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.
The lady from crew sked (as always, courteous to a fault; unlike a few of the brethren who react, when called, like bears rousted from hibernation!) proceeds to acquaint me with the latest offerings from the New York catalog of 757/767 flying. Interestingly enough, the main offering for tomorrow is a 757 ferry flight from EWR to JFK. This brings back some long forgotten memories.
I asked the young man that would be flying us up into the mountains how something as light and relatively slow as a glider, even an aerobatic one, could possibly need such a robust structure. He informed me that this particular airplane had flown in Vietnam.
The two years that I spent as the Piper district sales manager for the West Coast were some of most interesting and fun filled of my aviation career. Not only was I learning the aircraft sales business from some of the most experienced and well-respected people in the Piper distributor organization, I was also learning about grass roots flying from high-time, skilled pilots.
We had the honor and pleasure of Senator (Colonel) John Glenn’s attendance at eight Bonanza Professional Pilot Program (BPPP) clinics at Columbus, Ohio, from his age of 82 to his last clinic at age 90. Since I was his equivalent rank and a test pilot graduate, I was the lucky one to be assigned as his instructor pilot. Imagine that! I was John Glenn’s Instructor!
After having flown the Alaska bush country for more than 35 years, and racking up more than 18,000 hours of such foolishness, the mountains and almost consistently terrible weather had inured me to most flights that stateside pilots would find truly white knuckle experiences. Of my many, many bush flights over the years, this one was perhaps the most sobering.
I was doing an okay job but I was beginning to feel weak. My arms were tingling, like my nerves were on fire. The bumps in the air were exacting their toll. We finished the air work and headed for the city tour, but I decided my instructor didn’t need any airsick heroes.
Thinking about the position I’m in strikes me a little funny, and I imagine anybody who might see me would think it’s funny too: stretched out on the ramp with my head propped up on a tire of a C-47 reading a magazine. I must look like I just laid down and sprawled myself out! But actually, I planned it very carefully. I’m clear of the occasional drop of oil from the left engine but still in the shade.
Today was the big day! I had scheduled my 9:00 am instrument checkride with the local Designated Pilot Examiner in sunny LaPorte, Indiana (KPPO). Upon arrival in the FBO’s briefing room, and much to my surprise, I shook two examiners’ hands; both the DPE and an esteemed member of the FAA would be administering my test today.
There was no hotel space for Christmas Eve at the Punta Cana, Dominican Republic hotel where we were staying. Rather than change hotels, we decided to fly to the French island of Guadeloupe instead. Weather was not a factor, the distance was only about 400 nautical miles, and we had fuel for 850 so it just seemed like the thing to do.
This was a big one. Number one hundred. I didn’t want a milk run. I wanted something memorable. I got my wish. Let’s start with the BIG numbers— my 100 flights add up to 33,003 NM and 400.9 hours in 11 years and a month. Number 100 was for Jane Hards.
Early December 1990, cruising at 37,000 feet on a glorious clear day overhead Cheyenne from Los Angeles to Toronto, I thought, “It just doesn’t get any better than this.” Suddenly the data link printer spat out a short message. Even before I read it, I had a feeling that my bubble of bliss was about to explode in my face.
The sign said “Learn to Fly – $80.” It was posted at the entrance to the airport, a small grass strip located near the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It turned out that “learning to fly” meant going solo; after that, more cash was needed. Still, it was a pretty good deal. As a 17-year-old airman with a few extra bucks in his pocket, this was an opportunity not to be missed. How could I pass it up?
In the early 1980s, aviation jobs were not plentiful. Therefore, if one had his sights set on an aviation career, one had to join most any (questionable) outfit promising a lot of flying that came along. The job I had when I took the following flight was with just such a stellar employer.
We had made four takeoffs and landings and were taxiing back for a final circuit of the field. One more landing and we would be finished with the Tiger familiarization work. We were to depart the next day to fly southwest to the Mississippi River and spend the night in St. Louis, Missouri. But we were not satisfied the canopy had closed properly, and we were attempting to open and close it. But we could not.
I flew the approach to 30R carefully, planning a good landing. After what seemed like an eternity, the 727 smacked the ground with a resounding thud. Immediately my mind pictured an ant struggling to remain afoot on a freshly stuck tuning fork: boooiiiinnnnggg! Miss Piggy had logged another pilot humiliation.
A playground for the world’s rich and famous, the small Caribbean island of St. Barthélemy is known for its beaches, gourmet dining, and high-end designers. But it is also home to Gustaf III/St. Jean Airport, widely regarded as one of the most dangerous and challenging airports on the planet. So naturally when I had the opportunity to explore the Caribbean with a few friends for spring break, I jumped at the chance to land at St. Barts.