Most stories start out leading the reader step by step to the climax or high point of the tale. Not this one. So here’s your spoiler alert. The next sentence you read takes all the mystery out of my story. I nearly had an aircraft accident.
I have been flying small airplanes on and off for several decades. I have had close calls before. They tend to happen quickly. I had never had two close calls inside of 20 minutes before that particular Sunday.
As we landed, my examiner said, “Well, you are one!” which I took to mean either you are a PILOT or you are a REAL SOB. Best not to ask, I thought. We walked back to the FBO, where my flight instructor was pacing like an expectant father.
Autorotations are maneuvers that sound and look really scary to the non-pilot. Before I started my training, I had watched many YouTube videos on the subject. I was pretty nervous about my first one. After all, this is an emergency procedure. And an emergency in an aircraft is never a good thing.
I signed up for an early January Angel Flight mission in my Cessna P210 turboprop conversion. The morning of the flight, I stepped out at 0530 for my usual run and found mist and drizzle. Uh oh. This is not a good sign.
It took better than 2 hours for my stomach to finally relocate to where it was supposed to be in my body. Up until that point I’m fairly certain it was just trying out new locations to see how it liked them. This, of course, is after my first aerobatic training flight in Sunquest Aviation’s Pitts S2A.
I immediately reduced the throttle to idle, thinking that I’d had a compressor stall; this action was followed shortly by a thought process of: “Now, let me see: I’m forty-five degrees nose up with sixty degrees of bank and I’ve just pulled off any power which might be remaining and the speed is starting to fall. ” Even without the benefit of higher education, I knew this was not good.
The little Cessna heaved a surrendering sigh as if air were being forced out of a Tupperware bowl. The stall-warning horn began its reedy squall as the nose went up higher and higher. The world went sideways in a multi-colored blur. Then it became deathly quiet; all sound curiously vanished.
It is Sunday afternoon, I have the two kids strapped into the Mooney and I am about to push the throttle forward… but WAIT, before we go there, we need to take a quick jump back in time, to 2001.
I knew Paul Poberezny well from the early 1980s, having been introduced to him by a non-pilot colleague at Mayo Clinic, where I was on the medical staff. Paul became a friend whom I could call at any time, including nights and weekends, and expect a warm response. I think he had similar relationships with countless others.
As we passed over the end of the runway at about two hundred feet above ground level, a massive explosion (accompanied by a transitory smell of smoke) was heard and felt aft of the cockpit coupled with a complete loss of acceleration. The sudden cessation of over seven thousand pounds of thrust was noticeable.
By now we had lost several thousands of feet as expected, after starting off at 8000 feet. There was no answer from the front seat so I attempted to take control, only to find the controls jammed in the pro-spin positions.
Flying in a light aircraft has its risks and rewards just like any other endeavor. We all know that the risks can be considerable, but what about the rewards? Are they worth the risks? This flight, complete with pictures and video suggests they are.
My first trip in the air force trainer of the period, the Chipmunk, was a revelation. As I subsequently wrote home to my mother that evening, “I had my first trip today. It was easy. I think I am a natural pilot.” It wasn’t until later that I found out that following through on the controls whilst listening to an explanation of their effects can’t really be called flying.
Flying has become much more than just operating an airplane; it is something that my son and I share together. It is our uninterrupted time together and well worth the expense.
It was July 2, 1974, and my wife Mary Ann and I were flying home from Salilsaw, Oklahoma where we had dropped off an employee’s children. I was just north of Guthrie, Oklahoma; it was early evening and near sundown. We had our Beech Debonair cruising in smooth air at 7500 feet when a call came over 122.8. “This is Cessna NN; can anybody hear me?”
“So how hard is it to fly an airplane?” my good friend Mike asked as he settled into the right seat. It was the first time he had been in a plane smaller than a regional jet and I sensed he was apprehensive. “It’s simple, like riding a bike.”
We often think of airplanes as a way to make long trips shorter, or make them possible at all, but sometimes we forget that the trip doesn’t have to be very far at all to make it worthwhile to fly, or that it can conquer more than one kind of distance. Here’s the story of one case in point.
Several years ago I started volunteering for the Angel Flight organization, which transports low income patients for distant specialized medical treatments. Such flights are a fine opportunity to share my good fortune in owning a relatively fast and comfortable cross-country airplane.
After parking at the FBO and shutting the engine down, we looked at each other and laughed like a couple of kids that just got off their first roller coaster ride. Scary, exciting and fun all at the same time.