I loved being at Elmendorf and being in Alaska. It was supposed to be a 90-day tour; I volunteered to stay much longer. My memory causes me to believe there were about a dozen B-47s cocked on alert. Four days a week, three B-47s arrived from Tucson, two of which were turn arounds rotating flight crews, the third cocked to replace an alert bird being rotated home.
Mom and Dad, now elderly, were visiting our family in Waterloo, Ontario, on one of their annual visits. I decided to take them flying. I rented a Cessna 172 out of Kitchener Waterloo airport and took them for individual flights. He took the controls for some of the flight. I marveled at how natural he seemed with the controls.
I released the brakes, and we began our takeoff roll. The runway lights went by faster and faster as we accelerated, with the familiar callouts coming from Mark in the right seat as he monitored all of the gauges and instruments while I kept my attention outside the cockpit. I used both hands to pull back on the control wheel, and the nosewheel came smoothly off the runway, followed by the main wheels. Suddenly, a red warning light flashed, indicating “ENGINE FIRE.”
The pilot of the jump plane is required to wear a parachute just in case an “in case” happens. I mentioned to another young pilot that I wasn’t quite sure of my ability to affect a positive outcome if I had to hit the silk. Word got back to the jumpmaster somehow, and I found myself in the front row of the next jump class. Wonderful!
I prepared the Hellcat for flight, and was soon airborne in pursuit of the others. But just as I joined the formation, one of my squadron mates broke radio silence to tell me that I was trailing smoke. Simultaneously with his call, oil began to wash over my front windscreen and I began to lose engine power. I knew that I had to get the airplane on the ground as soon as possible.
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.