I was there

Asleep at the controls

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Who hasn’t wanted to be that “go to” person with our fellow pilots? I’ll bet more of us want to be the one helping than want to be the one asking for help. That’s normal but pilots, copilots, instructors, and yes, students too, have to know when the situation demands real honesty and humility instead of, “Sure, no problem.”

Shooting an ADF approach – with no ADF

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After liftoff, and initial climb out, everything was still performing as expected. We entered the clouds about the time of gear retraction. As soon as the gear was up, the number one engine started surging and the number two engine started backfiring. I briefed that we would continue straight ahead to the ADF and return for landing. I looked down at the ADF indicator and it was rotating continuously.

Smoke gets in your eyes

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A few days after Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston (September 2017), I got an email from the Colorado Pilots Association looking for pilots to fly badly needed supplies (diapers, formula, toiletries and sleeping bags) to either Rockport or Houston, Texas. The request came from Operation Airdrop, working closely with The Salvation Army.

Learning the hard way (almost) at Jackson

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In the early afternoon I noticed some clouds building and suggested that we should begin our journey to the airport and home to Salt Lake City. By the time we got to the airport, storms were coming in from the west over the Tetons. I looked at our options and it seemed we could get out to the South and cut through the canyon over to Alpine. My co-pilot agreed.

What were you doing on September 11?

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We were met by airport security at the FBO, picked up our next passenger and called for our clearance. Clearance Delivery replied: “Buddy, you can do any altitude and any route you would like tonight.” I knew that I would probably not hear such words from ATC again for the remainder of my flying career.

And then the lights didn’t go on

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We knew we needed to start an approach to become established and allow us to descend further, but were not authorized to conduct the approach at night. We also knew that well before reaching a final approach fix we would be in VFR conditions. Is it conducting the approach if you are VFR before establishing on any final segment of the approach?

The simple reason I ran out of gas

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I guess it was a slow traffic day as the tower cleared me to land on that initial call. I wasn’t expecting that, but I had plenty of time and was starting my landing procedure when the engine “missed.” It was just a short blip but after so many hours in the airplane I noticed it. Then in only seconds the engine stopped completely.

How I crashed the sim from the instructor station

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My finger had barely kissed the screen’s EXECUTE icon when the simulator gave a loud BANG followed by the most violent heaving, pitching, rolling, yawing and slewing I had ever witnessed. I could hear the motion system wheezing beneath us as the simulator cab shook and vibrated.

Who’s in command?

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The chief pilot made a statement that he had never canceled a flight for weather and he stated that if he hired me he expected me to do the same. What I didn’t allow for was that I was used to following the rules like an airline pilot. It turned out, he was looking for a cowboy, who thought it was cool to say they never canceled for weather.

Reuniting with a special airplane, 46 years later

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In the summer of 2008 I was looking at the pictures on an aviation site on the internet when my attention was captured by the photo of a red and white PA-20 and by the registration marks: I-CERR. I knew that back in the 1960s, Bruino airfield was owned by the Cerrina family. Was it possible that it was the plane of my first flight?

Don’t EVER do that again

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I was loaded with my precious passengers, sitting at the end of the grass, holding the brakes as I brought the power up, airplane shaking and rattling in the classic way of the short field takeoff procedure. The Cessna 206 lurched ahead on brake release and we bounced our way forward. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the fence post marker pass.

A $100 hamburger, the Brazilian way

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This sunny morning, I could convince my wife to fly with me to the UNESCO heritage site of Paraty, Rio de Janeiro, a 50-minute flight that would take us along gorgeous tropical coastal scenery. With the help of my friend Siri, a true Caiçara – as the natives of the coast are called – I rolled the Super Petrel in front of the waterline for the pre-flight inspection, which I did by heart.

Solo in every sense of the word

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The other day I was cleaning out the drawers in an old dresser and unfolded a green button-down shirt, ruined by having been defaced with a marker and having one tail cut off. Why did I save this thing? I made out some words on the garment that jogged my memory and started my mind to wandering…

Rocky Mountain rescue

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I decided to look down and see where I was geographically. When I looked down, I saw a red flare coming up at me. Well that’s a first. I looked again and a second red flare was shot upwards. I began a circling descent and noticed on this logging road, four individuals with their arms outstretched basically making a “T” sign.

The engine just plain quit – my hayfield landing

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A few summers ago, I was climbing out of a little grass airstrip in my Zenith 701 about a mile east of Smithfield, North Carolina, just starting to take in a pretty view of the Neuse River basin below, mostly thick forest with a dark river winding slowly through it, when the engine sputtered a few times (something like sputter, sputter, sput, sput, sput) and then stopped. Just plain quit.

Vipers at 12 o’clock

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It has been said that the last fighter pilot has been born. While time will answer that projection, this story is about the human element in dogfighting: the desire that pilots with skill and confidence have to test themselves against others with the same. In this epic experience, two of the latest fighters of the day meet relics of a bygone era.

The loss of an old friend

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I just lost an old aviation friend. The news came in unusual fashion, as an email with graphic photographs of the body, but no note about what happened. The damaged nose, the broken limbs— one separated from the body— it was hard to take. She had been pretty, perky, always ready for a good time. But now it was over.

Making an air drop from a Champ on floats – only in Alaska

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The weather couldn’t have been better, though it would be a bit breezy in the mountains. I’d be supplying our proposed sheep camp with an air drop from a float-equipped, 65-hp Aeronca Champ. My flight log at the time showed that I had less than a meager 82 hours as a pilot. Confident I was; experienced I certainly was not.

Don’t turn a practice emergency into a real emergency

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I was out at my local airport one recent afternoon, watching planes beat up (or should I say pulverize), the traffic pattern, and I saw something that really made me wonder what folks were thinking. I observed one locally-based Cessna 172 try to execute a simulated engine-out emergency landing on our 5,000 ft-long runway.

The runway behind you…

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This is a story about two words – “unfortunately” and “fortunately” – and has been de-identified in order to protect the embarrassed. However much can be learnt from the following incident. The pilot knew the aircraft well, having operated in and out of some quite restricted spaces over quite a long period. No need to taxi back right to the end of the strip – half way up will do! Unfortunately, a bad decision in retrospect.