Friday, September 22, 2006
At left is Eddie Rickenbacker, America's "Ace of Aces" in The Great War. Eddie knocked down 26 enemy aircraft in combat over France. He wasn't quite as prolific a warrior as Manfred Von Richthofen who had 80 confirmed kills, notching 20 of them in April 1917 alone. But unlike the Red Baron, Eddie never became a number himself, which given the risks involved was quite an achievement.
I got to thinking about "aces" the other day as I watched the trailer for the new WWI flying epic "Flyboys." I certainly want to go see it, but I am not sure whether mrs. rdr will let me take the youngest rdr to a PG-13 movie. Which would really be too bad, since, like their father and his father before him, both of my boys have a passion for combat aircraft. I have Microsoft's Combat Flight Simulator versions 2 & 3 on the computer, and my son and I fight over the joystick. I don't know of too many other nine year-olds that can explain why the Folke-Wulf FW-190 was a far superior fighter to the Messerschmitt Bf-109 or the difficulty involved with landing a Vought F4U Corsair on a carrier deck. We trek down to NAS Oceana every year for the air show (the Blue Angels are only part of an all-day speed fest) where he reels off the names of the various aircraft that whizz by as if he'd been flying them his whole life. I have to pull him away from the History Channel when "Wings" is on. He's got the bug.
But he doesn't quite grasp World War I aircraft. The idea that a man would climb into a cloth-covered kite on bicycle wheels and engage in close combat at top speeds of 60 miles an hour, without a parachute, is beyond his reach. It's often beyond mine.
My father instilled in me his own appreciation of WWI aircraft. His earliest drawings (he was an artist) were of biplanes locked in mortal combat, soaring and diving for advantage - or escape. He would tell me stories of the great aces and their planes, and of the chivalry that shone in these "Knights of the Air." By the time I was 10 my notebooks were covered with drawings of Spads and Fokker Dr-1's spiraling in the air. I had the bug.
In 1966, the movie "The Blue Max" appeared and my father immediately set out for the theater with me and my brother in tow. Movies weren't rated in those days, so my mother never knew that Ursula Andress was going to get all cozy with George Peppard (my brother and I called her "Ursula UNdress" for years afterwards), and we were too young to follow the plot much. But the planes. Oh the planes! To see them fly at last!
It wouldn't be until the advent of the VCR that I would be able to watch Howard Hughes magnificently filmed "Hell's Angels" or the Oscar-winning silent film "Wings" and to finally understand how my father came to so adore those early heroes. Even the campy "Dawn Patrol"found a willing audience in me. Anything to watch those planes fly.
There aren't any "aces" anymore, it seems. The "dogfight" has given way to stand-off weapons that will destroy your enemy far over the horizon. And this is a good thing. But I cherish that magnificent spirit and courage that was glimpsed, ever so briefly, above the wreck and barbarism of trench warfare.
So now, 40 years after my first glimpse of a Fokker Tri-plane in full float, "Flyboys" is calling me.
And I will go. And I will take my boy. And he will understand.
UPDATE: mrs. rdr was aghast that I even thought that she would disapprove of me taking Danny to see"Flyboys." How dumb am I?
Posted by spd rdr at 7:36 AM