Being American, I always thought of cars as enabling the ultimate freedom. To be able to drive wherever you want in this huge country, independent of subway schedules, what could be more free than that?
My vision has been dashed by this video clip. Watch as this guy lands his airplane on the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere*, no runway. He then pauses and you can hear him get out of the plane (presumably to take an off-camera pee) before he gets back in, points it down the mountain and takes off, in what seems to be mere tens of feet.
Are you kidding me? Did you see how he perfectly slowed his roll just as he reaches the crest, presumably so he could roll down the other side and take off again if something went wrong? Where did this flying ninja come from? What kind of plane is that? Ever since spotting this clip on Kottke I've been trying to find out more.
I believe I've learned the pilot's identity, but if he wanted his name known, I guess he'd have plastered it on the video. The plane he's flying is a Piper Super Cub, a small two-seater that's been produced in various iterations from 1949 to 1994. It is an airplane renowned for its STOL, or Short Take-Off & Landing, capabilities.
The Super Cub's STOL qualities were designed in from Day One, and are the result of a lightweight body, a powerful engine and high-lift wings. An article dated from 1950 in Popular Mechanics called the then-new Super Cub a "Steep-Climbing 'Air Horse' for Farmers," describing it thusly:
Designed to carry heavy loads out of rough, "postage stamp" size fields, the new Piper Super Cub is airborne after a run five times its own length. A novel tandem-wheel landing gear allows operation on rocky terrain, soft sand and mud. The front tires are inflated to only four pounds, permitting them to climb up and over obstacles that would stop a conventional landing gear. For its primarily agricultural role, the plane can carry 1000 pounds of crop dust or 80 gallons of liquid spray, and "hover" safely at just over 30 miles an hour.
Crop dusting applications aside, in the decades since its release the Super Cub has become popular among what are called "bush flying" pilots, those who fly to and from remote locations featuring rough terrain rather than runways. Bush flying provides adventure for some, and a crucial means of delivery for others living in otherwise cut-off, inhospitable areas with little road infrastructure.
Just how short a space a pilot can land in has become something of a sport over the years, with YouTube serving as an unofficial bragging rights board. Check out this clip of a Super Cub landing and take-off, and observe that during the landing, the spot where his front wheels first touch the ground is exactly where the rear wheel comes to rest:
These days Piper Aircraft no longer produces the Super Cub, but the plane is still available in modified kit form by enthusiast organizations like this one.
For aeronautics geeks interested in the ins and outs of the wing design, Swiss aircraft designer Chris Heintz has written a lengthy explanation entitled "Anatomy of a STOL Aircraft: Designing a Modern Short Take-Off and Landing Aircraft."
*Middle of nowhere in this case means 11,000 feet above Bunker Hill, Nevada. Apologies to Bunker Hill residents.