It was an anxious moment. With palms sweating and sweat rings around my armpits I was hoping that my first student was truly ready to slip the surly bonds of earth. Hopefully I didn’t forget to instill any critical kernels of knowledge. Mark was probably thinking along the same lines and was sweating every bit as badly as I was.
I started with the stick well back. The engine was producing full power. I pushed the stick forward. Right at the point of lift off there was an abrupt swerve to the right. I closed the throttle and held the stick firmly back, planted in my ribs.
After flying for a major airline more than 28 years, I reached the mandatory retirement age. I loved every minute of it, and I had no desire to retire. So, I began to research options so that I could continue commercial flying. As I scanned the internet, I came across a flying opportunity in New Zealand. A small airline was looking for a chief pilot.
Many senior pilots at Eastern regarded new hires as a “kid who didn’t have enough common sense to come in out of the rain.” This condescending attitude was particularly true of some of the older WWII captains flying the DC-8 at the time. Their view of your engineer status and job was simply, “get the fuel on board, sit down, shut up, and keep your feet off the seat.”
In the spring of 1970 my friend Bob purchased a 1953 Cessna 180 on floats. It also had skis for winter. He and his friend had been moose hunting in Canada by living out of a lean-to basic tent. They wanted to build a moose hunting and fishing shack on a remote lake up there. I knew how to build so he included me in the adventure. I jumped at the chance.
On the evening of November 8, 1968, a Pilgrim Airlines twin-engine Beechcraft took off from Bradley International Airport with only a pilot and co-pilot aboard. Shortly after take off, when the flight was about five miles southeast of the airport, the aircraft suddenly lost a three-blade propeller from one of the engines and was forced to return to the airport and make an emergency landing.
About midway through the clouds, my JPI engine monitor began alerting us to a rapidly dropping bus voltage. Shortly after, we watched our GTN 650 GPS turn into a screen of flashes and hieroglyphics. I immediately leveled the wings, stopped my climb and leveled off (Rule 1 – Fly the plane!).
Everything was going perfectly until I turned base leg and heard my very first mayday call. It was a pilot of a Cessna 172, who had just taken off on runway 33. He was experiencing power loss, and called out that he didn’t think he could fly the circuit because he had three passengers on board, so he was attempting to make a turn around and land on runway 15.
I tied down the plane and went up to the office to pay the fee. On departure (remember, the beer!), the friendly gentleman mentioned—just by the way—that the airspace over Warsaw was about to be closed from 10pm that day (Friday) until 10pm the following Monday. The reason? The US President was about to fly in to commemorate the outbreak of WWII.
Zach put his iPhone flashlight to use in the only shadow to be found in the brilliant blue aloft. “Dad! Oil is pooling at my feet.” Instinctively I began a 180-degree turn to the last airport we flew over—a life boat in the distance known as Silver Wings Airpark (TS36). I traded airspeed for altitude and resisted the urge to command more from my faithful Continental by pushing up the power, knowing now the race against time had begun.
In the 1970s and early 90s, I was fortunate to fly with many different Twin Otters and operators on combinations of straight skis, wheel skis, mixed nose ski and wheels, high flotation tires, and floats. Using these aircraft to support our research took me all over the vast landscape of the Canadian Arctic, ranging from Tuktoyaktuk in the Beaufort Sea to the High Arctic Islands and east to the Canada/Greenland border in Baffin Bay.
It all began at the Hawaii Country of the Air, based at Honolulu International Airport. I was scraping oxidation off airplane wings to help pay for lessons. One fine weather day, having acquired 10 hours of dual instruction, my instructor decided I would fly to Ford Island in Pearl Harbor for touch and gos.
“We probably ought to get some fuel out of the back, don’t you think?” I asked. A man of very few words, Doug said, “yep.” Doug reached up, and I watched him rotate the fuel selector to the right rear position. I reached up about two seconds later and switched my fuel selector to the left rear tank position. After another two seconds, it got quiet. Real quiet. As in no engine noise at all.
I moved the picnic table out of the way, got in the SUV, fired up the reluctant engine and turned on the lights to make my way the 125 feet or so from the hangar to the plane to unpack my bike and other gear. Then… “GET OUT OF THE CAR! GET THE HELL OUT OF THE CAR!”
There are rusty pilots and then there are RUSTY pilots. I was a RUSTY pilot, having not been PIC in the left seat of an airplane in 40.7 years. Half of a lifetime! As many of you, there existed a love for airplanes since childhood. Growing up, Sky King reruns started the dream and gave me an appetite to experience flight.
My wife and I have six grandkids and when we go flying, we like to take one of them with us. The kids know that they get to go for their first plane ride when they turn four years old. Well, Ava turned four in October and asked when she could go for her first airplane ride. But Grandpa has a set of rules he flies by for the first plane ride.
Straight line distance from Cairns (YBCS) to Longreach (YLRE) is around 830km (450nm or 515sm) but much further by road, so the only option for getting there and back in the one day was by air. Hew had borrowed hangar mate Michelle’s RV-6A to fly to Longreach and retrieve his aircraft. All that he needed now was another pilot to accompany him in the RV-6, then fly that aircraft back home to Cairns. Was I available? You betcha!
As I approached 9,500 feet, the climb rate hadn’t slowed, even after reducing power, so I accepted the smooth elevator ride and told Joshua I was going to 11,500. A couple of minutes later I was still going up at more than 1,000 fpm, with throttle closed, carb heat on, nose down, doing 140 kts—30 faster than cruise.
I was born in a workshop in Wichita, Kansas, in 1951 and registered with serial number 15695. Right after my test flight, my new owners, who had ordered me a few months before, took me on my first cross-country flight over the states of Oklahoma and Texas and across the Río Grande into Mexico.
In October 2005, I was giving incentive rides in my MK 4 Jet Provost from Friday through Sunday in support of the Celebrate Freedom airshow at Camden Air Field, South Carolina. I was approached by a middle aged gent asking me to give a ride to his dad. I apologized and explained that unfortunately, I had to fly 100 miles away to take the jet for its annual inspection and then drive 2+ hours back to my home.