Packing Pistons in the Past

Southern Airways Martin 404

Propellers powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney radial piston engines, a 1976 trip to my grandparents included aircraft that had more in common with WWII bombers than with the Bombardier I’ll be boarding on Tuesday. One of a series of small prop planes that constituted the last stage of our Easter or Christmas visits to the Gulf coast, including one especially exciting but only dimly remembered trip in a DC-3, the Southern Airways Martin 4-0-4 pictured above delivered us to what was then a very small Ft Myers airport.

This high school era image (see That 70’s Show) is impossible to date, but I found it in a lackluster set of Florida shots in the same envelope with some Plus-X that could be positively dated to Spring 1976. This was shot on Panatomic X, a surprising and counterproductive choice for a night image, given that it was a low speed film (ASA 32). 

If it was 1976, my SLR would have been a Hanimex Practica with a built in meter, but fully manual settings.  If it was 1977, then it would have been a much sweeter Canon AE-1 with aperture priority automatic shutter.  Both had 50mm f/1.8 lenses.  As is still my wont, I am drawn to airplanes and night shots, so I’m sure that confronted with this classic scene, I did the best I could to hand hold with whatever was loaded in my camera.  35mm film didn’t come with adjustable ISO.

Today’s modern jetport feels less romantic, less exciting, and certainly less innocent than a small regional airport did 35 years ago.  Having long lost most  I no longer feel comfortable standing on an airport tarmac taking pictures of planes (on the assumption that the airport authorities aren’t especially comfortable about me and my camera).

Digitized with my Nikon 35mm film scanner, this underexposed image cleaned up nicely—after some Photoshop surgery to remove the worst of the mildew damage.  It evokes feelings of a different time; a time that was ending as my time as an air traveller began.

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