Secure

As I might have mentioned from time to time, I’m old. You want to know how old I am? I’m so old that back in my day we didn’t wear seat belts. Not just while riding in cars mind you but also while flying in airplanes. Seatbelts? They’re for pussys! I had bright red station wagon in high school that wouldn’t start unless you had your seatbelt fastened. So of course my friends and I would lift our butts off the seat to fool the car into thinking there was nobody in the front seat instead of just putting our belts on. That was just the culture back then.

When I started skydiving in the mid 80’s it was the same thing. Nobody wore seatbelts in the plane on takeoff. In fact most of the jump planes I flew in didn’t even have seatbelts for the passengers. The pilot had one but that was it. Everyone’s theory was that if the plane had an issue they’d want to get the hell out of it. And if they were wearing seatbelts taking them off might cost them a few precious seconds that they didn’t have.

That all changed in 1992 when a Twin Otter full of skydivers crashed in Perris valley california killing 16 jumpers and seriously injuring 6 more, including a good friend of mine. Apparently the skydiving school had just cleaned out their fuel truck with some sort of cleaning fluid to take care of a fungus problem they had. They drained the tank, did a good visual inspection of the tank, filled it back up with Jet A, and put it back into service fueling their jump planes.

Unfortunately they forgot about the truck’s long fuel hose which still had 18 gallons of cleaning fluid in it. The first plane to be refueled was a Twin Otter, which only made it to 500 feet before one of the engines died when the cleaning fluid reached it. Normally even a full a Twin Otter should have no problem climbing out on one engine but instead of feathering the dead engine the pilot accidently pulled the good engine into reverse. The Otter immediately rolled inverted and crashed nose first.

The nose of the airplane was crushed killing the pilot and front seat passenger, (who was a pilot as well and some suspect was actually flying that day). But the main cabin and fuselage remained intact. Unfortunately none of the skydivers were wearing seatbelts and when the plane nosed in they were all thrown forward. The only survivors were in the rear of the plane. Investigators concluded that almost everyone would have survived if they’d been wearing seatbelts.

That accident changed the skydiving community overnight. Seatbelts magically appeared in almost every jump plane and people started using them. Then we began thinking about the other unsecured danger in the cabin. Helmets. We realized that a helmet sitting on someone’s lap not only wasn’t doing anyone any good but in the event of a crash would become a lethal object. New rule, either wear your helmet or strap it to your seatbelt.

Since this complete change in jumper’s attitudes things have gotten much safer. There have been a number of crashes involving jump planes and I know for a fact that a lot of my friends are alive solely because they were wearing their seatbelts.

Yes, it’s important for passengers to wear seatbelts in case there’s a crash. But what about the pilot? Does it really matter? I mean they’re usually the first to the scene of the crash aren’t they? Of course a pilot should wear his or her seatbelt snugly for takeoff and landing, that’s when crashes occur. But go ahead and get comfortable up at altitude. In the jet we usually take off our shoulder straps somewhere around 15,000 feet.

But I learned a long time ago to keep the lap belt snug.

That lesson was learned on a day shortly after I made my first solo flight. My flight instructor wasn’t able to make it for my lesson but he said that if I still wanted to fly I could. His only restriction was that I was supposed to remain in the landing pattern. So of course the first thing I did after takeoff was to leave the pattern and enjoy the freedom of the skies!

It was amazing! I was a pilot! I could go wherever I wanted! I could roam the skies in my metal sky beast! Fences, boundaries, and restrictions could no longer hold me back. I was free!

so of course I was bored in minutes. What to do????? “I know! Let’s try some aerobatics! I know I only have one total hour of solo time but I’m a natural! What could go wrong?”

I thought I’d start out slow, I wasn’t a complete idiot, with just some steep climbs and dives. Pushed on the yoke, nosed over and picked up some speed. “That’s cool!” pulled back and used the speed to zoom climb the little Cessna 152 to an almost vertical attitude. “Yeah baby! That’s awesome!” Push the nose back, do a little zero gee maneuver like the jump pilots I rode with do sometimes. Things in the cockpit, including me started floating up. “OH SHIT! TOO MUCH!” After a brief second or two of floating towards the ceiling everything loose in the cockpit fell forward violently. Including me.

Because, as you might have guessed by now dear reader, while I was wearing my seatbelt, it wasn’t very tight.

I fell forward onto the yoke pushing the nose of the Cessna forward even more, which in turn made things even worse. And because my chest and arms were smashed up against the yoke and instrument panel I could pull out of the dive I was in. It was a rather uncomfortable situation let me tell you. I was able to push myself back into my seat with one hand and tighten my seatbelt with the other and then pull out of the dive just as things in Minnesota countryside started getting kind of big. I didn’t wear my seat belt loose much after that.

AOG

“Airplane on ground” That’s the notation someone uses when ordering parts or maintenance services for an aircraft that’s stuck someplace it doesn’t want to be due to mechanical issues.

When airplanes break it’s due to one of many factors. Could be that the highly qualified and professional aircraft mechanics (grease monkeys) missed something on the last inspection or put something on or back together incorrectly. (Why do we have parts left over?) This is not usually the case but it happens. I know of a drop zone’s Cessna 182 that had 3! engines stop in mid flight in less than 2 years! Each time the mechanic came out and found that the fuel filter was full of some kind of rubbery orange gunk. No one could figure out what the stuff in the filter was so they would just clean the filter and go back to flying. After the third dead stick landing the pilot took the plane to another mechanic who discovered that the regular mechanic had left an orange rubber mallet inside the fuel tank and it was slowly dissolving.

And of course sometimes when the mechanics give the pilot a well maintained aircraft in perfect (sort of) condition the ham fisted throttle jockey (pilot) brings it back in less than perfect condition. “Honestly, I was just flying along straight and level when the windshield cracked! Out of the blue! I wasn’t teaching myself aerobatics and lost control going over red line and almost killing myself, I swear!” (not me but one of my jump pilots)

But most of the time it’s just that some essential part has decided that it’s had enough. Just off the top of my head my in flight breakdowns are:

2 twin engine aircraft that both lost the vacuum pumps on both engines, within minutes of each other. Losing your vacuum pump means losing most of the instruments that are necessary for flight in IFR conditions. (clouds) Of course in both cases I was in IFR conditions, so yes things got exciting.

1 piston coming apart shortly after takeoff with a full load of skydivers. Dead stick landing into a short dirt strip with the jumpers onboard because they didn’t panic fast enough. (waited to see if the really bad sound from the engine ment they weren’t getting any more altitude.) Here’s a hint from an old pilot. If the plane you’re riding in suddenly makes a big bang sound and starts shaking violently, AND YOUR WEARING A PARACHUTE. It might be time to leave and go get help.

2 cylinders with holes in them on twins. (Thank God) One started burning the cowling, shut the engine down and landed on one. The other started blowing oil all over the place. Oil pressure went down below red line, oil temperature went above red line. Shut it down, landed on one. BTW it was at night, in IFR conditions, over the desert, with both vacuum pumps out. (see above)

2 alternators that stopped alternating. First one was over Africa, at night. Had to fly for 8 hours by flashlight over the Sahara. (long story. I’ll tell it sometime.) Second one was over Minnesota. Also at night but the story isn’t quite as riveting.

1 flap malfunction on my first long cross country as a solo student. Went to put the flaps down and they just went up and down, up and down, wouldn’t stop moving. First no flap landing ever. My instructor hadn’t gotten around to teaching me that yet.

Transponder altitude encoder inop = Claim ignorance and bluff my way from Egypt to Minnesota. It wasn’t as much fun as it sounds.

Big chunk of a 182 spinner flying off due to icing. Had to reduce speed due to vibration and continue across the Med to Rome.

Valve cover gasket blown. leaking a lot of oil. Happened in Greenland and a new one was going to take 8 days to ship. Made one out of gasket material I found and took off for Iceland the next day.

3 times I’ve had a landing gear light not come on confirming one of the wheels is down and locked. Scary landings but no gear collapse.

That’s all the scary things I can think of for now but it’s actually not all that bad considering I’ve been flying for 38 years. Heading to Florida in the Great White Hope today so fingers crossed!

Out the window

Just a few shots of my trip out to Jackson Hole Wyoming the other day. With all the snow we’ve been getting, flying the northern half of the country is like flying over Siberia.

Han Solo traded in the Millennium Falcon. Harrison Ford’s jet.
Always cool how a river cuts its way across the landscape
Busy day on the ramp

Fake news

Pilot crashes an incredible 148 times in a row during one simulator session! Has license revoked and is now looking for the number of that truck driving school he saw on TV.

Maybe I could be a truck driver. You got the number of that truck-driving school?

What do you do with a few days off from the tough and demanding job of flying rich people around the country in a kickass jet? Why go over to your friend’s house and spend the weekend flying the simulator he built in his basement of course.

Way back in the day when I was just starting to work on getting my instrument rating I’d go over to my friend’s house and the two of us would spend hours and hours flying practice instrument approaches on his old Amega computer. It had a tiny black and white screen, a super basic joystick, and graphics that were just slightly more advanced than stick figures. But it worked well for practicing flying on instruments and navigation.

Over the years he’s continued to improve on his first system and now he’s got something that’s simply amazing sitting in his basement. It’s got dual controls complete with rudder pedals, a center console with radios, gear and flap levers, and a full instrument panel, and a multi engine power quadrant. It has a huge database that allows you fly approaches anywhere in the world. He also has it hooked up to the internet so you can fly in the actual real time weather conditions at whatever airport you’re landing at. It’s amazing.

He also has a helicopter set up that he invented that he says is about 90 percent accurate. And he should know seeing that he spent 35 years flying helicopters in the Army.

We started out the session flying CRJ midsize passenger jets. You start out at the ramp, get pushed back, start engines, get clearance, taxi to the runway, and take off. It’s all very realistic and even has an internet connection so you can fly in actual real time weather conditions. But flying jets in and out of big airports is what I do all the time so I moved onto flying the UH-60 Blackhawk, and F-18 Super Hornet. Which is where the trouble began.

You it’s hard enough to attempt and hover a helicopter or land a high performance jet on an aircraft carrier when you’re in peak condition. It’s even more difficult (dang near impossible) after a significant amount of adult beverages. Lots of fun though. Good thing I didn’t have to pay for all that twisted metal.

Local Dipshit Moves Next Door to Airport, Demands Silence

AIRPORT NEWS

HUNTINGTON- Retired accountant and area dipshit, Michael Dimpleton, recently built a new home next door to Huntington Municipal Airport, established in 1947. Yet, despite his prior awareness of the airport and its function in the world, Dimpleton is completely outraged at what he calls “all that damn ruckus” coming from above. According to the airport manager, he has made at least 20 calls to them since moving into the property three days ago demanding they do something about the noise. In a failed attempt to bring media spotlight to his bullshit plight, Dimpleton reached out to Aviation Daily.

We told him to go f**k himself.

HA!

Land at your own risk

So there we were, heading home in the Great White Hope after a Quick overnight in Texas. My co-captain (I’ll call him Viking because he’s from Norway and looks nothing like a Viking) and I had dropped our passengers off already and were making the short 15 minute flight back to our home base. I could already taste the beer.

Then Minneapolis ATC decided to throw a wrench in our plans.

Citation November 4 Yankee, the runways at your destination are closed. State intentions.”

CRAP. The weather had pretty shitty over the entire area for most of the day due to moderate to heavy snow and low ceilings. But we’d gotten into the last airport just fine and hadn’t anticipated any problems on our last leg of the day. I told ATC to standby while the Viking reduced power to conserve fuel. We both noticed that ATC had said that the “runways” were closed not the airport, which led us to believe that it might be something temporary.

When we asked the controller if he knew how long the runways might be closed he said he’d check. Something he should’ve done in the first place. “The tower said they should be open in 20 minutes. They’re experiencing heavy at the moment and are currently working on snow removal.”

What followed was a frustrating and confusing back and forth between us, ATC the the airports control tower. first they said we couldn’t land and should head to our alternate airport. Then Tower said that if we slowed down the plows should be out of our way in time for us to land. Then ATC said we had to go to our alternate agan. ARGGGGGG!

Then they put us in a holding pattern on the approach while they figured it all out. Not a big deal because we had a little extra fuel, but tons, so get it sorted out hey?

Finally tower came back and told us that the plows had cleared us a path 60 feet wide and would that do? It would indeed. The man in the tower then proceeded to tell us that this was all very not normal. That they could not guarantee us their standard level of breaking action, runway width, wing clearance on the snow banks and, you know, overall safety. And if we decided to land against everyone’s better judgment it would “be at your own risk!” DUNN DUNN DUNN! I actually had to say “Cleared to land at our own risk.” when he gave me the landing clearance. Apparently they use this phrase whenever the runway isn’t cleared up to normal FAA standards but some dumb, cocky pilot (but I repeat myself) thinks he can pull it off anyway.

One last thing, would you like to wait for the trucks to make a pass to spread some sand for the gription that’s in it? We would not.

The approach and landing were uneventful. We picked up some ice in the clouds and broke with dozens of feet to spare and when tower inquired as to how the braking action was the Viking’s response was “POOR.” I guess it was a little slippery after all.

Braking action poor.

Experience II

As I said yesterday experience is a great teacher. Well, I didn’t actually say that, but I should have. Back when I was a young lad with dreams of being an airline pilot there was one thing that I needed more than anything else to obtain my goal. Multi engine time. Multi engine time is the holy grail of flight time because most airliners have multiple engines. (Multiple means 2 for you non-pilot types) The problem with getting multi engine time is that it’s very expensive. I mean like VERY expensive. Like $125 dollars an hour expensive, And those are 1987 dollars mind you. And in order to get an kind of job you need at least 200 hours of multi time, minimum. So that works out to about $25,000, minimum. So two friends and I had a brilliant idea. We’d buy a light twin engine airplane, fly the crap out of it, then sell it. Simple.

So that’s how I ended being the proud one third owner of a Piper Twin Comanche. 2270 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal.

She was a sweet little bird. Small, fast, good fuel burn, and two! engines! I was in love. All I needed was a multi engine license and I’d be all set.

So I found an instructor and began learning the ways of the twin. After just a few hours of training my instructor had this great idea. As long as we needed to spend some time training in the plane, why don’t we fly down to Ft. Rucker Alabama and visit my partner who was in Army flight school. My instructor said that he’d even chip in for gas. We’d both get to log not only multi engine but cross country time as well because, like us, he was shooting for that job where you get to wear a bus driver hat, and every hour in your log book is literally worth it’s weight in gold.

We’d been in the air for 3 hours or so when it was time to stop for fuel. Seeing the weather was beautiful along the entire route we hadn’t pre planned an airport to stop at. The instructor said we’d fly until we either needed gas or a restroom break then pick an airport on the map and make a pit stop. We looked at the map, picked a small airport that was along our route and punched its identifier into the Loran navigation system we’d just had installed in the plan.

The Loran system was the precursor to the GPS and was considered state of the art in those days. It was based on a number of transmitters on the ground which triangulated your position with relative accuracy. It also had a database in it so once we put in the XZY airport it told us that it was just 15 miles ahead. Magic! I started our descent and after just a few minutes the instructor pointed out an airport just ahead. But something was wrong. According to the loran we were still 5 miles away from the XYZ airport. I pointed this out to the instructor who looked at the old fashioned paper map and told me that it had to be the right airport because there was only one in the area.

I wasn’t convinced. The runway was long but rough looking. It was next to what looked like a concrete plant and I couldn’t see any kind of fbo building, fuel tanks or ramp. I expressed my doubts as to our exact location to the instructor who told me not to worry. Why it’s the only one for miles and miles. How could we be wrong? I wasn’t convinced so to shut me up he called the airport on the unicom frequency and asked if they’re open and had fuel. “Sure are hon, come on in.” came the reply in a syrupy sweet southern accent. The smug look on the instructors face said it all. “Never question your betters boy.”

Having been put in my place I continued the approach but the closer I got to the runway the less sure I was that we were in the right place. It didn’t look like any airport I’d ever seen. Nothing was mowed, I still couldn’t see any buildings apart from the concrete factory, and the runway was the worst looking piece of crap I’d ever seen. It was a mosaic of cracks and appeared to be mostly weeds.

“Are you sure this is the right airport?” I asked again. “Positive, keep going.”

As I brought the plane down on short final I could see that the weeds on the runway were really thick and high.

ME: “YOU’RE SURE?”

FAILPROOF INSTRUCTOR: “YES”

As I flaired to land I completely lost sight of the runway the weeds were so thick and when we touched down I was shocked to see that the weeds were higher than the wings and that we were actually mowing a path down the runway. At this point I should’ve went to full power and gotten the hell out of there but all I did was blindly follow my instructors instructions as he craned his head up trying to see over the weeds to find the fuel pumps.

We finally found some sort of ramp (still thick with weeds) and shut down. Then the instructor got on the radio again and asked where the fuel pumps were. This time the southern bell sounded confused. “Why it’s right next to the main building darlin. It’s right off the runway you can’t miss it.” The two of us looked around but didn’t see anything that looked like, well, anything.

About that time a man in a beat up old pickup truck drove across the runway from the concrete plant and pulled up to us. “You boys need some help?” (insert another thick southern accent here) “No sir, we’re just here to get some fuel.” It was at this point that we were informed that A: The runway that we’d landed on was a closed WWII training strip. 2. No one had landed on it in ove40 years. And C. The airport that we were looking for was indeed still 5 miles away.

To say that I was pissed would be an understatement. Not only at the instructor for bringing us down on that closed runway that could have easily damaged the plane, but at myself for not sticking to my guns when I knew I was right. I was also super pissed because mowing the path through weeds had sandblasted the paint off my new propellers and we were going to have to do it again just to take off.

We did manage to get airborne again and just 5 miles farther down the road there was the nicest little airport that a pilot could ask for. Beautifully mowed green grass surrounding a nice long runway in perfect condition.

I let the instructor tell the woman behind the counter just where we’d been for the last half hour.

Experience

In my last post I made mention of the fact that just because the pilot your flying with has a lot more hours than you do doesn’t mean that they’re a better pilot than you are. for example I’d take a Naval Aviator with only 350 hours over a pimply faced flight civilian flight instructor with 700 hours. OK, they both could have acne problems but one of them is qualified to land a Super Hornet on an aircraft carrier, in the middle of the ocean, in dogshit weather, at night, And the other one cancels today’s lesson because the weather could drop down to marginal VFR. (Maybe an unfair characterization of flight instructors but I had to come up with something) It also doesn’t mean that if you have a disagreement while flying the pilot with more hours or who’s designated “Captain” is always right. Like I mentioned I’ve seen this first hand on numerous occasions.

For example, once I was flying with a pilot with much more flight time than I had we had a difference of opinion as to our exact location. I’ll call that pilot Shirley, because that’s her name. Shirley owned one of the jump planes at the skydiving center I jumped at and she’d flown me up to 10,000 feet literally hundreds of times in her Cessna 182. I’d seen her land in strong crosswinds, fly formation loads with other planes, and takeoff and land at our short, unlit dirt landing strip at night. I considered her a good pilot.

I also started riding back and forth with her when she flew the 182 from her hanger in Minneapolis out to the drop zone in Wisconsin on weekends because I’d started taking flying lessons and took all the experience I could get. One day I was flying back to Minneapolis with her when we ran into some crappy weather. The base of the clouds forced us lower and lower while the visibility got downright scary. This was way back in the days before the GPS was invented but never to worry, we a nice 4 lane freeway to follow home. You know the drill, she was flying IFR, I Follow Roads or scud running. I wasn’t particularly concerned because she flew this route every weekend and, I assumed, she knew it like the back of her hand. But as we got about to the halfway point in the short thirty mile flight I noticed that she was flying directly at a cluster of particularly tall TV antennas called the Shoreview Towers which stretched 1438 feet into the air and had a lot of very long and difficult to see guy wires suspending them. Something you definitely wanted to give a wide berth to. Now mind you I couldn’t actually see the towers at that point because the visibility had dropped to under a mile (yeah, I know. We definitely shouldn’t have been there in the first place) but I grew up not far from there and drove past them all the time.

So at this point I politely brought up the fact that she had us on a course to, you know, hit said towers. And would she, kind of like, please not? “Put your mind at ease young fellow.” she said, “I just flew this route just this morning and I know for a fact that those towers are on the other side of the freeway.” knowing I was right, I pressed the issue for a minute or two but she would not be swayed. (Possibly some female stubbornness if you want to be sexest about it) Lacking any other option other than to start a fight for the controls of the plane I just sat back with my arms crossed, waiting to be proven right. Not really, instead I stared intently out the windscreen looking for the towers to appear. TOWER!!! I yelled, pointing unnecessarily at red and white TV antenna that suddenly appeared directly in front of us. To her credit Shirley immediately cranked the 182 over in a steep left bank and missed the guy wires by at least 100 yards. A miss is as good as a mile I guess. After resuming our course on the opposite side of the freeway she acknowledged her mistake saying that she was confused by the fact that in the morning she’d been going east but on the way home she was going west so the towers were on the other side of the road.