My mom had flown with me once before, and it was a very short flight, but this flight was special. It was the first flight we had flown without anyone else on board and it was my first winter flight. She was very excited and surprisingly calm. We approached Lake Michigan and turned north just underneath Chicago’s Bravo airspace.
The Oxford dictionary defines an airfield as “a place where aircraft operate.” I define an airfield as a place where people come to dream. Think about it. You’re a student pilot and you drive out to the airfield where you take lessons that will enable you to master that cantankerous old 150 and make it stay in the air just where you put it.
The days are short, and quickly getting shorter, in Alaska’s September, and it was nearly dark as I readied my Super Cub for the return flight. I took from the guide’s avgas cache only what was necessary to make the safe flight back to Merrill Field that night. I carried no reserve fuel. I didn’t like to do that, but sometimes we found it necessary in bush operations.
I was flying as well as I ever had, and even though fatigue was at work I was happy. Then the unexpected happened. After fitting into a four-plane pattern at home base, on short final I realized the pilot was unconscious! Relax. I was perfectly alert and awake. My loss of consciousness might even have been a good thing. Allow me to explain.
I didn’t want to speak up right away (I didn’t want to undermine the instructor, or speak up before my buddy did), but finally the worsening weather became too much of a concern to keep quiet. I told them that the weather was clearly deteriorating. The next day at work, some of the employees seemed to think that I should have just kept my mouth shut.
I tried looking forward on the downwind leg, high and low, right and left and back along the leg, high and low, right and left and saw no other airplane. I called and declared my intention to turn downwind, and the tower acknowledged my transmission, so I did. The other pilot called and said she was on downwind – my attitude changed to near panic.
Being a fighter pilot is not necessarily just a fun game; it is demanding, always serious, sometimes dangerous and particularly for when you deploy with hot guns and missiles – with no clothes in the ammo bins – just 30 mm canon ammunition as we did a very short time later… and went ready for war.
Cross-country flying in the Cavalier is among the most enjoyable and satisfying time I’ve spent in my life. The Cav has allowed me to range farther across this continent than I could have done with any other plane I’ve owned. I’ve learned that it’s somehow important to me to explore far away places in my own plane.
Right after having passed the runway at merely 100 ft AGL, I heard ATC barking all over my headset: “Mike Romeo, are you crazy!! You weren’t cleared for takeoff!!” I was baffled, and my confidence was gone in one second.
I was headed to Pan Am’s flight dispatch center in Hangar 14, grateful for the quick ride in from Jersey because we had a long day – and night – ahead. The year was 1989, and I was picking up dispatch papers for a 4pm 727 ferry flight to Frankfurt with a fuel stop in Keflavik.
Having watched many an airshow and movie about WWII and later air combat, I have often wondered how the airmen tolerated the +/- g-forces, twisting maneuvers, inverted flight, and constant head-turning required. Turns out even our aerobatic and combat heroes are not immune to motion sickness.
There will be few pilots, professional or amateur, who will not remember the good instructors with whom they have flown. Conversely, those instructors who have denigrated your best efforts and in doing so destroyed your self confidence, are invariably remembered with a cold contempt usually reserved for one’s worst enemy.
A loud BANG, followed by a serious rocking of his rig, told the driver that something was now amiss. His truck had lurched to the right, just in time for the driver to witness the landing airplane slam into the left side of his truck. Aw, horse feathers!
All was normal at the top of descent until we both spotted what looked like an undulating patch of orange mist ahead and slightly below us. There was a sort of velvety sheen appearance to it. My captain and I looked at each other with the most unflattering miens, I’m sure, and exclaimed simultaneously: “Northern lights…!!”
I did not like the wind, and I let the chief pilot (not my instructor) know about it. He seemed confused. “The helicopter does not know the wind is blowing,” he would say. What?!? “The next time the wind is howling, I want to take you out.” Great, I thought. Suicide by helicopter.
My destination that day was New Orleans, and they were expecting a tropical storm, maybe a hurricane, to make landfall somewhere around there that day. New Orleans was where, in the early to mid-1950s, Cessna delivered planes destined for overseas customers – to places like Australia, Africa, Europe, South Asia, and even South America.
Flying with passengers is a lot of fun, but you need to be on guard whenever someone is in the right seat – even if they’re a pilot. A wary eye and a good pre-flight briefing is a start. But as this story proves, sometimes it’s the little things you have to watch.
The flight in question was a routine one, with three jumpers who wanted to jump from 10,000 feet. I did the usual full-power climb to 10,000 and was right at the jump zone so was ready to reduce power and level off for the jump. Except I couldn’t budge the throttle.
I’ve often thought that the day of my first solo, April 6, 1996, would be the most memorable of my flying career. I had a whopping five hours of dual logged when I climbed into “Super Chicken,” Skyhawk N172SC, for my three trips around the pattern at Mount Sterling (KIOB). But, 19 years later, I learned how wrong I was.
Suddenly, I was jolted out of my delectable dreamland by a violent roll to the right. Instant paralyzing fear, equivalent to several thousand volts of crippling electrical current, seemed to anesthetize my entire body. There was no time for panic, but that’s all I could manage to do.