I’m trying to keep my mind off of Super Tuesday today. The last three days have been wonderful, from Joe’s stunning win here, through the endorsements of Amy, Pete and Beto. But while Joe was concentrating on South Carolina, Bernie was getting a huge head start everywhere else, especially California. And Bloomberg was spending half a billion dollars to try to win the very voters Joe needs to stop Bernie.
So… how about a Top Five List? I’m feeling kind of basic today (I’m in a “Top Five Side One, Track Ones” mood), so let’s make this the sort of list we could have made when we were 11 years old and building model airplanes. Back when we weren’t cool (yet), but we had a keen sense of what we thought was cool. We can make it a sort of tribute list to our friend Burl Burlingame, who along with many other accomplishments was the best modeler any one of us ever knew.
And just to head off the “war-monger” cries from some of my friends, I’m sorry, but warplanes have always been cooler than civilian aircraft. Not because they’re warplanes, but, well, just look at them. Built for speed and performance, they’ll always be cooler than, say, a 707. The way a 1964½ Ford Mustang or a 1962 Jaguar XK-E is way cooler than a minivan.
This was inspired by a video YouTube suggested to me this morning. I had called up Cream’s “Tales of Brave Ulysses,” and YouTube suggested something called “Best Rock Songs Vietnam War Music.” And again, it’s not “War” that makes it cool. Think about the Vietnam War movies you’ve seen. Don’t they tend to have awesome soundtracks?
So, intending to just leave it playing while I worked, I called it up. And the first image on the screen was the above one, of an F-4 Phantom taking off. (No, wait — the flaps are down, so I think it’s landing. But I don’t know. Bob Amundson, can you give us a ruling?) It showed while CCR’s “Fortunate Son” was playing.
So I got to thinking, and here’s the list. And not in order of coolness — more chronological:
- Fokker DR.I Triplane. The Red Baron‘s plane, it was both wicked and ungainly looking — but all planes looked awkward back then, right? The SPAD was all right, and the Sopwith Camel had a great name, but the Fokker was cooler. Also, 11-year-olds who build airplane models like to say “Fokker.” Almost as good as saying the full name of the Fw 190.
- P-51 Mustang. Maybe the nicest-looking, solid-but-sleek design in aviation history. And quite a formidable fighter. Also, it looked so modern. (Weirdly, the P-47 Thurderbolt came later, but looked 20 years older — at least to my eye.) I had trouble on this one. I was torn between this and the Spitfire, which won the Battle of Britain (OK, the Hurricanes helped) — the ultimate emblem of British pluck. But as big an Anglophile as I am, I went with the American plane.
- C-47 Skytrain. Or Dakota. Or Gooney-Bird. OK, it’s not fast, and it’s not sleek. Definitely the Plain Jane of the bunch. But it was so awesome in its plainness. One of the main instruments that won the war for us. The Band of Brothers jumped out of them, they saved Berlin in the Cold War, and… It was the first plane I ever flew in, hopping over the Andes, up and down the Pacific coast of South America. An unbelievable amount of noise and vibration, but a real thrill for a kid. So I’m playing favorites here.
- F-4 Phantom. My generation’s version of the P-51. It had a solid look to it, like nothing could knock it out of the sky (a handy attribute when flying Wild Weasel missions), but also looked like it could fly like a bat out of hell. And it sorta could. These also loom large in my legend, from the ones that flew out of MacDill AFB when I lived there in high school to the ones the Kansas Air Guard flew over our house (we were under the takeoff pattern) when I worked in Wichita.
- X-15. The world’s first operational spaceplane, the futuristic great-grandchild of Yeager’s X-1. This was another one I had to think about a bit. It was competing with the SR-71, another sci-fi sort of aircraft. But the X-15 was the one I thought was cool when I was a kid, and it wins on sheer speed. The Blackbird could cruise at Mach 3.2, but in 1967, the X-15 set the speed record that still stands: Mach 6.70.