There is a real connection between the freedom of flight and the freedom of riding a motorcycle. Both are powerful machines that give you the ability to go in any direction you want. Oliver Coolidge understands this. I met Oliver through a mutual friend and after a few emails, he invited me to come by his hangar. I was looking forward to taking a look at his airplane and picking his brain about his extensive experience in the aviation industry.
Oliver and his friend showed up on two vintage motorcycles: a 1975 Norton Commando 850 and a 1984 BMW R80ST. Both are classic air-cooled motorcycles that are stylish and still turn heads today. We went into the hangar and I got my first glimpse of Oliver’s airplane. It’s a 1954 Cessna 195, in immaculate condition. I walked around admiring all of the plane’s details. Like a vintage motorcycle, this airplane seems raw, like it has a soul. The power-plant is a 7 cylinder air-cooled radial engine. Unlike a motorcycle that has gears, the propeller is directly connected to the engine. To deal with RPM, the pitch of the propeller blades are adjusted from the cockpit as the RPM of the engine increases.
While I was drooling over the plane and motorcycles, some other pilots came over to the hangar to say hello. Hanging out at the hangar is kind of like hanging out at your local motorcycle shop or with motorcycle friends at a garage. There seem to be great friendships in the aviation community, as well as a connection and bond through airplanes. Much like hopping on your motorcycle for a quick ride with no destination, Oliver asked me, “Do you want go up for a flight?”. Minutes later, we were taxiing down the runway with another pilot close behind, following us in his airplane so we could fly together high above the city and mountains.
The Cessna 195 is a tail dragger, so when you’re taxiing, you’re looking high into the sky out the front window. Throttle was increased and we started moving down the runway. The engine sounded amazing and as we got enough speed, Oliver lifted the tail off the ground and then began climbing. I’ve only been in large commercial airplanes before, so this was a very cool experience. I felt more connected to the flying, much like riding a motorcycle. As we reached the proper altitude, the other airplane, a custom built RV8, came along side of us. The pilots communicated with each other, one in the lead position telling the other the commands. He’d tell them, “down 20” or “up 20”, and as I looked out the window they would rise up or drop down that many feet.
After flying for awhile, we made our way back to the airport. These small planes don’t need much runway to land. We touched down and as we slowed, the tail dropped down to the ground and he steered with the tail wheel. We pulled up to the hangar just as the sun was setting over the mountains. It was a pleasure getting a glimpse into another community of such passionate people.
Words & Photos by Nick Johnson | Special thank you to Oliver Coolidge & his friends