Michael McCafferty - European Biplane Tour

Ghosts of Greatness

Cambridge, England

Before the rains came, I had a chance to take a walking tour of Cambridge, and wandered into a little alleyway off a side street, and discovered "The Haunted Bookshop". It's a delightfully tiny shop, with old books piled all over the floors and desktop and up the walls to the low ceiling. Sarah Key, the owner, sat solidly behind her desk, sorting and pricing volumes, while an assistant handed recently acquired books to her for review. When I asked if she had any books on the subject of aviation, the answer was an immediate "No".

And then a man standing nearby produced "Aerial Wonders of Our Time". Eight hundred and four big pages of text and hundreds of rare photos covering the great advances in aviation up through the mid-30's, the time of its publication in England. What a treasure!

It was the perfect companion for the rest of the day, as it was rained persistently throughout the afternoon. Although I was not flying my beloved biplane, I was with Bleriot when he became the first man to fly across the English Channel in 1909, and I could relate with his discomfort and disorientation when out of sight of land and in heavy haze. I also joined Francesco Agello at Lake Garda in 1933 when he flew the 24 cylinder 3000 horsepower Macchi-Castoldi 72 Seaplane to a new word record, a phenomenal 440.6 mph. I looked into the eyes of Lt.Col. Bishop who had 72 victories in air battles in WWI to his credit.

These heroes, these ghosts of greatness, and more, kept me company today. And it didn't matter about the rain. We had a fine time.

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