I learned to fly in a Piper Colt at tiny Concord Airpark east of Cleveland. It was nearly 50 years ago and in the more than 10,000 hours of flying all types of general aviation airplanes since these are the events that did much to shape my life in the air.
How could it have been seven years since my last time behind the controls of an airplane? I knew I had to get back in the cockpit but I was unsure of how to kick start my training. Just as planning for an intricate cross country flight can be broken down into small legs, I developed an easy and realistic plan to help take the pressure off of myself.
I’ve always wanted this: to command a jet, to be the captain. My copilot, who was twice my age, had flown F-4s in Vietnam and did 30 years at the airlines, looked at me and said, “So, what do you want to do?” I felt small. I had passengers in the back and a jet I barely understood, and I was trying to figure out what to tell ATC.
My wife and I were planning a long cross-country to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to attend my niece’s wedding on the 18th. Without the IFR ticket, we would have been driving, so there was some pressure to pass the checkride on the 14th. For this trip, I reserved my club’s Cessna 172RG for the long weekend and we departed on the morning of the 17th.
Delivery crews for Phantoms going to overseas locations were drawn from USAF Phantom units, and I was one of those on several deliveries, including one to the German Air Force, one to our unit in Soesterburg, Netherlands, and one to the Imperial Iranian Air Force. It was the delivery to Iran that, as Ollie North says, is “a story that deserves to be told.”
Bad weather for the weekend was expected, and the orders were: fly the Maule tomorrow to this airstrip, take a car to where the radio is, pick the radio up. By the time the chief pilot adjourned the meeting, it was pouring. I thought he was going to mention the weather, but no, he had made arrangements for the Maule to be free from work until Monday, and the plan was in motion.
It’s fair to say that many students, me included, never experience a true cross-country flight during their training. Instead, finding the balance of cost vs. flight time requirements leads to pilots selecting routes that consist of a 51nm leg that will keep the costs low but still meet the requirements.
What’s it like to be an active flight instructor? Some days are rewarding, some days are scary, but every day is different. This pilot shares the unique personalities he flew with over the years, from talented kids to eccentric entrepreneurs. Not every story had a happy ending, but a career spent in the cockpit made it worthwhile.
No more than 10 or 15 seconds had elapsed since getting airborne. We had just passed the departure end of Runway 07, and were climbing through about 100 ft. AGL. I was just about to make the turn to 050 then bring the gear up, when the plane made a violent lurch to the left, and we were suddenly descending very quickly despite the airspeed and nose up pitch.
I had volunteered to fly Bill in from Des Moines earlier in the day and had spent the rest of it waiting at the Dubuque airport for his return. The airplane, an older model Cessna 182 and unfamiliar to me, was borrowed from of friend of his. I had never flown it before, nor had I bothered to pay much attention to its panel layout. Those were details meant only for bush-league pilots, not me.
It really is “Better-In-the-Bahamas” and I tell those people I like, those who live in Florida and have not visited the Out Islands, not to visit would be like living one mile from the rim of the Grand Canyon and never looking in. I felt lucky living and flying in the islands. I slowly became an “island pilot.”
My good friend Jason arrived in Cape Town on an overnight with his airline and very large twin-engine jet. He normally comes to stay and we catch up over a steak, talking rugby and fishing. This time was to be slightly different in that I mentioned to Jay that there was a club outing to Saldanha and would he like to go. He was very excited and hence we awoke early the next morning to pre-flight the Yak.
Flying 727 shuttles out of New York’s La Guardia Airport to Boston and Washington in the 1980s and 90s was a hands-on, back-to-basics operation: steam gauges, hand-tuned VHF navs, one or two low freq ADF, no FMS and an autopilot that had to be tended to get you where you were going.
I am sitting in this brightly colored red, two seat, Pitts Special S2B stunt plane alone over the Atlantic Ocean at 9,500 feet. I have been flying out of sight from land for quite some time and occasionally the magnitude of the adventure I am undertaking sinks in and I have to mentally remind myself to take this trip one small step at a time.
We all have occasion to read accident reports, now and then, and hope to learn something for our effort. When we step into the cockpit, these thoughts are set aside in order to focus on the tasks of flying. It is only in the rarest circumstances when mortality infiltrates the cockpit and stubbornly takes hold.
In 1990, I was privileged to take a team of U. S. Air Force jets and airmen to The International Space Fair, aka, FIDAE, the largest air show and exhibition held in Latin America. It was also the first time an official contingent of American military visited Chile since the Pinochet affair of the 1970s. We had three F-15s, a KC-10 and a B-52 for display and flight demonstrations.
My Dad turned 65 recently, and as with so many of his peers, this year means mandatory retirement from 26-year airline career. While for him it’s a singularly pivotal and more-bitter-than-sweet event, his retirement also represents a journey that began with a Cessna and ended with an Airbus, in what has become a massive wave of his peers with remarkably similar stories.
At one point, I was so tensed up, worn out from fighting the wind and trying to get needles centered, that I thought, “I just can’t do this. I should just give up and let Jack fly it in. This is so hard. Maybe I should just give up flying altogether.” Those thoughts lasted for just a brief moment when I heard Jack’s encouragement again, and I said to myself, “I can do this. I want to do this. Just do it.”
Oh how I concentrated as the flight progressed, identifying those check points, talking to flight following, receiving timely handoffs from one sector to the next and being the best student pilot I could be. Then at the appropriate time, I dialed in, as instructed by approach control, the correct four digits in the correct sequence, hit ident in the transponder and eventually found myself in the traffic pattern with regional jets!
Fifteen hundred feet isn’t much altitude, but it momentarily seemed Olympian as our formation turned onto the downwind leg of our traffic pattern, with the airfield looking like a precisely detailed model on our right. Another banked turn onto base leg, then onto final approach for a low-altitude flyby. We came level at about 30 feet, roaring past the showline – I was momentarily sorry I couldn’t be down there and up here simultaneously!