Many people have found peace and tranquility in the air. In fact, hundreds of thousands of people have their license to fly the US skies. For them, it’s a way life… either for professional or personal enjoyment. Regrettably, for their significant other, it may not be that exciting.
The CT-39 played a useful role for years in the Air Force; it provided a good capability to transport senior officers quickly and cheaply and a platform to season young pilots, preparing them for bigger and better future assignments.
Welcome to the Sunrise 100. This race, along with a dozen or so others every year, is put on by the Sport Air Racing League. If you’re thinking about the vaunted Reno air races, with planes zooming wingtip to wingtip around an oval track, requiring precision formation flying and high speed maneuvering, then you’re not quite right. Well, except for the high speed maneuvering part.
They closed the big hangar doors and Neil came over and jumped into the right seat of my idling Piper Tri-Pacer. “Let’s go,” he said. It was fun having Neil Armstrong as my co-pilot. He was already very well known in aviation, and soon he’d be the most famous man on the planet.
I had a gurgling feeling in my stomach that meant only one thing and it would happen soon. I didn’t have a bag handy so I told Mike who was in the right seat “your controls,” took off my headset, opened the window and let it all hang out. The wind pulled my sunglasses off my face and gravity took them to the ground below never to be seen again.
Jumpseating for free (a great pilot privilege) was the way to go! In addition, when we sat up front, we found it fun and interesting to see how pilots at the other airlines do things. So, we thought nothing of it when we decided on a Hawaiian beach wedding for $800 all-in. We planned on jumpseating there.
I asked NorCal if there were any ride reports over the mountains. “No complaints,” replied the controller. We went into the clouds about over PXN VOR. No big deal. We were just bumping along V301, in and out of the clouds at first, then solid IMC. In the clouds it was just light chop, and my little Piper pretty much just flew herself, even without an autopilot. Then the world suddenly went mad.
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.