" My eyes hurt so badly, I don't know if I can do this [ landing ]. I'll close my eyes tightly. Just for a moment.
To warm them a little." Elling, by this time, had severely deteriorated his
vision and damaged his depth perception."
" I opened my eyes . . and I could not see a thing."
“ Everything was a white haze. I was certain I had frozen
my eyeballs ! I started hollering at the top of my voice. I
don't know why but I was certain that I was going to crash.
I headed downward praying that I could make out my field. "
" Down and down I went. And I still couldn't make out the ground. Then, I flew by the familiar tall, white shaft of the Custer Massacre Monument and I knew I was safe."
Several feet above a farmer's field, Elling stalled the fragile biplane into a granite hard landing. The farmer found him, still in his white fog, stumbling around his slightly damaged aircraft. Within days, his damaged eyes healed and he returned to fly the repaired aircraft. But this time with his chamois mask and goggles securely installed on his face.
Years later my uncle confided in me :
" Tommy . . escaping death after I'd frozen my eye balls was the biggest thrill of my life.”
The most extreme and visceral-twisting fear envisioned by any pilot is to be :
( 1 ) sightless ( 2 ) solo ( 3 ) pointed down ( 4 ) no parachute ( 5 ) hopelessly out of control.
Elling had suffered through its acid edge.
With accumulated savings from record-setting and fee-paid exhibitions over un-counted crowds, Elling returned to rural Iowa to operate an auto repair garage and construct his own a tractor-style biplane.
With no electricity or telephones to assist, his efforts would apply new meaning to home-built. Wood joint glue was laboriously derived from ground up; boiled down horse hooves strained into a yellow viscous liquid, then kept warm on the stove.
To cover its fuselage, canvas-like linen would be hand-brushed with an insect-derived shellac diluted with alcohol. Many coats of noxious cellulose nitrate would be applied over Irish linen stretched to cover its wings and tail.
To power the aircraft, Elling purchased a 400 lb. aircraft engine created by famous aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss. Starting with a primitive motorcycle engine that dripped gasoline into a tomato can stuffed with steel wool, Curtiss had morphed it into a water-cooled, eight-cylinder aircraft, 90 horsepower engine and called it OX-5.
Though a startling evolution for its day, it suffered often from appalling results of poor quality control over Curtiss' widely licensed manufacturers. Ignition problems with its magneto, valve train failures, and vibration-induced coolant leaks were too common.
Because the early OX-5's were so hard to start in cold weather, it was common practice to drain its oil after each day's flying, then keep it warm on a stove overnight.
Its flying wires had been designed for the military and enabled the Navy to have lighter and tougher rigging for its ships. These light cables were encased wires of hair-breadth thickness. Seven hair-like steel wires were twisted into a strand, then combined with nineteen others into a completed wire.
Substituting for earlier used ordinary piano wire, these cables were attached to brackets and turnbuckles to create structural bays between the vertically butted wing struts, and to secure the tail empennage and the bicycle-looking landing gear.
There was no electricity or telephones to give them a hand. The nearest facilities offering machinist skills and metal fabrication required a journey of 85 miles on unkempt dirt roads.
There could be no errors on the carefully planned shopping list before making the 340 mile pilgrimage to Chicago, where aircraft parts vendors had begun to congregate at Cicero Air Field. It was becoming a one-stop center for “ do-it-yourself builders ” offering cured spruce and fir, nitrate dope, propellers, aircraft engines and odd-shaped hand tools.
As a known personality from earlier years when he'd soloed, 'gophered' for various aircraft builders, and acquired hands-on experience, Elling had a serendipitous advantage. And he knew the necessary questions to ask. And quickly found out whom to ask.