Airstream and Airplane

Some Say it’s the Rivets

Maybe it is the rivets? (Photo by RG Coleman)

Have you noticed that Airstream lovers are oftentimes also lovers of aircraft who are, or were, pilots? Ask them “is it a rivet thing?” and some will laugh and agree. But the connection goes further (though aesthetics does play a big role), and relates to temperament and training.

“The type of people that like to be pilots are sort of meticulous, and detail oriented, and very focused,” offered Rich Luhr, editor and publisher of Airstream Life magazine. “That type of personality, which you also see in engineers and scientists, seems to be attracted to Airstreams. They appeal to our sense of order.”

And if you’re a pilot, “unquestionably, you have an appreciation for the aerodynamics of an Airstream, the appearance of an Airstream, and the construction of an Airstream,” continued Luhr. “All of those things are going to push your buttons, because you really get an appreciation for those elements when you fly an airplane. Nobody flies an airplane shaped like a square box!”

A pilot himself, Luhr flew a 1981 Piper Warrior PA28—a four seat, single engine plane—up and down the east coast when he lived in Massachusetts. His parents also owned an airplane, and together the family flew down to Florida for Sun’N’Fun fly-in, and to Airventure at Oshkosh. “That’s a once in a lifetime trip,” he recalled. “We camped under the wings in tents for a week on the grass. Now I camp with Airstreams.”

“Oshkosh is actually one of those microcosms that really shows you the airplane/Airstream connection,” he said. “You’ve got all these propellerheads there—thousands and thousands of people—and a huge number of people also bring their RVs to Camp Scholler on the event grounds. You see companies like Nuvite polishing both aircraft AND trailers at the same event!There’s a lot of crossover. The whole aluminum connection is really strong.”

It might be the rivets…but it could also be about the checklists. “Flight takeoff procedures are similar to an Airstream trip pre-check,” said Luhr. “If you’re trained as a pilot, you’re trained to be safety conscious and meticulous. You use checklists. You do a preflight inspection every time you fly the aircraft. You have an awareness of what your craft is doing before you fly it, when you fly it, and after you fly it—you’re always aware of the aircraft. It’s not something you just jump in and fly; it’s part of you. That training really carries over well to RVing and travel trailers, because you need to have that level of awareness of what you’re towing.”

Whether you’re flying down the highway or high overhead, safety always comes first. “You may not be going 200 miles an hour with an Airstream, but you are going 60,” said Luhr. “You’re still going to get killed if you don’t do something right, and you really need to know what you’re doing.”  Pilot training “really pays off,” said Luhr. When he’s traveling with one of his Airstreams, he says “I know the running gear is good, the structure is solid, it’s not leaking, and the doors are secure and everything’s locked and latched down.”

“The best trailer towers I see are guys who are or were also pilots,” said Luhr. “They’re very safety conscious, and have what pilots call ‘situational awareness’: knowing where you are, what’s going to happen next, what other people are doing around you. It becomes a very natural thing.”

Pilot Roger Moseley—also the pilot of four Airstreams—built his first plane in 1973. “It was a Bede Aircraft BD-5, a very small aerobatic airplane with relatively high performance. Single seat, of course,” he said. “I now have Airstreams because I had all the aluminum tools for riveting, cutting, and shaping, and it seemed like a natural progression.”

Moseley received his flight training in the USAF, but says “I learned more about flying from being an instructor pilot than I ever did when I was a student.”

“These photos were taken back in 2004 on the south ramp at Edwards AFB,” explained Moseley, who provided the pictures for Outside Interests. “They were all used in test programs, which is why they are not painted in their operational (combat) colors.” 

“I taught Vietnamese pilots how to fly fighters and drop bombs,” he said. “Test pilot school was the next step, and after that I learned how to fly gliders. When I went back to test pilot school as an instructor, I got to do a lot more interesting stuff; I was the spin and departure instructor, so I got to flip and flop airplanes through the sky.”

Mosely and his wife are in the middle of an awe-inspiring construction project at their Colorado home: building a hangar on the property, where he’ll restore his vintage Airstreams and build a brand new airplane: a Pipistrel Sinus or a Van’s RV-7.

“This all makes a lot of sense,” concluded Luhr. “Airstreaming just appeals to the nature of pilots. We like travel, obviously; and we’re the kind of people who just like really cool machines.”

– By RG Coleman