A Little Bit Nuts

My travels around the country took me to Meridian Mississippi , hopefully to  drum up new business. My airport destination: Key Field.  There’s a small pax terminal next to the 186th Air National Guard and NAS Meridian is 20 miles northeast.

Key Field was named after Fred and Al Key established an endurance record in their Curtiss Robin with 27 days aloft. A few displays in the small terminal area gave witness to their feat and it was scary stuff indeed at that time. Flying in shifts, the men maintained the plane by stepping outside on a catwalk that went around both sides of the engine. In those days, rocker arms had to be oiled but not usually while hanging on a scaffold with prop blast in your face at 3,000 feet. Fred actually fell overboard once and was saved by a strap.

Meanwhile, Fred had two mishaps while acting as crew. Once he was momentarily stunned when the heavy refueling hose slipped out of his hands and struck him in the face. Later, when he was on the catwalk greasing the engine rocker arms, Ole Miss hit a pocket of turbulent air, bucked and tossed him overboard.


                                                                 An amazing story that proved air to air refueling would work using  a cutoff valve similar in concept to those used to keep bombers and fighters aloft today. That was useful. This is not. 

Chet and Matt Pipkin plan to set a new record for time aloft in an airplane, a record that currently sits at 64 days, 22 hours, 19 minutes and five seconds.

I really wish they wouldn’t . It relegates general aviation to the same scrap heap as other strange world records including:

  1. Heaviest weight lifted with a human beard: 130.2 lbs by a man in Lithuania
  2. Fastest time to solve a Rubik Cube blindfolded: 5 minutes 42 seconds by Ralf Laue in Los Angeles, CA
  3. Most figure eights with a kite: 2,911 figure eights in one hour set in 1988.
  4. Longest midget toss: Yes, this is actually tossing a little person and it is an annual event. The record is 11 feet 5 inches.
  5. Fastest Furniture: 87 mph. This sofa is actually street legal.

It won’t paint GA with a positive brush nor will it encourage people to become pilots.  I’ve seen the current record holding airplane in the Las Vegas airport. 64 days back in 1959. It ‘s appropriate somehow in a city where multiple Elvis’s roam the streets. The Pipkins supposedly plan to raise money for charitable causes with the flight, which is admirable. They better raise a lot since the costs aren’t trivial. I estimate 93,000 pounds of fuel at a cost of $73,000.

It’s not wrong to challenge yourself, to establish goals. Son #2 will train six months to compete in the Ironman this summer.  Staying aloft in a light plane for more than two months without going anywhere is just another goofy stunt to break a record.


2 responses to “A Little Bit Nuts

  1. Some of those early aviation pioneers were really something. For some reason it seems the Miss-Louisiana area had FAR more than their fair share. I was unaware until back in 2006 I viewed a fascinating 1-hr special on New Orleans local public TV. I’ll try to locate it for you and e-mail location where it can be viewed on the net–or if not purchased from the station–would be WELL worth the money. If you trust me on the books, TRUST ME on this as well..

    • You’re batting a thousand on the books so we’re on the edge of our seats.

      The early aviators took risks that were unimaginable today. It improved with better equipment and training, including jets. Still, many planes (and pilots) were lost in the later 40’s and 50’s as captured in “Contrails Over the Mojave: The Golden Age of Jet Flight Testing at Edwards Air Force Base”. While pilots still seek out envelope edges, fatal test flights are fewer. (Except the V-22 Osprey).

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