As many of you might have heard Mil Blogger Carroll “LEX” Lefon was killed earlier this week flying an Israeli F-21 Kfir at Fallon as a civilian contractor. LEX’s blog Neptunus Lex was the first site I hit every morning for flying stories, wisdom and just plain great writing. Lex and I shared a few emails and his tips about the book I’m writing about my own flying stories were increadable gifts from the master himself. Lex was loved by many and the fact that hundreds of fans who have never met are getting together tonight all across the country to swap Lex stories and honor the man is a great tribute indeed. So if Lex touched your life like he did mine or you just want to help celebrate the life of a great man raise a glass of Guinness tonight at 7:00 CST and toast the fallen. For strength.
In 2011 I delivered five planes to their new owners around the world. I landed in 32 different countries and hit, maybe not quite the right word, six out of seven continents. Most of my early ferry flights involved crossing the Atlantic Ocean in small single and multi-engine aircraft. In order to get the range required to fly such long distances aircraft making the crossing are often equipped with ferry tanks. These tanks are locked inside the cabin and connected to the fuel system. Adding that much fuel obviously increased the weight of the aircraft, usually exceeding the normal maximum allowable gross weight. When ferrying an aircraft the FAA allows you to exceed the normal limit by twenty five percent. When I first started ferrying there was no GPS system to tell us our position once we were out of range of the land based navigational aids. This meant flying for sometimes up to nine hours with nothing but a compass to follow until you picked up the beacon in the Azores, if you missed the Azores you were going swimming.
I made my first solo transatlantic crossing on December 29,1990. I flew a Piper Duchess from St Johns Newfoundland to Santa Maria in the Azores in seven hours and forty-eight minutes. Scared to death would be putting it mildly as land disappeared behind me and there was nothing but ocean as far as I could see. I was being led by the owner of Orient Air, Pete Demos Who was flying a turbine converted Cessna 206. Halfway to the Azores Pete lost the vacuum pump in the plane he was flying, never a good thing but epically bad that day because we would be arriving well after dark and the weather forecast was for low clouds and rain. Not wanting to fly his disabled aircraft alone we met over the first island in the Azores chain and Pete formed up on my wing. We flew formation in the clouds at night the 350 miles to Santa Maria with Pete using my aircraft as his artificial horizon.
When we got to Santa Maria the air traffic controllers wouldn’t let us fly a formation approach without Pete declaring an emergency. Not wanting to do this because of the potential for day killing paperwork that might be involved Pete broke off from me and waited while I flew the approach first. I broke out of the clouds at eight hundred feet and picked up the runway through the rain. I called Pete and told him how high the clouds were and estimated the visibility at about three miles. Pete acknowledged my report and instead of flying the published approach he elected to descend out over the ocean get below the cloud deck and try and find the lights of the island to guide him to the airport. Unfortunately for Pete the clouds were lower out over the ocean and when he finally broke out he was below five hundred feet and almost crashed into the dark water below. When he finally found the airport and landed he was covered with sweat and pretty shook up. That was my introduction to ferry flying and that trip turned out to be par for the course.