After a frantic week of long-range faxes and Bonanza research, the deal was done and the planning started for the ferry flight back to Peterborough Sibson (EGSP) in the UK. I was keen to fly it myself if at all possible as I’d never done a long flight in a light single and it seemed wasteful to pay someone else to do it. What was a Bonanza capable of?
In late Spring 1973, almost 44 years ago, I was 22 years old and on the cusp of achieving my life-long goal of becoming a professional pilot. It was an overseas flight with a notoriously-crusty old senior check captain so I was vibrating with anxiety. There would be no remedial training if this guy gave me a thumbs down at this tenuous point in my career.
Twice I followed the recommendations and almost got 100% dead. There would have been no doubt at all if I had collided with the jet trainer, and probably little doubt if I had a mid-air at 1,000 feet. What lessons are to be learned? I have five.
The flight taking your first passenger is said to be one of your most memorable (in a good way) and that was true for my first experience. It was a great experience for me and my grandfather together and I will never forget him saying, “Your great-grandpa is with us.” I now realize that I will never, or have ever in the past, fly alone.
As a young man growing up in Wisconsin, I was exposed to what was, at the time, the annual EAA convention in Oshkosh. Long before it became AirVenture, it was an aviation event of epic proportions that etched itself in my soul and led to the lifelong dream of building an airplane and flying it to Oshkosh for the show. On October 10, 2015, phase one of this dream came to fruition.
As we started turning base to final, it was obvious that we were going to overshoot the centerline. “No problem,” we thought, “I can save this landing,” as we increased the bank angle and started thinking about how far down the runway we would touch down. Looking back out front, finally, our brain told us, “Time to go around.”
I was confident of flying a successful single engine ILS approach. However, Murphy’s law was lurking. We were informed that the ILS at Keflavik was not available and was shut down for maintenance. We would have to do a non-precision VOR approach to an altitude well below the prescribed safe landing minimums. The autopilot was not approved for a single engine non-precision approach. I would manually fly the approach.
Those are not the words you want to hear at 4,500 feet, right around sunset in unfamiliar territory. They came from my nine year old son, Dan, back in mid-May of 1978. We were on our way in a Cessna 172 from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Hanscom Field, just outside of Boston.
They elected to make the first pass quite dramatic by keeping their speed high as they approached from the north. Ray leveled out at exactly 8,200 feet and aimed straight at the peak; Chug’s camera was rolling. In what they both said was a very sudden, terrifying moment, the airplane kicked to the left in a yaw condition then hit some moderate turbulence, and then they were looking only yards ahead at the radio tower on the peak of Highwood Baldy, well above their altitude.
Without any electronic gear onboard to warn us of active SAM sites, there was no way for us to know that at that very moment a Soviet-built SA-2 missile was streaking its way towards our Phantom from directly behind us, “Dead 6 o’clock,” in fighter pilot lingo. Just as the original lead aircraft rolled back to a wings-level position a mile to our left and reacquired us visually, the SAM struck our F-4 too late to shout a warning.
Several contributors have reminisced about experiences in commercial or military aircraft that meant a great deal to them, but which, because of later security issues, could not happen again. One of the most common experiences described is the in-flight cockpit visit. I have had two such visits that come to mind often with pleasant nostalgia.
This is no way to begin a trip and I knew it. What if I lose an engine on takeoff tonight in this crud? Nothing like the real thing to test a pilot! Every pilot will tell you there is a big difference between engine-out flying during training or a check ride, and engine-out flying for real. But how will I do if it happens tonight?
There are a lot of benefits accrued through the building of an airplane, and one of the longer lasting is the friendships built in concert with the plane itself. In the case of any airplane in the Van’s Aircraft fleet, this is even more common due to the popularity of the designs. In my case, I was building an RV-12, which is probably the fastest selling model in the fleet.
On August 22, 2008, I finally achieved a lifelong dream: I flew a Spitfire 1X two-seater PT462. For many years, I have been trying to arrange a flight in a two-seater but, so many times, weather or aircraft serviceability caused cancelation. Finally, it was all arranged and off I went to North Wales with my friend Peter Holland driving.
Among the hundreds of flights in my logbook, there are three flights, and a memory of my first airplane ride with my dad, that define my love for aviation and are the DNA of my flying soul. As I have I have gotten older, I’ve come to understand how these four flights, spread out over 30 years have given me the love that I have for flying, and appreciation for the opportunity to have shared it with my parents.
We heard an aircraft on the frequency report the loss of an engine. It first sounded as though the flight crew was reporting the loss of an engine’s thrust… but further transmissions revealed that engine had been torn from the aircraft wing! Shortly thereafter another airliner reported a turbulence-induced injury to a flight attendant. The controller was suddenly very busy.
Sunday June 5th, tropical storm Colin suddenly popped up in the Gulf of Mexico. Hoping it would die out or veer away from Florida, I got up at 4 a.m. Monday morning to get a weather briefing for our proposed 6 a.m. departure. The briefing confirmed Colin was headed for the mid-section of Florida so I let Stan know that today was a no-go but hoped we could try again tomorrow.
You see, being a line boy teaches us how to treat people and, in turn, how we like to be treated. The fact that I can remember N222GL, N399TL, and N11LA from 43 years ago, but can’t remember what happened last week is probably more indicative of age, but also a vivid reminder of the experiences around each of these airplanes.
We know that mechanical things fail, people make mistakes and aviation, like the sea, is inherently unforgiving of failure or mistake. That thought was on my mind recently when we took off from Burlington, Vermont, aboard a classic old airplane, a twin engine DC-3 built in 1945. We were headed for Europe, but less than three hours later, in a flash event, both the failure and the mistake happened at the same time.
With nearly calm winds and clear skies, I taxied out and transmitted my departure intentions in the blind. From midfield I lined up on what was left of a 5000-foot runway. With the passengers’ weight, the tail wasn’t as quick to volunteer to fly first. It ended up being a three-point takeoff. This didn’t surprise me. Later in the flight was a time for surprises.