The Columbus Indiana Chamber of Commerce and its community of 30,000 were all abuzz with the presence of National Geographic doing a major story on its unique town. Columbus’ largest industry, the Cummins Engine Company, had been instrumental in commissioning world-famous architects to do projects in Columbus. Schools, churches, the library, and a post office now claimed the famous architect names of I.M. Pei, Kevin Roche, Eero Saarinen, and Harry Weese. Columbus was a must visit for all architecture students wanting to see examples of the world’s best contemporary architecture.
The magazine’s photographic assignment was given to Bruce Bauman, one of its celebrated photographers. Bruce lived in Columbus for serval weeks during the writing of the article. I met Bruce at a reception one evening and he asked if I knew a local pilot who could take him aloft for some aerial photos.
“Sure do. Me! When do you want to go?”
“Some afternoon just before sunset,” he said. “I’ll check the weather and give you a call.”
I met Bruce at the airport about 5:00 pm on a cool, early fall afternoon. Colors in the trees were just beginning to turn their fall colors. I had pulled my Cessna 182 RG out of its hangar and was looking forward to the experience. Bruce had three cameras hung around his neck, one with a lens that looked like the barrel of an artillery cannon.
“Do you mind if we take this door off?” he asked.
“Huh? Take the door off my plane?”
“Yeah, I’ve got to get my foot out on the wing strut to take the pictures.”
Yikes, I had never flown with the door removed before. The door on my plane was big, about 4-foot square. I didn’t doubt the plane would fly okay. Skydiving planes fly with much larger side openings. But wind and turbulence were something I wasn’t sure about. First step was going to be to secure and tie down everything loose that might blow away. That included check lists and all those odds and ends of charts and airsick bags stuck into the side pockets and forgotten long ago.
The next question was how I was going to secure Bruce Bauman if he intended to hang out the side of the plane while shooting pictures. Bruce didn’t seem too concerned, but finally agreed to allow me to tie the buckle of the seat belt to the back of his pants belt. Ever the cautious pilot, I always try to land my plane with the same number of passengers as I had when taking off.
It turned out to be a beautiful afternoon. The wind in the plane’s cabin was much less than I expected. With the sun slowly setting, Bruce had me circle the community and some of the outlying Cummins plants never less than 1,000 feet above the ground. Several times children on the ground would look up and saw this man hanging out of an airplane. Rather than show any surprise, they just waved.
The magazine article included some aerial closeups I don’t remember Bruce taking, but that telephoto lens of his could bring images right up to our wing tip. It was a fascinating afternoon. I still have that 42-year-old National Geographic issue in which I played a minor but memorable part.