21 August 2008

Dispatches From the Line Mk.IV

The Little Mermaid

We have a client of ours who rents space in our hangar for his own personal airplane. Up until recently, he owned a Cessna Grand Caravan on amphibious floats. It was really cool, but he only used it for flying his family back and forth from their second home up on Lake Charlevoix. He decided that with fuel prices going the way they were, he couldn't justify using such a large airplane just as a back and forth type thing. So he purchased a converted deHavalind Beaver with floats to replace his Caravan. The Beaver is slightly smaller, less passenger and cargo space, but with a larger wing and the same engine as the Caravan. That means it has about the same characteristics that the Caravan has, as far as speed and useful weight go. The fact that it is a smaller aircraft means that it uses about half as much fuel as the Caravan, so it is much cheaper to operate.

Anyway, he took delivery of his new baby, and to our surprise, when it showed up on our ramp for the first time, it had art drawn on it.

Back in World War Two, aircrews would decorate their bombers and fighters with pictures of pretty much anything they thought of. Naturally, with so many young men away from hearth and home and lacking female companionship, most of the aircraft were adorned with pictures of girlfriends back home, or Hollywood starlets, or girls from the "gentlemen's" magazines in various states of undress. Say what you want about indecency, this "Nose Art" brought a tiny bit of much-needed personal identity and security to the unflinchingly violent and brutal world of military aviation.

Apparently, the tradition of personalizing aircraft in this manner is still alive and well today, for although it was painted on the tail, our client's old deHavalind had a mermaid on it that would rival the most intricate Nose Art from WWII. Except that the artist apparently forgot seashells or starfish or coconut halves or pasties. The mermaid sits proudly on the tail of the floatplane, displaying what humanity she has for all to see.

When our shock had faded into disbelief, we began making wisecracks about Walt Disney and mermaids and floatplanes until one of our number (I swear it wasn't me!) ended the conversation, and all lingering hope of decency, when he said, "We should name this plane Areola!"