The Liberty Gazette
July 21, 2009
July 21, 2009
The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely
Mike: The rickety old building resembles a barn; a Model T pickup parked beside it adds to the ambiance, validating the era. In front of the building a thick, old-West rope keeps two horses tied to the hitching post. And of course, there’s an airplane at the “Fla-Bob Terminal and Massage Parlor.” In the text bubble, one pilot says to the other, “I thought you said this was a one-horse airport…” Aviation writer and humorist Bob Stevens rendered the Fla-Bob Airport terminal building with a caption at the bottom, “Yes, there IS such a place.”
Humor is part of life, and aviation has lots of life. Stevens illustrated for Air Force magazine for over 25 years. An Army Air Corps pilot in 1943, Bob flew nearly every fighter plane the U.S. had, and later, set a world speed record in the North American F-86A Saber at 711.75 mph. Not fast by today’s military airplane standards, but it was then. Bob’s achievements include five National Freedom Foundation Honor Medals, two Pulitzer nominations and four Lincoln Day awards. He passed away in 1994 and is still considered the premier aviation cartoonist.
True story: There once was a local freight pilot who flew cargo into Palomar, California every night. His routine flight occurring during low-traffic hours, on approach the pilot would radio the tower, “Guess Who?” Routinely, the air traffic controller would reply with a clearance to land. One night the familiar radio exchange began as usual, “Guess who?” But the controller’s response was a twist in the norm: “Guess where,” he replied as he promptly turned off all the runway lights. The story made for a great illustration in one of Stevens’ books, “There I Was…Flat on my Back.”
Sometimes tower controllers lose radio contract with an aircraft. But not to worry; there are procedures for that. To determine whether the pilot can hear them, but just isn’t able to transmit, the controller will say, “If you read me, rock your wings.” Bob turned that around for the title of another of his books, “If You Read Me, Rock the Tower.”
Rancho California has an airport notorious for its cross-winds along a narrow runway. Renaming it “Roncho,” Stevens’ illustrated pilot is trying to land there. A couple of older pilots watch the airplane float by, once, twice, and finally landing on the third try. Out pops the young kid and walks up to them with his log book. Quips one of the old timers, “Let me guess, this is your first solo cross-country”.
On a wall in our house is a print by artist Ron Weir. In one wide scene Mr. Weir presents both a panoramic view and history, but also humor. An old Varney Airlines mail plane sits in a farmer’s field while the pilot, one hand clutching the edge of a fully opened map, faces the farmer and points off to the distance. The farmer’s arm extends full length, his finger pointing in opposite direction. One word titles the print: LOST.
In another Weir creation, Orville Dangerfield vs The Great Northern, a 1920’s barn-storming airplane, with the name of its pilot blazed across the side, races a steam locomotive. Of artists and humorists who incite our longing for a Norman Rockwell life, who feed our craving for a simpler, happier time, Bob Stevens and Ron Weir are among the best.
Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.