I had landed a job writing for a big New York City based aviation magazine in the 1970s. I had grown up and learned to fly in the Cleveland area so I wasn’t exactly a small town boy, but New York was still a new experience in almost every way.
I was flying with a much more experienced pilot returning home from one event or another. The chance to fly with experienced pilots instead of being tossed into the system on my own was one of the luckiest breaks I have had in a fortunate life.
We had to drop a passenger off at La Guardia. I don’t remember why. Probably because the person had airlined out of there and had left a car in the parking lot and needed to retrieve it. In those days GA airplanes landed at La Guardia, Kennedy, Newark and other major airline airports pretty routinely.
The FAA had allowed the New York airports to slap a big landing fee on GA at the three major airports during prime time hours. Prime time was 5 am until 11 pm, as I recall. Pretty much the whole time anybody was flying. And the fee, I think, was one hundred bucks. A lot of money still, but when you consider New York prices for cabs, or rental cars, or town cars or however one could get back to La Guardia from one of the GA airports the fee wasn’t a huge deterrent.
It was a nice night and New York controllers were using visual approaches. We were returning to New York City from the south and the controllers were talking a mile a minute in what to me was still a strange accent. I heard my call sign and the controller said “go to the statue and then fly 040 degrees.”
I keyed the mike and said one of the dumbest things I have broadcast from an airplane. “What statue?”
The New York controller just couldn’t resist. He had a rube on the line and set the hook. “The statue. The big one in the harbor. It’s a lady holding up a torch. Think you can find it?”
I’m sure others working in what was then called the New York “common IFR room” had a good laugh about the hick in the Baron wanting to go to La Guardia but didn’t know what or where the statue was. It had never crossed my mind that the Statue of Liberty could be a navigation fix, especially a fix for a new hot shot IFR pilot.
I remembered that long ago evening when a documentary about the Statue popped up when I was dialing through the channels. The 4th of July is near, and the Statue reopens on that day after damage caused by hurricane Sandy last fall has been repaired.
Though I haven’t heard a bad word about the Statue in my lifetime, it was very controversial initially when it arrived from France as a 100th birthday gift for the U.S. But that should surprise none of us. What I did learn is that the real miracle of the Statue, at least to one interested in aircraft design, is the framework that holds the copper skin together and upright.
French artist Frederic Auguste Bartholdi figured out how to shape the copper sheets into the form of the Statue but had no way to hold the many individual pieces together. It was Gustave Eiffel who designed a framework of iron beams and spars that supported each piece of the copper skin independently. Eiffel’s structure allows the Statue to flex and bend in high winds without stressing individual pieces of skin, or allowing the whole thing to blow over.
Eiffel’s frame work is surely a pattern for the airframes that followed, not to mention a tall tower that bears his name. I bet Eiffel would have been very pleased if he could have looked out the window at the long wing of a Boeing flexing dramatically but not breaking in response to turbulence. That’s how his framework has kept the Statue standing for more than 125 years through uncounted storms and the worst recorded hurricane in New York history.
I didn’t acquire all, or nearly most, of the habits of a New Yorker during our years there, but I did pick up that one affectation of calling it only “the Statue” as though there could not be any other. If a New York controller ever again clears me directly to the Statue, I know where to go.