Jim and I talked further about ferry procedures, the probable route and the likely departure date. I was grateful then, when at the end of our lunch, he agreed to accompany me on the trip. I had about two thousand hours of over-water time by then, but all of it was with four engines at high altitude.
My C-123 unit had asked for volunteers to fly troops to and from the Bob Hope USO Christmas shows in Bien Hoa those two days. Flying certainly seemed to be a better alternative than spending a lonely Christmas in my room, I reasoned, so I gladly signed up to be scheduled as needed.
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 35 years as a professional pilot (Boeing 747s on down), I now fly a Light Sport-qualified Ercoupe 415-C. It is a fantastic airplane, and “low and slow” is great after so many years of high and fast. The view from, the speed of, and the pleasure of flying this “no-purpose-but-to-enjoy-it” airplane are all just what I was looking for at this end of my career.