The relationship with my 1946 Aeronca Chief often segues into a world of strangeness. Owning and maintaining and flying an old fabric-covered taildragger is analogous to using a 1951 MG-TD as your personal car. But one learns to take things as they come, and most of all, to keep a sense of humor.
Archive for Category: "I was there"
For those of you who do not fly out of the Northeast, the NOBBI5 Standard Terminal Arrival Route leads you into Westchester County Airport. KHPN is where my 1980 Mooney 231 is based. It’s the last stretch home. When the weather cooperates, there’s plenty of opportunity to look down from 7000 feet.
Last September I broke something important to me. The cause was more an abundance of caution than of carelessness, and I took comfort in that. Still, I wished I could fix it. Sitting at the kitchen counter one morning in June I thought I saw a way to make it right.
I was not yet a pilot, but when my father lifted off in the Piper Archer with my mother and younger brother on board and quickly disappeared into the low overcast, my mind filled with dread: I knew they were going to die on this flight, and soon.
Back in 1976 when I joined my first airline it was still customary for the captain to talk to the SLC (Self Loading Cargo – a somewhat snide description observed on pilot internet websites to denote passengers). Some of the people and the stories “down the back” are unforgettable, even 30 years later.
The story begins about 6 am on a Monday in San Francisco in the late 1990s. This morning I saw a number of flyers posted asking for help locating a lost windsurfer. The previous weekend had been exceptionally windy and if a windsurfer was lost, his prospects weren’t good.
My pilot buddies and much of what I read tell of the virtues of the more dramatic times: thundering takeoffs, a perfectly executed crosswind landing, the intense concentration requirements of low approaches. While I admit that each of those aspects have their charms, I am smitten beyond relief to the time when the altimeter is slowing unwinding.
In 1966, two short years after the disbandment of the RCAF Golden Hawks, Canada’s premier formation aerobatic team, the powers-that-be decided that one of the military contributions to the celebration of Canada’s one hundredth birthday would be another formation aerobatic team that would travel across the country during the centennial year and give exactly 100 performances.
In between sunning myself at Bondi and flying the Wirraway, I spent idle moments in the cockpit of a Mustang reading the Pilot’s Notes and savouring the heady aroma of high octane fuel, glycol coolant and hydraulic oil. It was no contest. The Mustangs won every time.
Fifty-one weeks out of the year, Wittman Field in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is an unremarkable, if scenic, stretch of open fields surrounding two long runways arranged in a kind of disconnected “T” configuration. During one short week of the year, however, all of that changes.
The year was maybe 1970. We lived in Southern California and my wife of 25 years wanted to fly to her home in Tacoma, Washington, and visit her mother for our summer vacation. So, I borrowed the company Bonanza (with permission) and we took off early one morning headed north.
That night in the spring of 1967 our mission was to transport about 15 wounded marines from the Phu Bai marine base, nine miles southeast of Hue on Vietnam’s coastal plain, to the hospital ship USS Repose about 15 miles off the coast in the South China Sea.
There I was, tooling along in my Super Cub, minding my own business while towing a banner through the sky low over Staten Island. The date was January 15, 2010. It was the one-year anniversary of the Miracle on the Hudson.
I never knew what answer to give when someone asked how long it took me to learn to fly. My first flight was with my uncle at the age of four, and I spent a lot of time hanging around the airport with a friend in my pre-teen years. A World War II BT-13 training plane was rotting away behind one of the hangars, and we spent hours sitting in the seats.
On March 6, 1987, I was working the Inflight One radio position at the Anchorage Flight Service Station. Cessna 98 Golf had somehow made it above the Alaska Range and now at high altitude, with no clearance and with minimal navigational gear or flight instrumentation, and possibly no supplemental oxygen, found himself in the soup.