Thursday, February 19, 2015

Circus Maximus

One hesitates to apply words like wonderful to weapons of war, but really, check out this footage of a band of Fokker Dr. 1 triplanes.  We're talking World War One and Manfred von Richthofen here.


We live in a world filled with cars that apply the brakes for us and correct our direction if we shade a bit too far left or right in our lanes.  Which is probably fine on several levels while being a bit soul-sucking on another.

I look at these hundred-year old airplanes and it's the mechanicalness of the things that strikes me.  I remember once visiting the Air and Space Museum in Washington and inspecting, by way of a catwalk, the cockpit of a Messerschmitt Bf 109 (which in its day was almost as extraordinary as the Fokker).  The Messerschmitt was a vastly more sophisticated airplane than the Fokker, but I remember to this day being struck by what a barbaric collection of wires and pulleys and duck tape and such the damned thing was.

I suppose I should say that I speak as someone who thinks the Triumph TR3A is the zenith of automotive engineering.  So add salt to this particular recipe.

It is 14 degrees here in Iceland, which feels like a warm snap.  In reading about the Fokker (which I didn't set out to do, but rather stumbled across it the way one sometimes does things on the internet) I learned that its 110 horsepower engine could generate a top speed of 103 mph and the plane could reach an altitude of 20,000 feet.  Imagine doing the ton in one of these things at 20,000 feet.  Talk about cold.

On a parallel note, the TR3's engine generated 100 horsepower and could generate a top speed of 100 miles per hour.  So, on some level, the TR3 and the Dr. 1 were almost the same machine.  And I am here to tell you, friends, that going 100 in that car was equal parts exhilarating and terrifying.  And in the winter it was stunningly cold.

I can say this with considerable confidence because I owned three of the damned things.  Although one was just a parts car, so maybe we say two and a half.

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