General Aviation

The delights one can see from an apartment balcony: I spotted an old, restored Army single engine taildragger flying low overhead. What a sight! This light “spotter” aircraft seemed to have the original olive drab paint job and Army markings, in good condition, a very good restoration of the original. The engine thrummed at a satisfying low rpm compared to more modern general aviation craft, and it didn’t miss a beat.

I wanted to call it an “L-19”. This one had scalloped ailerons, rubber and elevator, where the L-19 I recall was more streamlined. It was not old enough to be the military version of the old J-3 Piper Cub. But it sure was fun to see.

Castro Valley is an air traffic control reporting point for our local Hayward Air Terminal (HAT), a general aviation field that is home to a modest collection of vintage aircraft in various states of restoration. We’ve seen DC-3’s, various modern biplanes (including the celebrated aerobatic Pitts Special), and restored biplanes so old that their names, though famous, no longer compute for me. On holidays we often see several P51 Mustangs, which hail from both Hayward and easterly fields in Tracy and Livermore.

Almost any flightworthly light general aviation aircraft these days might qualify as “old” if not “vintage”. Cessna stopped making anything smaller than business jets and cabin class aircraft roughly 30 years ago, due to exorbitant insurance costs.

The courts were finding liability in almost any craft, regardless of age, for which there were accidents. Despite stringent FAA maintenance regulations and the fact that general aviation has an enviable safety record compared to, say, the automotive industry, if you had been manufacturing light aircraft continuously for the better part of half a century, your “liability tail” became mathematically enormous. A failure in the oldest part of the fleet could be just as costly as a failure in a model that moved off the showroom floor last week.

It must be tough to run flight schools and small general aviation businesses nowadays, just to train those few who can still afford the skyrocketing costs of maintaining and operating these older aircraft. We see a paltry parade of older Piper Apaches, V-tail Beech, Cessna Centurion, and some of the best of the last of the old days. I almost never see a little two-seater Cessna 150, or the four-seater 172, in which I did most of my earliest training.

I myself haven’t piloted any aircraft in over twenty years, but I have nothing but admiration for those folks who do. I sure am glad some of them still know how to get and restore parts and keep some of the old birds flying!

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