Sweet Dreams

FLYING contributor Ben Younger remembers the aircraft he loved as a boy and how his dream aircraft has evolved.

For as long as I’ve been eating solid foods, I’ve had a dream car—and the conviction that it would one day be mine. It began with the Lamborghini Countach, which was first produced in 1974, when I was 2 years old. I found it a few years later in a MotorTrend magazine my father left on the kitchen counter. The Countach was stunning, unlike anything I’d ever seen. Even then, I understood that the Italians were the only ones who could make a car that possessed that potent combination of speed and aesthetics I found so intoxicating as a boy who had yet to discover girls.

Next, my imagination moved 27 miles east from Bologna to Maranello, Italy, where I discovered the Ferrari 288 GTO. Another fanatical group of Italians produced the car for only two years: 1984 to 1986. The GTO combined the timeless looks of the 328 GTS (Magnum, P.I.’s car) with a twin-turbo V-8 described at the time as an actual monster that ate drivers as much as it did asphalt. I was 12 when that car came out, and I nearly lost my mind—even with the discovery of girls.

As I grew older, I became less obsessed with looks and more fascinated with underpinnings. The Porsche 959 traveled my attention across Europe, from Maranello to Stuttgart, Germany. It certainly wasn’t prettier than the GTO. Rather, it was the all-wheel drive, water-cooled, sequential twin-turbocharged, rear-mounted motor and active aerodynamics that captured my imagination. Back then, AWD was for Subarus, not supercars. It was a revelation. But then, both the 959 and Outback have horizontally opposed “flat” motors that we pilots are intimately familiar with in our Continentals and Lycomings. There was lineage to trace, even back in 1986.

Then, I got my driver’s license. It was time to survey what I could actually afford to drive. I don’t come from money, but my parents instilled a strong work ethic into me. I did some quick calculations, adding up what shoveling snow from driveways and waiting tables at a kosher deli in Teaneck, New Jersey, was netting me—not much. Work ethic is one thing. Porsche 959 money is something else entirely.

Something unexpected happened at this point in my life: My dreams became tainted with pragmatism. I reasoned that it would be better to lower the bar and dream of a car I might be in a position to buy one day, rather than continue to fantasize over something utterly unobtainable. The crosshairs of my desire moved one last time, from Stuttgart to Bavaria. My new obsession became the BMW M3. I lusted after it for years until one day in 1999 I bought one—the last year of the E36 designation. I loved that car more than any other I have ever owned. With this car, my dreams met reality and dovetailed like the most sublime Japanese joinery. The car actually was that good. I never should have sold it.

Over in airplane world, my fantasies started early with military aircraft, as I imagine is the case for many young boys eternally fascinated with destroying things. I had the compulsory love affair with the A-10 Warthog, “the plane built around a gun.” That description alone made me want to quit fifth grade, get a work permit, Sharpie in a mustache, and load ammo belts for the Avenger 30mm Gatling gun planted in the nose. F-16s were next. I loved that bubble canopy, and its menacing viper looks pulled my imagination toward it like a scrap-yard magnet does an iron engine block. Then Top Gun came out, and Tom Cruise directed 14-year-old me squarely toward the F-14 Tomcat, Kawasaki GPZs and a strange desire to play beach volleyball. After that, I drifted away from aviation for a time (for motivation, see earlier references to girls).

Read More from Ben Younger: Leading Edge

In my late teens, I returned with little interest in military aircraft. I began to dream about getting my pilot’s license and, with it, the distant possibility of owning an airplane. There are no A-10s for sale in Controller, so my sights moved to GA aircraft. Although it took me another two decades to get my private pilot certificate, I became a student of all things aviation. I read this magazine cover to cover for years. I learned about the world of GA as my tastes ricocheted from riveted aluminum to composite Kevlar and everything in between. I began with Mooney Acclaims, bewitched by their odd tails and the promise of flying the world’s fastest certified piston airplane. At 18 years old, speed ruled my world and would for some years to come. Then, I moved on to the Beech Bonanza and its legendary build quality—and still no slouch, either (I currently own a V-tail model). Then came a return to speed when I saw a Lancair at a 1995 exhibition at the New York Museum of Modern Art.

But just as it happened in my automobile dreamscape, the concept of utility forcefully gained access to my aviation fantasy life. I entered my late 20s with a vast schedule of interests and hobbies, and an airplane seemed to be both a conduit to access those interests and a passion all on its own.

When I first saw a Pilatus PC-12 in these pages, I did not fall in love immediately. The airplane looks like what it is: a sturdy hauler with some extra speed if compared to a Cessna Caravan. But as I matured, I came to the conclusion that 300 ktas, though a visually beautiful number, doesn’t make all that much of a difference to the 285 ktas the Pilatus easily achieves in cruise. What made a very big difference was the PC-12′s cargo door that could load two motorcycles, the bulletproof Pratt & Whitney turboprop, and the ability to take off from a dirt strip. I saw a photo of two sport bikes tied down in the back of a PC-12, and the possibilities of what I could do with that airplane captured my imagination more than any ground-attack aircraft with a mounted cannon ever could.

What sealed the deal for me was a flight I took in a rented Piper Archer my first year as a private pilot. ATC called out the traffic at six o’clock and 1,000 feet above. That 285 ktas might not sound like a lot compared with some of the speed demons I once lusted after, but as I watched the PC-12 blow by me directly overhead, it felt as if I were still sitting on the ramp doing my run-up.

Unlike my flirtations with cars, the PC-12 remains my dream airplane, even after 20 or more years. This is both the consequence of the glacial pace of new aircraft design and the PC-12 maintaining its unicorn status in regards to mission capability.

Over decades of obsession, what I have learned is that age becomes a contributor to fantasy realignment. I now appreciate that a dream with no chance of realization is not all that much fun to dream. To a teenager, anything is possible. “One day,” you tell yourself. That opinion wavers in midlife: “Best to keep those dreams in the realm of reality.” And that’s where you find me at age 48—a dreamer with clay feet. Will I ever be able to afford a $4 million airplane? Most likely not. I’m not Spielberg; I make independent movies. But a used Epic LT might be half that in a few years. It doesn’t have a cargo door, but I’ll finally hit 300 ktas.

Ben Younger is a TV and film writer/director, avid motorcyclist, and surfer—but it’s being a pilot that he treats as a second profession. Follow Ben Younger on Instagram: @thisisbenyounger.

This story appeared in the August 2021 issue of Flying Magazine


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