A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

April 2006

We Were All Young and Foolish

Have you ever done something in your lifetime you’d like the opportunity to do again?  Differently? I speak rhetorically of course. Most of it we can write off as normal, things everyone does when we’re young and foolish. Drinking and driving, riding bicycles with no brakes, mountain climbing with no gear ... all dumb things. Fortunately, we’re still here to talk about it, including the two country boys who bought a bullet-proof vest at a surplus store one day.  Of course they had to try it out.  On each other.  With a shotgun.  I’ll spare the details, but they’re in a news archive somewhere.  They survived.  Tragically, others were not so lucky, and paid the price.

My first airplane provided a few legendary opportunities for the record books of all time great moments.  In fact my good friend and partner in the venture almost died. Back in the early 1980’s,  my buddy Dennis and I bought an Evans Volksplane, a VP-1 as it was known, from Ken Armstrong on Vancouver Island. As I remember, it was built by an acquaintance of Ken’s and had apparently flown at some point.   He gave us a picture of the builder sitting in the cockpit, but that was the only evidence we had that it was in fact airworthy.

It needed some work, some rebuilding, but Dennis was confident we could handle it.  We loaded it onto a converted boat trailer, and towed it back via the BC Ferries to the mainland, and finally into my garage.   Predictably there was much more work than we initially expected.  And naturally, when you start a project like a rebuild, one thing leads to another, and soon you wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into.

The time spent in that stage of the adventure provided for many hours of  sitting in the cockpit, playing with the controls and pretending we were flying.  We were young (and foolish), and were living our dream.

It was probably a year later when MLB finally made it to the airport.  In a couple of days, Dennis and I finished up the remaining details, attached the wings and the horizontal flying tail.  We were both low-time pilots, but didn’t have a lot of knowledge about aircraft engineering between us.  The time came to rig the controls.  Dennis was working at his job that day.  So I figured it out.  I think. Maybe it was figured out wrong, we’ll never know, but the control surfaces went back and forth and up and down when the stick and rudder pedals were moved.   There were no brakes on our Volksplane, and I recall being quite terrified as I taxied the paved ramp between all the other parked aircraft in what isn’t much more than a wooden apple crate with a prop spinning on the front.  That was really foolish.  Back then, we weren’t really aware that Transport Canada would be interested in what we were doing.   And that someone with some aircraft engineering experience may be able to advise us.

One of the more intelligent decisions Dennis and I had made was that we wouldn’t actually take off and fly prior to some high-speed taxi testing.  Maybe just a few crow hops, but that was all we intended on.  After scaring myself taxiing the ramp, it was decided that Dennis would do the high-speed stuff on the runway.  Early one evening, after a long hard day at work, he was out there for some testing.  The little Volksplane looked quite majestic as it sped along, tail off the ground and appearing quite eager to take right off.  In fact it actually did.  She was flying, climbing, and sounding like an airplane.  And for a few brief moments, I was proud of her.  A bit surprised though, because Dennis had said he wouldn’t be flying that day.

However, at that point in time, he was as surprised as anyone.  MLB was just too eager to get in the air.  Decision time passed as the remaining runway disappeared under the brakeless wheels.  Dennis was taking her around.  The Volksplane entered a lazy right turn, and in spite of left stick and rudder, she just wouldn’t come out of it.  Then, while on a heading pointed directly at the tower and losing altitude, the wingtip struck the ground and in she went, less than 1,000 feet from where I was standing with Dennis’s wife and son.

It was not much more than a pile of toothpicks with the tail sticking up that Dennis climbed out of. He limped around and scratched his head. The fire department was ecstatic.  Nothing like this had ever happened before.  A crash right on the field.  But after the excitement died down and a phone call to Transport Canada with the details, we loaded the wood on a trailer and trucked it away.  It was the end of our first airplane.

Looking back, it didn’t seem like such a big deal then.  So an airplane got wrecked, there would always be another.  We weren’t kids anymore, and it’s not a bicycle we’re talking about, but the adventure would seem a whole lot more significant today.  There were lessons learned, and nobody got hurt.  Twenty five years ago, we were still young and foolish.

Dennis is still a good friend and we’ve owned several airplanes since.  None of them in another partnership, but that’s only because the right opportunity hasn’t come along.   I’m convinced that age doesn’t come without some benefits.  As we get older, we get wiser.  And we become more cautious, or is it just less foolish?  Maybe that’s all pure speculation because the fact is, young people live longer than old people.  Go figure!

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