On a crisp, clear winter morning in early January 1997, I took in my first whiff of 100LL fuel on the ramp at Watsonville Airport. My CFI let me fumble that morning with my own unfamiliar movements around the little flying machine. Tripping over the mains and bumping my head on the sharp trailing edge of that Reed Clipped Wing taught me quickly how to move about the preflight.
As I was thinking about the Y2K panic it dawned on me that the FAA and its computers all operate on a single time—Zulu. That meant Y2K would arrive at 7 pm eastern time on the Zulu clock. If the ATC system were going to blowup it would happen then. So I decided that was the perfect time to be in the air and flying in the system.
The aircraft started bouncing around pitching up and down. I asked the student what he was doing. He responded, “I can’t control the plane!” I immediately took over and, looking around, I noticed that the left elevator was flapping up and down uncontrollably.
I was particularly interested to see an event titled “Porepunkah Movie Night” advertised in a magazine. Porepunkah is a beautiful location in the Victorian Alps, and I remembered flying in there once before. It is a grass airstrip of about 770 metres, surrounded by mountains.
It was a cold February day when I decided that we would fly our 1994 Mooney M20R to Havana, Cuba. Restrictions for U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba had recently been lifted. The island was only 90 miles from Key West. We had flown our Mooney to the Out Islands of the Bahamas in the past. The only problem was that my wife did not want to go.
“If you don’t like the weather in the Midwest, wait 30 minutes,” they say. I guess there is some truth in that, a truth that I now consider to be a substantial part of my flight preparations. In early summer 2017, I was still a student pilot, preparing for the 150 NM cross country flight, which was one of the last things I had to cross off my list for meeting the requirements for taking the private pilot checkride.
It was clear, it was fresh with only a faint odor of exhaust from the nearby Braniff jet’s APU to remind us there were easier ways to fly for a living. Over there was hot coffee, hostesses, snacks from the galley. Over here, we could see our breath in the cabin. When will I be warm while flying airplanes? Not soon, I knew.
When it came time to leave, I fueled up the airplane and headed for home. The runup went smoothly and within a few minutes I was accelerating down the runway. Only I wasn’t. The mighty 150 usually didn’t have an impressive acceleration on takeoff but it felt especially sluggish today. I remember thinking, “This is weird,” and that thought turned to, “I’m not sure I’m going to make it off the runway” so I aborted the takeoff.
My plan was on my kneeboard, my chart on the passenger seat and I was heading north above a sea of green trees, bound for Sullivan County Airport (MSV). Suddenly, all of the lights on my instrument panel went dead. As quickly as they went off, the lights returned.
After a few days of poor weather conditions and unplanned maintenance, on Saturday August 4, I finally took to the skies in our club’s (Lehigh Valley Flying Club) Cessna 182 to visit my nephew and some friends in Tennessee. The 600 nm (each way) adventure tested my endurance, weather knowledge, aircraft management, and ability to pre-plan and adjust to conditions.
We move to the open side of the tent and gaze toward the clouds beyond the north end of the runway. Suddenly a B-17 appears from out of the overcast on a final approach for runway 17. I know the date is the 1st of September 1973, but my senses tell me I have somehow been transported back in time to an allied air field somewhere in World War II England.
My friend was landing a high-wing Cessna at McCook, Nebraska, more than 30 years ago. As he began to flare, another low-wing airplane landed on top of him. Somehow both kept their cool and both landed safely. You may be able to say his story saved my life – at least it gave my story a much better ending.
Fighter aircraft are designed and built to be fighting machines. The pilots who fly them are highly skilled in delivering many different weapons: bombs, rockets, missiles, 30 mm cannon… but killing was not the aim when we bombed a Northern territory airport in the early 1960s. As the wingman in a fighter pair for this mission, it was an experience I have held in my memory for decades.
At 30 miles east of LWT, as I pressed the push-to-talk button to report our position, all the lights on the panel went dark. I reached for the avionics toggle switch. It was very hot and the switch showed no resistance when I moved it up or down. My brother was busy enjoying the scenery, including the mountains in the distance which towered above us.
After eight days on the ground working on behalf of a national non-profit emergency services group running one of their Points of Distribution sites in Wilmington, North Carolina, I was ready for some air time. Lucky for me, one of the final air missions of Hurricane Florence was on the books for the following day and they were in need of a mission pilot.
My first Counter Drug (aka CD) operation involved deploying F-15s to Howard AFB in Panama. Under the auspices of the USAF’s 12th Air Force, we took four F-15Bs down south to provide augmented air surveillance in the Caribbean as part of the grand plan to interdict drug running out of Colombia up in to Mexico and points north.
My student Max, like many before and after him, could just not bring himself to believe that he could not fly the airplane by the seat of his pants without visual references outside the cockpit in spite of instruction and all the materials he had read about spatial disorientation and vertigo.
As he taxied to “line up and wait,” something was amiss. Yet he and I both persevered in our thoughts of better flight to come. Shattered easily by the slipping nose wheel as the throttle was advanced, I pushed the right rudder a bit and felt the resistance from his feet, locked in a state of motionless silence. He must have felt it, for he looked over at me with a quizzical look.
I ran through the before landing checks from the laminated checklist card and right about then Laura announced she had the field in sight. Then a bump. Not a vertical bump one would expect on a warm summer day, but a fairly stiff bump with a bit of roll. “No big deal,” I thought.
There appeared to be five days on the itinerary for our four-day cruise. Counting the days… recounting them… uh oh. Too many days. We are now in the middle of the ocean, with no communication capability whatsoever, and had no way of telling our new company that we simply could not make it back for work the next week.