I lined up on the centerline and advanced the throttle. The aircraft accelerated rapidly and broke ground. This was my fifth solo takeoff in this aircraft, a North American P-51D Mustang. I raised the landing gear, and the climb speed reached about 175 knots. Approaching the airport boundary, the engine began shuddering and vibrating.
An earthquake struck Ecuador on April 16, with catastrophic consequences for the province of Manabi. On April 19, I received a call from the owner of the FBO where I keep my Cessna. He had organized at the hangar a collection center for food, water, tents and medicine, and was asking for help to transport by airplane the collected goods and doctors to the quake zone, as the roads were badly damaged.
At Ripon, I put the 182 over the railroad tracks and motored on at 1,800 ft. MSL and 90 knots toward Fisk, now listening to the Fisk Approach controller giving directions to aircraft ahead of us. Then it was my turn. “High wing aircraft with the landing light on the left wing, rock your wings.” I did. “Welcome to Oshkosh!”
I started my descent from 1500 feet to 1000 feet. Everything checked good. Wait a minute, why is the prop slowing down? Fuel gauge says there is fuel. Electric fuel pump is on. RPM is at the bottom of the green arc and falling. Got big problems!
George gave me my first hour of dual instruction that day. Flying over a world covered in the flat white of a fresh snow, I was lost from the moment the wheels left the ground until the engine was shut down an hour later. I knew right then that I was never destined to fly. How in the hell did anyone up there know where he was? I was truly discouraged and downhearted.
One of my goals since I got my Private ASEL has been to own and fly a flying boat amphibian. About two years ago, I purchased a Coot Amphibian in need of repair and currently have that airplane in my workshop. I had been looking to train for my seaplane rating in a hull-type seaplane, but the nearest location was some distance away. Imagine how pleasantly surprised I was to find an advertisement for seaplane training at Shannon Airport (KEZF), where I keep my Cherokee 140.
On December 1, 1984 a remotely piloted Boeing 720, loaded with specially formulated anti-misting Jet A, was intentionally crashed at Edwards Air Force Base to determine if the fuel would preclude or suppress a post crash fire long enough for occupants to escape. It was a bold but ill-conceived experiment that went up in smoke.
I advanced the power and the 300 hp Continental IO-550 began to barrel us down the runway while I continued looking at the trees at the far end. Racing toward them, I checked my airspeed and fuel flow and began to rotate… and just before I did… the engine died! Like in Dead.
I said goodbye to an old friend today. My friend won’t actually be gone until January 13, but I had to make a special trip to pay my respects. Lots of pilots in the West know my friend, some with tender feelings, others not. My friend was one that challenged the skill, or nerve, of every pilot who came along. I was lucky enough to learn from my friend, and in fact love that dear airport.
It would be the longest VFR cross country for me by far, with precious cargo across Tornado Alley in springtime to the “Greatest Spectacle in Sports.” But I was 26; what the hell did I know? It was before the internet, weather channel, online anything. No TFRs or alphabet soup of airspace.
As I sat outside the examiner’s office, nursing my ego and doing some cursory flight planning for my return hop home, I heard him call my instructor over at KBFI, who undoubtedly was waiting to hear a glowing review of what an outstanding job I had done. As soon as the examiner started detailing the reason for my bust, however, I could hear my CFI’s shrill voice over the phone and through the closed door.
I attempted a turn away from the ridge, probably induced an accelerated stall at some point, and we hit the trees. We spent about 43 hours in the woods on the side of Johnson Mountain. My friend passed away sometime during that period. I had no survival gear whatsoever. I had no flight plan. No one knew where I was. I did have an ELT, and it saved my life.
Even though it was only three o’clock in the late autumn afternoon, the last gray light of day would fade fast before too long, as the sun was blocked by multiple cloud layers. I heard Martin Olson’s voice coming through my headphones calling Nome Radio on 122.2. However, there was something… I don’t know. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something didn’t sound quite right.
New pilots: do you want to know how to learn a lot about flying in a short period of time? Plan a long cross country flight… I mean, a really long one. When I decided to fly my “new” ‘63 Cherokee 180 most of the way across the U.S. to my summer vacation destination, at first I didn’t realize how valuable the lessons learned along the way would be.
Piloting an aircraft requires certain skills. It also requires certain amounts of discipline, situational and self-awareness. Piloting a helicopter requires even more of each of them, mostly because a rotary wing aircraft is flying in an unstable manner, as opposed to the stable flight characteristics of most civil airplanes.
The 10-day weather forecast looked amazingly good for January, so rather than go home on the weekend between two events, I concocted a scheme to do some sailplane flying at Estrella on the weekend, including the use of Estrella’s lodging facility – fabulously cheap bunk beds only soaring aficionados could love. I was saving the company money!
The sky was clear and conditions appeared very good. We got into the Warrior and I had him strap in. After the runup, I tuned in to the latest ATIS, then contacted Ground, and started to the active. As we moved along the taxiway, Paul remarked to me, “This the first time in my life I’ve ever been in an airplane.”
All went well until about 100 feet above the runway on takeoff when I wanted to drop the nose a little. The airplane wanted to continue to climb as if it were approaching a power-on stall and I could not get the nose down. Terrible things could have easily happened if I would not have kept my wits about me.
As usual, I’d been running 30 minutes out of each tank when, about an hour and a half into the flight—you guessed it—the engine quit. Same drill with fuel selector, carb heat and mixture and, again, it started right up. What in the hell was going on this time? Both wing root fuel gauges were pegged at more than three quarters full… but they were even and they weren’t bouncing and I’d learned that was ominous.
I kept the flashlight dancing around the panel… attitude, direction, attitude, altimeter, attitude, airspeed and repeat… with an occasional sweep of the left wing leading edge checking for ice. It was dark and the air was rough inside the cloud. I was in a tough spot this time for sure.