Ground Clutter

June 1, 2007
Red Beans & Rice

I have been to Marksville, LA, eaten red beans and rice, listened to the beautiful Cajun accents, and enjoyed myself immensely. I spoke twice — one keynote and one safety workshop — for the annual conference of the Louisiana Airports Managers & Associates. They laughed in the light spots; they took notes in the serious spots. I appreciated it.

One of the great things about aviation is that the industry is so young that you can often meet the heroes of yesteryear. Two of them showed up in Marksville.

When I was a college freshman, one of the covers of Life magazine (if you don’t remember Life, ask one of us old geezers) showed a great photo of a fellow named Joe Kittinger stepping from the gondola of a huge balloon into a vast void. It was one of the first shots of man in space. The balloon was at more than 102,000 feet. At the time, that was a world record — it still is to this day. In fact, almost 50 years later, several world records set by that jump have never been broken.

Joe made that jump and others to test the atmosphere for future astronauts. Nobody knew if humans could survive at such altitudes, and Joe helped prove the point and develop the equipment necessary for survival. His presentation explained what he did, why, and how. It was fascinating and delightful.

* * *

The next fellow requires a little advance story. Ten years ago I was in Wichita, KS, speaking for the American Bonanza Society during the 50th anniversary of the Bonanza. At the banquet, I kinda, sorta, wanted these pilots to know what a hot pilot I was, so I, subtlely, tried to work in my story about flying across the Gulf of Mexico with my friend Clyde McDonald.

Thank goodness someone at the table interrupted me to say, as he pointed to another man at the table, “If you want to talk about over-water flying you should meet this fellow. He has flown his Bonanza around the world.”

I kept my mouth shut during the rest of dinner.

That fellow was Dr. Hypolite Landry. He gave us the entertaining story of his flight and his preparation therefore. I think it is safe to say that all of us admired him, but few of us wanted to try it ourselves. (Just one of the astounding facts was that he flew over Viet Nam during the war there, expecting a heat-seeking missile at any time.)

Getting to meet Joe Kittinger and Dr. Landry was fun (actually I had briefly met both of them before), but then this whole convention was fun. It was run by a little fireball, Yvonne Chenevert (what better name for a woman in Cajun country?), who kept things running while keeping a grin on her face the entire time.

I just kinda knew it was going to be a good conference the first time I met Yvonne. I was right.