I recently had an encounter that highlights some of my concerns regarding the exponential proliferation of civilian UAS. It has nothing to do with the operator’s “flying skills;” it’s the potentially dangerous attitude(s) and culture that are growing along with the number of machines.
I knew that trading in my IFR K35 Bonanza on a VFR-only Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) meant that my 38 years of flying IFR were probably over. No need to recite here the reasons for the move (if you’re wondering, no medical issues or bad IFR experiences), but the decision was not hastily made and there were no regrets. I always enjoyed IFR flying, though, and my last IFR trip was one of the very best and most meaningful of all.
My self-image was a fearless street kid. As a Naval Aviator I had found the perfect stage on which to play that role. On the Roosevelt, I volunteered to be the “hot cat” pilot. The hot cat pilot was entrusted to protect the carrier and all the ships in the task force.
He was doing a good job, I thought. I glanced toward the runway lights, noticing a strange flickering appearance in the bar of green glowing lamps. “Dirk,” I said, “pull up, we’re too low.” Just then, there was a sickening crunch from his side of the aircraft, then silence as we floated down to the runway.
Youthful plans and dreams that once had fueled ample ambition had become muted—spent on college, marriage, kids, career, kids, career, education, promotions… the grind. He regretted none of those things and did not feel sorry for himself. But he was keenly aware that some things were left undone.
The options to prevent fatal errors, even if it means to swallow your pride or to admit that you did not perform as expected, are always there. Some options might be inconvenient, or embarrassing. Nevertheless, if it is necessary to prevent something significantly worse, it is not only legitimate but mandatory to make use of them.
“Once-in-a-lifetime. Bucket list. Wish list.” Terms we often use to describe an out of the ordinary, incredible experience. While we toss these terms around quite frequently, how often do we actually experience something that deserves the moniker “once-in-a-lifetime?” I’m sure you’ll agree it’s pretty rare. Recently I participated in a genuine bucket list experience.
I was taught to look ahead towards the end of the runway in the flare. Joe didn’t flare at all. He cut the power and the plane fell, the main gear with its large rubber tires hitting hard and bouncing 15 or 20 feet in the air. Joe pushed the yoke forward and we hit again, ballooning higher this time. “Go around power, Joe!” I yelled. But, no. Joe ignored me.
Not long after I had checked the weather on the club computer, I heard something through the open door. I rushed outside and saw a magnificent Spitfire passing by the tower, at high speed and low altitude. I was told that warbirds would be returning from an airshow that had taken place south of Paris, and that some of them would land in Le Touquet before getting back to their home base in the UK.
My plan was to do a normal overhead, pitch out and roll out on final to set up a landing attitude for the north runway, going through the fog, which was 50-60 feet thick. Roll out was routine until about 2000 feet remaining, then suddenly two gray shapes appeared ahead, just offset on either side of the centerline.
After landing, I noticed a truck on the side of the ramp and an individual waving at me. I taxied over to where the truck was, swung the airplane around 180 degrees, and with reverse thrust started backing towards the truck. I started through the aircraft shutdown procedures and when I pulled the mixtures to shut off, and as the number one engine came to a stop, I could hear a hissing noise similar to escaping air.
I immediately felt at home in the JetStar. The entire instrument panel was identical to the C-130E. After my first landing, with the throttles at the idle stop, I very smartly pulled up all four throttles and moved them to the reverse range. One minor problem: that is the procedure to shut down the engines!
In the year 2000, I settled in, along with my airplane, at an end-of-an-era FBO: Co-Op Aircraft Service at Cincinnati’s Blue Ash Airport. These buildings, and the surrounding crumbling concrete and asphalt, became more to me than a place to tie-down and buy avgas. The business, the airport, and the people who were drawn to it, became like a second home and family.
It was a week before Christmas 1964, and we had some time left to fly after returning to base from a typical nine-hour training mission. I talked the crew into flying at about 1,000 feet not far from the air base, to scout the snow-covered countryside for a Christmas tree. I was the copilot on the B-47E, and we started to look for the right size tree in a remote field.
“Ever land on grass?” Chet asked quietly, as always, with great understatement that veiled the imminent challenge. “No,” I replied, knowing that I would do it soon. The turf runway at Harford County airport (0W3) in Churchville, Maryland, was only 17 nautical miles northeast of our home base
When I was fresh out of college, I stumbled into one of the most fun flying jobs I’ve ever had. The operation wasn’t an airline that required an ATP so my low flight time, while not exactly a selling point, didn’t cause any legal issues. For someone with less than 1,000 hours and a mere 20 hours of multi, this was an amazing opportunity.
We had to divert, and I’ll get back to that later. But the tricky part was, as we were approaching runway 26 to land, it turned out that “28” was written on it! Damn—full throttle, flaps 10, Vy, clean up, and let me turn out of the traffic pattern here, something is not right!
I called the tower and instead of the usual Alpha to 29, I was advised to turn right on Alpha, left on Charlie and back-taxi on 29 to Echo. I stumbled through my read-back to the tower and cleared the taxiway prior to proceeding. I then noticed an airliner had been pushed back onto taxiway Alpha. The tower then called the airliner and asked, “Who cleared you to taxi?” There was no response from the airliner.
Like most “sporty” planes, the Luscombe, when flown with practiced precision, was like dancing to familiar music. Uncoordinated, the world suddenly surrounded you with a strange and uneasy countenance. The pilot always felt this; the passenger even more so. The exception was, that to a non-pilot passenger, even co-ordinated unfamiliar attitudes felt, well, unfamiliar.
The experimental airplane took off. I watched it climb out until it passed out of my view behind a hangar, then I turned away. Then I heard the engine quit. Okay, I thought, he’s got enough altitude. He’ll make it across the dikes and land straight ahead. He’s in for some embarrassment, but he’ll be all right.