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Winging It! With Dr. Paul

The Lady Or The Tiger

Big Bird is a time machine. The picture of practicality, boon to business travel, it's bags in the back and five seats full and wheels in the wells and seven hours in the tanks at thrice highway speed. Very sound. Very reliable. Very Republican. We've been coast to coast and border to border more times than I can count, Big Bird and I. She's a three-day machine, from sea to shining sea. One day to fly to Texas, one day to fly across Texas, one day to fly from Texas.

I bought her for all the right reasons, this Wichita spam-can. Accelerated depreciation and investment tax credit, the perfect answer to airline deregulation, a veritable tiger of the skies who boldly goes where no jet has gone before.

More systems than you can shake a yoke at, too. Automatic fully synthesized phase- locked digital IFR clock. Three-axis RNAV and 10-waypoint autopilot. Heated altimeter and encoding pitot. Constant-speed wheels and retractable prop. Turbocharged, fuel injected and exhilarating. The promise you made yourself the day you soloed, the ads say. The ultimate flying experience, the ads say. The only airplane you'll ever need.

The ads are wrong.

The Funk is a tame machine. Cruising near Big Bird's stall speed, she's a lady in red Ceconite, replete with hard rubber tailwheel. In the hands of a skilled pilot, it's over the fence at fifty and flutter gently down, three points on the sod as soft as suds. Some day I'll learn how to do that.

Meanwhile, the Funk is my therapy. After a hard day at the office, an hour around the patch on five bucks worth of fuel helps to screw my head on straight. Far more fashionable than the analyst's couch, with more immediate results. When Joe and Howard lent her their name, they should have spelled it FUNk.

Radio? What for? They haven't invented one yet which develops lift. Lights? Don't be silly. Birds don't fly at night; I see no reason to push my luck. Yes, of course she's an antique. Any plane older than I am is that (although we'll both be fifty soon enough). So the Funk is a time machine, too, with one position only on the controls: backwards.

Which of these, then, is General Aviation? They both are, and we owe it to our heirs to preserve both for future generations. Are the two modes incompatible in today's airspace? Only to the extent that accounting and engineering are incompatible with poetry and music.

Late one afternoon after a hard day's toil, a writer of no particular distinction journeyed down to the aerodrome to joust a while with the clouds. Two birds were eagerly awaiting their opportunity to transform his existence. Ah, but which came out of the hangar door, the lady or the tiger?

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this page last updated 14 June 2007
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