My phone dinged as the text message came through. “Can you spend the day in Griffin tomorrow?” I had a lesson first thing in the morning, but was otherwise free. I asked Dan what was going on. “DC-3 flying. Emerg.” I didn’t need any other details and I made arrangements to change what would have been a lazy Saturday into one that would doubtlessly not be boring.
While I have written about the adventures or misadventures of flying during my career, I don’t wish to leave the impression that I was in constant danger or that my career could be characterized as hazardous; it wasn’t. There were times when I witnessed unbelievable beauty—sights that I wished my loved ones could have shared.
“Don’t you have to get permission from ATC or someone?” That’s the most common question I get when people discover I launch myself into the sky from a field. Confusion then turns to disbelief when I tell them “nope.” I usually let that little pot of incredulity simmer for a while; sometimes I’ll stir things with a “why would I need permission?”
This account concerns the delivery of one Fairchild Heli-Porter PC-6 from the factory in Maryland to Yosu, South Korea. As a pilot for World Aviation Services, Inc., I have been assigned the delivery and will train a Korean crew upon arrival. The Heli-Porter is a single engine, turboprop, short takeoff and landing aircraft capable of carrying eight persons 420 miles at an optimum speed of 115 knots, hence my private nomer of “Pokey Porter.”
What am I doing here? I’m flying at 3,500 feet over water, heading into the unknown in a single-engine Cessna, and it’s dark! This is what I asked myself as I flew 10 miles out over the Bay of Panama before dawn.
My uncle and his friend opened up a flight training school after the war on our family’s Northern Indiana dairy farm with a 3000-foot grass strip and farm-engineered hangar. Many former military pilots and a lot of local people took lessons and rented planes. I was enchanted with all the activity.
I advanced the throttle to full power; confirmed that both aircraft and all the associated equipment were going in the same direction at the same time and stole a glance in my rearview mirror. I noticed what looked like a big cloud of smoke off to the right side of the glider (George’s position). Curious.
It might be hard for you to understand how lucky I am, but I am certain of it at this very moment. I’m on my way to take one of my flying lessons. I am 16 years old and I started a few weeks ago at Colts Neck Airport near Freehold, New Jersey.
How many times have you been hangar flying with fellow pilots and the subject of a seaplane rating comes up? Have you ever heard a pilot say, “I don’t want a seaplane rating?” Probably not. A seaplane rating is like a DC-3 type rating: you either have it or you want it.
I had done a few longer cross country flights in the past, but nothing that required being in a specific place at a specific time for a specific event. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it does mean that any mishaps along the way must be dealt with on the move and a solution found immediately so that the trip can still be completed.
Visibility in the heavy snowfall was down to less than a half mile and getting worse. After having passed Tyonek, which was above me, and I couldn’t see it, I scooted by the Nikolai Creek strip, elevation 30 feet MSL, but it too had disappeared in the low cloud cover. And that cloud cover was now pressing me ever lower.
It’s quite funny to watch someone fall asleep sitting up, a condition described by researchers as head bobbing. The victims’ heads loll onto their chests then some wicked synaptic brain fart wakes them, their heads snap up like the cracking of a whip only to repeat the sequence moments later. The sleep experts and their theories notwithstanding, when you are tired no matter what you do, your brain will eventually just shut you down into a virtual coma.
One man stood up, expressing a need to address Col Goodson. He was a smallish, well-dressed older gentleman, accompanied by a lady in a long mink coat. He was recognized by the moderator, and stood to attention and stated his name, rank and serial number. He followed in a very assertive tone, “Colonel Goodson, I have one thing I’ve wanted to say to you since 1944.” There was a pause – a very silent one.
Deeper into the pass I flew, watching Banning Pass airport pass beneath me. My groundspeed increased rapidly. Nearing the end of my journey through the Pass, I called Palm Springs approach to make contact. After completing the transmission, I felt a sharp, very assertive bump that lifted my little aircraft, pressing me deeply into the seat. My handheld GPS departed from the hook and loop fastener I had rigged onto the instrument panel and fell to the floor.
Saturday we packed up everything and headed back to Livingston for the flight home. When I looked at the weather, I found that everything east of the Dakotas would be all IFR, low clouds and rain. I talked to my wife, and said we should try to fly halfway, maybe stopping in Bismarck, or Fargo, North Dakota. She was up for the adventure.
As pilots we’ve all experienced it, that nagging feeling that something’s not quite right. The instruments are all in the green. The navigation is spot on and you know exactly where you are. The weather couldn’t be better but… Call it what you will. Gut feeling, experience, or lack of it. Even when passengers or crew don’t share that gut feeling, you should pay attention to it. It might save your life.
“You gotta let me pay you for your time and materials,” I said to Art and Goren (not their real names), the two ag pilots who showed us how to free up a stuck valve on the 0-200 Continental engine of our Cessna 150. They simply refused payment of any kind. Then Art said, “Well, I would like to jump from a 150.” Jump, like parachute jump? That is exactly what he meant.
On a hot, mosquito-laden summer night in July of 1969, we had taken the liberty of renting a black-and-white television, which we perched on a small table in the larger front room of the trailer. We dined on our usual Swanson TV dinners warmed up in the toaster oven, and spent some time fiddling with the rabbit ears to get a good signal before we settled down to listen to Walter Cronkite, Wally Schirra and the crowd down at the Cape. It was going to be quite a night.
My flight to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in 2016 was special in several ways. The Experimental Aircraft Association was honoring the 75th anniversary of my make of airplane, the Interstate Cadet, a tandem trainer manufactured in 1941-42 in Los Angeles. We were a flight of 15 Cadets by the time we made it to Oshkosh. The trip would also be an ambitious one – over 5,000 miles at 100 miles per hour.
If you check the FAA’s Temporary Flight Restriction website, are you covered? Maybe not, as this Florida pilot found out. His story clearly demonstrates that checking assumed “authoritative” sites, like NOTAMs and the FAA TFR pages, is not enough to guarantee pilots have current, comprehensive, accurate information regarding Temporary Flight Restrictions.