Here is another opinion from me, man of a thousand opinions: Stick and Rudder is the greatest book ever written on how to fly planes, period. Unlike some of my other opinions, I am not alone in this one. While most people with a pilots license in their pocket have never heard of this book, virtually every single veteran aviator noted for his skill and experience holds the same opinion of this book. My 25 years of building planes and modest amount of hours doesn’t make me one of those “Old School” pilots, but I am smart enough to hold the same text sacred as they do.
To assist in the discussion of this book, I will use paraphrased comments that people have made to me over the years at Sun n Fun and Oshkosh when I bring up the point that the book only costs $16, and maybe half of the fatal accidents each year could be avoided if the deceased pilots had owned, read, and understood the contents of this 69-year-old book. The paraphrased peanut gallery comments are in blue italics.
“They must have written something better since. I think Rod Machado’s books are better because they are funny and entertaining.”
OK, let me start by saying I have nothing against Machado, but he isn’t in the same category. We are speaking on educational classics here, not comedy/entertainment/flying lite.
“But that Machado is such a character! He is so daring and out of the box! He is really bold.”
Now let’s just hold on a minute: One of my pet peeves is how Flying magazine and some elements in marketing the EAA have tried to make aviation less offensive, more family entertainment. They want every person pictured to be drawn from the pages of the J. Crew clothing catalog, clothed in khaki slacks and getting into their Cirrus or 912 powered S-LSA. Compared to those contrived marketing images, Machado is Keith Richards, but judged against real aviation characters, he is just another guy in Levis Dockers with a John Edwards haircut.
And now, a brief break from our sponsor, Real Aviation Character. Take this quiz: See how many of the 8 aviators of character below that you recognize. …
What an actual Character looks like #1.
1) Pappy Boyington, Flying Tiger, USMC, CMH. Quote: “Show me a hero and I’ll show you a bum.” Lived life with the throttle firewalled. Drank, fought, smoked and flew on high blower, all the time.
2) Poncho Barnes, respected as a serious competitor in 1930s air racing, when it had a 30% fatality rate. Owner, “Happy Bottom Riding Club.” Legendary for never taking crap from anyone. Ever.
3) Bernard Pietenpol, patron saint of homebuilding, champion of flight for the common man. If you work for a living, and you are building a plane, you owe this man the acknowledgement that he was the pathfinder for every builder with persistence to take their place … In the Arena.
4) Col. John Boyd, supreme fighter pilot, father of ACM, inventor of Energy-maneuverability, inventor of the OODA loop, greatest thinker on conflict since Clausewitz. Rejected all attempts to be bought off. Philosophy: “You can be somebody (Play a role, fill a slot, hold a position) or you can do something.”
5) Charles Nungesser, French national hero and ace in WWI. Sets the 100% standard for the “triple crown” of fighter pilots in the 20th century (flying, drinking, romancing women), and his countrymen loved him for it. Spent all night in the clubs of Paris, flew against the Hun at dawn. The embodiment of the term Swagger. Dies attempting to fly the Atlantic with Coli 2 weeks before Lindbergh.
6) Hank Wharton, legendary arms sumggler, used a Lockheed Constellation on repeated missions to fly food to starving Biafrans through Nigerian jet air defenses. ‘Humanitarian’ with solid brass balls.
7) Jack Knight, airmail pilot, flew 800 miles, Wyoming to Chicago, in an open cockpit plane, at night, in a blizzard, Feb. 22, 1921, to save the fate of U.S. airmail. Later VP of United Airlines, before such jobs became positions held by accountants and lobbyists. Would not “fit in” at airline work today.
8) Valentina Tereshkova, awarded title Hero of the Soviet Union, first woman in space. On her 70th birthday she told Russian president Vladimir Putin that she was personally willing to go to Mars, now, even if it was a one way “suicide” mission. Not your average grandmother.
It is very likely that every single one of these aviators (with the exception of Nungesser) read Stick and Rudder.
Scoring: If you have heard of Machado but knew six or more of the Aviators of Character, you are in good shape, proceed as you are. – If you have read Machado’s books, but only identified 3 or 4 of the pictures, take warning: Do not read Flying, try to fly a Comanche 400 or radial powered plane soon. Throw away your Sporty’s catalog. Watch The Great Waldo Pepper or Thirty Seconds over Tokyo this week. – If you own Machado’s books but knew none of the images, you need serious help. You have been made a victim of the consumerism people who have told you that flying is about spending money, not learning, challenges, and personal achievements. Leave tonight for Cherry Grove, Minn., Pietenpol’s home town, and make it your aviation pilgrimage. Never speak to anyone with a Rotax 912 ever again. Fly in a biplane to Kitty Hawk, and look into the glass case at the little square of Wright Flyer fabric, carried to the surface of the moon and back by Neil Armstrong. Develop a plan on how your actions in aviation will show gratitude to those who came before you and gave you the possibilities you have. Do this today.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming. …