The year was maybe 1970. We lived in Southern California and my wife of 25 years wanted to fly to her home in Tacoma, Washington, and visit her mother for our summer vacation. So, I borrowed the company Bonanza (with permission) and we took off early one morning headed north.
That night in the spring of 1967 our mission was to transport about 15 wounded marines from the Phu Bai marine base, nine miles southeast of Hue on Vietnam’s coastal plain, to the hospital ship USS Repose about 15 miles off the coast in the South China Sea.
There I was, tooling along in my Super Cub, minding my own business while towing a banner through the sky low over Staten Island. The date was January 15, 2010. It was the one-year anniversary of the Miracle on the Hudson.
I never knew what answer to give when someone asked how long it took me to learn to fly. My first flight was with my uncle at the age of four, and I spent a lot of time hanging around the airport with a friend in my pre-teen years. A World War II BT-13 training plane was rotting away behind one of the hangars, and we spent hours sitting in the seats.
On March 6, 1987, I was working the Inflight One radio position at the Anchorage Flight Service Station. Cessna 98 Golf had somehow made it above the Alaska Range and now at high altitude, with no clearance and with minimal navigational gear or flight instrumentation, and possibly no supplemental oxygen, found himself in the soup.
While browsing through the records of student pilots at a local flying school, I noticed that many had not gone solo until after 15 hours of dual instruction. Some were up to 25 hours before being sent off alone. Fifty years ago, students flying Tiger Moths were solo between 6 and 10 hours.
Memorial Day weekend in northeast Ohio was turning out to be a needed break from a long, hard winter and a stormy spring. I did not get to do much flying since fall and the beautiful morning was not one to be passed up. I asked my wife if she wanted to fly to Salem (38D) for brunch, but she had things on her to-do list and said I should just go.
I was a solo pilot in a T-Bird (the T-33, a single jet engine-powered aircraft that was used in Korea) preparing for takeoff to fly wing with another T-Bird that had a student with an instructor. The instructor in the lead aircraft motioned to me… come on… come on let’s go.
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.