Thursday, February 12, 2009
Happy 50th birthday to the Cessna 150
The author's 1959 Cessna 150 touches down near Los Angeles in October, 1995, after a six-week-long aerial odyssey that began over New York Harbor. (Photo by Bob Locher.)
The other day I sang "Happy Birthday" to the Boeing 747, whose maiden flight occurred 40 years ago Monday. Now I must do the same for the little Cessna 150, the 100-horsepower two-seat trainer that, beginning in 1959 and ending in 1975, launched the careers of many thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of amateur and professional pilots. The type is now officially half a century old.
Habitues of this blog know that I keep a 1959 model "Buck-and-a-Half" at a little airport in southern Wisconsin. She was one of the first of an eventual 23,839 150s to roll out of Cessna's plants at Wichita in Kansas and Reims in France beginning 50 years ago, and she is now a certified antique, like me.
She no longer cruises at 120 miles per hour, the optimistic "book" speed she supposedly enjoyed when new. On a good day she'll do 105. She can fly 300-mile-long hops with plenty of fuel to spare. On them she can carry about 500 pounds of avgas, oil and passengers, which means the Lady Friend and I can take a weekend trip if we pack just our toothbrushes.
Cramped Cessna 150s are not exactly the most comfortable touring airplanes; a two-hour flight is about all this arthritic geezer can endure before he has to land and get the kinks out of his legs and back.
They are, however, responsive, reliable and durable airplanes, famously easy to fly although difficult to fly well. They won't tolerate woolgathering at the controls but will quickly drift off course and altitude if attention isn't paid. This is what made them superb trainers.
My 150 is officially known as N5859E, her FAA registration number. Before she was refurbished in 1994-5, her previous owner's dyspeptic wife dubbed her "Shitty Little Fucking Airplane," and the owner liked that so much he painted the letters "SLFA" on her cowling.
For a while she was known as "Gin Fizz," a play on "Vin Fiz," the Wright Brothers airplane that was the first to make it across the United States, in 1911. In her I retraced Cal Rodgers's route for my 1997 book Flight of the Gin Fizz: Midlife at 4,500 Feet.
This weekend, weather willing, I'm hoping to throw a very private 50th birthday party for old Five Niner Echo. She and I will climb to 3,000 feet and enjoy a little cake and exercise after her two-and-a-half-month layoff in a snowbound hangar.
We'll be a happy pair, she and I.
FRIDAY: We were, for an hour of touch-and-goes this morning. Every one of my five landings was perfect, a greaser. (This always happens after a long layoff. After that first day I always go back to involuntary tail-waggling crow-hops and teeth-rattling drop-ins. This causes the old-timers whittling in front of the hangars to slap their knees and cackle in glee.)