Before getting into the meat of my story, I think a brief introduction is in order. I grew up Amish on a small farm in Marshall County, Indiana. One of the few non-Amish farmers in our neighborhood had a J-5 Cub. When he departed his grass strip to the east, he flew over our house at about 300 ft. One day, at age 5, I walked over to ask for a ride. Without hesitation, he pulled the J-5 from the hangar and off we went! I have never forgotten the feeling that came over me during that first flight. From that day, my friends tell me that I routinely talked about becoming a pilot someday. What a crazy dream for a little Amish boy! Well, that dream came true on August 4, 1966, when my wife pinned on my USAF silver pilot wings.
I spent the next four years flying the Lockheed C-130E Hercules. Much of that time was spent in Vietnam. The throttle quadrant had a mechanical stop at flight idle. To get to ground idle, the throttles had to be lifted up and retarded further, to a ground idle detent. Retarding the throttles further activated the reversing system. With over 4000 hours in the Hercules, I’m sure you can imagine how deeply ingrained that after touchdown throttle movement was.
After leaving active duty, I joined an Air Force Reserve unit. Over a 14-year period, I first flew the A-37 and then the A-10. During that same time, I also flew more than 30 different civilian airplanes. Finally, in 1976 I was hired to fly a Lockheed JetStar for a Fortune 200 company in Chicago. First step was the completion of simulator training.
It had been more than six years since my last flight in the C-130E. However, I immediately felt at home in the JetStar. The entire instrument panel was identical to the C-130E. Of course there were some differences in the engine gauges, but all were stacked the same. Even the throttles were identical. The only difference was that the reverse levers were piggybacked about halfway down the front of the throttle levers. My simulator instructor did not ask me anything about my flying background.
After my first landing, with the throttles at the idle stop, I very smartly pulled up all four throttles and moved them to the reverse range. One minor problem: that is the procedure to shut down the engines! The simulator got really dark. My instructor laughed and said that all former C-130 pilots do the same thing on their first few flights. He recommended that I move my hands to the piggyback levers as soon as the throttles are retarded to idle. I followed that procedure for the nine years I flew that airplane.
In 1981, the company added a King Air B200. Here we go again! It had the same reversing procedure as the C-130. During training, I found myself back in the old habit pattern for reversing. I didn’t fly many trips until I decided that no pilots would be dual-qualified.
When you look at the military and the airlines, you will see that very few pilots are current in more than one airplane. On a “Dark and Stormy Night,” we revert to the most deeply ingrained habit pattern!