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Meeting A Famous Flyer
By Frank Delear
In 1943, as publicity rep for Chance Vought Aircraft, I received an assignment. A world famous flier was enroute to our plant in Stratford, Connecticut to fly a Vought F4U Corsair, soon to win fame itself as one of the best fighter planes of World War II. My task: stay with the visitor all day and just observe.
[Right: Vought-Sikorsky Corsair ]
I first saw him on the flight line, an unprepos-sessing man who, despite his thinning hair, looked younger than his 41 years. Seated in the Corsair's single cockpit, he was briefed half an hour by a company test pilot. One problem: the cockpit, set well back in the fuselage, made for limited visibility in taxiing and landing.
Later, after a half hour flight, the legendary flier made a slow and very short landing. He had set the tricky Corsair down right at its margin of safety; anything slower would likely have brought disaster. Company engineers and test pilots, looking on in anxiety, breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Still later I lunched with our eminent visitor, along with Vought's top two test pilots. Memories persist through the years. Our guest, I noticed, spooned his tomato soup toward him rather than away, a no no in the world of Emily Post. This hero, I remember thinking, this immortal, is human after all!
[Right: Charles Lindbergh]
Vought's general manager (an engineer and prin-ciple designer of the Corsair), stopped at our table. The subject was aviation and, inevitably, it turned to the Spirit of St. Louis. "Wasn't that an awfully blind airplane?," someone asked, "with no view directly ahead and only two side windows for a look outside?"
"No," our guest replied. "It wasn't too bad if you were careful. Actually it wasn't any blinder than that ship I flew today."
The manager/designer gulped and shortly took his leave. The answer had been typical of our guest honesty to the point of bluntness. He'd flown both ships and that was the way he saw them.
I recall feeling a secret pleasure that someone had told it like it was. And I was learning a lesson: too often the top man of any large company hears mostly what people think he wants to hear. Charles Lindbergh, already high in my esteem, climbed a notch higher.
last update SEPTEMBER 22, 2012