I Lived To Tell About It

Friday, September 29, 2017 - by Willard Rice, Jr.

I lived to tell about it..... 

You are leisurely rolling down the runway and 12 seconds later you realize that the wheels hanging from the wings have lifted off the ground. Dallas sized houses along the runway with their own hangers gradually recede as the plane lumbers skyward. It banks left and barely slides by Grindstone Mountain and you worry how it got that name. 

Just another escape from the ravine that is Collegedale Airport but this time in a vintage Ford Tri-motor. You think --what is in better shape than when it was born 87 years ago?  A person? My couch? Any machine in my garage? What about this airplane? 

I am comforted by the awareness that the pilot, Bill Sleeper, is as confident as Tom Cruise in Top Gun that we’ll make it back. The cabin of this plane could easily fit in the upper deck first class section of the 747s that Bill has flown around the world. 

Yet, here he is piloting this plane which has a mahogany bakelite-looking steering wheel ..yes, a steering wheel that looks like it came out of your grandfather’s 1953 Oldsmobile. He doesn’t have to do it but he is jockeying this antique at 90 mph instead of tooling through the air at jet speed. I tell myself that you don’t get to fly 747s with 500 people aboard without being at the 99+% level on the human rationality scale. 

So I do not sweat a thing... just revel in the view. Which is unlike any I’ve seen before. We are flying over spreading subdivisions you had never known existed in the furling hills of East Hamilton County. Swimming pools shimmer in the afternoon sun. We are so low their yellow rubber duckies might be getting a push from our prop wash. I’m thinking we must be in drone territory but, if some yahoo is flying his birthday present up where we are, we’ll gleefully chew it to bits with our three props. No gaping jet intake on this baby to cause major indigestion like on Sully’s plane. 

Looking around, I see nine other wide-eyed passengers – from kids to grandpas - taking it all in. I’m thinking about the passengers who were aboard during this plane’s 1929 birthday year. Surely, they were outfitted in their best suits, dresses and shoes. Remember, people used to get dressed up to travel somewhere and a flight on this plane would have been like going to Paris on the Concorde. No jeans, tank tops, flip flops or jeans like those adorning the captives on the last airliner I was on.    

Think about this..in 1929 you are boarding an airplane powered by gasoline internal combustion engines which were cousins of the engines in your rattling cars, cars that routinely wouldn’t start or would quit a few miles down the road. And now you are going up in an airplane. 

Henry Ford, the Steve Jobs/Elon Musk of his era, and his associates thought they knew a thing or two about getting the populace to embrace a new technology. What would it take to get people to take to the air? Confidence and a sense of elegance were the emotions the Tri-motor was designed to evoke. Three engines, count them .. not just two. Corrugated aluminum skin, the picture of strength, not shod in thin-looking metal or the fabric that still was standard.  

And in the cabin, no structural innards to snag your Sunday ‘s finest. It was 1929 and, if you are flying in the first real airliner, you certainly were not in the group wiped out in the crash. Undoubtedly, not the best time to launch the concept of long distance air travel but who can see the financial future that was only going to get worse for a half dozen years? Enjoy the wood-paneled cabin, comfortable seats, personal lights and ventilation spigots overhead. Room to stretch your feet. A center aisle permitting an easy trip to the “lavatory” or a view of the 2 pilots, their steering wheels-- even a stewardess. 

This model may have been the inaugural plane that made us think that air travel could be special, not a bus ride.  Generations of boys and girls dreamed to be part of it. Pan Am was an early adopter of the Tri-motor ..and was there ever an airline that lifted ones thoughts higher to what an elegant life included more than Pan Am?  Once upon a time?

Oh, now we are coming down to earth, gliding, fortunately, not grinding, by Grindstone mountain again. What is that sweet aroma coming through my personal ventilation vent? It must be Little Debbie baking day at McKee. Life is Good. 

You can experience the same — if you are quick .. Hurry over to Collegedale airport today through Sunday, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. 

The local Collegedale/ Chattanooga Experimental Aviation Association club is holding an open house. .. no charge to see the visiting Trimotor (or the best $75 you ever spent for a ride on an airplane). It’s a once-in-a- life-time experience.   

Willard Rice, Jr
Ooltewah




Sankofa Fund Commemorates Black Philanthropy Month

The Sankofa Fund for Civic Engagement, an African American philanthropic initiative founded in 2015, is commemorating Black Philanthropy Month 2018 with an evening talk by Ebonie Johnson Cooper, founder of the Young Black and Giving Back Institute. YBGB provides programming, thought leadership and educational resources related to millennial diversity within philanthropy; specifically ... (click for more)

Hospice Of Chattanooga Hosts Memorial Service For Those Grieving Loss Of Loved Ones

Hospice of Chattanooga is hosting a memorial service on  Sunday, Aug. 26, for anyone who has gone through the death of a loved one. This service is for all in the community, who are experiencing grief, regardless of whether their loved one died under hospice's care or not.  The service will begin at  2 p.m  at First Christian ... (click for more)

Pinkston's Office Seeking The Death Penalty Against Trio Charged In Murder Of State Witness Bianca Horton

The office of District Attorney Neal Pinkston is seeking the death penalty against three men charged in the murder of state witness Bianca Horton. The intent to seek the death penalty was filed against Andre Grier, Courtney High and Charles Shelton. They were among 42 alleged members of the Athens Park Bloods gang charged in a state RICO action. Ms. Horton was gunned down ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Mayor, City Council To Appoint Phil Noblett As City Attorney

Mayor Andy Berke and the Chattanooga City Council said they will introduce a joint resolution next  Tuesday  confirming Phil Noblett as city attorney and chief legal officer for the city of Chattanooga. A native of Asheville, N.C., Mr. Noblett received his J.D. degree from Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham and has been a licensed ... (click for more)

The Sad Condition Of Historic Brown's Ferry Tavern

It is embarrassing and saddening how the historic Brown's Ferry Tavern looks right now. It is disgusting.    Whoever the new owner is has left this amazing piece of our local history to rot. Pieces are falling off the roof and chimney. The grounds: grass, bushes, trees are so overgrown and out-of-control that it is disgraceful.   Private property ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: No Cell Phones Allowed

There was a time, not so long ago, when school-aged children would learn lessons from a prescribed text, such as a textbook. Today texting is far, far different and, as any of our teachers will tell us, cell phones have become the scourge of education. In almost every classroom, kids will silently text in the shadow of the desk in front of them rather than focus on the lesson. Yet ... (click for more)