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In The Zone . .Emotional Chaos . ..Number 9. . .September 11


Emotional Chaos
Weekly Column by Brian Codagnone

December 1, 2003


How many of us yearn for the good old days of aviation, when pilots with "The Right Stuff" "Pushed the Envelope" and "Augered In"? The stories of those exciting times have become legendary, yet many of those fearless men are all but forgotten. Sure, the astronauts got all the press, but what about the nameless, faceless (some quite literally) test pilots that never got the glory? Today we honor those neglected heroes.

Our first forgotten hero is Captain Eddie "Spats" Spittle (U.S. Army Air Corps, ret.). A decade before the record breaking flights in the high desert of the southwest, long before Alan Shepard and John Glenn, Captain Spittle claims to have made history. We spoke with him at his cabin in Brooklyn, where, now retired from his job as a roach poison tester, Spittle spends his days reminiscing and making hats out of tinfoil.

"I was the first man in space! I did it in 1941!"

We were skeptical, but let him go on.

"I see you're skeptical, but I'll go on. It was early December, 1941. I gassed up my old T-22 "Flying Scrapheap", and took off into the Wild Blue. That's what we called it in those day, the 'Wild Blue'. None of this candy-ass 'Wild Blue Yonder' stuff! That was for the guys who spent the war in New Jersey, if you catch my drift! Anyway, I decided to see how high she'd go, so I gunned the engine and headed straight up. After a long while things started floatin' around the cockpit. That's what we called it in those days, 'the cockpit'. It was dark, I could see stars and I had to use the oxygen tank to breathe. I realized then that I was in outer space. That's what we called it in those days, 'outer space'. I was the first guy to go there, and should have been famous, but the next day the Japs bomber Pearl Harbor, and everybody forgot what I did."

And speaking of the war, World War II created many aviation heroes. Some are the stuff of legend, some are lost to the mists of time. One such man is Sir Geoffrey Bosco-Loomis, a fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain. Realizing that the island nation was facing overwhelming odds against the might of Nazi Germany, he devised a unique plan to save ammunition. He explained it in a 1941 BBC radio interview:

"I hit upon the idea of aiming my Spitfire at the German bombers and leaping out at the last minute. The plane would then crash into the bomber, taking out Jerry before he knew what hit him!"

But, as he was using up a plane a day, his plan was never popular with his superiors. Like many brave young men in those dark days, his life ended too soon. He died in a freak accident in 1942, when the the Air Minister shot him.

After the war, hotshot pilots headed to Muroc Field (later Edwards Air Force Base) in the high desert, where every kind of experimental plane was being flown and every aviation record was being challenged. Plus, the chili was good. One of the boldest, the bravest, the most fearless and the most blase (although real test pilots NEVER used terms like blase. Using words like that, as well as "precious", "exquisite", "scrumptious" and "parasol" would get you immediately branded as an outsider) was Colonel Malcolm "Chuckles" Crossfingers. Known throughout the flying fraternity as "The Man Who Laughed at Unpleasant Conditions", Chuck Yeager once said of him, "If you told him to fly through a lightnin' storm headlong into a mesa, he'd do it. He was kinda stupid like that." Another ex-test pilot, Michael Collins, put it more succinctly. "The guy was strictly psycho city. When he was flying we routinely evacuated the base". Before his retirement in 1964, Crossfingers held the records for most cockpit canopies damaged (he felt that "real pilots don't blow the canopy before punching out That's for guys who spent the war in New Jersey, if you catch my drift!", so he never once did so, even though he was forced to eject 437 times. We think that explains a lot), most parachutes eaten (although no one else was even in the running for that one), most civilian aircraft shot down and most outsiders beaten up for using the word "exquisite". Today he spends his time shooting paper clips at passing airliners.

In today's world of computers, 'heads up' cockpit displays, satellite communication and high-tech weaponry, maybe there's no use for seat of the pants pilots like Spittle, Bosco-Loomis and Crossfingers. An era has passed, never to return. Now that I think about it, it's probably for the best



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Surf Our Site

Home ... Misfits . Rafferty .. . S1019 .. . Star Crossed....
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Ginger & Shadow. ..Writer's Block.. ..Cool Links . ..More Cool Links .
Oddities ..Link To Us... Guest Comics . Online Store..
In The Zone. ..Number 9. . .September 11