FAA inspectors are some of the few that are exposed to aviation’s “dark side.” None of my former corporate aviation coworkers had ever been out on a fatal accident investigation. Trust me, there is nothing that can prepare you for being out in the middle of nowhere looking at twisted metal (that looks nothing like an airplane) and the gruesome remains where a pilot and his passengers experienced their last moment on earth.
My search for a flying wing sailplane ended with the purchase of N86TX and its relocation to Hangar 115 in New Braunfels, Texas (my brother’s three-car garage). For the next several months he, with help from my cousin Rayford and my father Tom, did the remaining 30% of the work to get the sailplane to a finished state and ready for inspection.
Life sometimes takes you to places you never expect to be, and I recently found myself in Bandera, riding a horse at the Mayan Dude Ranch as part of a family visit to San Antonio. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was only 25 miles from Kerrville, Texas, the home of Mooney, and so many stories.
N5434A accelerated in her usual manner and soon I was checking airspeed looking for my 75-knot rotation point. Then, in the landing light, my heart seemed to explode as I saw a full line of deer spread across the runway from edge to edge and beyond. The turbo governor had already stabilized at full throttle travel, so with no additional throttle left, it was ground effect or nothing.
We’ve all got our stories as to how we got into general aviation. This is mine. I just started a bit later. OK – a LOT later than most. OK – virtually later than all other folks I have since met who fly. I was 56 when I started my flying instruction and 57 when I passed my licensing check ride. The key is, it doesn’t matter when or how you started – what matters is that you stuck with it and finished.
A short message… “If this is the Jay Miller who was Ray Tenhoff’s friend, would you please call me?” A phone number followed. Thus began – unknowingly for me at that moment – a closure that I had considered unattainable for just over 40 years. Four decades of regret were about to be erased absolutely and unequivocally by the kindness of a person I had never known.
Flying between the layers, I realized I had few options if I lost an engine, or, if my “window between layers” happened to close. Thankfully, all went well, until switching frequencies for my ILS 02 into KGPI.
We were proceeding northbound at 2900 feet, and the Gulf of Mexico was off our right wing, and Highway 77 was off our left wing. Jean and I were all bundled up because N7405B didn’t have a heater. I was concentrating ahead, when my peripheral vision caught something to the left and crossing below us. I looked to the right and below. I shouted to Jean, “Look at that!” and pointed down and to the right.
A side effect of technology and automation is the demise of the Flight Engineer. The first exits from the flight decks were the Boeing B767 and B747-400 and other Airbus aircraft. While there are excellent arguments supporting such developments, there were always advantages in having a flight engineer aboard to assist us pilots in “managing” a flight, not just doing the flying.
At takeoff speed I commenced rotation, but the Cherokee just didn’t want to lift off and the controls were heavy. Being a newly-soloed student, I muscled the aircraft into the air. It was then that I glanced out at the wings and to my surprise found the flaps in the full down position. I had very obviously failed to release the flap lever in my haste to depart.
Our first stop of the day would be Granby, Colorado (GNB) to visit the headwaters of the mighty Colorado River. This was the first leg of a flight that would demonstrate what I had learned in an eight-hour ground school at Western Air Flight Academy as part of a High Mountain Flying Course.
It is minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit in this foreign land north of Moscow. I am sitting in a single-seat, Russian Sukhoi 26 at the end of an ice-covered runway waiting to be cleared for takeoff. There is a lot going through my mind. First of all, I have never flown a single-seat Sukhoi 26.
Tavares, Florida, the town next to Leesburg where Dave and I live, is actually called “America’s Seaplane City.” Tavares is also the home of the Progressive Aerodyne’s SeaRay light sport amphibian. All of this makes this area a great place to enjoy seaplane flying. You always have a place to land in view when you are flying a seaplane in Lake County.
One day last spring, I stopped by the local airport and made that appointment to get back in the left seat. I had dreams of taking vacations with the wife to great destinations, most are only two hours away, including the Emerald Coast. I came home that evening and told my wife the great news. She had a look of terror on her face as she uttered the words, “You have a pilot’s license?”
For over 30 years, I have lived on a low-level military flight route. Twice a month, an F-4 would buzz our lake. Now it is KC-130 tankers high in the sky or a few Chinooks thundering across our lake. They can’t sneak up on you like an F-4. I have had five military flybys in the air as pilot in command. Every flyby makes my day better; some even make a life time memory. Here are a few.
You can say what you want to about renting versus owning. I fully understand the fact that if you’re not going to use a plane regularly, you can’t justify owning one, even in a partnership. I’ve known for years that I could have been flying more for less money if I just rented. But now that I’m faced with renting, the reality of scheduling and not having a fast, capable airplane to fly is staring me in the face.
This particular day Al was flying on his third hour of supervised solo, meaning these solo flights needed to be approved by me beforehand. Perhaps 20 minutes after his takeoff, Al called on the Unicom frequency: “Bob, I’ve got trouble with the controls.” I responded quickly. “What’s the trouble, Al?”“I can’t move the control wheel forward or back. It’s stuck a little aft of the neutral position.”
The flight was good, although I did notice a little burble in my seat when I put in up elevator, something loose I guessed, a fairing or something. I wished I had looked the airplane over in Cape May, but I was 20 years old and everything was full-throttle all of the time. Hell, it was flying. I forgot about it.
Last October my parents and I flew to the 2018 Chicago Marathon. We could have driven six hours from Ohio and paid $70/night to park the car at the hotel, flown commercially, or taken the flight school’s Piper Arrow on the 275nm flight. We elected to take the Arrow.
I spent the day after he died doing the things one does, particularly trying to figure out what to do with his ashes. One friend, a pilot at my airline, asked what the funeral plans were. I told her that we would probably inter Dad out there at the Jordan Cemetery in Indiana. Knowing something of his aeronautical passions, she texted back, “Oh, that’d be nice. He’d get one last airplane ride.”