A (Nearly) Forgotten Piece Of Class

I was pondering the endgame today, the goal, the Unicorn that I’ve been working toward.  For a motorcycle/auto/aviation enthusiast, there seems to be an endless amount of awe-inspiring, rare models of cars, planes, bikes, trains, and whatever else mechanical we get into.  Think of it:  Harley-Davidson has the market cornered on motorcycles (though Victory is slowly taking over), but if you’re truly a hard-core biker, you ride a rare, vintage Indian.  If you’re looking to get looked at, you’ll ride some form of the oxymoronic manufactured custom chopper–say, a Big Dog, or West Coast Choppers bike.  If you want a sick amount of speed, you’ll get a Hyabusa 1000 with a turbo on it.

Cars are a whole other story–a Ferrari or Lamborghini says that you’re the best of the best, an Aston Martin or Bentley says that you’re powerful, yet classy and refined…in the upper tiers of auto-dom, your ride speaks more of you than you need to for yourself.

I would say that the same is true for airplanes–my heart has always lead me back to aviation, and I believe that your airplane says something about you.  Of course, much of a person’s choice in aircraft is dictated by money–it is easy to spend the equivalent of two Lamborghinis on a nicely equipped, clean, fast airplane, and as such, 99% of jets are pretty much unattainable unless for business or to write off the depreciation for tax purposes.

I think it’s safe to say that anyone who likes the movie Top Gun would love to have themselves an Unlimited class P-51 Mustang

or Vought F4U Corsair    or an old, clean, vintange Stearman  

and don’t get me wrong, I’d love to fly either one–I even have plans to someday get myself an old bright Yellow Stearman or T-6 Texan.  But for me, the combination of the big radial engines, the beauty of the aircraft, the sheer class that it has, can only lead me to one long-out-of-production, glorious piece of art:  the “Twin” Beech 18.

One hundred percent American-made freedom right here.  She seats six to eleven people and carries them at 185 miles an hour in supreme comfort atop those glorious, polished aluminum wings, with those two nine-cylinder radials giving that throaty rumble that only a radial can…now this, folks, is a man’s airplane.  But not only to own, I should clarify–to fly.  To fly this plane, you have to have skills beyond the engineered forgiveness that airframes of the past thirty years have given to pilots.  This aircraft was modified to be a tricycle gear airplane as well, but I think she stands in all her glory as a taildragger.  The airframe has been out of production for thirty-two years now, and they are becoming increasingly harder to come by without having been in an accident, or left to rot on some long-forgotten airfield in the sticks.  The clean, well-kept engines and airframes can cost in the hundreds of thousands, and will fetch just shy of half a million dollars if they are museum quality and still together.  I’m guessing that my options will be either to find a semi-beat-up one that flies and use my A&P skills to fix what’s broken, and adjust what needs adjusting; or, I’ll be relegated to staging a full-on restoration–a lengthy, money-sucking hobby that will more than likely be the equivalent of my Dad’s backyard (he did all of the landscaping himself, and it took him fifteen years to do it).  And then a tornado will come through on the day I wax the very last little spot of aluminum.  Well, maybe not.  Parts are getting harder to find as well, so that’s another factor to consider.

Either way, that’s my goal.  There she is.  Behold the power of class and beauty, and maybe some day I’ll embody it the way she does.  Well–the class part, anyway.

What car, plane, motorcycle, piece of real estate, widget, or gadget do you consider to be your Unicorn?

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