Some of the older planes at today’s gathering at the Griffing Flying Service airfield had more panache than their modern counterparts. The older planes were like the Apple products of their day, where attention was paid not only to engineering, maneuverability, and speed, but also to style and packaging and presentation. This plane, with its bright aluminum frame, sharp colors, and sleek propeller assembly, had a very distinctive art deco feel — with the emphasis, perhaps, on the art.
When we landed on our flight in from Pelee Island this morning, the Griffing Flying Service field in Sandusky, Ohio was covered with brightly colored planes. Chapter 50 of the Experimental Aircraft Association was having its fly in, drive in pancake breakfast — which meant we had to take a closer look at some of the planes.
There were lots of cool planes there, including some vintage aircraft. My favorites, however, are the biplanes, with their parallel wings and struts and open cockpits. I’ve loved them since I was a kid and read a book about World War I aviators called Knights Of The Air. No Red Barons were visible during our visit, however — or goggles-wearing beagles, either.
The Griffing Flying Service in Sandusky, Ohio is a small business that took off and became a crucial part of commerce along Ohio’s north coast. Since the 1930s, Griffing has operated a combination flying school, airport, and charter service that caters to the Lake Erie islands and provides a key travel option for island visitors and residents alike.
If you walk in the front door of the Griffing terminal building, you will immediately see colorful scraps of cloth tacked to a bulletin board, with handwritten information reporting on milestones — like “first solo” — achieved by flight students. The rest of the operation has a similarly down-home, relaxed feel to it. The pilots are friendly and will load your baggage for you. If you are a regular traveler, the receptionist will keep your name and passport information on file from year-to-year to make the reservation process easier. When you fly with Griffing, you really do fly the friendly skies.
The flying experience at Griffing also a lot of fun. You fly in propeller planes that offer a totally different sensation than flying in a jet. You aren’t shielded from the experience by a huge, soundproofed plane and plush seats. Instead, you are close to the ground, feeling the plane picking up speed as it bounces down the runway and lifts steadily into the air. The pilot isn’t locked away in a closed cockpit, he’s just a few feet away, doing his pilot thing. (On some flights, I’ve even sat in the co-pilot seat for an especially close-up view.) On our trips to Pelee Island and Rattlesnake Island, the planes have never gotten more than 1000 feet off the ground (or over the lake, as the case may be), and when the plane banks and comes in for a landing, you feel the pull and the drop to the runway in your gut.
Anyone who has never flown in a smaller plane should give it a try sometime. Griffing Flying Service is a good place to start.