A recent commission project has me thinking about airplanes: paper airplanes, model airplanes, aerial maps and pilot logs.
After scouring the stacks of the library resale store, as well as a good discovery on Etsy, I have a mint copy of The Great International Paper Airplane Book (1971), a model airplane flight pattern manual, and a 1971 pilot’s logbook. Among the books I have discovered a combination of arrows and dotted lines, gridded columns of numbers and handwritten notations that is quite pleasing to the designer in me.
The Great International Paper Airplane Book showcases the first (and to my understanding, the only) International Paper Airplane Competition conducted by Scientific American. The book provided detailed patterns for a handful of rather mundane paper airplane models (varietals that even I could probably make), as well as the exotic versions that competed for top prize. It’s like the little Ikea man got drunk and started doodling directions in his geometry book.
The pilot logbook is even more intriguing. This logbook is dated 1971 and the pilot appears to have lived in the New Jersey area. I have never seen a pilot logbook before or thought much about such things. I have now learned that the Federal Aviation Administration requires pilots to document their training and aeronautical experience for certification purposes by making logbook entries that detail the date, flight time, location, type of aircraft, flight conditions, among other things. Although no longer a mandated requirement in the United States, most pilots continue to keep a logbook if only out of habit from their student days.I have also learned that the FAA does not require a certain logbook format, and books should be completed in blue or black ink—never pencil. For suggestions on what makes the “perfect” logbook, please see DutchPilotGirl.
Logbooks trace back to the earliest experiments with air travel. The Wright brothers kept detailed notebooks, noting the successes and setbacks of their experiments. By 1913, the BritishRoyal Flying Corps were using pilot logbooks in a format similar to ship’s logs. After Charles Lindbergh landed outside Paris on May 21, 1927, completing the first nonstop transatlantic solo flight, someone in the crowd stole his logbook, which was never recovered, something Lindbergh regretted for the rest of his life. Air & Space magazine from the Smithsonian has a wonderful history of pilot logbooks on its website.
The Smithsonian historian notes that for Lindbergh and many other pilots, logbooks become a diary of their travels, an adventure scrapbook of sorts. I have never really associated flying with art, yet the thought of this small book serving as a memory keeper, an illustrated story of adventures in the clouds, a symbol of freedom, made a light bulb go off for me—the logbooks are a pilot’s creative outlet, or in my terminology, his Art Bones!
I reopened the pilot logbook I have been using in my artwork. I had focused primarily on the grid, the hand-scribbled numbers and the utilitarian aspect of it. But now I looked at it as a lovingly crafted scrapbook, and there it was, entry after entry, in the “Remarks & Endorsements” column.
“To the beach/ bicycling solo.”
“Auto show w/ Gary/Jim/Juny.”
“Ruth after dark for dinner.”
“Utica see Uncle Roy.”
“Hershey fuel + bike ride.”
“No dinner no car w/ Ruth.”
“Night in the Valley.”
And suddenly I could see Evan the Pilot. His wife, his friends, his family, his love for cycling. It was all in the gridded pages alongside the aircraft type, the engine model, flight duration and hours. It was a life. And a joy.
I like to think that the history of these discarded or forgotten pages brings all of that life and joy and adventure to the artwork I make with it, even if you can’t name it specifically. I think the obscured and even buried history of a painting is perhaps the most powerful part. It is the soul of the painting.