Michael McCafferty - European Biplane Tour

An Old Irish Prescription

I searched the entire Paris Air Show for a photograph which would interest me, and could find only one. As you can see, it is the cockpit of my own biplane, a fact which you can be sure of because it has my name inscribed boldly thereupon. As you will also be quick to notice, the cockpit is empty. That is, it does not contain ME! This, then, is the basis for my less than euphoric state of mind.

What's Missing in This Picture?

One solidly positive thing which happened today was that the sun reappeared. In fact, it was a perfectly delightfully sunny day. I spent the entire day at the Air Show, basking in the sun and listening to the many show attendees who came by the display.

The five weekdays of the show are reserved entirely for aviation professionals (pilots, aircraft company personnel, corporate aviation people, etc.). The general public is excluded from the show during the week, and allowed in only on weekends. So today I met all kinds of pilots. Test pilots, commercial airline pilots, fighter pilots, general aviation pilots, aerobatic pilots, military transport pilots... you name it. You can generally tell the pilots who stop by. They all have that same smile, and that same light in their eyes. It comes from recognizing a REAL airplane, finally, in this sea of high tech hardware which responds only to the on-board computer that takes only general cues from the pilot. In my humble Waco they see an airplane that can truly be flown by the pilot, with a real stick, instead of a steering wheel. A plane that demands to be flown every minute because it has no auto-pilot. A plane where the pilot can feel the air in which he flys.

I sit there in the shade of my wing, and watch these world class pilots come to admire my plane and to run their hand over a real wood propeller, and to marvel at the sophisticated gadgetry on the instrument panel. Most of these extraordinary pilots have never flown a plane such as this, and they dearly wish to change that.

I have no official duties at this show. I am not there to help the Waco factory people sell planes, not even to answer questions or hand out brochures, or sell t-shirts or hats. I listen to pieces of conversations going on in different languages, and I can hear the same questions endlessly repeated:

What kind of a plane is this? Is it a Waco? How do you say Waco? What kind of engine does it have? How many horsepower? When was this plane built? Is it restored? Is it new? May I have a closer look? How fast does it go? How did you get this plane here from America? Blah, blah, blah, blah...

I am drifting in and out of awareness of the details of what they are saying because I am watching the air show going on almost directly overhead. Aerobatics routines continue for almost 4 hours each afternoon, performed by the latest military fighters as well as small single engine championship aerobatic airplanes. The questions around me grow faint as the sounds in the sky grow louder, and I am no longer on the ground in the shade of my wing. I am in the air pulling G's, going over the top of that loop.

"Hey Michael, come meet this fellow from Denmark (or Germany, or Switzerland, or wherever). He would like to meet you and invite you fly to his airport". This kind of question breaks into my reverie many times during the day, and I am forced back to reality. Today I have met lots of great pilots, some legends in this part of the world. It is unfortunate to meet them under these circumstances. It would be far better if we could just jump in the biplane and go for a tour around Mont Blanc, or fly low over the Loire river, or play with a light crosswind on some sweet grass field. But here we are standing on concrete, out of our element.

All they can do is to simply say something like "Nice plane" and ask if I will be flying near Zurich this summer, hoping that if possible they could share some time in this great plane. There is not much I can say except that my plans are to go wherever the sun is shining, that there is no schedule or plan. At this their smile returns, and they nod their understanding. They will give me a card with their contact information, then we shake hands, wish each other good luck, and they disappear into the crowd.

It is sad. We should be flying. A plane like this should be flying.

When I am president of the world, I will arrange for every person to be given their own open cockpit biplane, taught how to fly it, and then there would be no wars.

The HSI (Horizontal Situation Indicator) which was removed from the plane two days ago has been found to be in perfect working order. Therefore it must be the gyro that is faulty, and it was removed today for testing. If it is the gyro, it will be expensive. I am fortunate that they have one available for replacement.

Living at a hotel at Charles de Gaulle airport has been a sterile experience, so tomorrow I'll move into a hotel in the center of Paris (actually in the 7th district). This will give me a chance to spend some time in the neighborhoods of this great city, and to do some sightseeing.

My voice is starting to return. I have been medicating myself with a mixture which has been handed down from a long line of Irish grandmothers: Hot tea, with honey, and a double jigger of Paddy's Irish whiskey. I seem to improve almost immediately after the third one. Of course, I also seem to forget just what it was that I was medicating...

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