Budd Davisson, Plane and Pilot

Purple Airports

We were on some never-before-visited piece of highway spending a lazy Saturday poking into the backwoods of Arizona. I've only lived here four years and I never tire of scooting around the area seeing what there is to be seen.

Much of the time we do our scooting by Honda, rather than by Pitts. We stick to the roads because one of our joys in life is poking into roadside junk shops. This day we were looking for antique saddles and ore cars. We found neither.

Anyway, one piece of survival equipment that goes with us on these ground bound jaunts is a aeronautical sectional. The sectional is important because it's plain crazy to unknowingly drive by an airport the sectional shows is only a few miles down an inviting looking dirt road. You never know what you'll find at those airports. You know, like the mythical deserted Staggerwing left forgotten behind a hangar.

The Arizona Redhead was holding the sectional and doing the navigating. (To those who have asked, the Redhead does indeed have a name, it's Marlene.) She's due to start flying lessons in a week or two and she was asking what different things on the chart meant.

I'd be driving down the highway trying to keep from center-punching a semi while I tried to clarify points. "No, the numbers with the box are VOR freqs, the airport elevation are those..." quick look down the road, "...right..." another quick look "...there..."

This went on for some time and we were in the process of discussing the different airport symbols when she asked, "...and what do the purple airport symbols?"

"What purple airport symbols?"


A sectional was held up for my quick inspection while I tried to keep the greasy side down.

"That's purple? What color are the rest?"


"You're kidding!"

37 years in the air and it wasn't until that exact moment I knew there were two different colored airport symbols.

Purple! At the time I was incredulous. Then it got worse. Since then I have found those airports aren't really purple. In Fed-speak, they are magenta. Magenta? Come on guys! I'm color blind! Give us chromatically-challenged folks a break! Why not pick real colors?

One of my favorite soap box subjects has to do with the general wisdom (or lack thereof) of a society, much less an industry, that places so much stock in something which so many people can't understand. By actual statistics, 8% of the men in the world are at least red-green color blind. Think of that the next time you're getting ready to jump a green or run a yellow light. 8% of the drivers coming the other way can't tell for sure whether the light is red or green.

Don't worry. Most of us have learned to compensate for the problem. Green lights look silver. Red lights look something else. Also, red is usually, not always, on the top. Green on the bottom. Or is it the other way? I forget.

Right now, if you and I were standing around having this conversation, I'd be willing to bet I could predict your next comment. You'd pick something up or point at something and say "Color blind? Wow, what color is this?"

8% of the people reading this are laughing.

The less tolerant among people of no color have been known to cram books, papers and other things shoved in our faces up other people's noses.

I on the other hand have remained philosophical. Granted, I'm not special for the reason my mother told me I was special, but I recognize and embrace the difference. In reality, I'm much more than simply red-green blind. Something like 60% of the colors in the spectrum either don't exist or blend together for me which raises some interesting comparisons. For instance, a really lush, freshly watered lawn or grass runway stands out the same vibrant color as a fire engine.

Of course, a stop sign disappears into the foliage behind it. The highway department probably thought they were making those signs octagonal for those who couldn't read. Huh, uh! They work for us who can't see them.

When you're this color blind, you just ignore color. With the exception of strong hues and violent contrasts, for most of us, color isn't an important factor. Don't ask me what I thought of the red biplane we just walked past because chances are, I won't remember it even though I may have seen it as red. Ask me what I thought of the Travel Air D4D we passed and I'll have it wired.

Folks like me notice other things. Like how well the canopy on a slick Pitts fits or how the windshield was raked back. We'll pick up on how even the gaps are in the aileron wells long before we realize what color the airplane is. We may not even see the color of the paint, but we'll spot sanding marks or orange peel at the edge of a reflection 50 feet back.

Maybe color blindness, like so many other things is left over from our evolutionary past when we were lower order primates. Maybe it's left over from a simpler past.

On the other hand, it could be one of the next steps in our evolution. Color blindness could indicate we are evolving into a species where form and function, texture and line, personality and intellect will be far more important than color. I haven't always been right, but this time I prefer to believe the latter. Not the former.