I was there

Flying in the coronavirus sky—a freight pilot’s perspective

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Today, there is no global terrorist threat or war keeping airplanes out of the sky. The threat is a microscopic organism, silent but still deadly as it spreads around the world. On the ground, people’s lives have been disrupted, in ways small and large. But from 33,000 feet, the silence gives the feeling of a much more dramatic shift: like a Twilight Zone episode, in which everyone below me has disappeared.

A tribute to an aviation supermom

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As I walk into the terminal building to grab my handheld radio, the K model Skyhawk works its way back to the end of the runway for yet another student solo. A momentous occasion for sure, but not that abnormal at our busy little airport. But tonight is different you see. A very special mother is PIC on this flight. My wife, Megan, mother to our (one at the time) son is making her first solo on this calm, quiet Sunday night.

A medevac tale of two cities

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I came on shift as pilot for the fixed-wing at 7am, and the request for medevac was relayed to me. By now the snow was letting up and weather was forecast above minimums. I called the snowplow operator for an update on conditions. He had been plowing in the storm, the runway was acceptable, and he promised to continue working on it. Less than an hour later, we were on approach.

A long ferry flight: the Bermuda Triangle, icing, and more

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The Bermuda Triangle, also known as the Devil’s Triangle, is a loosely defined area between Bermuda, Miami, and Puerto Rico. There have been many cases of ships and aircraft along with their crews mysteriously disappearing with no trace. There have been theories from plausible to ridiculous, including it being occupied by aliens from outer space. The following account is from personal experience.

A minor electrical problem in Vietnam becomes a major problem

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We scrambled towards the aircraft and I headed straight for the cockpit. The flight mechanic fired up the APU (power supply). As I got into the cockpit, I hit the starter switch for the number one engine. Nothing happened. I called back to the flight mechanic and asked him if he had the APU online. He said yes he had it online. I tried the number one starter again with no results.

It was a dark and stormy night…

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A Phantom C, known as a “Chuck,” took off and had a hard-over rudder. That is a really big emergency in a Phantom. It not only poses a controllability program across the flight regime, but also has some complications in terms of interface with the other flight controls and the nose gear steering. Implications include a very fast approach speed for controllability and the need to engage an arresting gear.

I survived the deadliest helicopter crash in European history

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On the 6th of November 1986, at 1132 hours, I was the Captain of a Chinook helicopter that crashed just two miles short of its destination, the Sumburgh Airport in the Shetland Islands, 150 nautical miles north of the mainland of the United Kingdom. At the time it was the worst-ever civilian helicopter crash, taking the lives of 45 out of the 47 people on board. One passenger and I survived the crash. How or why we survived is a mystery.

Dreams may fade, but they don’t have to die

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I had a dream inspired by a magazine article, just like so many of us, not knowing how or if it could ever be realized. In my case that dream faded over time as the priorities of life ebbed and flowed in my pursuit of other dreams and responsibilities. Faded, but didn’t die.

From Vietnam to Kobe Bryant—the long history of flying helicopters in fog

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Preliminary findings in Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crash tell me things haven’t changed much in over a half century. Today, as back then, instrument rated pilots flying IFR capable helicopters continue to tempt fate by pressing ahead at low altitude in low visibility. And mostly they make it to their destination! But it’s an insidious gamble, particularly in hilly areas.

Remembering my brother, who taught me to fly

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I took flight lessons from my brother later in life, acquiring my private license at age 62. Now age 73 and still flying a little, I look back fondly at those hours in training. He was a great instructor, demanding but extremely knowledgeable and experienced in a whole variety of aircraft.

From glider to hang glider to jet glider

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On a mild and sunny day in October, the quiet weekend atmosphere of Schekino gliderport was disturbed by three jet gliders. Unlike gliders with plenty of modern motor solutions nowadays, the Russian example has a unique feature. The empty weight of a glider is less than 115 kg, making it significantly lighter than its counterparts.

Towing at the Pan Am Gliding Championships

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You’ve completed your final checks. You look in the side-view mirror and the red flag is waving. You slowly move the Pawnee’s throttle forward and start towing the fully watered-up 18-meter competition glider down runway 36. It’s a hot, humid day and the density altitude is high. But you’re thinking, “hey, the grass has just had a crew-cut and the mud has dried out—so how hard can this be?”

Flying my simulator during quarantine

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With all of California now under a state-wide stay-at-home order (and those in the Bay Area where I live having been on one for two days prior to the state-wide declaration), I have found myself strangely going back to my beginnings. The old Saitek joystick has been busted out, and Microsoft Flight Simulator X has been fired back up on my aging PC.

Aircraft building—a journey

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I knew I wanted to have my own plane, but I wasn’t sure which path to follow to achieve that goal. One option I considered was to buy a mid-70s Cessna 172 and upgrade the heck out of it. But I also considered building a plane because I felt I could do it and would end up with a thoroughly modern airplane for much less money than an equivalent new certified one.

The joy of a flying dad

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My dad recently flew west and I have been thinking about the gift of flying that he gave me from a young age. Flying has been a great joy in my life. I am very thankful that my dad was the original aviator in our family, because without his interest in flying I’m not sure I would have ever had mine. I’ve had much fun and learned a few lessons along the way.

Did I really hear that?

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It seems like the folks that ended up in Berlin were really different. They were like a family and a really close family at that. More importantly, they wanted everyone to know they were the best. They flew fast and when a fellow pilot got stuck somewhere in the maze of traffic schedules, they quickly changed and, even though they might be absent, another body took their place.

Flying for Air America—where the cargo was always interesting

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So one day I was running between mountain peaks in the rainy season in Laos trying to stay VFR as navaids were virtually nonexistent there. My load was bags of rice and one baby goat for some long range patrol guys to BBQ. While flying along dodging clouds, rain, and mountains, I suddenly felt a whack against the back of my seat. My first thought was that I had been hit with a rocket-propelled grenade, but I was still flying.

My first T-6 landing

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Bill said, “I guess I owe you a ride,” while looking at me. “Give me a couple minutes to button things up, and we’ll go.” I looked at Kim, and then I looked at Bill. He said, “Kim helped me out, so I promised to give you a ride.” Kim looked at me winked.

Flying in the Iditarod Air Force

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I began my climb and started looking for a low spot to cross the ridgeline, west to east. The only problem was there was no ridgeline, only more of the white wall all around me that became denser as I climbed. I continued the 180-degree turn and extended it to 360 degrees and at the same time dove the airplane to get out of the snow.