Above & Beyond: Cornwell’s Folly

Above & Beyond: Cornwell’s Folly

A half-baked excuse for an airplane, cobbled together in 1948, spent its entire life eroding in a Colorado desert. (Norm Hill)
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Ed strutted to the aircraft and directed his crew away. He didn’t acknowledge the crowd, and if that was on purpose, no one could blame him. That group would not have given him a chance.

The airplane, in its military olive drab, was ready. It did, in fact, look airworthy. Ed crawled into his contrivance and closed the door. All horn honking and conversation ceased.

Minutes passed, and it began to look like Ed may have caved in to his detractors. Then the propeller began to turn. Car horns began anew. The engine caught, and the propeller became a blur—spinning hard, noisy, and certain. In an instant, the mood changed. The audience began rooting for the all-American buffoon to pull it off.

The engine roared, the airplane shook, and the propeller strained. Ed had the power at maximum, but after a few long, precious seconds, the airscrew could no longer stand the stress. The propeller broke, both halves flying like missiles. Years later, a wrangler discovered a broken propeller section far away in a gully.

Cornwell cut the power, and the engine wound down in a humiliating whine.

A few had wanted to see the airplane take off, and others had divined its failure. No one moved. The Colonel, realizing Cornwell was not about to exit his airplane to face the silent audience, ushered them away.

I contemplated the deteriorating wreck, and after I had finished a more than adequate amount of beer, I thanked John. “I needed that,” I said.

We drove away. Ed’s old airplane had struggled mightily to indulge its maker. But it wasn’t a total failure: It brought me home.

Lewis A. Bartlett is a man of great vision: He says it was so flat where he grew up, some Mondays he could see all the way to Wednesday.

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