Route map

You could consider me an old pilot, having retired from airline flying nine years ago at the mandatory retirement age. I still am an active pilot: I’ve flown to Oshkosh three times since retirement. Twenty-two logbooks are filled with 22,775 hours of flight experience, type ratings in two, three, and four engine jets plus a flight engineer, turbo-jet powered rating to fill out the training regimen over 54 years of aviation experience. I got to this station in life by constantly learning to fly from professionals, too many to mention by name.

Original flight instruction for me was with civilian flight instructors. Later, some instructors were fellow crew members. Others were the writers of aviation stories and theory of aviation from the early days to today. My first familiarization flight was way back on 10 June, 1968. As the examiner said to me upon my earning my Private Pilot certificate, “Remember, this is just a license to learn.”

I’ve been learning ever since. I have still yet to have the “perfect flight;” some flights have come close but there was always that one mistake, the one error, mostly quickly caught and corrected. Still, the ever-elusive perfect flight is a primary goal. Of all the fellow pilots and instructors who came and went over the years, there was one in particular that I can see in my mind’s eye. For our purposes, let’s call him George.

Route map

Flying routes like this in Pipers was a great way to learn real flying.

Everybody liked George. Everybody that flew with George respected his abilities and performance. He was funny, he was serious, he was an old warrior, having flown bomber missions in the Mediterranean theater during WWII. He was the “old man,” our “graybeard” pilot, even though he had no beard, his hair was gray among a crowd of dark haired youths. And here he was still flying with a bunch of 20-somethings, dropping tidbits of knowledge in stories that usually began with,”I remember when…” Everyone would stop and listen until his stories ended, with either a good laugh or with a bit of wisdom of something to avoid or to include in aviation life.

We 20-somethings—well, there was a few over 30 to be completely honest—were about 15 pilots hired to fly the bank checks and mail, with am FAR Part 135 cargo outfit based in Oakland, California. It was a grown-up paper route. You would be in bed by 22:00, up at 04:00, at the airport by 05:00, airborne with cargo by 06:00, done flying by 08:30. Go to the company provided motel room or condo in the company car, get some sleep and something to eat. Then reverse the process and return back to Oakland in the evening, retracing your route home.

It was a great way to learn how to fly a “line job.” No more flight instruction, which was sometimes called “one hour but a thousand times.” No, this was real scheduled flying, single pilot IFR, cross country, across mountains, day and night, winter and summer, each season bringing its own difficulties. We flew single and twin engine Piper aircraft, configured strictly for cargo: all the seats except the front two were removed and the cargo area thus enlarged. We flew the singles in the valley and the twins over the mountains. They included the PA-28 Warrior, the PA-32R Lance, the PA-23 Aztec, the PA-31 Navajo and Chieftain. This was real flying. I loved it.

Most of us pilots had around 1000 hours of flying experience when hired, mainly gained by flying that 1000 hours one hour at a time, flight instructing. Our goals were to continue to fly and to continue to fly bigger things, airplanes that you could walk under without bending your head or crawling. It was flying rather well equipped airplanes: all the twins had de-ice equipment (boots, hot props, window heat plates) so they could fly over the Sierras and Tehachapi Mountains during the winter.

Anyway, George had his run and would only fly that one run, mainly because he was the most senior pilot and could bid any run the Oakland division base of the cargo outfit had (there was another base in Burbank). His run was flying an PA-23-250 Aztec from Oakland to Ukiah and then continue on up the coast to Eureka’s Murray Field. He flew this run Monday through Friday, rain or shine. We always had bank holidays off, which was pretty neat, except for the pilots that flew the night runs down to Burbank and back to Oakland. I think he just liked the area—he certainly knew every hill and peak, every valley and knob, between Oakland and Eureka after flying that route for years.

George had a unique aura, self-assured, almost cocky way, maybe because he knew his lifetime of experience had seen him through some hairy things. He had seen it all. We all knew he could fly the pants off the rest of us—he could keep the needles centered shooting an ILS to minimums with just finger tip flying, the airspeed never moving more than a few knots from Vref. He treated his airplane like it was his baby and if you got to actually fly his bird on his rare day off, you had better be sure to leave it exactly the way you found it: radios pre-tuned to ATIS and ground control, navigation radios tuned and set for the departure from Oakland, passenger seat belt attached “just so” to the right yoke holding the control surfaces against the prevailing winds off the Bay. Even the seat distance from the panel had better be as George liked it or you would sure to get the “old man” in your face the day he returned, asking pointedly who had messed with his airplane.

Ramp

A busy ramp—unless the fog rolled in.

One night when I was wearing a dual-hat role of evening dispatcher, a thick fog bank rolled over the Oakland airport and soon the taxi lights 50 yards away could hardly be seen. I tuned the office radio to the ATIS for Oakland and found the field had gone WOXOF (indefinite ceiling zero, sky obscured, visibility zero in fog). Of course every inbound pilot would have learned the field was closed, well below minimums, and would plan to divert to Hayward Airport, only about six miles further south of Oakland. I advised the ramp manager to radio all the drivers, who would pick up our cargo and deliver it to the proper destinations, to not come to Oakland Airport but go directly to Hayward Airport to meet our aircraft there. Hayward was our listed alternate airport in our center stored flight plans.

As I was planning on how to get to the Hayward Airport in order to meet the airplane I was to later fly that night down to Burbank, I heard a twin engine airplane taxi onto our ramp in the dark and shut down. Thinking it was some general aviation pilot who was lost due to the limited visibility, I walked out onto the ramp to instruct this wayward pilot he would need to leave. To my surprise and shock, I saw it was George! He was busy unloading his Aztec and leaving the bags of cargo near his cargo door as usual, and the totally empty ramp space indicated he was the only pilot and plane to get in.

“George, how the hell did you get in? The field’s been closed for 15 minutes,” I asked.

George stopped what he was doing, pointed to the approach end of runway 15 and said, “The approach to runway 15 is still in the clear. I just followed the estuary up and turned final and landed.”

“But George,” I exclaimed, “How the hell did you get clearance to land?”

He again stopped what he was doing, looked at me as if I was totally clueless and said, “If I can’t see them, they can’t see me.”

I stood there, flabbergasted, and watched as George finished unloading his aircraft, secured the controls, tied the plane down, grabbed his flight bag, and began to walk into the office to go home. I followed, not knowing what the hell to say. I knew I had to somehow get the driver for George’s load to now come to Oakland instead of Hayward to complete my dispatcher duties. I was upset that George made more work for me, but was somewhat amazed at his brazen flying. That was George for you—old and bold.

Another anecdote showing George’s ability to “make the run” was relayed to me from another pilot. George was due to take vacation and was checking out another pilot during the summer months. Now those of you familiar with the West Coast know the marine layer is a near constant summer occurrence along the coast: a fog bank 800 to 1500 feet thick and usually starting about 800 to 1000 feet AGL.

Murray Field in Eureka, California (EKA), at the time had no instrument approach, so when the marine layer was in, the procedure was to shoot the ILS into Arcata, California (ACV), that lay ten miles further north, and land. This made the delivery of the cargo late for up to two hours while the drivers relocated to Arcata, picked up the cargo and then drove back to Eureka.

This pilot relayed how George would do it instead. Listening to the ATIS at ACV while en route to Eureka from Ukiah (UKI), George would learn how low the ceiling and visibility was at ACV or if there was a ceiling at all. He then descended early and made a touch and go at Kneeland Airport (O19) that lay well above the top of the marine layer. While rolling along the runway at Kneeland, George would set the altimeter to the field elevation 2745 ft (now he had a “local” altimeter setting), pour the coals to the engines and take off again, turning sharply left. He would leave the gear down to head to the Fortuna VORTAC that sits at sea level about 2.5 miles from the coast. Tracking the 280 degree radial, once overhead the Fortuna VORTAC, George would reduce the power while trimmed to 120 knots and descend at 1000 feet per minute into the top of the marine layer heading out to sea.

Marine layer

The marine layer is no joke for pilots.

Needless to say, this pilot getting checked out wondered, “What the hell have I got myself into?”

Pretty soon, the bottom layer of the overcast appeared, the coast was still ahead and George turned north to follow the coast while under the overcast and over the water. After two minutes, George pointed to the smoke stacks that extended 310 ft above the ground and extended the first bit of flaps. Passing the smoke stacks, George turned landward over Arcata Bay and there lay the runway 12 at Eureka! George landed as if nothing untoward had occurred and taxied to the ramp.

After this example of airmanship, George would make sure to go to the competition’s business locations and mention, that, “If you used our company, your work would be here now.” Pretty bold if you ask me.

Okay, now every aviator know how this is going to end, right?

George killed himself on a Tuesday morning, July 31, 1984. He flew a perfectly good airplane into the terrain somewhere between Ukiah and Eureka in VFR weather. Why? How?

George was being George, flying extremely low over his route “inspecting” what was occurring on the ground at that time. There was a Campaign Against Marijuana Plantations (CAMP) action on the ground using helicopters and ground support to raid a golden triangle of Mendocino County marijuana grow operation. The officers involved reported they could see George as he flew down the valley, looking at them out his left window—he was that close.

What George didn’t see was the tree and rock that extended from the far right side of the valley that George managed to stick between his fuselage and right engine. The post impact fire consumed George, his cargo and his baby airplane.

We all liked George, we all learned stuff from George, and his last act of instruction has stayed with me all this time: don’t be like George!

In aviation, you need to always be learning; if you don’t learn something after every flight, you’re not paying attention. The attention that George lacked on his final flight was diverted elsewhere, the flicker of regret I’m sure he experienced should instruct us all.

An old and bold pilot does not exist.

Andrew McDonough
Latest posts by Andrew McDonough (see all)
62 replies
  1. Pavol
    Pavol says:

    Thank you for sharing, very sad but all the more powerful.
    Licence to learn is the right approach, tha fact you kept it is the reason you could write this and not someone about you, like the poor George.
    Here is to many more safe flight hours.

    Reply
    • ANDREW MCDONOUGH
      ANDREW MCDONOUGH says:

      Thank you, Pavol for the kind words. Aviation can be unforgiving when one is not paying attention, a lesson learned the hard way but passed down to us all.
      Andrew

      Reply
      • Mark
        Mark says:

        Hi Andy,
        I am glad to hear you had a really great and successful career! George was also a friend of mine. George gave me his service cap from World War 2 where he flew A20 bombing the bridges at Rabaul. After a semi self induced bump in the runway, ( which you are familiar with), I spent 28 years with World Airways in
        DC-10, Md-11, and B744 as Captain and check airman. My retirement job is flying the DC-10 fire tanker. I have a 1960 Aztec which my wife and I use to visit family in Az and just to go on local adventures. My memories of the old Cal Air are a mixed bag. We really did learn to fly one hour at a time. On a bad night on the K Falls run a fella might do five or six instrument approaches in one evening. Zero/ zero takeoffs, while not common did happen to reposition for freight. Lost a few engines on takeoff in the old Navajo as well. Thank you for this article. I never knew exactly what happened the day my friend died. George was a patriot and a good man but his style of flying led him straight to the scene of the accident that took his life. All of you young pilots reading this…..listen to Andy! His assessment is spot on. There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are very few old, bold pilots.

        Reply
        • ANDREW MCDONOUGH
          ANDREW MCDONOUGH says:

          Hi Mark,
          Hi there Mark,
          Three winters of flying schedule over the mountains in all kinds of weather, single pilot certainly taught us a thing or two, especially what one’s limits were up against time pressure builds some kind of character. Those of us who survived owe it to the youngsters to let them know, every time you approach an airplane, someone’s trying to kill you, just don’t let it be yourself.

          Reply
      • Ray DiLorenzo
        Ray DiLorenzo says:

        I flew with a George and his name was George. I flew with him at a cargo operation in the 70s. I believe it was called West Air, out of Oakland. He flew an Aztec, I flew a Navajo. He was former Air Force, nice enough guy, but bold as brass. He had the run to Eureka and it was his. The company provided a place to stay in Eureka for the day until the evening run back to Oakland. The refrigerator in Eureka was filled with beer. He checked me out on the run in case he got sick. I eventually got the toughest run in the company…Oakland to Marysville, Chico, Redding, Siskiyou County, Klamath Falls and back again that evening. In the winter you did 5 or 6 actual instrument approaches a day. The company would rather you scud runned. Getting to your destination was everything, pilot be damned.

        I flew my day/evening run to find out the night run pilot to Burbank was sick, leaving in less than a hour. I did the night run to find out they insisted I do my day run also. One day I complained that my plane was being overloaded, the Navajo nearly on its tail. I asked if they weighed the cargo, they said no, but “if you want us to weight it and its within limits, you’re fired.” A flying job was nearly impossible to find in those days.

        I trained a new pilot on my run. I took the Oakland/Burbank run… in comparison, a piece of cake. I told the new pilot to not scud run, especially between Redding and Siskiyou County because of Mt. Shasta that you will not see. I told him if you do scud run and you lose all visibility, climb to the West, you will miss the Mountain. A few months later he decided to scud run out of Redding and hit Mt. Shasta at around 12,000 feet.

        The company cared not for its pilots. The worst company I ever worked for. I was fired for not being a ‘team player’, but I survived to tell the stories and there were many.

        I spent the majority of my career flying fire-fighting aircraft for the State of California, a very clean operation. I survived that too.

        Yes, he was bold and old, but the company was as bad as he was.

        Reply
        • ANDREW MCDONOUGH
          ANDREW MCDONOUGH says:

          Hi Ray,
          As background, of the seven pilots I have known in my career that died in airplanes due to one thing or the other, three of them were at this outfit. Did this outfit “push pilots”? Yes they did. That tells you something right there.
          This outfit wasn’t a unionized pilot’s group. A union would protect the pilots against management pushing the bounds of safety. A question one must ask is,”What’s a pilot worth”? in the 1930s that question was answered in the formation of the “Air Line Pilot Association”, to protect against “pilot pushing”.
          ALPA is still working today to protect against pilot pushing and to enhance safety in the scheduled airlines of today. That”s another lesson you illustrate in your experience.
          Thank you.

          All the best,
          Andrew

          Reply
    • ANDREW MCDONOUGH
      ANDREW MCDONOUGH says:

      Hello, Darren, well, thank you for the encouraging words, I appreciate you taking the time to favorably comment on my writings. Best regards, Andrew

      Reply
  2. Dale Hill
    Dale Hill says:

    Your tale brings to mind a poster I purchased at Fisherman’s Wharf in SF on my way to Vietnam. It had a couple of people standing around and looking up into a tree where a biplane was wrapped into the upper foliage. The words on the poster said, “Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.” From what you say, George was neither carless, incapable, but he was briefly negligent as he failed to pay attention to the business at hand, “Flying the [email protected] plane!”

    Sorry for your loss of a mentor and fellow aviator. Hope you can pass your wisdom gained from George to others just as you did in this piece. Thanks!

    Reply
    • ANDREW MCDONOUGH
      ANDREW MCDONOUGH says:

      Hi Dale,
      First, thank you for your service, assuming your trip to Vietnam was a government sponsored trip!
      Yes, aviation is certainly unforgiving for any “neglect” in attention. Later in my aviation career, it was emphasized to initially determine “who was flying the airplane” during any emergency. Then attend to running the appropriate checklists. “Aviate, navigate, communicate” in that order.
      Andrew

      Reply
      • Dale Hill
        Dale Hill says:

        Andrew
        Yes, my trip to Vietnam was government sponsored. I was honored to serve for 22 years, 5 months, and 25 days (but who’s counting?). But I got paid to fly, and I would do it again although perhaps this time I would fly something other than fighters. Nah! Just kidding, speed is life and I always felt the need for speed!

        The AF had us handle any emergency by taking these three steps: 1. Maintain aircraft control; 2. Analyze the situation and take appropriate action; and 3. Land as soon as practical. NOTE; # 3 was NOT Land ASAPossible, since you sometimes needed to take care of some other things before trying to put the airplane on the ground, as tempting as that may have seemed at the time.

        Reply
        • ANDREW MCDONOUGH
          ANDREW MCDONOUGH says:

          Dale,
          I would have given a sensitive body part to fly fighters, but my NAVROC career was cut short due to astigmatism in my right eye. Not wanting anything to do with the Black Shoe Navy, I found my way to into the aviation world through general aviation. I would have been considered a “FLAP” (Flies Little Air Planes) by your brethren.
          Andrew

          Reply
          • Dale Hill
            Dale Hill says:

            Andrew, I was blessed with 20/12 eyesight, but now I wear glasses full time. Like everyone else, ‘FLAPing’ was how I started and I vividly recall my instructor in college pulling power and making me take my ‘engine failure’ all the way to an actual touchdown at a remote airfield in NW Arkansas. He also showed me how the natural reaction to a spin (pulling the yoke into one’s gut) only wrapped the spin up tighter. That last one was a real learning experience that paid off when our OV-10 Bronco snapped into a spin over enemy territory at 3000 feet. I was in the back seat looking at a target through my binoculars when a split flap extension ‘bit’ us — we were flying around VERY slow in about a 30 degree left bank trying to find a target and I asked him to drop some flaps since the rudder shaker had started, which indicated an approach to a stall. The split flaps and the slow speed stalled the top wing and we snapped hard over to inverted and the terrain started whizzing past our canopy. I dropped my binoculars, grabbed the ejection handle, and hollered a single word, “STICK!” meaning for him to place it full forward. He did exactly that and we recovered safely. We flew around pretty much straight and level until our heart rates slowed down to near normal.

    • Michael Ferrier
      Michael Ferrier says:

      Have a copy of that poster hanging in my office next to the exit at eye-sight height. Got my first ticket in a PA 28-160 on Nov10, 1973 and been in a PA31-325 Panther since 1989.
      The registration of the Biplane in the poster is 38057. A classic.

      Reply
  3. Kedric Rutz
    Kedric Rutz says:

    As a teenager I used to ride my bike to Murray Field and hang out with the pilots. I new George and a few other old bold pilots.

    Reply
    • ANDREW MCDONOUGH
      ANDREW MCDONOUGH says:

      Kedrick,
      He was quite the character and everyone who knew him keenly felt the loss, and still to today I can recall how I learned of it.
      I was returning from Klamath Falls en route to Oakland when another pilot called me on the company frequency and asked, “Did you hear about George?”
      I responded, “No, what did he do now?”
      He radioed back, “He went in short of Eureka”
      Realizing we were talking some serious event on an open frequency, I cautiously asked, “Is he still with us?”
      The reply of, “No..” still rings in my ears.
      Andrew

      Reply
  4. Bob Lima
    Bob Lima says:

    Hi Kedric! Nice to see your name. It’s been awhile! Hope your well. This was a great article for those that have made this trip a time or two.

    Reply
  5. Frank
    Frank says:

    I was an ATC’er at that time in the central valley. Sounds like a company called CalAir. Mid morning weekdays about five CalAir flights would land and taxi to the far end where they swapped bags of checks then took off again.

    Reply
  6. Marv Loopstra
    Marv Loopstra says:

    Andrew, I was night shift maintenance supervisor for Cal Air for several years.. I knew George. Good guy. You’re right everybody liked him. He loved that run because 1) he knew a woman there. And 2) (and more importantly) he could fish everyday! I recall one night when I got a phone call. George had to take 99E (Cherokee 6) on a different run instead of his favorite and he had thrown a prop blade out near Shasta. Ripped the engine clean off the mount. Fortunately it dropped right down on the nose strut so that it stayed with the airplane George was able to set it down safely and walk away. We had the aircraft back on the line in short order. That incident sparked an AD against several Hartzell props to shot peen the blade butts (I think it was before further flight) for stress relief. I still believe that if it had happened to some of our other pilots that they would not have made it back.

    Reply
    • ANDREW MCDONOUGH
      ANDREW MCDONOUGH says:

      Hi Marv,
      Yeah that would have been something George could’ve handled with aplomb.
      I thought there might have been a woman involved, but wasn’t sure, so didn’t include that, but certainly makes sense, knowing how passionate George could be. I still consider those years at CalAir the best training an aspiring pilot or mechanic could have….making schedule and keeping them flying in all seasons.
      All the best,
      Andrew

      Reply
  7. Steven Pritchard
    Steven Pritchard says:

    I remember this, it happened just before I started flying. We had a Fedex pilot who always got into Murray, Bob would always be asking Center if he could try this or that and they would let him. Just one correction to your story, it was runway 11 back then, it is now runway 12.

    Reply
    • ANDREW MCDONOUGH
      ANDREW MCDONOUGH says:

      Hi Steven,
      You’re right, the variation over all these years has continued to progress.
      I still have paper Jeppessen approach plates for KOAK for runways 27-R & L. They are artifacts of times gone by.
      Not wanting to rely on my memory, I just referred to the current KEKA airport diagram and used that…good catch!
      Regards,
      Andrew

      Reply
  8. Shawn Goans
    Shawn Goans says:

    Great writing as well as lesson. Agree with other posters. You need to write more articles. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    Reply
    • ANDREW MCDONOUGH
      ANDREW MCDONOUGH says:

      Thank you, Shawn, I appreciate your comments. I find it easiest to write on something I’m passionate about, and flying and sailing are the two outside endeavors from which I can really get inspired. Some lessons stay with you for life, this was one of them.
      All the best,
      Andrew

      Reply
  9. Rich R
    Rich R says:

    Sorry George didn’t get to share more stories. The lesson for current CFIs and mentors is that habit patterns/experiences reinforced during early training days will shape risk perception for life (if you’ve never looked at WWII training or mishap rates, it’s eye watering). Some will view that as “I’ve survived worse” others as “not putting myself there again voluntarily”.

    Reply
  10. ChrisZayac
    ChrisZayac says:

    What a great read, very relevant. I knew and worked with a “George” before my airline career. Great stick, sorry that he is gone augured in with all that talent.

    Reply
  11. cornelius cosentino
    cornelius cosentino says:

    Not enough is known, taught or said about optical illusions …they are the hidden – silent killers…
    My response: WHY TAKE CHANCES ?
    My answer … after only 6,000 hours is WHY TAKE CHANCES?
    And that I would take a well plan chance, but if only if there was a dying baby in the back seat…now how often would that happen?
    I also the last thing I say to my students when they pass their 1st FAA pilot check ride:
    ” Good Luck in your flying career, I enjoyed flying with you and do me a big favor …I hope you never have an accident – but if you do please make it an original one…”

    Reply
  12. David Tyler
    David Tyler says:

    Well- and truly-written, sir.

    I can only add that while it’s impossible to find finer aviation training than in the US military, the “mission-hacking” mentality of military flying (especially combat flying) can leave a stain. Once away from the military environment of a regular and vigorous flying-safety program, instrument refresher training, and the positive peer pressure that comes with being in a squadron of like-minded flyers, it’s only human nature to start thinking of the times you landed safely only because you “got lucky” as a bit of an entitlement. I’m sure that tendency is only amplified when, as George was, a very senior, ex-military pilot finds himself among those with far less experience and little inclination to criticize. A safe arrival is promised to no pilot.

    Reply
  13. Roger Kubeck
    Roger Kubeck says:

    Thanks for sharing this tale. I flew freight Chieftains out of LAX building up multi time. Maybe we can swap stories at Friar Tuck’s at Airventure sometime.

    Reply
    • ANDREW MCDONOUGH
      ANDREW MCDONOUGH says:

      Hello Roger,
      I planning on attending Oshkosh this year, maybe we can share a few cold ones there!
      Cheers,
      Andrew

      Reply
  14. Mark Cole
    Mark Cole says:

    I read an article by a pilot doing a similar job in pipers flying up the owens valley from Burbank to Mammoth and back daily. Very interesting.

    I wish these jobs existed for low time pilots these days but I had to get all the way to 1500 doing the same thing one hour at a time.

    Reply
    • ANDREW MCDONOUGH
      ANDREW MCDONOUGH says:

      Hi Mark,
      Yeah, for me, it was the right time, right place. Those jobs were certainly a learning experience for all who participated. Self reliance and knowing when to say, “No”.
      Once the banks went to electronic transfers and could do away with physically transporting paper checks and computer tapes, the writing was on the wall that flying all this cargo would be a unbearable cost to the successful banks in the future.
      Regards,
      Andrew

      Reply
  15. Mark
    Mark says:

    Great article.
    Back in the day, I flew for that same company referenced in the article, in the Chieftain, on that same OAK-UKI-EKA route. While the company at the time professed to value safety, the actual culture was anything but that. Taking shortcuts, developing tricks, getting there no matter what, that was what was actually expected. I know several that lost their lives, some due to the culture, more just because they were just doing stupid things. I’d heard cautionary tales of accidents there, interesting that I’d never heard this one. More interesting, there was another guy while I was there in EKA, working for a competitor, that fit “George’s” flying behavior. “Fly the VOR approach, drop to 100′ over the bay, use the weather radar (that I didn’t have in my plane but he did in his Caravan) to follow it around clockwise, when the radar shows the end of the eucalyptus trees, turn 90° left, land runway 12.” I’ve wondered since if he ever met a similar fate.
    I’m much more knowledgeable and experienced now, much more willing to say “NO.”. Feb ’97 was solid IFR for the whole month. 4 approaches a day, 5 days a week, single pilot, complex twin, no autopilot, solid IMC… now it’s 1-2 landings a month as Pilot Flying, multiple crewmembers, tons of redundancy and automation. I’ll never have such a solid scan and stick and rudder skills again.

    Reply
    • Mark
      Mark says:

      Went and read previous posts. I guess it wasn’t the same company. I was with the blue and white paint job.
      And Stephen Pritchard mentioned the same guy I did, “Eureka Bob”. That guy was nuts!

      Reply
    • ANDREW MCDONOUGH
      ANDREW MCDONOUGH says:

      Mark,
      I’ve found the bigger the plane, the easier it is to fly. You’re right, multiple crew, automation, redundancy, “SOPA & SMAC (“Standard Operating Procedures Amplified & Standard Maneuvers and Configuration”), the company’s OPS SPECS all help keep the blue side up and the metal unbent.
      But you’re right, I’ll never attain that level of proficiency I once possessed flying single pilot IFR on a schedule over the mountains and in all kinds of inclement weather. Those were good times.
      All the best,
      Andrew

      Reply
    • JK
      JK says:

      You are spot on, I trained for this same company, the ground training was the best, however the flight so called sim, very poor, they encouraged you to work with faulty equipment, and made excuses, blaming the pilot for not being able to cope with the situation, broken yoke inoperable trim, back up nav inoperable, etc, they encouraged poor old George to be cocky and bold!

      Reply
  16. Steve Catalano
    Steve Catalano says:

    At Air Pacific/Golden Gate I flew with quite a few CalAir/Ameriflight guys, and later at American too great guys. Previously I flew DHC-6 Twin otter’s up in Alaska for AAI. (Alaska Aeronautical industries.) Lost a classmate who as an F/O was paired with a Captain who put both of them and 18 passenger into Mt. Iliamna on the way to Iliamna. Be risk averse, and always play the game in accordance with the rules, always keep something “extra” in your “bag of tricks” for yourself, your significant other, kids, parents..ect. etc. Did that in the Twin otters that I started in, as well as the 777 and 787’s that I finished up in during my Airline career. Still do it in the corporate stuff I fly, as well as my RV-6a. When making a decision, asking yourself, “What’s the worse that can happen if make this choice, over that choice?” Tends to make the decision easier.

    Always take care of your crew, and they will take care of you…..
    The worse seat in the Airplane is always better then the best seat in the terminal….
    A good Captain and First officer always go hand in hand, but not thru the terminal……

    Steve Catalano
    AAI, Great Northern, Federal Express, Hawaiian Airlines, AirPacific/Golden Gate Airlines, AirCal, American Airlines
    (couldn’t seem to hold a job….except the last one for 36 years!)

    Reply
    • Chris Dyer
      Chris Dyer says:

      Steve, You forgot Compton Flying Service! Our careers paralleled each others through some interesting years. I was able to ride the final job for just over 36 years with Continental/United. Retired in June 2020. Now flying my Zlin 143L quite a lot.

      I remember heading up to Alaska in search of a job with AAI. When I asked you and Mike Gellman what the IFR flying was like you both said, “How good are you at interpolating ADF needles?” That was a good way of explaining the threats up North and I realize you were referencing the Iliamna accident.

      You were good enough to set me up for “jumpseat” on an Anchorage to Kenai leg in the Twin Otter with you and Brian Starzak (?). Although that job didn’t pan out I did land at Golden West then Evergreen then Continental then merge with United.

      It’s been a great ride, sure beats selling shoes!

      I felt as if I gave it everything in the career and made sure that I planted a lot of seeds in younger pilots who are out there flying the line today.

      Great to cross paths again.Take care!

      Reply
  17. Ken Field
    Ken Field says:

    This story of George reminds me of the Novel Pilot Jack Knight, an airmail pilot back when Jennys were the plane. I have flown privately for 50 years. The biggest lesson I learned was that when you repeat a mistake repeatedly seek help! Make sure your airplane can handled the weather you are planning to fly into. Luck will only get you so far.

    Reply
    • ANDREW MCDONOUGH
      ANDREW MCDONOUGH says:

      Ken,
      There is a saying, “I rather be lucky than good”, one may hear around the hangar after a harrowing experience, but that doesn’t guarantee a successful outcome the next time. The casinos in Las Vegas are as big and glitzy as they are making a earning from patrons that consider themselves “lucky”. Think about it.
      I looking for guarantees when approaching an airplane, not looking for luck.
      Andrew

      Reply
  18. Alan Chaulk
    Alan Chaulk says:

    Having walked a similar path as Andy and worked with him over the years, I can honestly say that this guy is the real McCoy. I recall Andy as my commuter-pad roommate, patiently talking to me and calming me down before my first big check ride with NWA. Always a soothing voice of reason and wisdom, both in the cockpit and on the ground.

    Nicely done my friend.

    Reply
    • ANDREW MCDONOUGH
      ANDREW MCDONOUGH says:

      Hey Al,
      First, thank you for the very kind words.
      Second, knowing you, you would have done the same for me, your a great friend and colleague. I enjoyed that our flying paths crossed as often and beneficial to us Botha’s they did.
      Say hello to Mary for me.
      All the best, my friend.
      Andy

      Reply
      • ANDREW MCDONOUGH
        ANDREW MCDONOUGH says:

        Hey Al, I hate spell check.
        That should be, “you”re a great friend…..
        And
        “That our paths crossed as often and as beneficial to us both.”
        Again, say hi to Mary for me.
        Andy

        Reply
  19. SubGuy
    SubGuy says:

    Hi All,
    Retired submariner who got into flying in 1970s. Thank you all for sharing your stories and experiences. I’m still flying and learning. It’s wonderful how pilots share their experiences so others can learn from them and become better pilots.

    Reply
  20. Blaine
    Blaine says:

    ….I flew the same airplanes out of the same Oakland that George did. Having read this article brings back many memories. The phrase that comes to mind is, “Experienced pilots are the ones that survive their mistakes”…..essentially relates to aviation in general and, most other human endeavors. Unfortunately, as is indicated here, seeing an “experienced” pilot fly like George did is to tell the up and comers, what not to do. Good article and thoughts.
    Hopefully, it will bring the realization to the younger pilots not to try and become “old and bold” since it is a path not very well travelled. Hopefully, the “new” approach to risk management (SMS), will help pilots stay away from “Georging” in their flying. I once had a corporate aircraft owner make this comment, “don’t confuse effort with success”. That may be applicable to the office but, certainly not to the flying office. He obviously did not understand the “George” factor in his thought process. Just because you get away with “something” one time, does not mean you will get away with it “the next time”.

    Reply
    • ANDREW MCDONOUGH
      ANDREW MCDONOUGH says:

      Hey Blaine,
      Great comments! The need for expertise on the flight decks of today’s airlines, corporate flight lines and aviation in general is never more evident.
      I learned during the “Master, journeyman, apprentice” generation, ie; a experienced captain, a competent first officer and a flight engineer, sitting and observing what to do as well as what NOT to do. Those days are gone and the industry will need to fill in the gaps of everyone’s scattered experienced levels if we are to retain the level of safety we have enjoyed for decades.
      Andrew

      Reply
  21. RThompson
    RThompson says:

    As an old MD and pilot (ATP, sel only), it looks to me like everything declines slowly with age except overconfidence. Why is that??

    Reply
    • ANDREW MCDONOUGH
      ANDREW MCDONOUGH says:

      RThompson,
      Some say practice makes perfect, but I’ve heard it better as “perfect practice makes perfect”. Doing the same thing for thousands of hours can make one an expert. But when anyone stretches ability into the “luck” arena, all bets are off.
      I’m sure there is a PHD dissertations somewhere in your question that someone can grab and run with.
      Andrew

      Reply
  22. Jimmy Allen Dulin
    Jimmy Allen Dulin says:

    I am George, but I lived. After an early start and being the first Army ROTC cadet to get a commercial with ROTC Flight, I flew Cobras in the First Air Cavalry in Vietnam and medevac in the Guard after. After 17,000 fixed wing hours Ag and pipeline patrol and 11 engine failures below 200′ AGL, I crashed a flimsy light sport (lost medical) and commercial was emergency suspended. Some of us made it. Avoidance is safer but less educational. Email me at [email protected] for my free ebooks, Safe Maneuvering Flight Techniques and Contact Flying Revised. I wish to pass some of that education on to safer pilots who have avoided the lessons. I also do free seminars and clinics. Not all bad habits as some maneuvering flight (takeoff, pattern, and landing) is a part of every pilots unavoidable experience. Why not learn all there is to know about it. Stuff like the basic low ground effect takeoff, the energy management 1g unloaded turn at any bank angle turn, and the apparent brisk walk rate of closure short final deceleration to land slowly and softly on the numbers every time with power. This is the self taught stuff that kept me alive in rough conditions flying marginal equipment near the ground.

    Reply
  23. Chris M
    Chris M says:

    I am an old pilot and endeavor to fly (and drive) defensively – in the pattern I probably look like a bobblehead, but it has saved my butt more than once…I learned to fly many years ago at a towered airport and mostly now I fly at non-towered airports. I am based at a non-towered airport with lots of student pilots, so attentiveness on the part of the rest of us is always warranted. Even at towered airports I assume that someone else is not paying attention and I fly accordingly.

    Reply
  24. Daniel Fregin
    Daniel Fregin says:

    I knew George. All of the above comments are pretty much right on. My story: I was a line boy at Red Bluff when George’s route stopped there on the way to the coast. There were some puffs of ground fog that would occasionally cozerome past the FSS and were otherwise scattered over the runway. At about the time that I could no longer see the runway, George called in at the VOR about 3 miles south. By then they were calling it “zero/zero”. After a few seconds he replies, “I missed that, please say again.” And the FSS specialist did. After a few seconds he replies, “it must be this radio, let me switch to the other one.” After another few seconds he says, ” ok, I’m on the other one now, please say again. ” Which the specialist does. And a few seconds after that I hear two tire chirps, then an idling engine, then see his plane on the taxi way through the fog. He said it was still patchy on the far corner of the runway.
    Years later and under other courier companies, I would contract for all but the Eureca/Arcata segment.

    Reply
    • ANDREW MCDONOUGH
      ANDREW MCDONOUGH says:

      Daniel,
      The Central Valley airports during the winter required some flying skills and some legal skills. After a cold front would pass and soak the entire Central Valley with moisture the “Tule” fog would develop, thick as pea soup.
      Anyway, those assigned to the valley runs would try to get to the Final Approach Fix FAF) before sunrise, knowing that any daylight would make the runway approach lights and runway lights less evident to the pilot as the contrast would be diminished. We never asked for the RVR until we passed the FAF fix, because then it would be legal to go and take a look. If the RVR was below minimums, legally you couldn’t even begin the approach.
      Some of us obviously had other methods, as you relate.
      Andrew

      Reply
  25. Jack Irwin
    Jack Irwin says:

    Andrew….Great story, thanks for sharing it, hope you write more.
    We came up the hard way…from the wild west to CRM.
    my first job after flight instructing was F/O on a C-46 with Zantop Air Transport/Universal Airlines, then with Ozark , TWA, and American.

    Reply
    • ANDREW MCDONOUGH
      ANDREW MCDONOUGH says:

      Well Hello Jack,
      Yes, the learning the “tricks of the trade” while learning the “trade” in real time was quite the experience.
      The generation of pilots that started at “needle, ball, airspeed” style of aircraft control might sneer at the generation of pilots that began on flat screen cockpits with moving maps displays generated from GPS signals. With all that information displayed, the old timer might ask, “How can you ever get lost?”, and therefore learn something new?
      I don’t begrudge the newer folks’ experience with the latest equipment, it’s just a sign of the times, in fact before long those black boxes might be making ALL the decisions and the pilot will just need to feed the dog that is there in the cockpit that is trained to bite him/her if they dare touch anything! /s

      Andrew

      Reply
  26. Dr John C Collias
    Dr John C Collias says:

    I enjoyed the article. You wrote it well. I must say, I don’t think it was as much as an old versus bold fatality. It was his time to go. He was an amazing individual with a lifetime full of achievements. He was an amazing pilot. Someone like this doesn’t deserve to go out with hospice and bedpans.
    Semper Fi John

    Reply
    • ANDREW MCDONOUGH
      ANDREW MCDONOUGH says:

      Dr. Collies,
      Thank you for the favorable comments. His time to go? Maybe so, but those of us who knew him wished he would’ve waited a bit more. Still, it was an exit with an emphasis that has stayed with many all these years,
      Regards,
      Andrew

      Reply
      • John Collias
        John Collias says:

        Andrew, God has a plan for all of us. I have been in numerous situations, when younger, lost so many friends, and should have been killed myself many times over. I came to the same conclusion each time. It simply wasn’t my time. I stood by some of the boldest that the World could produce. It is to live on the edge seldom can fathom. It is to each their interpretation of living. One can not choose their exit so easily. I must say, all we can each hope for is that we have a beautiful exit in the end. One that is representative of the life we have lived. Your friend that you speak of, he had a beautiful one. When my time is done, I hope to have a beautiful ending as well. One that represents how I lived and that I lived until the very last moment. It is one of the greatest blessings from God. Respectfully Dr Collias

        Reply
  27. L. M.
    L. M. says:

    Wow. What a well-written, timeless contribution to aviation literature. It made me laugh; it made me cry, even though, as you said, we already knew how the story was going to go. There’s no Hollywood stunt double when the situation calls upon the PIC’s judgement — be it good or poor — and for better or for worse. Better to make good decisions with all caution.

    Reply
    • ANDREW MCDONOUGH
      ANDREW MCDONOUGH says:

      L.M,
      Thanks for your reactions to this true story. It was written with the goal to teach a lesson to last a lifetime.
      Regards,
      Andrew

      Reply

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