Once upon a time, the campfire story goes, when aviation was young and fliers were adventurers on the edge, pilots wanting to make a living in this new field couldn’t just sit around and wait for passengers and students to find them. They had to go to where the people were. And so they got in their Jennys, and their Travel Airs, and their Eaglerocks, and they headed out across America, landing in farmers’ fields and bringing aviation to the masses.
It’s a tale told of a lost time gone by, like sailing on the Spanish Main. Today, the general wisdom would be that the barnstormers have long since flown west. Pilots can’t just drop out of the sky and hop rides out of a field owned by an unknown farmer. The liability alone would be prohibitive. And the population, jaded by years of airline travel and jet noise, would not welcome a pilot who just landed in their alfalfa with open arms.
Or … would they?
In a new documentary called Barnstorming, filmmakers Paul Glenshaw and Bryan Reichardt tell the story of a group of pilots who proved that the spirit of both those barnstorming pilots and the people who flocked to fields to see them is still alive and well in America. The film traces an accidental friendship that develops between two antique airplane pilots and an eastern Indiana farm family they literally dropped in on one day, back in 1999. They were invited back, they took the family up on the invitation, and their visit has now become an annual event and party that is eagerly anticipated by a growing number of townspeople.
The film is beautifully shot, and the story is very well told. For my own purposes, I wish they’d included more information and visuals from the old barnstorming days, to put the modern-day version in more context. But I talked to Paul Glenshaw, and he said they tried that, and it just didn’t work well with the rest of the material. But for anyone a little nostalgic for the “good old days” of simple flying and strong and lasting friendships, even across the miles … Barnstorming is a rejuvenating treat. It’s also a reminder that flight can still be timeless adventure, if we choose to make it so.
More information on Barnstorming is available at www.barnstormingmovie.com.