Flying out of El Paso earlier this week I picked up a little airframe ice. It would have been a non-event for a more capable airplane, but the anti-ice equipment on 32A (pitot heat and windscreen defrost) just wasn’t up to the task.
One of my favorite flying memories happened while I was a part-time single-engine Part 135 charter pilot for the FBO at Laramie, Wyoming. My occasional charter flights were a welcome respite from my law office, allowing me to meet people who weren’t in legal trouble and to take them places I might not have gone otherwise.
The wind was getting stronger, the ceiling was dropping, I still had a long way to go and I didn’t see anywhere below me that looked like a great place to spend the night. The thought of being stuck in rush hour traffic somewhere didn’t sound too bad right now.
I made a perfect wheel landing and rolled to the crossing runway 24, where I was told to take a left turn on the crossing runway to taxi to parking. The winds were now 70 degrees off my nose, and I was moving at a slow walking pace. The crosswind was causing the tail wheel to skid, but I was nearly to the parking area. Suddenly I heard a wind gust and the tail lifted into the air until “WHAP!” the prop struck the ground.
Seconds after the smoke started, I was looking out the windshield and could see smoke coming from around the propeller and all of a sudden: Whoosh! The windshield was completely covered with brown oil, and I could see nothing out of it. I shut off the engine with the mag switch and pointed the nose down steeply. I wanted to get the airplane on the ground now!
Learning from others’ mistakes is more conducive to successful flying than creating your own. Here are three lessons I learned on three different flights, but only because I made some mistakes. Hopefully you can learn from them and avoid making them yourself!
It was getting late in the day and the tropical weather was closing in behind me. I felt trapped. Weather was all around and nothing but dense jungle below. I started to get frustrated and really worried. An hour and a half had passed and I was no closer to Panama City. My only alternate airfield was back across the mountains. The last thing I wanted to do was climb back up to 15,000 feet, but I had no choice.
With only a few instructional hours logged, I had virtually no flying instincts. Mac, my instructor, called “power” and simultaneously shoved the throttle forward. It was all that kept us from cutting a swath through a cornfield bordering the runway’s approach end. The Cub wallowed ahead, barely above a stall, bouncing down on the grass just yards beyond the stalks.
I’m going to fly along with you as you take your Cessna 206 Stationair II for a flight to pick up a client out in the flat country beyond the Alaska Range. Your client lives in a log cabin along the Kuskokwim River, downstream from the village of Aniak. You’ve made sure to have the necessary flight charts with you.
Like many pilots, flying my plane to Oshkosh was on my bucket list, but work, cost, and time always seemed to say “not this year.” So, in 2012 when the Cub Club announced the “Cubs To Oshkosh” in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Cub, that was it. I had to be part of that history. This is my story of that trip.
Saturday October 16, 2010. Mom and I were at a craft show when Grandpa called to see if I could go fly with him today. He tried to take me before but something always came up, like I hadn’t had my nap. When you’re four years old everybody knows no nap and flying aren’t a good mix. Today was my lucky day.
The place as it stands today bears no resemblance to the airport tucked away in my thoughts. Every pilot has melancholy memories of favourite places because flying sears powerful images and feelings they long for. The airfield that comes to mind is where I learned to fly. Introductory flights were $10 back then.
In the remarks section of my logbook entry for January 3, 1999, it simply says, “Ride for Barb – Clear and cold.” We flew for 1.9 hours, but I honestly can’t remember the flight. For Barb, this was her first flight in a plane other than a commercial airliner. For me it was part of my vetting process for potential dating partners. If they didn’t like flying in small airplanes, there wouldn’t be much of a future in the relationship.
I loved being at Elmendorf and being in Alaska. It was supposed to be a 90-day tour; I volunteered to stay much longer. My memory causes me to believe there were about a dozen B-47s cocked on alert. Four days a week, three B-47s arrived from Tucson, two of which were turn arounds rotating flight crews, the third cocked to replace an alert bird being rotated home.
Mom and Dad, now elderly, were visiting our family in Waterloo, Ontario, on one of their annual visits. I decided to take them flying. I rented a Cessna 172 out of Kitchener Waterloo airport and took them for individual flights. He took the controls for some of the flight. I marveled at how natural he seemed with the controls.
I released the brakes, and we began our takeoff roll. The runway lights went by faster and faster as we accelerated, with the familiar callouts coming from Mark in the right seat as he monitored all of the gauges and instruments while I kept my attention outside the cockpit. I used both hands to pull back on the control wheel, and the nosewheel came smoothly off the runway, followed by the main wheels. Suddenly, a red warning light flashed, indicating “ENGINE FIRE.”
The pilot of the jump plane is required to wear a parachute just in case an “in case” happens. I mentioned to another young pilot that I wasn’t quite sure of my ability to affect a positive outcome if I had to hit the silk. Word got back to the jumpmaster somehow, and I found myself in the front row of the next jump class. Wonderful!
I prepared the Hellcat for flight, and was soon airborne in pursuit of the others. But just as I joined the formation, one of my squadron mates broke radio silence to tell me that I was trailing smoke. Simultaneously with his call, oil began to wash over my front windscreen and I began to lose engine power. I knew that I had to get the airplane on the ground as soon as possible.
After a frantic week of long-range faxes and Bonanza research, the deal was done and the planning started for the ferry flight back to Peterborough Sibson (EGSP) in the UK. I was keen to fly it myself if at all possible as I’d never done a long flight in a light single and it seemed wasteful to pay someone else to do it. What was a Bonanza capable of?
In late Spring 1973, almost 44 years ago, I was 22 years old and on the cusp of achieving my life-long goal of becoming a professional pilot. It was an overseas flight with a notoriously-crusty old senior check captain so I was vibrating with anxiety. There would be no remedial training if this guy gave me a thumbs down at this tenuous point in my career.