Touched by History
If nothing else, in writing articles for Wikipedia I have discovered that I've met some important people in aviation history. I didn't know these people were, or had become, important until I researched for articles I wrote about them.
I grew up about 1/4 mile from Montgomery Field (MYF) in San Diego, California. I became an aviation buff by the time I was in the 3rd grade and, along with a couple of friends and my brother, became a fixture at the airport. We were well-known and trusted and given the run of the airport, bicycles and all, as long as we stayed off the transient parking, taxiways, and runways (something that could never happen today).
One day, while at home--which happened to be about where the downwind leg of the normal traffic patterns for both runways crossed--I heard a strange sounding aircraft fly over. (Keep in mind that we could almost identify a particular owner from an airplane's sound.) I ran outside to see what looked like a 1910 Curtiss Pusher in the pattern. I hopped on my bicycle and was at Gibbs Flying Service as the plane was taxiing to a stop. Being used to nosing-around any airplane I wished I was right there looking Early Bird over before the propeller hardly stopped spinning. I was a bit taken aback when the pilot, a man in his 70s, told me to get away from his airplane. This was my first and only encounter with Waldo Waterman, inventor of modern tricycle landing gear, builder of the first successful flying car and contributor to the development of the flying wing.
In 1971 I frequented Torrey Pines Glider Port to watch the model gliders and hang gliders. This was in the day of the Rogallo wing hang glider. These were barely more than rigid parachutes that sometimes let their pilots live to tell about flying them. I saw my share of crashes. In one case the pilot crash-landed onto a small ledge on the cliffs but managed to relaunch, to stall, and nearly crash again. Another got caught in a rotating wind and slammed into the ground, breaking his back. Then, one day, I met a young man, about my own age, who introduced himself as Taras. [Taras Kiceniuk) He was flying a rigid biplane flying wing glider that had twin hand-controlled rudders. You might not have called it a hang glider because he actually reclined, resting his feet on the leading edge spar, while flying. The "Icarus" was a magnificent glider that could ride the cliff lift for hours while the Rogallo wing pilots were jumping off the cliff to make controlled descents to the beach below. I learned recently that this was Taras Kiceniuk, who went on to build the monoplane Icarus V that was the precursor of the modern hang glider.
Around the time I met Taras Kiceniuk I met a young man flying a radio-controlled seagull. Yes, I said seagull. He said he built them for the movie Jonathan Livingston Seagull that was due to be released shortly. He said that sometimes real seagulls would take-up formation with his model and even made a wild claim about one real bird following his through a loop. The R/C birds had stiff clear mylar vertical stabilizers. He told me to watch for a particular scene where one of these stabilizers flashed when it caught the sun. He also told me to watch for the scene where Sully Seagull crashes into the cliff. It is quite a crash with balsa wood and radio control gear everywhere. This young man was Mark Smith, who's model kits are still sold.
I had a similar encounter with Ernie Huber, the builder of the R/C model helicopters used in the movies The Towering Inferno and Capricorn One. This was at what is now Qualcomm Stadium where R/C modelers used to fly. A crew from the local NBC affiliate was filming a story about the helicopters used for Capricorn One. Ernie told me to watch the scene where the helicopter crashes into the cliff (seems to be a common fate of model aircraft in movies). The polyethylene fuel bottle bounces down the cliff looking like a 50 gallon bottle of pink fuel.
Finally, I didn't just meet Walt Mooney, one of the best-known designers of model airplanes of the 1960s. We knew each other quite well. I sometimes hung-out watching him build models and went to high school with his kids.