Budd Davisson, circa 1971

Duct Tape

It's a damn shame how those who truly affected our lives in so many ways get over-shadowed by guys like Edison, Marconi, Orville and Wilbur. I resent the attention all those big guys get because I know there are so many others who contributed things much more important and on which the progress of our daily lives and the ultimate fate of the civilized world still depends.

Take speed tape for instance: Also known as duct-tape, gaffers tape and "that silver stuff that's sticky on one side." Where would, aviation and civilization in general be without it? Yes, I agree, the Wright boys, Henry Ford and their ilk did make strong contributions to progress but, if it weren't for duct/speed tape, none of their inventions would have gotten off the ground. look closely at that wrinkled photograph of the first Wright Flyer cruising along with one of the guys running at the wing tip. Is that, or is that not, speed tape holding some of the broken struts together? And down there at the far end of the takeoff rail? Isn't that a roll of tape (it could also be a turtle or a cow pie)?

Of course, in the years since the Wright boys did their big number, it was speed tape that kept the notion of flying alive. Only a few days before the Red Baron was shot from the skies he was heard to say, "Em tapen duckten versehimled tri-plane togiether holdien." If you read the fine print in the treaty of Versailles you'll find that named, as those trophies of war which had to be forwarded to the Allies intact, were a number of D-VII Fokkers and fourteen unopened cases of German duct tape.

And barnstormers; can you even imagine Waldo Pepper taking off across Kansas (which always looked strangely like Southern California in the movies) without a couple of rolls of duct tape to hold his fluttering fabric flivver in one piece? Or at least to keep those pieces in close proximity to one another?

If you are able to lay your hands on an unabridged version of "We," Lindbergh's telling of the trans-atlantic tale, you will find what made Lindy lucky was that he remembered to bring duct tape along with him. When he found he couldn't possibly keep his eyes open, a couple strips of speed tape very handily stuck his eye lids to his eye-brows, which kept him wide awake through the entire flight. Unfortunately the bug-eyed result made early news photos of him appear as if Marty Feldman had just made the flight.

At 10 Downing Street, late in 1939, Churchill drew his cabinet around him and said, "The time has come for us to commit .ourselves....Hitler's Wehrmacht wimps are stomping the living hell out of Poland and we're going to be next. We must tell the British people and British industry that we need two vital components to win this war, if you don't count tea that is. Those two ingredients are Spitfires and duct tape."

On the other side of the Channel, of course, Hitler, the supreme egotist, refused to listen to his subordinates who pointed out that the Versailles treaty had given Britain and America duct tape and had forbidden its production in Germany. It is rumored Hitler became so enraged at these subordinates that he chewed off both ends of his mustache, thus giving him the characteristic black blob under, his nose. And so, England and America, armed with the might of God and a ten-year supply of tape, took on the sauerkraut crowd. The Nazis were, in effect, beaten by a nation of Rosie--the-Riveters and Tammy-the-Tapers.

As important as it is, it would be foolhardy and narrow-minded to say that aviation owes its all to speed tape. We all know there have been many other important inventions. Those which leap to mind immediately are milk cases, coffee cans and safety wire.

Take milk cases: Are they not the most indispensable part of any work-shop? Designed originally to hold six gallon jugs (back when they were glass) of milk, they have served yeo-man duty in so many different arenas of technical endeavor. Who among us has not jacked up a landing gear or tail using milk cases as stanchions? And welding? With the jungle-gym variety of wires running every direction, a milk case lets you lay your piece to be welded in any angle while you tack it together. Beautiful! It's like having a third or fourth hand!

The tremendous usefulness of the milk case has given rise to a rather determined black market: At least two clandestine companies specialize in grinding off serial numbers and obliterating the "Owned by Buried Bovine Diary" tags riveted onto them.

There has even arisen, a heated controversy as to which is better; the wood and wire variety of case or the pure wire versions. The smart money opts to inventory several of each. Acquiring the right milk case is serious, business! We could go on and on but time and space work against us. However, at this time, we at Grassroots would like to throw a misty-eyed salute to J. Fred Duct, known to his friends as "Speedy" or simply, "The Gaffer." His shining example of Stick-toitness has left its mark upon the world.