Ask Me Returns 3

Mark Speigler writes: Why did Kamikaze pilots wear helmets?

The more I thought about this question the more I started thinking there has to be a story there.

I have a neighbor who is an ex pilot and claims he fought in WW2, I know he flew Stearmans (Bi Planes) up until he was no longer able to fly. he is an old codger, really old, but his mind is actually very good and I do enjoy talking to him.  He sits on his back porch on most days and watches the birds that come to his bird feeder.  I walk up and offer some conversation and I ask him:

Why did Kamikaze pilots wear helmets?

He fixed me with a stare and said flatly, “Because it was regulations, they had to”

A wry smile then came across his weathered face, one that I had seen before. It’s the smile that says I just gave you the same kind of answer you get from Microsoft tech support, it is correct but it is also useless.

What this means is that if I ask the right questions.

So I thought about it and I said well obviously it wasn’t to help them survive a crash. He nodded his head approvingly then added…”You ever fly in an open cockpit?”

I told him that I had not but that a good friend of mine, John Reed, flew Stearmans until he nosed one in and didn’t survive. (A stearman is an open cockpit Bi Plane.)

Sam shook his head and said yes, i knew john, good man and a helluva mechanic, owned Reed Cams in Decatur did he not?

I said ya that was him.

He said what happens when you gain altitude might make a leather helmet needed?

This is why I like Sam, he doesn’t just come out with it, he leads you to the answer on your own.

I thought, and replied that the air gets thinner…..and colder…and I smiled.

Sam smiled back, “I think you just worked that one out”

He said “Most of them boys learned to fly in open cockpits and even though they were mostly gone by the big one they would still take off and land with the cockpit open, so they might have a shot at surviving if the nose went in like it did with John. But mostly it was to keep warm.

The idea wasn’t for em to survive the crash, it was to get em TO the crash.”

and with that I shook my head up and down, one of lifes mysteries was solved by a guy who would know, not many of them left.

That’s why I love chatting with old men…

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Ask Me Returns 3

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