I was there

A trip to Mexico in the best of the worst airplanes ends in a costly fiasco

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Most of the airplane’s weight was on the wings as we rolled across a furrow somewhat larger than the others about halfway through our takeoff run. Bouncing slightly, the momentary lack of weight on the wheels fooled the “foolproof” gear system into performing its duty. The left wheel, now unlocked and slightly off-center, collapsed as the plane’s weight returned to the wheels.

Dear NASA: learning from my mistakes

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The Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) is where maintenance technicians, pilots, controllers, etc. can anonymously report inadvertent violations of regulations or unsafe conditions which resulted from their action (or inaction). I have never been deterred from submitting an ASRS report for a transgression, mistake or bad decision. And I’ve had plenty of material to work with.

My night engine-out emergency

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I could see the lights of Concord from a little south of Fairfield, so I turned south. This put us over an area of wetlands but highway 80 was within very easy gliding distance off to our right. Then it happened. Right over Suisun Bay where the Navy stores a large number of dilapidated ships, our engine decided to cough, sputter, lose all power.

A Tri Pacer is not an Alaska bush plane

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Taxiing took almost full throttle, and there was no way in which the plane would take off with the pilot and two passengers. We were now stuck on George’s choice of lakes. I suspected that we might have made the takeoff with a Piper Pacer, but with a nose gear poking down up front, there was no way we were leaving that small lake in our small, four-place tricycle-geared flying machine.

An interrupted checklist leads to some excitement

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I checked in with Washington Center, listening for the “…proceed direct Savannah.” Suddenly silence. The engine quit without warning. I had lost an engine before in a Cherokee when a cylinder apparently began eating a valve. That made a lot of noise. This was instant silence.

Near miss in the pattern

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This very near-miss incident took place several years ago on a VFR approach to Archerfield (YBAF), in Queensland, Australia, a usually busy Class D general aviation training airfield adjacent to the state capital city of Brisbane, and it haunts me to this day. As a way of talking it out, I tender it here for my fellow pilots to read and consider and perhaps comment on.

Making flight fun from the right seat

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Many people have found peace and tranquility in the air. In fact, hundreds of thousands of people have their license to fly the US skies. For them, it’s a way life… either for professional or personal enjoyment. Regrettably, for their significant other, it may not be that exciting.

Going Mach 0.3 with your hair on fire

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Welcome to the Sunrise 100. This race, along with a dozen or so others every year, is put on by the Sport Air Racing League. If you’re thinking about the vaunted Reno air races, with planes zooming wingtip to wingtip around an oval track, requiring precision formation flying and high speed maneuvering, then you’re not quite right. Well, except for the high speed maneuvering part.

Neil Armstrong was my co-pilot

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They closed the big hangar doors and Neil came over and jumped into the right seat of my idling Piper Tri-Pacer. “Let’s go,” he said. It was fun having Neil Armstrong as my co-pilot. He was already very well known in aviation, and soon he’d be the most famous man on the planet.

The most important bags aren’t suitcases

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I had a gurgling feeling in my stomach that meant only one thing and it would happen soon. I didn’t have a bag handy so I told Mike who was in the right seat “your controls,” took off my headset, opened the window and let it all hang out. The wind pulled my sunglasses off my face and gravity took them to the ground below never to be seen again.

What are the chances? Jumpseating to get married

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Jumpseating for free (a great pilot privilege) was the way to go! In addition, when we sat up front, we found it fun and interesting to see how pilots at the other airlines do things. So, we thought nothing of it when we decided on a Hawaiian beach wedding for $800 all-in. We planned on jumpseating there.

“No complaints” – how I stumbled into a thunderstorm

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I asked NorCal if there were any ride reports over the mountains. “No complaints,” replied the controller. We went into the clouds about over PXN VOR. No big deal. We were just bumping along V301, in and out of the clouds at first, then solid IMC. In the clouds it was just light chop, and my little Piper pretty much just flew herself, even without an autopilot. Then the world suddenly went mad.

The day my life changed – my first flight

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On a crisp, clear winter morning in early January 1997, I took in my first whiff of 100LL fuel on the ramp at Watsonville Airport. My CFI let me fumble that morning with my own unfamiliar movements around the little flying machine. Tripping over the mains and bumping my head on the sharp trailing edge of that Reed Clipped Wing taught me quickly how to move about the preflight.

Flying into Y2K

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As I was thinking about the Y2K panic it dawned on me that the FAA and its computers all operate on a single time—Zulu. That meant Y2K would arrive at 7 pm eastern time on the Zulu clock. If the ATC system were going to blowup it would happen then. So I decided that was the perfect time to be in the air and flying in the system.

Elevator failure at 4500 feet in a Cessna 150

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The aircraft started bouncing around pitching up and down. I asked the student what he was doing. He responded, “I can’t control the plane!” I immediately took over and, looking around, I noticed that the left elevator was flapping up and down uncontrollably.

A fly-in movie night in the mountains of Australia

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I was particularly interested to see an event titled “Porepunkah Movie Night” advertised in a magazine. Porepunkah is a beautiful location in the Victorian Alps, and I remembered flying in there once before. It is a grass airstrip of about 770 metres, surrounded by mountains.

We flew a Mooney to Cuba for the weekend!

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It was a cold February day when I decided that we would fly our 1994 Mooney M20R to Havana, Cuba. Restrictions for U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba had recently been lifted. The island was only 90 miles from Key West. We had flown our Mooney to the Out Islands of the Bahamas in the past. The only problem was that my wife did not want to go.

The tricky triangle – my ill-fated solo cross country

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“If you don’t like the weather in the Midwest, wait 30 minutes,” they say. I guess there is some truth in that, a truth that I now consider to be a substantial part of my flight preparations. In early summer 2017, I was still a student pilot, preparing for the 150 NM cross country flight, which was one of the last things I had to cross off my list for meeting the requirements for taking the private pilot checkride.

Dreaming of jets while flying a DC-3

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It was clear, it was fresh with only a faint odor of exhaust from the nearby Braniff jet’s APU to remind us there were easier ways to fly for a living. Over there was hot coffee, hostesses, snacks from the galley. Over here, we could see our breath in the cabin. When will I be warm while flying airplanes? Not soon, I knew.