The German training ship Gorch Foch was coming to NY Harbor and it would be the first time NY had seen a full rigged sailing ship in many, many years. This, of course, was well before the advent of the "Op Sail" events.
I was assigned to photograph this historic occasion and Bob Havecker was to be my pilot. This was the first time that I would photograph from a Piper Tri-Pacer and it was rigged with a special photo door. Bob explained the intricacies of removing the door. The top panel was hinged at the top and would swing up, into the aircraft and be secured with a latch. The bottom panel had a pair of latches on either side and when those were sprung, the entire panel would lift out and you could place it on the floor, thereby giving you a large, unobstructed view out of the port side of the plane.
"But", he explained, "before
you put everything back, let me know and I'll throttle back. Then
you won't have so much slip stream trying to pull that bottom panel
out of your hands as you try to place it back into place."
We circled the ship as
she approached the famous NY City skyline and I felt that the best
shot was from the west as the Gorch Foch slid up the Hudson River.
The low sun in the east lit up the water like a million diamonds and
the ship stood out in silhouette and the dark buildings of downtown
speared the horizon. I took frame upon frame with my Nikon and backed
it up with several holders of 4x5 film on my old Speed Graphic.
When I felt I had enough, I went to put the photo door back in place to eliminate the blast of cold air that was rushing into the plane's cabin. I took the bottom panel and raised it into position, only to have it pulled from the plane by the slip stream. I had forgotten to tell Bob to slow us down. We were right over Wall Street and the financial district, and I had visions of this 2 feet by 3 feet chunk of metal falling through the sky and decapitating some Wall St. banker. And, to make matters worse, the plane's registration numbers were printed on the panel, so finding the culprit would not prove difficult.
The gods were smiling on me, that day. The rushing blast of air had pinned the panel against the outside of the plane's cabin and I managed to keep a grip on the bitter edge of the metal sheet with two fingers. But, now, if I lost my grip, the panel was liable to sheer off part of the plane's elevators or rudder and wouldn't that make a mess in the canyons of downtown NY City?
I did manage to reach over and tap Bob's shoulder. I was so petrified that I couldn't talk. Looking over his shoulder, Bob immediately sized up the situation and yanked the throttle back to almost a stall position. With the abatement of the rushing air, I was able to inch the offending door panel back into the plane and place it back on the floor and stand on it with my feet. We flew the rest of the way home with the cold air blasting in. But, I never felt it.
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