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!
At 6500 feet without any engine power, I calculated my glide slope back to the airfield and knew straight away I could not make it, not even with this freshening tailwind. I had to prepare to land in a farmer’s field or find a nearby airstrip. I didn’t panic. I acted as I had done in training so many times.
Structural ice is a known flight hazard and there are plenty of forecasting products to help a pilot avoid it. Curiously, there is another type of icing that has sent its share of airplanes to the salvage yard, and pilots to the graveyard. Because it is mainly an affliction of low-performance aircraft, it doesn’t receive as much attention.
It was supposed to be a routine training flight. You know, the standard stuff. Pre-flight the plane, contact Santa Monica ground and tower controllers without sounding like a rank amateur, get clearance and transition through the Burbank airspace. I was even prepared for some light turbulence over the San Gabriel mountain range. I wasn’t at all prepared for the emotional turbulence.
A round-engine float plane dropped through a hole in a thick, low overcast to land, banging and clattering on choppy San Francisco Bay. It coasted to a stop a quarter mile dead-ahead of our Lapworth 40 sloop. We kept driving her, rail-down, hard on the wind, and quickly closed with the aircraft, a bit concerned.
Fast forward 35+ years and I was once again inspired by my father to get back into aviation, this time as a result of an agonizing four hour road trip to visit my parents (now in their 80s). I wondered if it would be easier to fly instead, so I purchased my first airplane in the fall of 2017, a “new to me” 1966 Piper Cherokee 180! Always a Cessna guy, I’m not sure how I ended up with a Cherokee.
We thought our most exciting memories were behind us. Everything was going great; the sun was about to set and, in an instant, we lost everything but the motor. No radios. No lights. No electrical instruments. And no ideas – yet. We got through the checklist and decided we had lost our alternator.
Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing.” Most who live by those words are fliers, in one way or another. Try to think of an avocation, a passion, an adventure, that doesn’t involve the release of a person or object from gravity’s surly bonds. They know the moment of flight where the daring adventure of life is attained.
I ran madly through the hallways, up then down, left then right, back-tracking when I took a wrong turn. If I missed the flight to Madrid, then I might as well turn around and head back to YIP. Finally, I saw the gate. Phew! Boarding had not yet began.
Temps were good, fuel pressure and quantity good, but there’s that oil pressure, lower still, but just a little lower. But temps are all good, maybe the gauge is misbehaving? I got a little alarmed, but the voice in the back of my head said, “There’s nowhere around here I want to land, there’s a snowstorm below me, this is not a good time for an emergency.”
After spending some time doing basic airwork (turns, stalls, etc.) Hal said he was bored and took control of the airplane. First he tried looping the Cub, which did not work out as his 200+ pounds plus my paltry 115 pounds made the maneuver impossible. He would nose the plane over, build up airspeed and pull the nose up with full power and, somewhere near vertical, the plane would fall back out of the sky.
Few dreams worth having are achieved with shortcuts and in flying airplanes there is no substitute for experience. The increase in airman wisdom is recorded on paper in logbooks. More importantly, the experience gained is remembered in your mind and heart, the rewards being increased skill, finesse in the craft, and survival.
I like history. I try to imagine what it was like to experience the things that I read about. What were the sounds, the smells, the feelings? Well, after volunteering with our EAA Chapter 17 that hosted the B-17, I was able find out. A group of ten of us who volunteered over the weekend were selected to tag along on the repositioning flight.
The first big airplane I ever flew was the Lockheed Constellation, affectionately known as the Connie. The Connie simulator was just a procedures trainer (no motion, no visual) so most of the flight training was done in the airplane. I confess I was scared to death! The biggest thing I had ever checked out in was the Piper PA-23 Apache.
I was a 4000-hour Mooney pilot (all in the same Mooney) several years ago when a friend, a well-known sculptor who was having three pieces fabricated in Princeton, New Jersey (39N), asked if I would fly him from our home base in East Hampton, New York (HTO), to check on how they were progressing. My friend was eager to fly, so we looked forward to our adventure on a chilly, blustery spring day.
“Pucker Factor,” for those unfamiliar with the term, is loosely defined as how tight a grip your butt gets on the seat in times of stress. Every pilot has a few Pucker Factor stories. My CFI probably has a couple dozen with my name on them. This is my story as to how, in a single flight, I emptied half of a 30-pound bag of luck and stuffed 50 pounds of experience into the empty space.
On April 21, 2015, I accomplished something that I could have never imagined doing at the age of 63. I got a Sport Pilot certificate, and then with just 113 hours and three months as a pilot, I took off for the trip of a lifetime. I departed from Kingsbury, Texas (85TE) for Sheboygan, Wisconsin (KSBM) to attend the 2015 National Ercoupe Convention (75th Anniversary) before continuing on to Oshkosh, Wisconsin (KOSH) for AirVenture 2015.
Spring, 2016. On the last week of my vacation, I did my favorite activity for any vacation: I traveled to the United States to fly. Since my last FAA checkride (Commercial Multiengine) had been over two years before, I was required to do this in order to act as pilot in command of an American registered aircraft again. But there was another guy to do an arrangement with: Colin.
The first solo is an event remembered clearly by most of us. This summer marks the 40th anniversary of that seminal event for me. As the years have blurred many of the details, two aspects remain crystal clear.