There's a humour website where I spend too much time these days overanalyzing comic strips. The current plot in Mark Trail involves the hero being shipwrecked on an island of drug smugglers, and trying to escape in an old airplane. It kind of looks like a Cessna 170 but the wing struts go almost to the wingtip and the C170 has a semi-cantilevered wing. I was willing to accept that as an art error, but I keep reading and wondering.
I think the artist Jack Elrod is working from photographs, because there's too much that is accurate compared to what you see when someone just makes up an airplane. He's clearly cutting and pasting older artwork, too. Notice how in the QUICK GET IN AND BUCKLE UP! panel he has forgotten to draw the foliage between the two wing struts. There are some details like what appears to be a change in the cowling paint scheme from day to day that suggest he's working from different airplanes, but comic colouring is often bizarre, so let's discount that.
Combining the QUICK GET IN AND BUCKLE UP! panel with the THE SHED--IT'S ON FIRE! one, we see that the aircraft registration begins in N2 and ends in 171. That makes it a US-registered airplane. Not counting the N, a US aircraft registration mark is not more than five characters long and only the last two may be alphabetic, which they are not. So the aircraft depicted is -- or is pretending to be -- registered as N2?171 where ? is either nothing, or a digit 0-9. That's eleven possibilities, all listed in the FAA database. Can I perhaps discover the actual airplane that has been immortalized in this very silly plot?
N2171 is assigned to an amphibious ultralight called a Searey. I've flown one, and can confirm that it's not suitable for long-range drug smuggling operations. The same registration was previously assigned to a small helicopter.
N20171 is assigned to a helicopter, and before that to a balloon.
N21171 is a 1972 C182P registered in California. Nice airplane, but newer than the one in the cartoon.
N22171 is a 1939 Aeronca 65C and that's very close to the mark. Still not a great drug smuggling airplane, but plausibilty isn't a forté of this strip.
N23171 is a 1939 model Piper J4B cub, so right era but the owner is female and women are never evil in this comic strip, so this can't be our smuggler.
N24171 is currently a helicopter, was a different helicopter before that, but in 1940 it was a brand new Akron B75L, also known as the Funk B. The cowling is wrong, but could have been modified for a different engine.
N25171 is a 1939 Luscombe 8A that the FAA says is in questionable condition, but what do they know about Drug Smuggling Island maintenance procedures?
N26171 is a Grumman Cheetah, a low wing and destroyed in 1994.
N27171 is another Piper Cub, this one a 1940 J5A.
N28171 is also a 1940 Piper Cub, a J3C-65. Different state, different owner, registered ten years apart, just happens to be a popular airplane.
N29171 was a Cessna 206, now deregistered.
I'm amused that six out of the eleven candidates were built in 1939-1940. I'm not sure how representative of overall US airplane ownership this is, but it's true that there were a lot of good airplanes built before the Americans even entered World War II, and lots of them are still flying. If we ignore the logistics and payload issue, it's plausible that Otto would be using one of these airplanes in his operation.
After I wrote the above, the later strips gave a clearer view of the airplane. It's clearer here that the registration is N2171, and we get a better look at the airplane. Also, judging by the apparent size of Mark inside the cockpit, it's doubled in size, but we'll ignore that.
So what do you think they're flying? And will they make it to safety? And how will I do on the phone interview scheduled for tomorrow for a really good company, I'd be happy to make the long move to join?