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.
For my 16th birthday, my father thought it would be a great idea to gift me a discovery flight at the local flight center. From the moment the wheels left the ground in that Cessna 172 Skyhawk, I knew that one day I wanted to be able to do this. However, I was left with the heavy burden of reality; where do I even start to obtain this dream and more importantly, how will I be able to finance this?
No airline employee wants a delay. The corporate cultures at most airlines are distinctly non-Japanese; that is, blame is fixed, rather than problems. A delay of even the shortest duration will start a downhill flow of a substance that is neither colorless nor odorless. On some properties, too many delays can be detrimental to a career, sometimes terminally.
The flight club accepted my application and I joined with high hopes. After joining, I thought about how I can contribute to make this a great experience. Well, it just so happened that a few months after I joined the club, the club purchased a Cessna 172N aircraft, and guess what? They needed an assistant plane captain. I thought, perfect, this shouldn’t be too much work…
I flew the L-39 jet, a former Russian military jet trainer, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The engine is a turbofan, giving it delightful, “push you back against the seat” power when you go to full throttle. Larry Salganek, master aviator and chief instructor, flew with me of course. I flew it from start to finish, Larry bravely never touching the controls, just offering advice through the hot mic.
I unbuckled my seatbelt and opened the door and was standing outside when I said: “Glen, fly it around the pattern once by yourself and after you land come back here and talk to me. I’ll be standing here waiting for you. Enjoy your flight.” I had seen the painful expression on students’ faces at just this time before, but Glen’s expression was particularly bad.
I do not remember life before the blue and yellow Baby Ace; the first memory of my childhood is seeing rib jigs in the upstairs room of our small farmhouse. The next thing I knew those wings were in our living room and all the furniture was moved!
At 6500 feet without any engine power, I calculated my glide slope back to the airfield and knew straight away I could not make it, not even with this freshening tailwind. I had to prepare to land in a farmer’s field or find a nearby airstrip. I didn’t panic. I acted as I had done in training so many times.
Structural ice is a known flight hazard and there are plenty of forecasting products to help a pilot avoid it. Curiously, there is another type of icing that has sent its share of airplanes to the salvage yard, and pilots to the graveyard. Because it is mainly an affliction of low-performance aircraft, it doesn’t receive as much attention.
It was supposed to be a routine training flight. You know, the standard stuff. Pre-flight the plane, contact Santa Monica ground and tower controllers without sounding like a rank amateur, get clearance and transition through the Burbank airspace. I was even prepared for some light turbulence over the San Gabriel mountain range. I wasn’t at all prepared for the emotional turbulence.
A round-engine float plane dropped through a hole in a thick, low overcast to land, banging and clattering on choppy San Francisco Bay. It coasted to a stop a quarter mile dead-ahead of our Lapworth 40 sloop. We kept driving her, rail-down, hard on the wind, and quickly closed with the aircraft, a bit concerned.
Fast forward 35+ years and I was once again inspired by my father to get back into aviation, this time as a result of an agonizing four hour road trip to visit my parents (now in their 80s). I wondered if it would be easier to fly instead, so I purchased my first airplane in the fall of 2017, a “new to me” 1966 Piper Cherokee 180! Always a Cessna guy, I’m not sure how I ended up with a Cherokee.
We thought our most exciting memories were behind us. Everything was going great; the sun was about to set and, in an instant, we lost everything but the motor. No radios. No lights. No electrical instruments. And no ideas – yet. We got through the checklist and decided we had lost our alternator.
Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing.” Most who live by those words are fliers, in one way or another. Try to think of an avocation, a passion, an adventure, that doesn’t involve the release of a person or object from gravity’s surly bonds. They know the moment of flight where the daring adventure of life is attained.
I ran madly through the hallways, up then down, left then right, back-tracking when I took a wrong turn. If I missed the flight to Madrid, then I might as well turn around and head back to YIP. Finally, I saw the gate. Phew! Boarding had not yet began.
Temps were good, fuel pressure and quantity good, but there’s that oil pressure, lower still, but just a little lower. But temps are all good, maybe the gauge is misbehaving? I got a little alarmed, but the voice in the back of my head said, “There’s nowhere around here I want to land, there’s a snowstorm below me, this is not a good time for an emergency.”
After spending some time doing basic airwork (turns, stalls, etc.) Hal said he was bored and took control of the airplane. First he tried looping the Cub, which did not work out as his 200+ pounds plus my paltry 115 pounds made the maneuver impossible. He would nose the plane over, build up airspeed and pull the nose up with full power and, somewhere near vertical, the plane would fall back out of the sky.
Few dreams worth having are achieved with shortcuts and in flying airplanes there is no substitute for experience. The increase in airman wisdom is recorded on paper in logbooks. More importantly, the experience gained is remembered in your mind and heart, the rewards being increased skill, finesse in the craft, and survival.
I like history. I try to imagine what it was like to experience the things that I read about. What were the sounds, the smells, the feelings? Well, after volunteering with our EAA Chapter 17 that hosted the B-17, I was able find out. A group of ten of us who volunteered over the weekend were selected to tag along on the repositioning flight.