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.
Soon I found myself on the ramp with Ron, walking around the DC-3. Having never before flown anything larger than an Aztec, I was overwhelmed with the airplane. It was daunting, yet familiar, like one’s first approach to an ancient Roman edifice theretofore known only from picture books. Even the fabric-covered control surfaces were massive and substantial. The DC-3 was regal in form and formidable in character, and I approached it with awe bordering on reverence.
My routine flight only became noteworthy as I approached the field for a landing. The club strip is grass, oriented roughly north/south and about 2500 ft. in length. As I entered the pattern at 1,000 ft. and began a downwind leg for a left hand pattern to the south, I began to note the windsocks sticking straight out to the East and realized the landing was going to be fun with the crosswind at or above the club’s operation limits.
Just after Hollister had passed under the left wing, the transponder flashed an error message, and went from their assigned squawk code to 1200. “Huh?” says the instructor, “What’s up with that?” The instructor tried to enter the assigned squawk code a couple more times, with the same result. That was exactly when the wheels fell off the cart, electrically speaking.
The flight was supposed to be pretty much a routine trip, though not really a happy one. I was relocating my turbocharged 1984 Cessna TU206G amphibian from West Palm Beach, Florida, to St. Cloud, Minnesota. Economics had demanded that I sell the marvelous ship, and I was delivering it to the buyer.