Good therapy: Airplanes — and art — help us get away from it all

Some aviation art, like some airplanes, are just good therapy. Whether it’s the nostalgic appeal they have or the mood they foster, paintings like Nixon Galloway’s “”Tiger in the Fall,”” which depicts a vintage Tiger Moth landing on a country grass strip, are very popular.

Having my gallery on an airport has its advantages and disadvantages. I get to see all the planes that come in and, if I see something interesting in the pattern or hear the unique sound of a warbird, I can step outside and watch it land. The disadvantage is that sometimes it’s hard to get any work done with all those wonderful distractions.

For instance, the other day, I was watching one of the local pilots do touch-and-goes in his Piper Cub. He’s been flying for years, but recently bought the Cub just for some “”fun”” flying. Another taildragger pilot has “”My Therapist”” painted on his plane.

On most weekends I can look out the door and see Nick Baker’s Tiger Moth, like the one in Galloway’s painting, on the ramp not too far from my front door. On weekends when he’s not flying a Cessna Citation as a corporate pilot, Nick usually can be found at Cable Airport selling rides in his vintage Tiger Moth. Probably none of his customers know that it was once owned by actor Cliff Robertson. To them, it’s just a unique opportunity to get a ride in an open cockpit biplane.

The plane, a deHavilland Tiger Moth DH 82A, serial number 82960, was built in 1940 and was assigned to the RAF until 1947. Then it was sold to a civilian flying club and was eventually acquired by Robertson in 1963 while he was making a movie in England. Afterwards, he had the plane shipped home and had it completely restored. Nick bought the plane from him in 1987 and spent the next nine years restoring it. Vintage planes need a lot of TLC, but that’s what keeps them as good as the day they came out of the factory.

Nick has all the aircraft’s logbooks since it was surplused out of the RAF. According to those logbooks, Charles Lindbergh flew it in September 1969. Below his signature with a later date is astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s signature. The plane also has appeared in movies, according to Nick.

Like the Tiger Moth, Nick Baker is a native of England. When he was 13, he became an air cadet and got his first ride in a deHavilland Chipmunk. Fifteen minutes into the flight his instructor showed him how to loop the plane and then Nick did it himself. He was hooked on flying ever since. In 1980 he came over to the U.S. for a visit and, after getting his ATP license, decided to stay. Later, in 1987, when he had the opportunity to acquire the Tiger Moth, he knew that was the plane he wanted for “”fun”” flying.

Living in Southern California, one tends to forget that the rest of this great nation is not so densely populated. Here, it’s virtually one continuous city from Los Angeles to San Diego and from the sea to the desert. Finding an off-field spot to land in an emergency is a definite challenge. We still have several private airports in the Southland, but only a fraction of those that were here prior to 1946 when the postwar population explosion started. It seems every year or so another airport is plowed up for a shopping mall or housing development.

Fortunately, in many parts of this great nation it’s still possible now and then — though frowned upon — to make off-airport landings in fields or on a lonely country road to say hi to a neighbor, especially if you’re flying a vintage taildragger. Many farmers who have the flying bug have set aside a small grass strip just for their own private use.

There’s something special about Tiger Moths, Piper Cubs, Porterfields, Luscombes, Cessna 120s and 140s, Aeronca Champs and other legendary puddle jumpers built more than a half-century ago. Yes, they were all taildraggers, and they were economical and very easy to fly. They were, and still are, perfect if all you want to do is go up for awhile and get away from it all and enjoy the view.

Some people enjoy flying for a few hours of quiet relaxation away from the hustle-bustle of today’s fast paced society. They savor the peaceful atmosphere that lets them forget their troubles and just enjoy being alive.

It doesn’t matter whether you call it nostalgic, historic or quixotic, art that conveys a message of tranquillity is mood art. It reminds us of a time and place we all would occasionally like to go for a moment of quiet. That is its appeal, and the artist who can provide an image that we can escape into, such as Galloway’s “”Tiger in the Fall,”” has created far more than just a pretty picture.

Larry W. Bledsoe is an avid aviation historian and writer. He can be contacted at 909-986-1103.

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