THE LINDBERG FLIGHT
It always amazes me to think about the risks we take in order to get a good shot. I don't believe that we do this consciously. Itıs usually after the fact when I think back at what I did and the realization hits me. "My God, I cudda been killed! Am I crazy or what?
I recently had to cover a guy who was flying a small, single engine plane from Long Island to Paris, recreating Lindberghıs solo flight over the Atlantic 70 years ago.
And twenty years earlier, I had covered another flight marking the 50th anniversary of the big event. That time they replicated the Ryan monoplane that Lindbergh used. They weren't going to fly across the Atlantic with it, but it did create a huge sensation seeing this clone of the Spirit of St. Louis.
It goes without saying
that press agents and wanna-be sponsors got a hold of this idea and
it ballooned into a regular 3 ring flying circus. A group of pilots
who owned and flew a variety of antique aircraft got permission to
fly along with the Spirit of St. Louis II, and some of the pilots
offered to take the media up with them.
A free flight to cover the event! What editor could refuse such an offer? So, on the day of the flight, I was assigned to meet the owner of an old Piper Tri-Pacer at Republic Airport, with whom I would fly aerials of the event. I sat in on the pilot's meeting. All the antique plane pilots were given a number and that would be the position they would take behind the Lindbergh plane. My pilot drew the number 26 position.
"Twenty-six," I bitched aloud. "For cryin' out loud, we'll be so far back, I'll be lucky to be able to photograph the plane's shadow on the ground. There's no point in me even going."
"Take it easy." assured my pilot. "Once we get into the air, I'll get us to the front of the pack. In fact, I'll even get us alongside the plane so you can shoot some good stuff as he flies past the Roosevelt Field Shopping Center."
As we got nearer, my pilot kept his word and started overtaking the planes ahead of us. As the buildings of the shopping center started to take shape through the ever-present ground haze that plagues Long Island, we started drawing abreast of the star of the show. Just as I was lining up the Ryan Monoplane and the shopping center in my viewfinder, it all disappeared. All that I could see now was the fuselage of another antique plane which had insinuated itself between my plane and the Spirit of St. Louis (II). I lowered my camera and looked out of the windows of my plane. All the other planes had broken ranks and were now trying to come up to the Lindbergh plane for a good look. And every pilot, including my own, was looking out the side window at the Ryan. None of them were watching where they were going. Except me, and I had no control over my plane.
My heart sank into my stomach
as I saw through the front windscreen of our plane, the tail section
of another plane ready to disappear into our spinning propeller. My
pilot, who was looking out the side at the Spirit, was oblivious to
what was happening in front of us. I reached forward and punched him
on the shoulder.
horrifying moments, which translated in my mind into eternities, we
zigged and zagged trying to find a safe open space. When we finally
did, it dawned on me that my original purpose in being here was to
get photos of the Lindbergh plane. I made a feeble attempt to carry
out my assigned mission but considering the fact that we were now
about a mile from the plane and that my hands were shaking so badly,
I didn't have much hope that I could produce a usable negative. (Later,
back at the lab we found a couple of shots that we could use) Right
then, all I wanted to do was get back on the ground.
When we finally did land and the plane rolled to a stop, I bolted out of the cabin and knelt and kissed the ground.
"Oh, Come on," said the pilot. "It wasn't that bad."
"Yes," I said. "It really was that bad."
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