I was there

Grounded at 37,000 feet

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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.

Don’t let a forced landing get you down

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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?

A light of salvation: flying freight in a Cessna 310

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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.

Get me out of here

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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.

Making babies puke in a 727

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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.

Surviving one of the “world’s most dangerous airports”

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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.

A real flying machine – logging some Stearman time

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The sound of the engine at takeoff power was like music to my ears after the years of flying jets and, after lift off, Waldo said “you have control and climb to 700 feet.” In flight, the controls were light and responsive and the roar of the engine described what flying was all about – simple, basic airmanship in a real flying machine.

Mid-air at 1,500 feet

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I never knew Bruce David Pollock. I wish I had. More than likely, we crossed paths numerous times in 1973 or 1974, but for some reason we never met. We were close to the same age. He passed his last third class medical on June 26, 1973, just two days after I passed my private pilot checkride in the same Cessna that would claim his life less than two years later.

Lucky or good? Flying through Turkey and Iran in 1977

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My brother Hugh and I were in the process of flying a Beech Baron from Calgary in Canada to New Zealand the long way. It had been a bad start to the day and the journey into town the previous evening had been hair-raising. Enroute to Ankara, we had encountered a military roadblock and had been forced out of our taxi at bayonet point by some very uptight soldiers.

Let it be

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In this beautiful and heartbreaking article, Mark Fay shares the story of an emotional day. It involved plenty of flying, from a night IFR takeoff to a gusty landing. But the real lessons have a lot more to do with family, grief and decision-making under stressful circumstances. It’s a reminder of the unique perspective flying can give you on life and loss.

Ice, turbulence and oil – oh my!

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It was a rough flight. One of those flights where you think to yourself, I should have taken up boating. It started as a routine mountain departure. Typical go now in the 30-minute window between snow, sunshine, and the rapidly approaching rain clouds. After clearing mountainous terrain, I picked up my instrument clearance and looked at the broken cumulus build ups in front of me. Be a good chance to use my new Avidyne IFD440 in some real IFR I thought. And then the fun began…

Learning formation flying – hard work, but worth it

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About a year after buying an already-built Van’s RV-6 and spending a very hot July earning a tailwheel endorsement, I thought I knew the airplane well enough to attend a formation flying clinic being hosted by the Ohio Valley RVators at the not-too-distant Parkersburg, West Virginia, airport. As interesting as it sounded, the very idea of it caused me quite a bit of stress.

My first IFR approach to minimums happened in clear skies

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The closer we got to the airport the lower the sun was on the horizon and the longer the shadows became. The haze was really getting thick and hanging close to the ground. It seemed the more we strained, the less we could see. We knew the airport was right out there somewhere.

Quality miles: the best route isn’t always the shortest

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As we crossed into Michigan, the satellite downlink picture beyond Lake Huron showed an irregular line of large thunderstorms stretching on a 35 degree angle from right to left across our path. I had been warned about scattered thunderstorms across Ontario leaving Green Bay but this looked more than scattered and I could not tell if there was a gap at least 50 miles wide for us to go through.

Why a 10 mile flight in a 727 took 30 minutes – or 4

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A flight from LGA to JFK was normally nowhere near as short as you might think. Although the direct distance between the two airports is less than 10 miles, the flight itself often involved a tour of Long Island nearly out to Montauk to fit into the arrival pattern at JFK. It was not uncommon for the off-to-on time of this ferry flight to exceed 30 minutes.

Head games: getting IFR current with a big trip

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After a few more minutes of discussing the round dials and radios, my wife began to ask about the clouds in front of us. I did my best to be nonchalant about the approaching wall of smooth, white clouds, but in the back of my mind was the thought that this was the first time in over 10 years that I would be in actual “hard” IFR. I could feel that my smile lacked some sincerity when I joked about the weather.

A really quick turn: a DC-8 evacuation from Uganda

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There was some apprehension as we approached the terminal as we could see a lot of military personnel and when we parked, I left the No. 3 engine running until I was assured of an airstart as we had no APU on DC-8 aircraft. I opened the forward door to be met by a six-foot Ugandan soldier holding a rifle at me.