Tailwind Willies by L. Ron Hubbard (Part 1/5)

[Picture] “Couple of ribs broken, a kneecap split, but otherwise so fine and hearty that I went barnstorming the next day...”

In fact, L. Ron Hubbard’s barnstorming trek had been just such a spontaneous adventure. Fellow aviator Philip Browning had just acquired his LeBlond-powered Arrow Sport (black fuselage, orange wings). Ron had just logged a thirty-minute motorized flight above Michigan and, on September 9, 1931, “with the wind as our only compass,” they departed for parts undetermined. To this, and what Ron himself will provide in his “Tailwind Willies,” let us add the following:

It was the aerial knight of the First World War who gave impetus to the barnstorming craze, and more than a few claimed previous service with the Escadrille Lafayette or Eddie Rickenbacker’s 94th Aero Squadron. In either case, surplus war/observation planes were cheap, and many an otherwise unemployed pilot took to the skies to amaze rural townsfolk with breath-catching stunts (and, more lucratively, offer rides for a nominal cost). Although no longer a novelty, Ron and Flip’s Arrow Sport adventure engendered the same sort of amazement. Yet there was another side to that Arrow Sport jaunt, and it is important. In what amounts to a companion article entitled “Won’t You Sit Down?” and likewise first published in The Sportsman Pilot, Ron reports on the state of several private airstrips. If his treatment of the matter is jocular, the subject was not: “Pick out any strip of country at random and pick out any airport which isn’t in general knowledge. You’ll read that it has day-and-night service, mechanics, gassing facilities, storage space, and weather information. If you’re good at subtraction, follow through on the following: Take away the night service, deduct the weather information, forget about the gas, and mark the storage up to a typographical error. Then if you’ll also take away the day service, you’ll have a pretty fair picture of Umpteen Airport located in Podunk.” His point: The risks of flight were grave enough without factoring in a sodden vegetable patch amidst high-tension wires and calling it an airstrip. In reply, came his summary report to the United States Department of Commerce and, by turns, the closing of those strips deemed most unsafe. Yet how he fared along those strips, how it was “to feel a stick under my fingers, feel the ship buck a little under me, see the landscape go sliding by far below, land in stray cornfields under alien suns...”—this is the stuff of “Tailwind Willies.”

Tailwind Willies by L. Ron Hubbard

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