Above & Beyond: Wings? Frail. Engine? Weak. Fly? Let’s.

Above & Beyond: Wings? Frail. Engine? Weak. Fly? Let’s.

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(Continued from page 2)

Suddenly a gust of wind battered the airframe and the right wing went down abruptly. I countered with wing warp and a healthy dose of the tiny rudder. The Blériot rolled firmly to wings-level and I centered the controls. The airplane gently pressed on into the wind as if nothing had happened. In that moment I fell in love with the design. With that stub nose and tiny rudder, it looked like a caricature, but it flew like a real airplane.

It was decision time. The plan had been to do a hop, and commit to flight only if everything was well. The expanse of runway behind was now longer than the stretch ahead. Eventually I would be out of options and the decision would be made for me: Fly it around the pattern or hit the power lines at the far end of the field.

The pilot in me urged: Go fly. Show the crowd what a Blériot could really do. The airshow director in me advised caution. The museum was about preserving airplanes, not destroying them. The fabric on the wings was suspect. The engine was weak. And by now my total Blériot time amounted to a mere 20 seconds.

In the most second-guessed decision of my aeronautical career, I eased up on the back pressure. The airplane began a gradual descent. Soon the stability of the ground overcame the buoyancy of flight. The main landing gear was on the ground. Only then did I ease the power back. When the tail finally settled onto the ground and the drag from the dual skids auto-centered the airplane on the ground track, I thanked Louis Blériot for the way the details of his design benefited the novice.

Zeke Cormier’s criterion had been met (I didn’t crash), I’d kept my promise to the FAA, and the aftermath of the flight was all good—except the nagging conviction that N605WB could have made a couple of circuits of the field and I could have landed after 10 minutes of self-training. It seemed like an opportunity missed, a wuss-out in a discipline characterized by bravery. Every time I replayed my momentary recreation of  history, I came to the same decision, but to this day, I wonder: What if?

 

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