Why I bought a Pig!

In my last article I told you what it took to get my wife in the air. As much as that short flight over La Jolla (San Diego) was fun, the goal was always, and forever will be, to use the airplane for family flying. So after years of airport hopping, $100 burger runs (by myself I might add), and oh so many touch and goes, it was time to take the family on a real trip.

Don’t take anything for granted!

Since I began taking flying lessons, about 5 years ago, our dream was to fly to Fort Collins. I mean, after endlessly flying over the featureless flatlands of the Midwest, how cool to see the freakin’ Rocky Mountains filling your windshield!

No time for prayer: surviving catastrophic engine failure

Before the engine blew, it was making a repetitive cyclical type noise; it wasn’t high pitched, it was kind of like the sound of a card flapping on a set of bicycle spokes, going fairly rapidly, getting painfully louder and louder to the point it seemed like my headset was not muffling the noise at all as the big end of the number 2 rod broke and the piston was beaten against the crank case.

Old pilots never die – they can stick around for years

Our drop mission was weather-dependent. It required smooth conditions in a layer up to 1500 ft above ground, to stay below radar, with at least a minimum off-shore breeze of 10 knots. The drop had to be done half an hour before sunset in cloudless, though not necessarily clear, conditions. In fact, a little obscuring haze up-sun would help the stealth nature of the task.

2500 miles of value-added flying

Can general aviation really be used for transportation? This pilot says yes, and a recent trip from Seattle to Wisconsin proves just how effectively it can be done. It was 30% less travel time than the airlines, and a lot more fun.

Sticky fingers

As soon as I lifted off, the engine started coughing and sputtering! Something was not right… obviously. I set the ship back down (it most likely settled itself back down due to the lack of power and diminishing rotor RPM), and the engine sprang back to life. What?

Time to fly

The smell of fresh-cut grass on a warm spring evening. You walk around the little aeroplane, checking a bolt, kicking the tires, moving the surfaces, touching it. You climb into it, and inhale that special aeroplane smell.

It was a dark and stormy night when I took my old Aeronca Chief to West Virginia

The relationship with my 1946 Aeronca Chief often segues into a world of strangeness. Owning and maintaining and flying an old fabric-covered taildragger is analogous to using a 1951 MG-TD as your personal car. But one learns to take things as they come, and most of all, to keep a sense of humor.

Why I love the NOBBI arrival

For those of you who do not fly out of the Northeast, the NOBBI5 Standard Terminal Arrival Route leads you into Westchester County Airport. KHPN is where my 1980 Mooney 231 is based. It’s the last stretch home. When the weather cooperates, there’s plenty of opportunity to look down from 7000 feet.

Redemption – convincing my wife to fly again

Last September I broke something important to me. The cause was more an abundance of caution than of carelessness, and I took comfort in that. Still, I wished I could fix it. Sitting at the kitchen counter one morning in June I thought I saw a way to make it right.

I knew they were going to die that day

I was not yet a pilot, but when my father lifted off in the Piper Archer with my mother and younger brother on board and quickly disappeared into the low overcast, my mind filled with dread: I knew they were going to die on this flight, and soon.

The folks down the back

Back in 1976 when I joined my first airline it was still customary for the captain to talk to the SLC (Self Loading Cargo – a somewhat snide description observed on pilot internet websites to denote passengers). Some of the people and the stories "down the back" are unforgettable, even 30 years later.

The saddest flight I ever made

The story begins about 6 am on a Monday in San Francisco in the late 1990s. This morning I saw a number of flyers posted asking for help locating a lost windsurfer. The previous weekend had been exceptionally windy and if a windsurfer was lost, his prospects weren't good.

The descent: enjoying the ride down

My pilot buddies and much of what I read tell of the virtues of the more dramatic times: thundering takeoffs, a perfectly executed crosswind landing, the intense concentration requirements of low approaches. While I admit that each of those aspects have their charms, I am smitten beyond relief to the time when the altimeter is slowing unwinding.

What? Me panic?

In 1966, two short years after the disbandment of the RCAF Golden Hawks, Canada’s premier formation aerobatic team, the powers-that-be decided that one of the military contributions to the celebration of Canada’s one hundredth birthday would be another formation aerobatic team that would travel across the country during the centennial year and give exactly 100 performances.

A Mustang memory

In between sunning myself at Bondi and flying the Wirraway, I spent idle moments in the cockpit of a Mustang reading the Pilot’s Notes and savouring the heady aroma of high octane fuel, glycol coolant and hydraulic oil. It was no contest. The Mustangs won every time.


Fifty-one weeks out of the year, Wittman Field in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is an unremarkable, if scenic, stretch of open fields surrounding two long runways arranged in a kind of disconnected “T” configuration. During one short week of the year, however, all of that changes.

8 engines, coming at us

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.

Flight to the Repose

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.
Piper landing on Staten Island

Same time next year – another New York miracle?

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.