OM246 - The DeHavilland Beaver

This week, Ken and John talk about:

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Ken and John skydiving in Snohomish (OM246)

Ken has taken off in a small plane, but he has never landed in one because he was skydiving when he was a College Freshman. His roommate wanted to do it, but he chickened out and Ken was still going to do it and they drove to a little airfield in Snohomish where Ken jumped out of the plane. John did the same thing once, probably from the same airport.

The first time you do it it is a little bit emasculating because you either need a static line attaching you to the plane that pulls your cord because you cannot be trusted in that moment to do the right thing, or you have to jump out with a large man on your back with a parachute of his own.

Ken chose the burly man without even hearing the second thing. You don’t get any Zero-G free-fall if your chute comes out as soon as you are off the plane and you are just dangling there for a while, which seemed a little scary. John chose the static line because he did not want the emasculating experience of being strapped to another man and he wanted the solitude of hanging from his parachute, he didn’t want somebody asking him: ”Are you okay? How are you doing down there?” Ken was a bit afraid of that.

Ken and John were probably in the same Cessna 206 with its door removed and no seats in it. The static line is a piece of webbing like you see in World War II movies: You click your webbing in to a little rope inside the plane and it pulls your parachute for you because your body has no context for the experience of that kind of falling and John almost blacked out and fought to keep spatial awareness. He would not have successfully found the tab to pull.

They pulled a great trick on John to get him to jump: They said: Just go put your feet on the tire and grab the strut and then they tell you to kick your feet off and hold on to the strut and John was imagining he would be flying like Superman, holding on to the plane, still having the chance to make a decision and put his feet back, but once you move your feet off the wheel you have one second before you fall off. It was a wonderful experience! There is even a picture of him from that split second when he had kicked his feet but had not yet fallen. For Ken the whole thing seemed to last 30 seconds. Your brain is not ready for that experience and you have nothing to compare it to.

Flying on small airplanes (OM246)

Last week in Belize Ken flew back from one of the islands to the airport with Maya Island Air in a little tiny plane where there is nothing between you and the cockpit and there was no additional person besides the pilot. It had 8-10 seats, which is called a mid-sized plane and could have been a lot of things. Ken had flown on those regional hoppers before. Somebody had to sit shotgun and she even had instrumentation, but it was assigned because it was Central America and they tell you what to do, so Dylan could not hop in there.

There are a lot of small planes in the Northwest and John is always surprised how few people actually end up being on one. Ken’s parents' neighbor out in Sequim is a commercial airline pilot and has a little airstrip at the back of their house where they keep a private plane. They have flown over to Seattle before and last time they met them they got back to the Olympic peninsula before Ken was back to in his neighborhood.

John’s dad was a small plane pilot and John spent a lot of time in small planes. He had a student pilot’s license when he was a teenager and he was in the Civil Air Patrol, which will be a future episode of the Omnibus. He has spent a lot of time in small planes and in float planes. His dad had a float rating, but also a lot of his friends. His next door neighbor kept a set of floats in his front yard in the winter because his plane was on skis then, and in the summer the floats would disappear because he put them on the plane. It is very common up in Alaska.

Kenmore Air to the San Juan Islands (OM246)

The quickest way to get to the San Juan islands is by small plane, but Ken has never taken the sea plane up there. From Seattle there is Kenmore Air and several other small plane operators that fly out of Lake Union and they are a globally famous regional airline for some of the work they do.

Some people get off work on Friday, take the bus down to Kenmore Air, get on the plane, and are home at their San Juan house by dinnertime. Lake Union is the lake between Downtown and the Northern residential neighborhoods, connecting to both Lake Washington and the Puget Sound via the ship canal. On a nice day it is full of boats and boaters.

There is really no runway or anything regulatory giving Kenmore Air any right of way, but they just have to put down their planes in a place where there are no paddle-boarders or boats. Floatplane pilots really can put those boats down on a dime and when you see one of them come into Lake Union for landing on a summer day you absolutely think: ”What?” There is no lane that boats have to clear out of. Most seasoned Lake Union boaters know to not direct their boat at a landing seaplane and there is surprisingly more room on that lake than you might first think. As they come in they are flaring their plane, they are slowing it way down, and they can always find a path.

John playing at the Doe Bay music festival on Orcas Island (OM246)

John has flown via Kenmore Air to the San Juan islands several times. The Long Winters played the Doe Bay festival several years in a row. Doe Bay is a former nudist colony on Orcas Island that became a music festival, owned by Joe Brotherton, a local impresario and lawyer, a neat guy whose son in law once suggested they should put on a music festival there. There are not many people living there, but the festival is a camping thing where you go up there, camp, and play banjos. They flew John in via Kenmore Air a couple of times, and it is a 15 minute drive from the harbor.

The Edsel car model (OM246)

There are whole car clubs devoted to the Edsel. Ken saw an Edsel the other day and it was eye-popping. There are not that many left because nobody bought them. They are extraordinary and they had a lot of bells and whistles for their time. John saw one in the middle of the night at a gas station in the South End.

He went in and saw a 40-year old guy with jet-black slicked-back hair, neck-tattoos, wearing cuffed unwashed jeans and he said to him: ”Nice Edsel!” - ”Yeah, I know, right? Who is driving that cool car?” and then a guy who looked like Waldo with a little hat and a striped shirt and glasses said: ”Yeah, thanks!” John felt like such a dupe. The guy with the neck-tattoo got into a Honda Civic that his girlfriend was driving.

DeHaviland Beaver (OM246)

One of the planes you will see down at Kenmore Air, the one that is the most famous for this short-takeoff and landing seaplane / bush-plane work is the DeHaviland Beaver. Airplane people, like all motor-head people, develop real bonds with certain pieces of machinery. Pilots will avoid airplane models that are just a dog and it will just go away.

Every vehicle has its fans, but airplanes have a third dimension, which is up and down. If Jay Leno’s Porsche 911 breaks down on Laurel Canyon Drive he just makes a phone call and somebody comes and gets him, but if your bush plane breaks down you could be in real trouble.

Bush pilot is a term of art for a certain kind of pilot who works in territory where the airports are rough, like most of Northern Canada, Alaska, Australia, Siberia, Central America, South America, or Africa. There are lots of parts of the world that aren’t served by regular airlines, that don’t have super-detailed facilities or any facilities, but the people there still need food, medicine, and supplies and they need to come and go. Often there are no roads either. The Beaver is the most legendary and most glamorous bush planes defining the genre.

The Roderick Century (OM246)

From the late 19th to the mid-20th century a lot of innovation happened in industrial design and mechanical production. Things were invented and improved upon, but we eventually arrived at a place where cultural innovations started to happen in social realms. There was a tremendous leap in terms of airplanes, cars, motorcycles, guns, and machines between 1905 and 1965, but in 2015 we were still driving cars and motorcycles and flying airplanes based on those early designs.

There were not really any social innovations between 1905 and 1965, but from 1965 to 2015 we made enormous progress in social technology. The problem is that now we need to make that same leap during the next 50 years in our political universe. John has his best-seller all ready to go (see also RW128)!

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