The aircraft ferry game is both interesting and where one always expects the unexpected. My card reads “Can Ferry, Will Travel.” Flying an older aircraft cross country is more than just throwing your bag in the back and departing. To do the job properly means planning ahead.
I worked at the seaplane base while attending college and in 1964 I had acquired a 1939 Aeronca Chief seaplane project. I finally had it completed and flying by the summer of 1966. I planned to do the required long cross-country flight by taking a week at the end of the summer and heading north. My ultimate destination was Greenville, Maine, on Moosehead Lake.
An early career change took me in an unplanned direction away from aviation. After 24 years in the industrial diamond business a customer from Hayward who knew of my aviation background invited me to join his “September family” in Reno for the air races. After so many years, I thought this would be a one-time visit. However, this courtesy visit blossomed into fourteen years of annual pilgrimages and a rekindling of my passion for aviation.
It started with a phone call from a fellow teacher at one our middle schools. She had a student, Kayla, who was interested in aviation, and since I taught aviation at one of our county high schools, could I arrange a flight for Kayla?
When flying in the Akron area in daylight, one would occasionally see one of the slow flying Goodyear blimps. Wingfoot Lake grass airport and hangar, a few miles south of Akron, was the location where Goodyear built the blimps and trained new crews. The blimps appear quite large to most people on the ground but when flying near them they do not seem as large.
The way to win every time is to remember – What’s Important Now. When flying an airplane and something unusual happens, keep flying the airplane. The only chance you have to get the airplane flying normally again is to keep flying the airplane. Don’t become a passenger.
The lights on the dome of the state capitol rose higher out the window of the Cessna 150, as we settled over the city just north of the airport. We seemed to hover for a moment, like we were in a helicopter. I loved flying at night, but this lesson was not going as planned. I was a new flight instructor, and the student pilot flying from the left seat, nervously watching this unfold, was my father.
After landing at McCall (about 80nm north of the Boise area), we walked across the street to a nice little Mexican place (still there, I think) for a leisurely lunch. As we walked back to the Dawg, Mark noticed several large, smooth “river biscuit” rocks at the edge of the tiedown area. He said, “Hey, let’s grab one of those and we’ll drop it over Lake Cascade on the way home!”
While searching my old photo archives, I stumbled upon these images of an unusual device in which I logged about 45 minutes. Thankfully it didn’t fly at all but it did taxi quite nicely. The machinery was created by The Boeing Company and was used in early 1994 to simulate the geometry of the new (at the time) B-777.
We were in a hurry to get to Moab, Canyonlands Airport (CNY) to get the Lear fixed and ready before the passengers showed up. My concern: I was planning to fly myself back to Long Beach in my Cessna 150 if we weren’t too late getting back to Sacramento. Hopefully the weather would hold and Long Beach (LGB) would not go IFR with the marine layer before I arrived. I was keeping my fingers crossed.
One day, quite a few of us were tasked with missions to resupply Quan Loi in our C-123 Providers. The weather was not too bad as we broke out on top at approximately 1500 feet. I flew on top to the general location of Quan Loi, but could not see a thing except the clouds that we were flying over. I contacted the Army controller and found out that the runway was overcast, with the cloud height above the ground at 50 feet.
It was a calm evening and the sun was setting behind the Blue Ridge Mountains as the familiar smell of leather and avgas instantly brought me to my happy place. I smoothly advanced the throttle, my heels on the floor as I guided the Cessna 172 down the centerline of the runway. Once airborne, my face broke into a wide smile as I turned to my dad and our eyes met. Words were not needed in that magical moment.
“Fire, Captain!” the co-pilot yelled. He turned around to look at the smoke billowing out from the rear of the airplane into the cabin. The passengers were screaming and trying to cover their noses from the acrid smell permeating throughout the cabin. He turned to me with fear in his eyes and repeated, “Cap, we’re on fire!”
During my first winter in Hawaii, soon after I arrived in what was to become my permanent residence, I was flying a rented aircraft between the islands on my job as director for University of Hawaii Peace Corps training, when my USAF flight training surely saved my life.
When our Grumman-American Cheetah left the runway of Pearson Field, Vancouver, Washington, on that Saturday morning, my wife and I anticipated a pleasant, scenic flying weekend. It turned out to be that and much more. But we had no idea that this takeoff was the beginning of a trip that would mark a milestone in our lives.
The ATC frequencies are still pretty quiet. It’s easy to get direct routings and weather deviations most of the time. And FBO ramps are not often crowded. But corporate and charter flying are back. In fact, many charter, membership and fractional ownership aircraft operators are reporting record interest, mostly from first time private flyers.
The day I remember as yesterday was a warm spring day in Fresno and I decided to fly to enjoy the beautiful day and weather. I started my checkout and everything seemed OK, except when I checked the fuel I removed the cap and heard a hissing noise. The tank usually had a wire gauge that stuck up from the cap to show how much gas was in the tank, but I didn’t think anything was amiss.
I never stopped loving airplanes, never stopped loving the ever-changing nature of the sky or the process of planning and executing a flight, be it on the little Rotax-powered Pelican or on the 737. But I did get a little tired of layovers and lost birthdays and anniversaries away. I wanted more family time. Then came COVID-19.
As we have progressed through our aviation career we have events that occur that add to our experience and skill base. But even if we have played the “what-if game” some events can surprise us from unexpected quarters. Such was the case when we flew an inaugural flight across the Pacific through Guam and Manila with the destination Hong Kong’s Kai Tak airport.
We were on about a half-mile final when the controller decided to add some information for us: “Be aware of Coast Guard aircraft doing routine engine maintenance adjacent your touchdown zone.” I didn’t have to look far to spot the gigantic C-130 in its Coast Guard markings.