Air Facts Journal has published many stories about rusty pilots returning to the cockpit, some after years of not flying as a pilot in command. I last flew in March of this year. Like many readers, the COVID-19 pandemic has put a damper on my flying. The economy is uncertain, there are few $100 hamburger destinations where you can eat on-site, and airplane rental FBOs have imposed previously unheard-of restrictions.
September 11, 1996, will always remain in my memory. We had recently departed Terre Haute, Indiana, and were now cruising eastbound toward the Atlantic Coast at Flight Level 210. A young captain (me, at 40 years old) was still on his proving runs with a check airman when there was a problem. We had an engine fire warning on engine number four.
We all have a passenger or two that we simply do not forget. Could be a grandchild’s first flight smile. Perhaps a movie celebrity. A rock and roll group or a comedian. Maybe even a politician. Whether you fly professionally or as a hobby, we all have that one passenger experience that gets talked about over and over for years. Here’s my story.
The medevac mission was to retrieve a wounded GI, but there was no landing zone (LZ) close by, so we would have to extract him by holding the helicopter at a stationary hover about ten feet above the trees, and use an internal rescue hoist and a “Stokes litter” wire basket. The trees were about 75 ft. tall at the scene, and the basket was quickly lowered.
Hang around aviation long enough and you will hear some strange things. Here are seven stories that show how even simple mistakes can have serious consequences, but also how a little ingenuity can solve some vexing problems.
In the winter of 1956-57, RB-47H aircraft supported by KC-97 tankers made Top Secret polar flights out of Thule AB Greenland to inspect Russian defenses. I was copilot on one of these flights. In January 1957 we took off in an RB-47H (tail #281—the same RB-47H that was later shot down by a Russian fighter on July 1, 1960). We departed Thule on an ice-covered runway that provided little, if any, nose wheel steering capability.
This airport had been my heart and soul from my late teens for more than several years. I could hear WNEW dribbling out of the crappy radio on the counter, the Coke machine whining, smell the vague noxiousness of the heat from the propane heater. I could see the men that would never be forgotten to me, the instructors that would guide me and help me to get my licenses.
After learning to fly with the Royal Air Force I hardly touched a light aeroplane, or flew solo, for the next 40 years. Four engines and three or four crew were the norm. So when the CFI of one of the local clubs became too incapacitated to fly, and suggested that I buy his single seat, VW-powered Druine Turbulent Microlight, it was a whole new ball game.
Saturday was clear but going to be hot, with Sunday hotter. CJ needed a break from our isolation and Cousteau and Kepler were at their grandpa Rueckert’s for the weekend. Therefore, a flight to the Langley, Washington airport across some of Puget Sound was on the schedule.
I was recently given the opportunity to get to go up in a hot air balloon here in Northwest Montana. Comically, the pilot that offered the ride is the only one with a lighter-than-air license within 100 miles. The first two times, the weather didn’t allow a flight. However, the third time was the charm.
We’ve been in the seats for 3.5 hours and feeling the effects of flying on the back side of the clock. Both of us are yawning and ready for a break. Not to worry though. The guys in the back will be getting their scheduled wakeup call from us in about 10 minutes. I’m suddenly startled by a loud voice: “TRAFFIC – TRAFFIC.” What the heck?
Last April, one month before my 60th birthday, I began taking flight lessons. My family gave me the go ahead and my wife, Meredith, in particular made it possible for me to do this. It’s been an interesting experience.
Approach handed me off to OSU tower, and the clouds over the airfield were now a roiling olive green. I was number one for the airfield and cleared to land; number two was a cabin class twin. I was committed to landing. The twin broke off the approach after the first lightning strike on the airfield, but not me.
Those familiar with the song and dance teams of the 1940s and 50s are familiar with the comment. Fred Astaire was a master dancer and his partner, Ginger Rogers, did the same routines backwards and in high heels. Well, no high heels here, but an aviation story where doing it backwards was part of the event.
The glider club, like almost every activity in Iran, was supported and controlled by government bureaucracy, often with many nonsensical rules. The rules often seemed to be created to prevent enjoyment or accomplishment. Everything was supplied and controlled by the government.
Prior to the Stratux, amidst that constant barrage of traffic alerts, it was often difficult to locate the converging “bogie” reported by ATC, necessitating a response of “looking for traffic.” Since introducing Stratux to the cockpit however, locating reported traffic in the immediate vicinity of our position seems to be much easier now.
After years of accumulated rust in my logbook, a friend and senior mentor at work, who is also CFII, was admiring the Boeing 737 poster hanging in my office one day when he mentioned he knew of a 182 fractional ownership opportunity. The admiration continued for a few more minutes, and a lightbulb clicked.
This is a chronicle of events of a search operation requested by a worried family when their loved one did not arrive from a short instrument flight. I got up on October 6, 2015, to a gloomy, overcast morning. After lunch my cell phone started to vibrate and when I answered it was Jim from the FBO office at the Chadron Airport. He explained that a V-tail Beechcraft had left Chadron for Alliance midmorning and had not arrived.
I had a 1943 Taylorcraft L2-M that I bought from a rancher from Lusk, Wyoming, north of Torrington (where I live), back in 1977. My dad heard about it and we flew up there and went out to the ranch to take a look. The guy actually had it in an open front shed, with nothing but a rope with some rags hanging off it, to keep the animals out. What kind of animals, you ask? Why, buffalo, of course!
In July 2019, I finally obtained my private pilot license. It took me seven years. Being a pilot had not been in the cards for me. It wasn’t even on my bucket list, because I didn’t like flying and had no interest in airplanes. People seem to have solid reasons why they undergo the vigorous flight training, which takes considerable time and effort. So why did I become a pilot? Here is my story.