I was there

A pilot struggles with bladder control

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Cecil was checking with the pilots to see if they needed anything. As he did several times a summer, he stuck his head in my Cub and asked, “Do you have a bottle to pee in?” Everyone but me carried a bottle. I guess it was a young guy thing. He liked to kid me about it. “Nah, I can hold it.”

Two on the runway – what would you do?

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Within a few seconds of my announcement, a scenario that my former instructor and I had talked through several times became real right before my eyes – a pilot on the ground announced that he was departing runway 20. I saw him move from the hold short line onto the runway, and I announced that I was about to execute a go-around. He immediately responded, “Don’t go around! You’ve got plenty of room to land!”

Cub Crafters Sport Cub vs. Air Force One

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My plan for the day was to spend two hours practicing three point and wheel landings at several area grass strips. Well, that was the plan until I heard the distinctive whine of jet engines and noticed a large shadow envelop my car as I made my way to the Cub’s home. There she was… VC-25A… almost low enough that it seemed I could reach out and touch her. It was that moment that my flight plan changed.

Night flight in an A4B Skyhawk

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I suited up, gave the A4B a pre-flight check, fired up the turbine, received Air Traffic Control clearance for my first leg, and departed Los Alamitos in a dense brown smog blanketing LA. I broke through the haze at 5,000 feet and was vectored to a northwesterly course, skirting the California coast.

Memory flights – sometimes you just know

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Every pilot has what I call “memory” flights; flights which were remarkable, special. The thing about these “memory” flights is that often we don’t know we’re experiencing them, that they’re shaping us, until we reminisce some time later. You don’t always have to look back, though. Sometimes you just know that you are flying one of those “memory” flights.

Aviation nirvana – my trip to Sun ‘n Fun

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“N12345, traffic, uhhmmm. 345, there is traffic pouring off of KLAL, I can’t advise you. Keep your head on a swivel. Good luck and squawk VFR.” Gulp. I’ve never heard anything like that before from ATC. He sounded like he was wishing me luck on my climb up the stairs to the gallows.

A memorable seaplane flight on San Francisco Bay

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Suddenly I was aware that my pontoons were only hitting tops of waves now and then. I looked back and down and saw water and spray dripping out from the pontoons. I eased off my back pressure to accelerate in ground (water?) effect, our parallel “V” wakes, then spreading apart behind. We were flying!

Aerial patrol – spotting sharks

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I picked up a great (non-paying, volunteer) gig as a pilot flying an old Cessna 182 looking for sharks along the beaches between Wollongong and Ulladulla, New South Wales, Australia. Wollongong is about an hour and a half south of Sydney and a beautiful part of the world, especially in summer. Unfortunately that beauty can be spoilt somewhat by sharks swimming around in their natural environment.

A biplane engine failure, and the start of a new business

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As we approached the Twin Cities area, I was in control of the aircraft and maintaining a heading towards my house as I enjoyed the view of that peaceful summer evening. Suddenly, I felt a slight vibration in the stick and told Scott that something didn’t feel quite right. He immediately took control of the N3N as the engine RPM dropped dramatically.

Piecing it together after a flight goes awry

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The words are few, just a couple notes in the logbook to help describe the events of a day that started with promise and ended with a belly full of carnitas and an airplane stranded on the ground. But sometimes even a few words can describe a meaningful adventure.

White knuckle scud running

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I know, I know – scud running is a no-no. Still, if you fly the Alaska bush, it sometimes seems as though it has become a way of life. During my time at it, we had precious few navigational aids. Contact flying and ADF needles were our fare. So, please cut me just a little slack for admitting to the following experience.

Full circle: learning to fly and retiring at SFO

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I presented myself in the owner’s office, hat figuratively in hand. Perhaps he saw something of himself in the plaintive teen-ager standing before him, but for whatever reason, he took me on. He explained that he was unable to pay me any wages, but in return for gassing and washing airplanes and doing general chores around the office, he would pay me in flying lessons.

“I’m just trying to keep my lunch down”

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My second passenger, and my first cross-country as a private pilot, was Garin, a lifelong friend with whom I grew up. He and his family came up to Clover to spend the weekend with us so I reserved my favorite 172 for Saturday morning. The weather was beautiful, if a little bit warm, with some showers moving in later in the day as normal. I decided we’d make the short, scenic hop from EQY up to HKY to get some grub at the airport café.

The day my dad taught me the lesson of a lifetime

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The day I got my first charter job flying air tours in Hawaii, I remember being offered two different jobs: one flying a Cessna 402 and the other flying a Beech 18. I called Dad and told him of my choices. The voice of experience spoke. I’ll never forget his words: “Don’t miss the opportunity to fly round engines. It only comes around once in a lifetime.” I took his advice and was never sorry.

Round engines and tailwheels: a tribute to my dad, Joe Santana

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Growing up, I have many vivid memories of spending time with Dad at the airport. Whether it was changing the oil in the Pacer, helping with a compression check on the Bonanza, or just washing the bugs off the Pietenpol after a picturesque sunset flight around the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, I learned a lot about flying and life in those moments.

Two memorable days of flying with my son

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I like to think there are a handful of driving forces in my life. Family and flying are two of those and, thanks to a supportive family, I sometimes get to combine those. My jack-of-all-trades FBO/mechanic/pilot/instructor career choice often means that flying takes me away from the family, but during a special couple of days I got to share an airplane delivery trip with my nine-year old.