“Once-in-a-lifetime. Bucket list. Wish list.” Terms we often use to describe an out of the ordinary, incredible experience. While we toss these terms around quite frequently, how often do we actually experience something that deserves the moniker “once-in-a-lifetime?” I’m sure you’ll agree it’s pretty rare. Recently I participated in a genuine bucket list experience.
I was taught to look ahead towards the end of the runway in the flare. Joe didn’t flare at all. He cut the power and the plane fell, the main gear with its large rubber tires hitting hard and bouncing 15 or 20 feet in the air. Joe pushed the yoke forward and we hit again, ballooning higher this time. “Go around power, Joe!” I yelled. But, no. Joe ignored me.
Not long after I had checked the weather on the club computer, I heard something through the open door. I rushed outside and saw a magnificent Spitfire passing by the tower, at high speed and low altitude. I was told that warbirds would be returning from an airshow that had taken place south of Paris, and that some of them would land in Le Touquet before getting back to their home base in the UK.
My plan was to do a normal overhead, pitch out and roll out on final to set up a landing attitude for the north runway, going through the fog, which was 50-60 feet thick. Roll out was routine until about 2000 feet remaining, then suddenly two gray shapes appeared ahead, just offset on either side of the centerline.
After landing, I noticed a truck on the side of the ramp and an individual waving at me. I taxied over to where the truck was, swung the airplane around 180 degrees, and with reverse thrust started backing towards the truck. I started through the aircraft shutdown procedures and when I pulled the mixtures to shut off, and as the number one engine came to a stop, I could hear a hissing noise similar to escaping air.
I immediately felt at home in the JetStar. The entire instrument panel was identical to the C-130E. After my first landing, with the throttles at the idle stop, I very smartly pulled up all four throttles and moved them to the reverse range. One minor problem: that is the procedure to shut down the engines!
In the year 2000, I settled in, along with my airplane, at an end-of-an-era FBO: Co-Op Aircraft Service at Cincinnati’s Blue Ash Airport. These buildings, and the surrounding crumbling concrete and asphalt, became more to me than a place to tie-down and buy avgas. The business, the airport, and the people who were drawn to it, became like a second home and family.
It was a week before Christmas 1964, and we had some time left to fly after returning to base from a typical nine-hour training mission. I talked the crew into flying at about 1,000 feet not far from the air base, to scout the snow-covered countryside for a Christmas tree. I was the copilot on the B-47E, and we started to look for the right size tree in a remote field.
“Ever land on grass?” Chet asked quietly, as always, with great understatement that veiled the imminent challenge. “No,” I replied, knowing that I would do it soon. The turf runway at Harford County airport (0W3) in Churchville, Maryland, was only 17 nautical miles northeast of our home base
When I was fresh out of college, I stumbled into one of the most fun flying jobs I’ve ever had. The operation wasn’t an airline that required an ATP so my low flight time, while not exactly a selling point, didn’t cause any legal issues. For someone with less than 1,000 hours and a mere 20 hours of multi, this was an amazing opportunity.
We had to divert, and I’ll get back to that later. But the tricky part was, as we were approaching runway 26 to land, it turned out that “28” was written on it! Damn—full throttle, flaps 10, Vy, clean up, and let me turn out of the traffic pattern here, something is not right!
I called the tower and instead of the usual Alpha to 29, I was advised to turn right on Alpha, left on Charlie and back-taxi on 29 to Echo. I stumbled through my read-back to the tower and cleared the taxiway prior to proceeding. I then noticed an airliner had been pushed back onto taxiway Alpha. The tower then called the airliner and asked, “Who cleared you to taxi?” There was no response from the airliner.
Like most “sporty” planes, the Luscombe, when flown with practiced precision, was like dancing to familiar music. Uncoordinated, the world suddenly surrounded you with a strange and uneasy countenance. The pilot always felt this; the passenger even more so. The exception was, that to a non-pilot passenger, even co-ordinated unfamiliar attitudes felt, well, unfamiliar.
The experimental airplane took off. I watched it climb out until it passed out of my view behind a hangar, then I turned away. Then I heard the engine quit. Okay, I thought, he’s got enough altitude. He’ll make it across the dikes and land straight ahead. He’s in for some embarrassment, but he’ll be all right.
For my 16th birthday, my father thought it would be a great idea to gift me a discovery flight at the local flight center. From the moment the wheels left the ground in that Cessna 172 Skyhawk, I knew that one day I wanted to be able to do this. However, I was left with the heavy burden of reality; where do I even start to obtain this dream and more importantly, how will I be able to finance this?
No airline employee wants a delay. The corporate cultures at most airlines are distinctly non-Japanese; that is, blame is fixed, rather than problems. A delay of even the shortest duration will start a downhill flow of a substance that is neither colorless nor odorless. On some properties, too many delays can be detrimental to a career, sometimes terminally.
The flight club accepted my application and I joined with high hopes. After joining, I thought about how I can contribute to make this a great experience. Well, it just so happened that a few months after I joined the club, the club purchased a Cessna 172N aircraft, and guess what? They needed an assistant plane captain. I thought, perfect, this shouldn’t be too much work…
I flew the L-39 jet, a former Russian military jet trainer, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The engine is a turbofan, giving it delightful, “push you back against the seat” power when you go to full throttle. Larry Salganek, master aviator and chief instructor, flew with me of course. I flew it from start to finish, Larry bravely never touching the controls, just offering advice through the hot mic.
I unbuckled my seatbelt and opened the door and was standing outside when I said: “Glen, fly it around the pattern once by yourself and after you land come back here and talk to me. I’ll be standing here waiting for you. Enjoy your flight.” I had seen the painful expression on students’ faces at just this time before, but Glen’s expression was particularly bad.
I do not remember life before the blue and yellow Baby Ace; the first memory of my childhood is seeing rib jigs in the upstairs room of our small farmhouse. The next thing I knew those wings were in our living room and all the furniture was moved!