Picking and Flying (4)

Red Henry

Red Henry

Well, folks, Murphy contributed a 'picking and flying' column yesterday because it was about Earl Scruggs's great tune "Groundspeed", so I figured I'd continue the trend. Thinking about Earl flying around the country in his nice twin-engined airplane reminded me of an anecdote I've heard about Earl and Doc Watson.

Now, if you are flying an airplane in the clouds, or any time you can't see, you're flying on instruments. This is because nobody's sense of balance is good enough to tell, if they can't see outside, whether the airplane is upside-down, or right-side-up, or in a dive, or a climb-- your sense of balance will fool you, every time. Without the instruments, after a minute or so your body begins sending you false signals, and the airplane gets out of control. But I heard of once when someone was able to fly straight and level without seeing anything, and it wasn't a pilot who did it.

This story may not be true, but it ought to be. The story is that Earl took Doc Watson up in his plane one day. Of course Doc cannot see, but he has a mighty good sense of physical touch and coordination. Well, Earl flew the airplane up high, leveled off, and then turned the controls over to Doc for a while. It turned out that Doc, without being able to see either the world outside or the airplane's instruments, was able to keep flying straight and level.

Now folks, that's phenomenal. I never heard of anybody else being able to do it. But if it was anybody, it would have been someone like Doc, who'd never touched an airplane's controls before but is the best guitar player in the world.

And like I said, if the story's not true, it ought to be!