wallet.

At Lake Lawn Jim and I extricated our creaky carcasses from our airplanes and limped across the highway to Lake Lawn Resort for what pilots still call a "$100 hamburger" but in these parlous times costs a lot more than that, once you add up all the gas, oil, insurance, maintenance and hangarage it takes to fly a few miles for lunch. But that half-hour in the air was priceless.



  1. You are so puerile.

  2. Yup. Isn't it sad?


  3. What? Your fantasy is too modern; No Sopwith Camel and chasing the Red Baron with your silk scarf and leather helmet?

  4. Walter Mitty, who was a kid in the 1920s, flew Sopwith Camels. I didn't come along till the 1940s, so I flew Mustangs instead. My sons flew Phantoms. Today's small boys doubtless fly Raptors.

    Fantasies change with technologies.