It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s a VariEze!

We married when I was in my 40s and he was in his 50s. From our home in Berkeley, he loved to go to air shows in San Jose and Watsonville. He then renewed his pilot’s license, rented Piper Cubs and we flew around California. His day job was teaching machine shop at the East Bay Skills Center in Oakland. One day he said, “I think I would like to build an airplane.” My clueless response was, “That’s nice.”
C-123 landing

Really short and really soft fields—flying C-123s in Vietnam

I was stationed in Saigon, Vietnam, with the 19th Air Commando Squadron flying C-123 aircraft. We achieved an extremely proficient operational ability in all aspects of flying the aircraft. We did this by operating the aircraft into and out of some of the most demanding landing sites imaginable. We landed on roads, fields, sidewalks (Song Be City), and runways made of grass, laterite, sod, clay, asphalt, and PSP steel planking.

Helicopter escapades in the Arctic

Feeling comfortable in helicopters requires an unswervable belief that various key parts such as rotors, gearbox, shafting, and blades will stay connected and keep rotating long enough to make it back to earth in one piece. I was fortunate enough to have this belief and to enjoy spending hundreds of amazing hours in many different helicopters. To top it off, I actually got paid for most of these experiences, using helicopters to support our Arctic sea ice research projects.
Oshkosh overhead

NotKosh—a year without AirVenture

Because Wittman Field stood empty and silent, the summer of 2020 deserves a name as well. I believe it is entirely appropriate to tag this particular part of the last week of July and first week of August 2020 as “NotKosh.” In 2020, possibly more than ever before, we needed Oshkosh.

My pal Joe, ornery to the very end

Joe was an ornery sort, in life and in death too, as you will find out. I met Joe when I was just a little kid. He reminded me of a tough character from one of those men’s true adventure magazines so popular in the 1950s. You know, the type with cover art depicting a guy in ripped khakis fighting a lion with bare hands, while a blonde cowers behind a bush.

My personal Guinness Book of Records

That book’s list of the longest of this or whatever of that prompted me to scroll through an ancient logbook, remembering our three-day adventure to fly a distance of 95 miles… I know, weird, huh? Well, that little hop from Sterling, Massachusetts, to Martha’s Vineyard gave me and my wife quite a different flight experience.

A beautiful early May Day might have become a mayday

The Stinson 108 has two piano hinges on the top cowling for easy access to the engine. Departing the grass strip, reaching about 2500 feet, I noticed one of the hinge pins had migrated out about three inches. It was bothering me, and I was considering making an unplanned stop to fix it. That’s when I happened to look down and saw a bit more pressing issue. My oil pressure was dropping fast!

When a simulated emergency becomes all too real

The student occupied the left seat and the owner of the flight school occupied the right seat. Everything was going normal until we got to the ride segment, where we would do single engine work. Our flight school had a procedure to simulate an engine loss by pulling back the throttle to a predetermined manifold pressure. For some reason, the chief pilot pulled back the prop control and not the throttle. The engine failed, and the propeller feathered.
FACs piston

Come fly with me: life as a Forward Air Controller in Vietnam

I served as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) in Southeast Asia, flying the North American Rockwell OV-10 Bronco from Thailand as well as from bases in South Vietnam. I flew 165 missions over North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Join me now on one of those missions.

Full of life

The day included close observation of three different types of fighters: P-40s,  P-51s, and P-47s. The pilots gathered to watch their first Thunderbolt land and taxi to the area where all squadron aircraft were parked. The canopy was already open for landing safety, then the pilot shut off the engine, unstrapped the seat belts and parachute harness, then stood up in the cockpit to exit. The pilot’s helmet was removed and long, blonde hair fell to her shoulders.

Flying bananas with an unexpected passenger

Settling in cruise, taking a deep breath for a job well done and thankful for the chance to experience all of this, I glanced some movement off of one box strapped on the copilot’s seat. As I would have not wanted to believe it since I was alone in the plane and bananas are not known to have any means of mobility, I was hesitantly beginning to admit that it was some live creature that had somehow hitched a ride!
Airplane in sun

Preventable rendezvous: avoiding a mid-air collision

As we breathe a sigh of relief after the amazing outcome of the serious midair in Denver this month, with a parachuting Cirrus and a cool Metro pilot unaware of the chunk taken away from his plane, I am driven to think of my own near misses, the learnings from it, and how to avoid them altogether.

Forced to land in Waco

We were all enjoying the smooth flight and the wonderful views of the ground and clear skies along the way. A few minutes later, exactly 10 DME north of Waco Regional according to my new DME, my propeller speed instantly shot up from 2450 RPMs to the dial’s peg. The sound of the prop increased with it and immediately got my attention.
Cessna 310

Do you hear that?

Las Vegas International Airport can be one busy place for a general aviation pilot. As I latched the door, tower issued a "cleared for immediate takeoff" as there were several airliners lining up on the approach. Not wanting to sit on the hot tarmac waiting for several airliners to land, I took my hand off the latch and pushed the throttles forward. We were on our way!
Jump plane

Fun and games at 14,000 feet: reflections of a jump pilot

During my working career I can say with the utmost of sincerity that I’ve most certainly seen the “dark side." I’m a survivor, and after just about 40 years in the trenches, I bailed out (no pun intended) and made it to a better place. Now you might find it odd that a 62-year-old guy would seek out and subsequently find employment as a jump pilot, but believe it or not, I did.
Engine failure

Familiarity breeds? Engine failures, real and imagined

He turned to me, almost sweetly, and said, “I’m real sorry to have t’ tell you, but you just lost your engine.” The engine noise dropped, along with the nose of the plane. What?? No! I’m not ready for this! I’d only just done one tentative turn, poorly, lost altitude, and had to climb back up. I wondered if that had set him off, and this was revenge.
Chile coast from air

Witnessing an earthquake from the air

As the return trip now headed east, about 20 nm from the metropolitan airspace and flying at 4500 ft AMSL, I noted something odd in the landscape. Some clear amount of dust was being elevated from the soil. In 10 minutes, the visibility went to almost nil. What happened?

DC-3 vs. blizzard—and that’s just the beginning

Early February 1981. The basketball coach had called expressing concern about our Saturday morning departure from Carbondale, Illinois, to Kirksville, Missouri, for a Saturday night men’s basketball game. He had heard that they were expecting a blizzard Saturday morning in northern Missouri. He wasn’t entirely wrong.
DC-6 Pan Am

Into the muck

Flying in Berlin in the early days was an exercise in weather management that never seemed to come out exactly right, particularly when the summer days flowed into the crispness of autumn and then the dank grey of early winter. Fog, low ceilings, and ticklish approaches became the norm during the winter months.

Negative transfer: a military pilot learns a hard lesson

The lieutenant that would almost kill us both walked into my office on the second deck of Hangar 23 at Naval Air Station Alameda early on a sunny afternoon, wanting to get checked out in one of the aero club’s Cessnas. “I want to take my family flying,” he said. I looked him over—his gold flight wings, pressed khakis, brown shoes—and thought, “Here is a skilled Naval Aviator.”