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Wright Stuff; A Century Of Flight

Aired December 13, 2003 - 15:00   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, NEXT@CNN: Hello, I'm Miles O'Brien and we're level at 9,000 feet, somewhere along the Eastern seaboard on our way to Dulles International Airport where the Smithsonian has opened a new wing of its Air and Space Museum. Should be a very exciting visit.
Now, while I land this thing, get it on the ground safe and sound, let's take a look at some of the stories that are ahead on a special edition of NEXT @ CNN: "The Wright Stuff: A Century of Flight".


O'BRIEN (voice over): Marking a big milestone in aviation history. December 17 is the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers historic flight at Kitty Hawk. Today, we dedicate the entire program to things about wings and bring you a sneak peek at the Smithsonian's new Air and Space Museum at Washington Dulles Airport.

And brothers of feather, Wilbur and Orville were the first to use sibling's energy to slip these earthly (ph) bonds, but not the last. We'll take flight with some brothers who have gone to great lengths to continue the legacy of Kitty Hawk. Some hangar talk, and some flying, with Burt and Dick Rutan, later.

Let's not forget about the sisters of aviation, either. Strap in tight for a rolling, looping, tumbling thrill ride with aeronautic (ph) champ Patty Wagstaff, an extra special pilot.

All that and more on NEXT.

O'BRIEN: This week, we're inside a new addition to the most popular museum in the world. Welcome to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center for the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum .

Well, 27 years after the main Air and Space Museum opened on Washington's Mall, amid the nation's bicentennial, the museum is bursting at the seams and then some. So they came here to Dulles Airport to get some space. And when we say space, we really mean it.

Here's the director of the Air and Space Museum , Retired General John Daly, United States Marines.

Congratulations on getting to this point. Tremendous amount of work involved in this. Give us a sense of scale here.

GEN. JOHN DAILEY, U.S.MC, RET.: This room we're in right now is 987 feet long by 10 stories high. We have three football fields and a 10-story high building. The museum on the Mall would fit inside this particular space hall, or aviation hall. So we have room for 200 airplanes, which are remaining to be put on display from our collection.

O'BRIEN: It's interesting, because when people travel and visit the Air and Space Museum on the Mall they walk away impressed with the size of the collection. That's the tip of the iceberg, isn't it?

DAILEY: Yes, it is. It's only 10 percent of what we have in the collection; another 10 percent is on loan around the country, but 80 percent will be on display here in the Udvar-Hazy Center.

O'BRIEN: It's a great opportunity to literally step through the history of aviation and space?

DAILEY: Exactly. We have examples from throughout the first 100 years of flight.

O'BRIEN: Not an inexpensive facility. How has this all been put together?

DAILEY: Well, it's unique in that it's privately funded, the first time in the history of the Smithsonian we've done that; it's a $311 million project. We've raised over $200 million, but still need $90 million to pay off the bills.

O'BRIEN: Good luck on that. General John Dailey, director of the museum. Good luck as you go forward here.

DAILEY: Thank you, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Feel like a kid in a candy store. I know he does, still. We'll show you more throughout the hour. So basically, I have an excuse to continue my special tour.

Now hanging from the rafters at the home office, if you will, downtown, if you've been there, you no doubt remember seeing "Voyager", the first airplane to fly all the way around the world on a single tank of gas.

We caught up with the brothers who made that amazing aviation record a reality in their own private Kitty Hawk, the high desert of Southern California. Burt and Dick Rutan, the former, a brilliant designer, the latter, the man with the velvet arm.


O'BRIEN (voice over): When you visit the Brothers Rutan, be stoked and ready for some fun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Off we go into the wild blue yonder.

O'BRIEN: They live in work in the ultimate sandbox for propeller-heads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want to make you nervous so I'm staying well within my normal limits.


O'BRIEN: That's Mojave, California, the high desert, a bleak gas stop for land lovers, the bottom of a deep blue sky for pilots.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here we go, hold on. Hang on. Oh, I love weightless.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice feeling, isn't it?


O'BRIEN: It's a long way from Kitty Hawk, or is it?

BURT RUTAN, AERODYNAMICS ENGINEER: We're very different. Dick's the pilot. I'm the one that's fascinated and I get my thrill out of trying something new, improving it in aerodynamics.

O'BRIEN: A hundred years after the Wright Brothers showed the world how potent a mix dreams, ingenuity and persistence can be, Burt and Dick Rutan see some kindred spirits across the years, across the continent.

BURT RUTAN: they had the courage to try something that didn't exist. What I'm trying to do is to question what exists and say does it really have to be this complex, this dangerous, this expensive?

O'BRIEN: Time and again, the Rutans have proved price and complexity are no prerequisites to success. In 1986, Dick was at the controls of Burt's creation, the gangly, marginally powered and fueled "Voyager" took nine days to orbit the earth on a single tank of gas, an aviation record that hasn't been matched.

BURT RUTAN: I knew how frail it had to be to be -- to be able to make it around the world. And we were willing to work with extremely low margins and take the -- you know, have the courage to go ahead and do it anyway.

DICK RUTAN: I was the operator. I'm a flyer. I like redundancies and strong things. He kept saying no, you can't do that to be successful.

O'BRIEN: Burt Rutan's designs have always soared past the margins of conventional wisdom. The "Long Easy" that I flew with Dick is Burt's most successful design. It's a home-built airplane. About 2,500 have taken flight.

O'BRIEN: Why don't they make more planes like this?

DICK RUTAN: The people that run the companies are frickin' idiots, no vision. Have hair head up their ass and their own bookkeepers to put it in the vernacular.

O'BRIEN: You get a lot of vernacular when you spend time with Dick. He is, after all, a retired Air Force fighter jock. Burt is more polite, and yet equally as firm in his indictment of the status quo. The Rutans, none to happy with the state of aviation in its centennial year.

O'BRIEN (on camera): It is a sad anniversary?

BURT RUTAN: It is, I mean, the '60s were phenomenal for space. I mean, unbelievable risks taken, unbelievable progress in a little bit of time. What we've done in the last three decades, gosh --

DICK RUTAN: There's no courage to fail. It takes courage to fail. If you don't fail, how do you know what your limitations are? How do you know what will work? You've got to fail. Failure is the essence for development.


O'BRIEN (on camera): The walls at Burt Rutan's scale composites tell a story of remarkable innovation, designs that turn conventional wisdom on its head. Burt Rutan is not only provocative, he's also prolific. No less than 45 distinct airplane designs to his credit during his career.

But after all this time, he says he's getting bored with just airplanes. So he's raised the bar significantly. In this hangar, his team is working on a craft that will fly higher than any civilian vehicle has ever flown before. This Rutan creation, if all goes well, will fly to space.

O'BRIEN: Which hangar is this?

BURT RUTAN: This is our flight test hanger.

O'BRIEN: This is the main enchilada?

BURT RUTAN: Oh, yes. This is fun. This is the candy shop here. This is where things are happening.

O'BRIEN (voice over): Burt Rutan's flight-test hangar is a busy place these days as his team, funded by an anonymous sugar-daddy, tweaks and tests a spacecraft capable of carrying three people on a short sub-orbital flight.

BURT RUTAN: In fact, the whole reason for the whole program is fun, the old "F" word.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Aah, fun.

BURT RUTAN: Now, I've looked at government regulations on aircraft and we do a search and you can't find the word "fun".

O'BRIEN: Fun is not there?

BURT RUTAN: No, it's not there.

O'BRIEN (voice over): Spaceship I leaves the ground attached to the belly of a bird-like craft, called White Knight. They have done several drop tests and are on the verge are lighting the candle, rocketing beyond the atmosphere.

BURT RUTAN: I don't want to just go to lower orbit and spend the rest of my life doing that. I want to go to the planets. You know, but we --.

O'BRIEN: With a private craft?

BURT RUTAN: Well, of course.


BURT RUTAN: It's the only way you can. You can't do it otherwise. Look at the progress being made, it's nothing, zero. So that's the only way it will happen.

O'BRIEN (voice over): And 100 years ago, no one believed the brothers from Dayton either. Nonsense has a way of becoming conventional wisdom and it all can change in places you'd least suspect.


ANNOUNCER: Coming up. Did this man fly before the Wright Brothers ? Meet one historian who says it all began deep in the heart of Texas.

And later, see if Miles can hang on to his lunch. We'll take you on a wild ride with stunt pilot Patty Wagstaff.


O'BRIEN: Everyone knows the story of the Wright Brothers and Kitty Hawk. But how many of you know about Octave Chanoot (ph), Otto Lillianthal (ph), Kamal Adair, or Percy Pilcher? Just to name a few. All of whom can lay claim to at least some piece of the first flight mantle.

But the name and the alleged, at the time, accomplishments of Samuel Langley, the third secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, haunted the Wrights perhaps more than any other. We're joined by Air and Space Curator Peter Jakab, to talk about the claims, counterclaims, and the craft behind us.

Peter, good to have you with us.


O'BRIEN: Samuel Langley's craft didn't fly successfully, at least as originally designed. Yet, it was first hung in the Smithsonian and given the honor of being a craft that could have flown first. Why was that? Why weren't the Wrights given their due?

JAKAB: Well, Langley, of course, was involved with aeronautical research even before he came to the Smithsonian. In the late 1880s, he was doing aerodynamic research. In the mid-1890s he actually the world's first successful heavier-than-air unpiloted craft, a machine called the Langley Airdrum No. 5.

In 1903, he built the full-sized version of that, piloted version, which was unsuccessful, made two attempts; one in October and again in December of 1903, just nine days before the Wright Brothers' successful flight. The airplane was structurally weak and aerodynamically unsound and just crashed upon itself upon takeoff. It wasn't very successful.

O'BRIEN: Nevertheless, it received some honor by the Smithsonian, perhaps because it was, in fact, their secretary who was involved in this, or perhaps there were other reasons.

JAKAB: As I say, Samuel Langley was the head of the Smithsonian at that time. He was an accomplished astronomer. And, you know, in those days, the head of the Smithsonian was sort of the chief scientist of the United States.

O'BRIEN: Today, is there any doubt in anyone's mind as to the accomplishments of the Wright Brothers 100 years ago with the right flyer?

JAKAB: Oh, not at all. In fact, we're celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers ' First Flights. But what's really important about the Wright airplane is not that it was the first one to get off the ground, but what is important is that it is really the seminal airplane. Every element of it that was successful, the controls, the aerodynamics, the structures, all of those elements, the propellers, are embodied in every airplane that subsequently flew.

So a modern passenger-jet airliner or military fighter flies just the same way as the Wright Brothers ' airplane did, in fundamental terms.

Peter Jakab, with the Air and Space Museum, congratulations on your wonderful new facility.

JAKAB: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Good to have you with us.

Historians do agree on this by devising a means of warping the wings of their craft, the Wright Brothers were the first to fly a heavier-than-air aircraft that could be turned on command by the pilot. But there are still revisionist historians who often let parochial affinities cloud their vision of events.

Which brings us to Texas, Pittsburgh, Texas, and Bruce Burkhardt.


BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): No sand dunes, no beach. It doesn't much look like Kitty Hawk. That's because it's Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Texas.

(On camera): I thought the Wright Brothers were the first ones to fly. D.H. ABERNATHY, MAYOR, PITTSBURGH, TEXAS: Well that's been a controversial issue.

BURKHARDT: At 91 years old. D.H. Abernathy has been mayor of Pittsburgh for more than half his life, 50 years.

ABERNATHY: We have people that have testified that they saw this Ezekial airship fly.

BURKHARDT: Saw it fly in 1902, a year before the Wright Brothers. Technically, it wasn't an airship but a heavier-than-air manned craft, an a airplane, sort of. The Ezekial airship was the brain child of Reverend Verral (ph) Cannon. It was a mission from God the way Reverend Cannon saw it. Not only did his inspiration come from the Biblical book Ezekiel, so did the design.

GLEN GORDON, GRANDSON OF REV. CANNON: Their appearance and their work as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel.

BURKHARDT: Glen Gordon reads from the Bible that belonged to his grandfather, Reverend Cannon. A Bible that the reverend/inventor poured over, believing that the secret to a flying machine was there in Ezekiel chapter one. The prophet describes a vision from the sky and it's appearance, a wheel within a wheel.

BOB LOWRY, It creates its own lift by throwing the air into the canvas.

BURKHARDT: Those paddles throw the air into the canvas?

GORDON: This is built more or less like a kite.

BURKHARDT: Bob Lowery built a replica of the airship. It sits here in the northeast Texas Rural Heritage Museum, suspended, probably about as high as the ship actually flew.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I remember seeing it flew over a fence and hit the ground. That was it. I don't think they ever tried anymore.

BURKHARDT: Miss Cleo is Reverend Cannon's granddaughter and like everyone else she's had to rely on the few eyewitness accounts handed down about the 1902 flight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, you can argue about it being controlled flight and repeatable flight and documented flight, and that gives credit to the Wright Brothers and they deserve that credit.

BURKHARDT: John Holman and Lacey Davis, both Pittsburgh natives, teamed up on a book about the whole episode. "On the Wings of Ezekiel".

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was plenty of room for that to do its flying here in this area. That's why the historical marker has been placed here.

BURKHARDT: So, as we mark the centennial of the Wright Brothers flight, maybe it's also appropriate to tip the hat elsewhere. Happy 101st anniversary, Reverend Cannon.


ANNOUNCER: Ahead this hour, we'll bring you back to the present. Wilbur and Orville could not have imagined air travel for the masses as we know it today. We'll tell you how we got from Wright flyer to frequent flyer.

And later, you think Chicago or Atlanta have busy airports? Once a year, they're surpassed by a dog patch in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. We'll take you to the Capistrano for general aviation pilots.


O'BRIEN: It is sadly ironic that during the year we celebrate 100 years of innovation and progress in flight, we were reminded of the limitations. This year, Concorde, the only supersonic commercial airliner ever to fly, was grounded for good. The fleet now resides in museums the world over, including this one.

It's the end of an era. So put your seat back and tray in the upright position as CNN's Kathleen Koch takes a look back at air travel for the masses.


KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): From the start, the world fell in love with the aeroplane and the mobility it promised.

Only 11 years after the Wright Brothers invented air travel, the first commercial flights were ferrying passengers across the Tampa Bay in Florida. The first planes flew low and slow. Turbulence was guaranteed, says Curator Bob Van Der Linden of the Smithsonian.

BOB VAN DER LINDEN, CURATOR, SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION: I could be very uncomfortable. Let's put it this way, airsickness was a very common then.

KOCH: But then came the powerful DC-3, which took flying to new, more comfortable heights. Smoking permitted. Passengers wore their Sunday best. Luxury was the rule on Pan Am's China Clipper, which inaugurated the first overseas commercial flights in the '30s. The flying boats had beds, honeymoon suites and dining on fine china. Ted Johnson was an early steward.

TED JOHNSON, FORMER PAN AM STEWARD: They felt like they were - in a superb dining room and getting excellent service.

KOCH: The '50s marked the jet age of air travel, when flying was as fun and romantic as a Frank Sinatra song or Hollywood movie. The first jet, the Boeing 707, debuted then, setting new standards in safety, comfort and speed. Flying still primarily a privilege of the wealthy jet set.

KOCH (on camera): Yesterday's romance can still be had for a price. Reclining seats, personal entertainment systems, first class service, complete with champagne.

Thank you.

But economy class is the reality for most air travelers today.

(Voice over): It was deregulation in the '70s that finally opened air travel to the masses. Even if, as the Peter, Paul & Mary hit implied, the partings were bittersweet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love you so much.


KOCH: A new breed of airlines sprouted up. People Express, Southwest Airlines and others, catering to vacationers and budget travelers.

VAN DER LINDEN: In the 1930s, only the rich could fly. Nowadays, basically anybody can fly.

KOCH: The question for some now, who still wants to? Pat-downs and head-to-toe searches have replaced the white glove treatment of yesteryear. Much has been gained, but much lost.

JOHNSON: Yes, the romance, I'm afraid, is gone.

KOCH: So we go farther, faster for less than ever before, trading in our pocketknives and sometimes our dignity for a guarantee of security. It is not the future we'd imagined. But there are still some who look to the skies and dream.


ANNOUNCER: More to come on this special aviation edition of NEXT@CNN. A chicken in every pot and a plane in every garage, it's not the official slogan of one Florida community, but it could be.

Later, we'll take a close look at the most controversial aircraft ever restored and displayed at the Air and Space Museum.



O'BRIEN: Welcome back to NEXT@CNN's the "Wright Stuff: A Century of Flight." The sad truth is the three big wars of the 20th century, two of them world, one of them cold, did more than anything else to spur aeronautical innovations. Case in point, the B-29 Superfortress, at the time, the heaviest plane built was the first with pressurized crew compartments, computer controls, and the ability to carry 20,000 pounds of bombs. But of course, the first that is most remembered for is what it carried inside the bomb bay.

Joining me now is Karl Heinzel, one of the project leaders on the restoration of the Enola Gay which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. Karl, good to have you with us.


O'BRIEN: This is the first time the aircraft has been assembled anywhere since 1960. To get from disassembled and corroded and rusted to what it is now, must have taken a Herculean effort.

HEINZEL: Well, we started disassemble -- working on the airplane in 1984 and continued on the nose section, of course, was on display in 1995. But, even after that, we were continuing to work on the airplane. In many ways, putting it together was actually the continuation of the restoration process and we just finished it up, really, in September of this year.

O'BRIEN: So, about a decade of work, pretty much solid, with people doing various functions. You, at one time, spent about a year just polishing?

HEINZEL: Right. Right.

O'BRIEN: That's hard to imagine for most people.

HEINZEL: It was hard to imagine for me, too.

O'BRIEN: Given its place in history. The Enola Gay, of course, will always be a controversial exhibit for the Smithsonian. Those of you who spent so much time restoring it, what's your answer to the critics who say this is not the thing that should be front and center in a museum?

HEINZEL: Well, actually, the Enola Gay isn't front and center. It joins the rest of the airplanes in here, both civilian and military, as a testament to aviation and the technological progress that has led to the airplanes that we know today.

O'BRIEN: Karl Heinz, one of the project leads on the Enola Gay, thanks very much.

HEINZEL: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: All right. The Enola Gay helped write the last chapter in the history of World War II. One of the more famous stories that preceded it unfolded over Europe. Battling discrimination within their own ranks, as well as the German air force, the first African- American fighter pilots took flight in P-39s, P-40s, P-47s and finally the P-51 Mustang. Their job, to protect the bombers and they never lost a single plane they were ordered to protect. The Tuskegee Airmen broke through the color barrier and their legacy lives on today.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): In hits its heyday, the P-51 Mustang owned the sky, a legendary fighter. So, too were the men who strapped into the seats of Red-tailed Mustangs. Unmistakable markings of the 332nd Fighter Group, the Tuskegee Airmen, African-Americans like Ray Williams who always dreamed of flying.

RAY WILLIAMS, TUSKEGEE AIRMAN: When I was 5 years old, Lindbergh flew the ocean. When, from then on, when I said my prayers at night, it was god bless Lindbergh, mommy, and daddy. And, from that moment on, I wanted to be a pilot.

O'BRIEN: The record speaks for itself, the first black flying group in the U.S. military flew more than 1, 500 missions in World War II, they destroying 261 enemy aircraft, garnered 850 medals and most importantly, never lost an allied bomber they were assigned to protect.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Did you all feel collectively you had to prove something to the rest of the Air Corps and to the Pentagon?

WILLIAMS: Oh sure. That was with us constantly.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): They had to be better to tame this machine as pilot Don Heinz showed me during a formation flight with other vintage warplanes owned by the Commemorative Air Force. Off our wing was a fighter for another generation. A native of Haiti, George Somers was in the vanguard as blacks broke the color barrier in airline cockpits in the late '60s. He's now a captain for United. But, he is dismayed to see there aren't more young people of color following in his footstep.

GEORGE SOMERS, PILOT: There has never been a program established to teach the young -- the youngsters from the elementary schools so that they can develop the discipline that is required for them to become a professional pilot.

O'BRIEN: So he started a program called flying mentors at this airport in Atlanta. The mentors help minority youngsters turn their flights of fancy into the real thing. Keenan Jackson is one of those being helped along. He's a young man with some clearly defined, lofty goal.

KEENAN JACKSON, STUDENT: I want to be a commercial airline pilot, hopefully get on with the majors within the next ten years, so then after I retire, I want to buy one of those, P-51 and fly for the rest of my life.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Are you going to give me a ride?


O'BRIEN: All right.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): I hope too take him up on that offer some day. And, if I do, we will stop for a moment to remember the people who helped make it possible.


ANNOUNCER: Coming up, move other Wright brothers. This sister's got moves that will knock your hat off. And later, Oshkosh B'Gosh. We'll drop in on the largest air show in the world.


O'BRIEN: In the early days, the Wright brothers hit the road on a mission to convince the world of what they had accomplished. In a series of air shows, they wowed crowds with hair-raising stunts, like a left turn, or even a right. Okay, so it's not exactly a thrill by today's standards. But, it laid the air work, if you will, from the topsy-turvy world of aerobatic flying. Historically a field dominated by men, it wasn't until 1990 that a woman turned the aviation world upside down by becoming the U.S. Aerobatic Champion. Her name is Patty Wagstaff, and not long ago, she gave me a spin. Actually, several.


O'BRIEN: No room for white knuckles or weak stomachs in the cockpit of this airplane.

PATTY WAGSTAFF, U.S. AEROBATIC CHAMPION: I think aerobatics combines for me everything that I love to do. If I was a kid looking ahead and somebody told me I'd be doing this today, I'd say absolutely.

O'BRIEN: Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of Patty Wagstaff.

WAGSTAFF: As a kid, I liked to stand on my head and I liked to go fast. I'd be the fastest kid on the go-cart track and -- you know, the little -- the wildest kid out there.

O'BRIEN: It's just another day at the office for the Tiger Woods of acrobatic flying, and while this may look like reckless abandon in three dimensions, it's actually as carefully choreographed as Tiger's swing.

WAGSTAFF: A lot of people think we're up there flopping around and doing crazy stuff, and "Oh, my god, you're so brave and it's so dangerous," and all this stuff. But, it's really nothing like that. It's extreme precision. I know exactly where they're going to stop and I know exactly what my entry speeds are and I just make it look wild -- you know, it is wild, but it's also very, very much under control. Controlled chaos.

O'BRIEN: Patty Wagstaff has spun the controlled chaos into a record-smashing, myth-piercing, thrill-a-second career. In 1991, she won the coveted U.S. National Aerobatic Championship, the first woman to do so. And to prove it was no fluke, she did it again and again.

WAGSTAFF: I do have a talent and I have a desire and I a passion for it and I have all of the ingredients to do what I do. And that's what it takes to succeed in a sport. You have to have all the ingredients.

O'BRIEN: But, simply watching Patty fly wasn't enough for me. I literally ratcheted myself into a two-seat version of the Extra 300 she flies to see what it's really like.

(on camera): Yeehah!

WAGSTAFF: I'm going to give you a little bit of negative "G", OK?


WAGSTAFF: So you can feel it.

O'BRIEN: Oh, my gosh!

WAGSTAFF: That's about two negative.

O'BRIEN: Hanging by the straps.

WAGSTAFF: You want to fly it for a minute?

O'BRIEN: Yeah, I'd love to.

WAGSTAFF: You got it.

O'BRIEN: All right.

WAGSTAFF: You can do a loop, if you want.

O'BRIEN: All right, here we go.

WAGSTAFF: A little bit of right rudder. Keep going up, up, up. Not too hard on top. Oh, there you go.

O'BRIEN: What'd I do? What'd I do?

WAGSTAFF: You solve it, no big deal.

O'BRIEN: Yeehah!

(voice-over): Her life does seems charmed here, at her roots in St. Augustine, Florida. She lives well with her flock of parrots and another bird of a feather, air show performer Dale Snodgrass, who dazzles crowds in old fighter planes. But, the hard playing comes with a price. Keeping sponsors happy, lining up as many as 15 air show performances a year. Business before pleasure.

WAGSTAFF: OK, ready?

O'BRIEN (on camera): Yeah.

Woo baby!

WAGSTAFF: I love this part.

O'BRIEN: Oh, my gosh.

WAGSTAFF: Isn't this nice?

O'BRIEN: When you're flying what are you thinking about?

WAGSTAFF: You know, you're not really thinking, thinking, you're kind of -- I don't think about extraneous things, which is probably what I like about it.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): She grew up immersed in the world of aviation. Her father, a captain for Japan airlines.

WAGSTAFF: He took me flying when I was a kid. The cockpit doors were always open. He'd jump out of the left seat, stick me in the left seat and I'd fly the airplane. He'd say, "Honey, there's Mt. Fuji over there, we have a lot of honeymoon couples on board, why don't you go fly around Mt. Fuji," and honest to God, and we'd go do that and I'd do turns and I'd be flying, they all thought it was the cutest thing in the world. I was like 10, 11 years old.

O'BRIEN: For Patty a life-long passion is born. It is a passion she feels compelled to share, especially with young women.

WAGSTAFF: It's a big responsibility, it's an exhausting responsibility at air shows, and it is gratifying when a little girl comes up to me and says I watched you fly ten years ago and I just got my license.

O'BRIEN (on camera): The thing about flying with Patty Wagstaff is there's no real time for doing this, straight level. As a matter of fact, this is kind of boring for you, isn't it?

WAGSTAFF: Well we're not going to do it for long. We're not going to do it for long, Miles. Here we go.

O'BRIEN: All right. Show me what you got. Oh, my god! Oh!

O'BRIEN (voice-over): No, I didn't get sick, but I have felt better. I walked away impressed with some amazing flying and an amazing person, who lives -- no, actually, thrives by balancing risk and caution, chaos and precision.

WAGSTAFF: I'm very cautious with myself. People think I'm brave and courageous and really, I think I'm kind of a chicken.

O'BRIEN: really?

WAGSTAFF: Um-hum, I like to keep my airplane in the best possible condition. I like to keep myself in good condition. I take every precaution that I can to minimize risks, and, yeah, something can happen, but at least I'd be going down and doing something I love to do.


ANNOUNCER: Coming up, it's not a carport, it's a planeport. This community might make you a bit jealous if you have a passion for flying. We'll be back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: There are people all over this country who live near airports and can't stand it. They spend all of their time complaining about the noise, trying to slap on curfews, trying to get the airports shut down altogether. And then there are those who would like nothing better than to live right beside the runway, the closer the better.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): Carlos Bravo likes to keep his toys close at hand. So, when he's done flying his biplane, he taxies it right to his door step, to his hangar, attached to his house, just like a garage.

CARLOS BRAVO, SPRUCE CREEK RESIDENT: This, we call it Disney Land for adults.

O'BRIEN: Welcome to Spruce Creek, Florida. It's the grand daddy of fly-in communities. The homes surround a runway and pilots can slip the surly bonds with the greatest of ease.

BRAVO: It sort of makes you feel like a kid in a candy store. That's -- might be -- bight be true. It's more a matter of people being able to live the way they wanted to live and achieving that.

O'BRIEN: Carlos made a dot com fortune, sold out in the nick of time and moved his family here in Illinois. He's among 1,100 homeowners at Spruce Creek, about half of whom sit smack dab on a taxiway minutes away from the wild blue yonder, which is precisely where real estate values are headed here.


O'BRIEN (on camera): Did he build that place?

OLSEN: Um-huh.

O'BRIEN: That's hanger. It looks -- it looks pretty nice.

OLSEN: That's all hanger.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Real estate broker, Lenny Olsen is on top of the world these days, sandwiched between joy rides on his biplane he hustles some pricy listings.

OLSEN: Let's see, in 1995, you could buy a lot -- a taxiway lot for about 75, 80,000. The same lot now is going for two-and-a- quarter.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Two-and-a-quarter, on a taxiway?

OLSEN: On a taxiway

O'BRIEN: Just a lot?

O'BRIEN (voice-over): If you think that's a lot for a lot, this two-acre tract owned by John Travolta is fetching $1.25 million. Out of your league? How about a condo with a planeport, 300,000.

O'BRIEN (on camera): The American dream is homeownership. Is this the American dream on steroids?

OLSEN: If -- well, no more than a fella that owns a house on a river to put his boat in the back yard. So, this is pretty nice, because you have your own airport. It's -- it's the ultimate for anyone that has a plane.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): The military built the runway here, when it abandoned the field, it fell into disrepair, until the mid '70s when investors with deep pockets and a deep passion for planes hatched the idea.

(on camera): Sure, the prospect of taxiing your own plane to your own house, that's enough to make a pilot's moth water. But, this place is about a lot more than the convenience of it all. Otherwise, hangar after hanger wouldn't be filled up with World War II vintage biplanes, like this one. No, this is about a place where people come together to share a passion. And that makes for a very unusual community.

If you're anxious about keeping up with the Jones', this is not the place to come, this is where the dogs run, huh?

BRAVO: Yeah, you're either Mr. Jones...


O'BRIEN: You got to be Mr. Jones.

BRAVO: Yeah, you are Mr. Jones.

O'BRIEN: Everybody is Mr. Jones?

BRAVO: We're all Mr. Jones. That's what I always told my wife. We're Mr. Jones. We're the Jones'.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): I guess you could call it the highlife.


ANNOUNCER: Coming up, a biplane with a jet engine? It's just one of many strange sights at the world's largest air show.


What would Orville and Wilbur think if they could see all of this? And all that flying has become, 100 years since Kitty Hawk. Surely, they would be overwhelmed, even awestruck. But, they'd be among kindred spirits, in fact they might feel right at home, here. And, I'm certain they would feel at home at the world's largest gathering of pilots and small airplanes held each year in Wisconsin. This past summer, we joined them in feathered throng at Oshkosh and got a guided tour from the most famous flight instructors in the world, John and Martha King. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: As he approaches zero forward airspeed, watch for a hard full left rudder as Sean completes, not one, but two consecutive hammerhead turnarounds.

JOHN KING, KING SCHOOLS (voice-over): This is said to be the biggest convention of any sort in the world. There will be some 800,000 attendees here at Oshkosh. There will be 12 to 14,000 airplanes on the ground.

MARTHA KING, KING SCHOOLS: But don't forget about the control tower. During this week, the control tower is the busiest tower, this is the busiest airport in the world. They have 1,000 operations an hour when they're really busy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About 20 minutes, you're going to have 10 P- 28s coming in from the East.

J. KING (voice-over): You really have to be good to be wear a shirt that loud, huh?

(on camera): Oshkosh got started on home builts, and it's one of those things that if you wanted to say that this was going to happen, no one would ever believe you because it was 8 or 10 people getting together to talk about home built aircraft.

This is the decor of it, these are the grassroots of it.

J. KING: But you built this?

JULIAN RIVERA, LONG EAST BUILDER: Yes, I built it. I started it in 1980 and finished it in '89.

J. KING: '80 and '89. So it took you nine years to build this?

RIVERA: Yes, just one piece at a time.

J. KING: Wow. Why do you leave it sitting on its nose?

RIVERA: Oh, because of the way that airplane's balanced. Without the weight of the pilot in the front, it might tip over and a gust of wind if the nose wheel was extended.

Sometimes I go to an airport and people think the airplane's broken.

J. KING: Over here, are the antique and classic aircraft coming up. These people have restored these aircraft and just spent years and years of work getting into this condition. And then they bring them to Oshkosh.

CURT SANDY, OWNER: This particular airplane has always interested me simply because it's more of a rarer type airplane, there was over 11,500 built during the war. And to this day, nobody knows for sure, but somewhere between 25 and 35 fly, right now. J. KING: There's a guy out here. We're going to chase him down here in just a second. It's a fake flying machine.

Now when you figure that out, you can explain it to me if you don't mind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's defiantly a low-level attack aircraft.

J. KING (on camera): My favorite weird thing is the biplane with the jet engine. I love it.


M. KING: What should I know in particular about this that's unusual and different?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's really not a lot of difference between this and a general Aviation airplane. It's just that it does everything so much slower.

That and the fact that you're butt's going to be close to the ground.

J. KING: Ultralights hark back to the original ultralight, which is the Wright Flyer. And -- but ultralights are -- give you the true joy of flying.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But the (unintelligible) and that's going to hold our climb at 50.

M. KING: You can look out and down, right down on the fields and the homes. And you've got the wind there. And you can smell everything. You feel so close to nature, and yet you've got a beautiful perspective on the world.


O'BRIEN: It's time for me to get back in the air, time to spool up and cruise into the second century of flight. Next week, we're back to our usually format and here's one of the stories we'll be covering:

Could this odd looking deep-sea sponge hold the cure for pancreatic cancer? We'll take you on a voyage of scientific discovery, looking for medicine under the sea.

That's coming up on NEXT. Until then, we'd like to hear from you. Our e-mail is

Thanks for joining us on this special edition of NEXT@CNN. For all of us, I'm Miles O'Brien, keep the blue side up. We'll see you next time.



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