Peter Garrison

Sometimes, late at night, I pass the time by searching for the names of friends and acquaintances on the Internet.

The other day I entered the name of Betty Faux, and up popped this capsule reference (among various irrelevancies, including a different Betty’s “faux-artless smile”) in a long exchange of reminiscences about a new-defunct airport, Meadowlark:

Took my private check ride with Betty Faux (I think she has passed away)…

B. Faux is the signature on all but half a dozen of the entries in the opening pages of my first logbook. The very first entry, dated 11/26/62, when I was 19, records that one of the items studied was “gear procedures.” Actually, we both got more gear procedures on that first flight that we had bargained for. I was learning to fly in a Comanche 250, N8012P, which, like most aeroplanes with electric gear, had the kind of gear switch that you pull outward before raising or lowering. I had never been in a private plane with retractable gear before, and wasn’t familiar with this style of gadget.

“Raise the landing gear,” said Betty Faux after we had become airborne. I gave the switch an upward tug. It didn’t budge. I tugged harder. Nothing. I gave it a good yank, and it broke off in my hand.

My father had a little red scooter that folded up to stow in the Comanche’s baggage compartment. I drove it to Santa Monica Airport for my almost-daily lessons at Claire Walters Flight Academy. (The few log entries that weren’t signed by Betty bear Claire’s name instead.)

I soloed on December 18, with 10.8 hours. I got my private on March 5, 1963, and on March 6 was practicing “VOR airways, holding patterns, time distance, ILS.” I failed my first instrument flight check on June 25, bungling an off-airways holding pattern near Long Beach with the Comanche’s single VOR receiver, but passed it on a recheck two days later. A few days after that – the pace of my flying activities was feverish – I was taking what we then called my “girl” up to do spins in a 150. She didn’t barf; I don’t know why not.

My logbook testifies to a youthful mania for instruction. I was working on commercial manoeuvres in July and doing aerobatics in a Stearman in August. I returned to college – I’d completed my freshman year and then been out for a couple – in September, flying the Comanche with my father. He came back to Boston for me in December, we flew back to California, and we returned together in January. He must have lingered on the east coast, because there are a couple of entries for flights around Massachusetts in February; and then the Comanche disappears from the logbook.

After graduating in 1965 I worked as a line boy and gofer at Oakland Airport, picking up tailwheel time in Champs and Citabrias. I was drafted into the Navy that fall and spent 21 months at the Naval Training Center in San Diego. I got the commercial in March of ’66 at Lindbergh Field, and the multi in an Apache a year later at Van Nuys.

I got out of the Navy in the middle of ’67, and in the fall went to Europe. Until then the types I had flown had been the expected ones – mostly Cessnas, Pipers, and Beeches. Now the logbook suddenly sprouts a tribe of unfamiliar oddities with letters rather than numbers for registration. An MFI-9, SE-ENG, at Orebro, Sweden; that’s a little two-seater somewhat similar to a Wittman Tailwind (if you know what that is). A 100-hp Morane-Saulnier Rallye, F-BOKC, at Guyancourt, near Paris; seldom have so few horses pulled so many cubic feet.

Also at Guyancourt, a Fournier RF-4D, F-BMKA, a single-seater with a high aspect ratio wing, almost a powered glider, powered by a 40-hp Volkswagen engine. That was the start of a long relationship; René Fournier and I are still friends. A Rollason Condor, G-AVXW, at Redhill Aerodrome south of London. Back to France for a Sud Horizon, F-BLRI, out of Toussus-le-Noble; then back to England again for a Tipsy Nipper, CS-AJN, and a Marchetti 260, OO-AOSJ, at the famous Battle of Britain field at Biggin Hill. The Nipper was a funny-looking mid-wing tri-gear affair with a 45-hp engine; in the remarks column by the Marchetti I wrote “5.5 g” – evidently some kind of milestone for me.

Late summer found me back in the US, flying home with my dad in a 220-hp Waco – really a SIAI-Marchetti. I grabbed a quick glider rating at Tehachapi, north of Los Angeles, and in October was back in England, flying a Beagle Pup, G-AUZM, at Shoreham. I wrote my first article for Flying then – it was about man-powered flight – and I logged several flights in a Tiger Moth, G-ASKP, at Redhill – a pretty, gangly biplane with one of those inverted inline engines that DeHavilland liked.

Then, for reasons that I cannot recall, I returned to the US and ferried another Waco, N949W, from Pottstown to LA. A friend, Parky Shaw, went along on that trip for a lark. To his death he claimed that I flew under some telephone wires. Parky liked a good story, but I doubt that it’s true; if it were, I think I would remember.

I lived for a while at Yucca Valley, east of L.A.; my father was managing the airport there.  It was during that autumn that I started building the ailerons for my first homebuilt, Melmoth. The manager of K Field, a little dirt strip a few miles to the east, had some metalworking tools that I needed to use, and I would shuttle back and forth in a 150, never getting more than a hundred feet off the ground. I remember those trips as the nearest I ever came in an aeroplane to the effortless, unconscious kind of association you have with a car or bicycle – just hop on and go, no preflight, no clearance. In December I went to Wooster, Ohio, to pick up one of two Fourniers that another pilot, Phil Paul, and I delivered to California. The trip took almost 28 hours, and pushed my total time over 500.

I kept adding types with the self-regarding zeal of a Don Juan multiplying romantic conquests: Ercoupe, Yankee, Pazmany PL-1 and PL-2, Glos Airtourer, Britten-Norman Islander, a T-craft modified for aerobatics, a Zlin, the Cook JC-1 Challenger (remember, anyone?). I learned to fly a hot-air balloon with Don Piccard and Deke Sonnichsen, and in the fall of 1969 started working on a helicopter rating. I picked up a gyrocopter rating in passing in November, and got the commercial helicopter rating in December. What a laugh! Do you want to die? Let me take you up in a helicopter.

The final entry in that first logbook is a flight from Lindbergh Field to Van Nuys in a Cardinal, N3416T, on 12/14/69. On the next blank page I totalled up the time: 810.2 hours, of which 754 were ASEL. Spread over seven years it didn’t look like that much flying, but if you figured that part of that time I’d been in college and part in the Navy, I looked busier. On the inside back cover, I proudly listed all the types I had flown; there were 59.

One unforgettable long cross-country that he did log was in a Fournier RF-4 motor glider.

My three logbooks are quite different in character. The second, which goes from 1969 to 1991, exhibits severe Log Fatigue. I began to list flights as “various.” One entry reads:

8/1-8/31 LA-Europe-LA Melmoth N2MU Cont IO360A 210 80.0

The only detail offered is that 27 of those 80 hours were on instruments, and 12 at night. It gets worse. A single entry covering the period of 5/76 through 8/76 is labeled “Various (Japan)”. I finally got so tired of logging time, all of it flown in Melmoth, that I started reducing 2-year periods to a single “various” entry.

I deeply regret that now. Where did Nancy and I stop on “LA-Europe-LA,” and when? How was the weather? What did we see? How did we feel? I couldn’t imagine then that those trivial data would fascinate me now, but they do.

Those sketchy notations are the fine but indestructible filaments by which I can draw old memories back up out of the dark slough in which they lie, thousands deep, tangled and unrecognizable until a word lets me tease one of them free of its neighbours and bring it up to the light.

I can now read “Guyancourt” in my first logbook and retrieve the memory of Antoine d’Assche and Bernard Chauvreau showing me around the RF-4D before my first flight in it. That one is linked in turn to another, later recollection of hitchhiking in winter from Paris to Germany – I was too broke to travel any other way – and arriving in the early evening in a quaint town where the eaves of Hansel-and-Gretel cottages were weighted with freshly fallen snow.

At a factory there, which belonged to a certain Herr Pützer, and in which Fournier’s 2-seat tandem RF-5 was being built, I saw sections of ailerons made of composites using inflatable tooling – a glimpse, unappreciated by me then, into the far future, where I would be doing essentially the same thing myself.

Reading the cryptic record of the winter transcontinental delivery of the RF-4s, I see the streaks of freezing rain on the blue leading edges of my wings as we leave St. Louis, and the enticing bright spots in the clouds to the west as we headed toward Arkansas, and I hear Phil Paul’s voice saying, “Sucker holes! Keep this heading.”

Time carries everything off. Only memory remains, that tireless etchant, dissolving away the dross of experience, leaving only the essential, the unforgettable; and endowing things, in the end, with the tantalizing allure of whatever is remote and irretrievable.