What’s it like to be an active flight instructor? Some days are rewarding, some days are scary, but every day is different. This pilot shares the unique personalities he flew with over the years, from talented kids to eccentric entrepreneurs. Not every story had a happy ending, but a career spent in the cockpit made it worthwhile.
No more than 10 or 15 seconds had elapsed since getting airborne. We had just passed the departure end of Runway 07, and were climbing through about 100 ft. AGL. I was just about to make the turn to 050 then bring the gear up, when the plane made a violent lurch to the left, and we were suddenly descending very quickly despite the airspeed and nose up pitch.
I had volunteered to fly Bill in from Des Moines earlier in the day and had spent the rest of it waiting at the Dubuque airport for his return. The airplane, an older model Cessna 182 and unfamiliar to me, was borrowed from of friend of his. I had never flown it before, nor had I bothered to pay much attention to its panel layout. Those were details meant only for bush-league pilots, not me.
It really is “Better-In-the-Bahamas” and I tell those people I like, those who live in Florida and have not visited the Out Islands, not to visit would be like living one mile from the rim of the Grand Canyon and never looking in. I felt lucky living and flying in the islands. I slowly became an “island pilot.”
My good friend Jason arrived in Cape Town on an overnight with his airline and very large twin-engine jet. He normally comes to stay and we catch up over a steak, talking rugby and fishing. This time was to be slightly different in that I mentioned to Jay that there was a club outing to Saldanha and would he like to go. He was very excited and hence we awoke early the next morning to pre-flight the Yak.
Flying 727 shuttles out of New York’s La Guardia Airport to Boston and Washington in the 1980s and 90s was a hands-on, back-to-basics operation: steam gauges, hand-tuned VHF navs, one or two low freq ADF, no FMS and an autopilot that had to be tended to get you where you were going.
I am sitting in this brightly colored red, two seat, Pitts Special S2B stunt plane alone over the Atlantic Ocean at 9,500 feet. I have been flying out of sight from land for quite some time and occasionally the magnitude of the adventure I am undertaking sinks in and I have to mentally remind myself to take this trip one small step at a time.
We all have occasion to read accident reports, now and then, and hope to learn something for our effort. When we step into the cockpit, these thoughts are set aside in order to focus on the tasks of flying. It is only in the rarest circumstances when mortality infiltrates the cockpit and stubbornly takes hold.
In 1990, I was privileged to take a team of U. S. Air Force jets and airmen to The International Space Fair, aka, FIDAE, the largest air show and exhibition held in Latin America. It was also the first time an official contingent of American military visited Chile since the Pinochet affair of the 1970s. We had three F-15s, a KC-10 and a B-52 for display and flight demonstrations.
My Dad turned 65 recently, and as with so many of his peers, this year means mandatory retirement from 26-year airline career. While for him it’s a singularly pivotal and more-bitter-than-sweet event, his retirement also represents a journey that began with a Cessna and ended with an Airbus, in what has become a massive wave of his peers with remarkably similar stories.
At one point, I was so tensed up, worn out from fighting the wind and trying to get needles centered, that I thought, “I just can’t do this. I should just give up and let Jack fly it in. This is so hard. Maybe I should just give up flying altogether.” Those thoughts lasted for just a brief moment when I heard Jack’s encouragement again, and I said to myself, “I can do this. I want to do this. Just do it.”
Oh how I concentrated as the flight progressed, identifying those check points, talking to flight following, receiving timely handoffs from one sector to the next and being the best student pilot I could be. Then at the appropriate time, I dialed in, as instructed by approach control, the correct four digits in the correct sequence, hit ident in the transponder and eventually found myself in the traffic pattern with regional jets!
Fifteen hundred feet isn’t much altitude, but it momentarily seemed Olympian as our formation turned onto the downwind leg of our traffic pattern, with the airfield looking like a precisely detailed model on our right. Another banked turn onto base leg, then onto final approach for a low-altitude flyby. We came level at about 30 feet, roaring past the showline – I was momentarily sorry I couldn’t be down there and up here simultaneously!
I was two months into my first pilot job flying skydivers at a small Canadian drop zone in a C182, when my boss approached me with this question. Our company had the opportunity to have a winter contract in Belize running the same operation for the winter months of our off-season, and we were quite excited about the prospect. This would require ferrying our little Cessna all the way down there.
My relationship to aircraft and flying is somewhat of a paradox. On the one hand, I’ve been fascinated by planes, airports and flying since childhood. I’ve been using flight simulators for nearly 25 years, and today I’m even earning part of my money with that. On the other hand, my first real flight happened only ten years ago, and, honestly, it was a bit terrifying back then.
Impressive mountains were quite near on both sides, and I noticed that there were at least two separate layers of stratus above me. I could see that the lower level shrouded the glacier ahead, obscuring most of it. I could also see that, if I continued beneath the lowest level, I would soon fly into the face of that glacier right at its moraine. Did I mention that I had only 30 hours under a seat belt at that time?
After the winds have been tamed, after the distance traveled; after you have set aside the weather maps and navigational charts and flying’s fears. After you have arrived… it’s a moment so sublime, there is no other feeling like it. Joy and pride and relief and excitement drenched in the smell of hot oil and the sound of happy strangers and friends who know exactly how you feel – because they have felt it, too.
I rolled the airplane out onto the runway after checking that the final approach course was clear and began slowing to a stop. I was praying that the controller would catch his mistake himself and issue us a cancellation of our takeoff clearance. But he did not do so. Knowing that I would probably create some very big waves, I transmitted over the tower frequency a quite simple sentence.
I remembered we had boarded 40 pre-adolescents in Dallas, bound for a summer camp near Denver. While several adults had seen to their boarding, and more were to meet them in Denver, there was no adult accompanying them. Apparently my company felt that four flight attendants were more than enough to handle 40 rowdy kids and the 30 or so other paying passengers on our B-727.
Suddenly the King Air started to move. But it wasn’t turning left, it was slewing to the right. I mashed both brake pedals as hard as I could, but the airplane kept sliding toward the Falcon and the FBO office building. The lineman started running backward as fast as he could on the icy surface.