I have been a voracious reader for my entire life. I love science fiction, military, mystery, horror and obviously anything aviation. I also love true stories of adventure. Give me a story of someone who’s gone off on some kind of adventure and gotten themselves in some kind of jam and I’m hooked. There are dozens of great books like that come to mind but there are 2 that stand out. Jon Krakaur’s Into Thin Air and RIver of Doubt about Teddy Roosevelt’s amazing trip in the Amazon. I also love anything by Stephen Ambrose. So imagine my surprise when FERRY PILOT came up alongside (and ahead of) these greats. I still can’t believe how well the book has been received.
Color me blown away. When I started writing Ferry Pilot I was mainly doing it to get my many stories down on paper. (that’s how long ago I started writing it) I just wanted to be able to share my experiences with my family. When it turned into a book and I decided to try and get it published I figured it might sell a few copies but wouldn’t be much of a big deal. I mean, I couldn’t actually write a popular book could I?
Well, it turns out I can. After just one day on Amazon I got some surprising and totally unexpected results.
FERRY PILOT was Number 1 in the Aviation category. Number 1 in travel biographies and memoirs and number 1 in adventure and explorer biographies!
FERRY PILOT was also the number one new release in aviation.
I couldn’t be more shocked. Everyone who’s read it so far has loved it.
Now I have to decide who gets to play me in the movie.
10 years. I’ve been working on my book for 10 years. I think. It seems like forever. What book you ask? Why the book I’ve written about my early years as an international ferry pilot of course. It’s called “FERRY PILOT” (clever right?) I really wanted to call it Fairy Tales but I thought it would come up when someone searches for the gingerbread man or something.
Anyway, the book is finally done and will be launching on Amazon today and I couldn’t be happier! When I started this project I had no idea it would take so long. My original goal was just to jot down a few of my flying stories so I could share them with my family. (also with myself in my old age. It was surprising how fast little details of stories that I thought were burned into my memory faded.) But over time the project became a full fledged book. And a darned good one if you ask my opinion.
So here it is!
Here’s a tiny preview.
July 17, 1991
My mood darkened as I stared out at the massive light show laid out in front of me. I didn’t bother looking at the map for an escape path, there was none. And I’d passed the point of no return long ago. I needed to go east and the line of massive thunderstorms was in my way. As I approached the storm wall I felt insignificant, like a tiny ant at the base of a skyscraper. The boiling mass of dark gray towered above me, topping out at 40,000 feet? . . . 50? . . . higher? The unreachable tops of the powerful storm front didn’t matter to me though. (The tiny Cessna I was flying could barely make half that altitude on its best day) I was heading for the middle. Tightening my seat belt I studied the flashing clouds, looking for a weakness, a gap, anything that might increase my chances of survival. Not seeing any breaks in the wall I picked an area with the least amount of flashes, kicked off the autopilot and dove in.
Strong turbulence slammed into the plane as soon as I penetrated the cloud wall. I fought for control as I was tossed around like a rag doll. The sound in the cockpit was deafening as heavy rain pelted the windshield and airframe. Then, without warning, the floor gave way as I plunged over a thousand feet in just seconds. The strong downdraft made it feel like a trapdoor open beneath me. Loose items floated around the cockpit as I shoved the throttle to the stops and hauled back on the yoke, trying to arrest the uncontrolled descent. In spite of my efforts I was still going down at over two thousand feet per minute. Then a sudden updraft grabbed the plane and pushed me down in the seat as the altimeter spun back the other way. This cycle repeated several times while lightning flashed in the cockpit in a crazy strobe light show. I was almost completely out of control on a crazy roller coaster ride that I couldn’t get off of. The plane was being slammed around so much that I was worried the wings might come off. I slowed my airspeed down as much as possible and tried to dampen the crazy gyrations as the term “In-flight breakup” echoed in my mind.
Late breaking news. Apparently we don’t live in a flawless instant gratification world. When I uploaded the book onto Amazon I was informed that it could take as much a 72 hours to get the paperback version available for sales. So if you’re like me and hate reading Ebooks you will just have to wait.
Once upon a time there were some young men who liked to fly and ride around in helicopters. They were almost as glorious in their youth as the aerial steeds they flew. The one and only UH-1H “Heuy” helicopter.
Oh we few, we happy few. We were soldiers of the Minnesota National Guard and we ranged far and wide in our olive green aircraft, beating up the countryside by day and drinking mass quantities by night. It was a glorious time to be alive.
But as time wore on things changed, as they must. Some of us left the unit as their lives changed direction while others stayed on as the Hueys were put out to pasture and the UH-60 Blackhawk was brought online.
More glorious times were had in the newer, more powerful Blackhawks as the unit was eventually sent off to the war in Iraq to test their mettle. They came back intact and resumed their lives.
As time went on our little band of brothers retired one by one, most with over 30 years of service to their country. A lot of us stayed in aviation as civilian medevac pilots, DNR pilots or as commercial pilots of one form or another.
A lot of us stayed in touch but we missed being a unit. So being problem solvers we fixed that. And the Red Devils motorcycle club was born. Which is a really really long winded we of saying my Army buddies and I got together last week for our annual mortorcycle trip. Or as we call it AT (Annual training) It;s what we used to call the two weeks we spent every year up at Camp Ripley Minnesota playing Army for theNational Guard. . . .Well we thought it was cute.
Anyway, We rode up to Grand Rapids Minnesota and stayed in a beautiful house on a lake owned by one of our founding members. From there we rode out on our daily trecks in search of twisty turney roads, steak and eggs and the occasionally liquid refreshment. At night we gathered round for to debrief the day with more food and lubrication. (SHOTS!)
It was a great 4 days with only one warning ticket given to the Sergeant Major and one bike stuck in the mud.
So there he was, no kidding thought he was gonna die. OK. maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement. But the issue was certainly in doubt there for a few seconds. Got a call from Super Girl yesterday. Seems her boyfriend, Liam, had a spot of trouble on a skydive and had to cutaway his canopy. (That’s a parachute, for those of you who are WUFFOS. What’s a WUFFO? That’s a person who does not skydive. Because they always ask us “Whafo you jump out of perfectly good airplanes?”)
What happened was when Liam opened his parachute one of the lines had a tension knot in it. (A tension knot is a fancy term for tangled.) When his chute opened it immediately started spinning. And when a high performance canopy starts spinning it really gets moving! Oh, and it also dives for the ground like a homesick angel. So he had that going for him.
It looks something like this. Or I should say it looks exactly like this because this is the footage he got from the camera he was wearing.
Now cutting away from a malfunction is not that big of a deal these days. The new-fangled cutaway systems on modern skydiving rigs is pretty simple. Just pull the handle on your right to cutaway the main canopy, and pull the one on the left to open the reserve. Simple and easy. (Even fun, if you’re a twisted sort, like me. I’ve had about 27 cutaways over the course of my 34 year career and 20,000 jumps so they don’t bother me. Actually I love them because they are a little bit of excitement in an otherwise boring day of skydiving.)
The only problem with cutting away (part from the reserve not working, but we don’t like to think about that) is that once you cut your main canopy away it tends to drift down by itself landing God knows where. If you’re lucky, it lands on the dropzone. Just walk over, pick it up then go have a beer! (Don’t forget to buy a bottle for your rigger. He saved your life after all!) If you’re unlucky your $2000 parachute lands in the corn. Can you guess, dear reader, where Liam’s precious landed? That’s right. In the middle of the biggest corn field in Wisconsin. Great.
LAUNCH THE ALERT 5 CORN TEAM!
Lucky for Liam he has a lot of friends willing to help wander around in nine foot tall corn fields looking for his stuff. (Better help others look for their stuff or no one will help look for yours.) We actually had the largest group of searchers I’ve ever seen. It still took a while to find his parachute.
It’s kind of creepy searching in the corn. We found two student ripcords that had been dropped. One really old reserve handle from someone’s long ago malfunction and one walkie talkie that must have ripped off some unlucky student’s helmet. They must have gotten down without guidance OK or I’d remember. In the end we were successful in finding his main canopy.
Then just to make the day a little more difficult Super Girl locked her keys in her Jeep. Never fear dad is here!
And thus ends another day at the dropzone.
With our country’s independence day quickly approaching I thought I’d re-post one of my favorite posts from my favorite author. Capt. Carroll LaFon “LEX” was a Navy F-18 fighter pilot who was not only a maestro in the cockpit but a fantastic writer and poet as well. His blog “Neptunus Lex” was incredibly popular and after his untimely death flying a Israeli F-21 Kfir fighter jet in bad weather his supporters have remained loyal fans.
By lex, Tue – April 5, 2005
I never met a fighter pilot I didn’t want to gun.
BFM – Basic fighter maneuvers. Dogfighting. Mano a mano. One versus one.
Play hard or stay home.
There’s nearly nothing a fighter pilot would rather do, completely sober, than try himself against another fighter pilot in the physical and mental test of skill that is man-to-man air combat. Sure, there’s a great deal of job satisfaction to be had by shacking a weapons cache from 20,000 feet, and seeing secondary explosions – it’s lovely, in fact. But it’s not personal, it’s just business. And yes, the sensation of a near-perfect landing aboard the ship is as close as one can come to le petit mort while fully dressed. But that is a part of what we do. And it is true that in a many vs. many air combat brawl there is to be found the kind of fey, wild joy that was only paralleled perhaps a hundred years or so ago in the clashing collision of cavalry troops, there is the element of chance: You could do everything right, in a big fight, and still get killed.
Because in a huge fur ball, as a mature, multi-plane engagement is known, victory and defeat are only partly attributable to skill – engagements which follow tactical intercepts are rarely ever entirely neutral – there is always an advantage accrued to one side or the other in position, angle or altitude. And there is only so much information the human mind can process in a four vs. four or 4v6 engagement, at seven and a half g’s, with the sun scribing crazy arcs in the sky as the heavens and the sea alternately fill and fly from your windscreen. Odds are, having accepted the challenge to enter that dangerous environment (as you must – you are, after all, a fighter pilot) you will, over time, lose track of a friend, or worse – lose track of a foe. And when you lose sight, you lose the fight. It is exactly that simple. Because when you lose sight, you will most likely suffer a missile attack to the belly, a place you cannot visually clear, a place where you are blind. A place you cannot, therefore, defend. Because it’s always the one you don’t see that kills you.
Many v many fights are more like quantum mechanics than Newtonian physics – there, you take your chances, and you play the odds. If you are very good, you will mostly emerge victorious. Mostly.
But nothing is certain. Because sometimes you get the bear. And sometimes, the bear gets you.
Not so in a neutral 1v1. There, you and your adversary are perfectly matched in angle, airspeed and altitude. When the fight starts, when you accept the engagement, you will quickly enter a small space of air, bounded by the turning radii of your aircraft. It is a virtual “knife fight in a phone booth” – and while two can enter, only one will leave victorious.
In 1v1 BFM, your opponent does not shoot at your airplane – he shoots at you. When you brief the fight, you are measuring each other up. You are looking at your friend, and imagining innovative ways to kill him. You are striving for any advantage – terrain, altitude, the angle of the sun. This is not just business – it is personal.
Once airborne, on the way to the range, you’ll complete your combat checklist, to ensure that every system is optimized for the struggle ahead. The last thing you’ll do is a g-warm up: Four g’s one direction for 90 degrees, six g’s back on course. This serves to inflate your g-suit, and raise your heart rate and blood pressure – you’ll need them all.
Having reached the pre-agreed altitude, you’ll maneuver the jet to the correct distance abeam – a nautical mile and a half, quite frequently; nine thousand feet. And then you’ll strive to get exactly the right airspeed, often 350 knots. Because in a moment, the lead will make the radio call “Tapes on,” referring to the on-board video recording system – this system will capture all your weapons symbology, to ensure that any missile or gun attacks are valid. It will also record your altitude, heading and airspeed. Which you want to be exactly at the pre-briefed number. Because if you are five knots fast, and you win, it will be thought that you cheated. Which will erase the victory.
You check your orientation to the world. You look up, and fix the position of the sun: east-northeast, and 80 degrees high. Because you don’t want to let your adversary use it after the merge to hide. Because, if things work out, you’d like to use it for yourself.
“Three, two, one – fight’s on!”
At “three” you’ll maybe creep the throttles up a bit. At “two” they’ll be on the mil power stops. At “one,” you’ll push them into afterburner, and raise the nose just a bit, to keep from accelerating past the target airspeed. Because once the fight starts, you’ll want the blowers fully engaged, you’ll want every advantage you can gain. From this point onward, it’s tooth and nail, hammer and tong. Just you and him, alone together in the phone booth with an exit just big enough for one.
Some have said that the art of 1v1 BFM is antiquated, a leftover from the time of airborne knights and aerial chivalry. A legacy of times past that ought to be forgone: It is useless, it is dangerous. Missiles will do the killing work at range. Sometimes when we maneuver to the edge of the performance boundaries, as we must in BFM, we cross them. Having crossed them, sometimes we crash.
Sometimes we die.
Realists say that missiles can be defeated. Purists will say that nothing teaches so well the desired attributes of aggressiveness, the desire to win, the knowledge of the airplane, the knowledge of one’s self. Others will note that from the time you see your foe in combat, and he sees you, you are 1v1 in a real, personal and very intimate sense. When you both accept the engagement, and agree to “grovel” in a full-blown fight, you have agreed that today only one of you may live, and that the other must die. With today’s weapons systems, there is no other alternative. Once you open the door, and walk into the room, it is win or die.
It is no longer business. It is personal.
At nine thousand feet of separation, your turning circles do not yet intersect. No point in trading precious airspeed for position when your adversary can take the angles back without a concomitant sacrifice. You are just too close to exchange missile attacks head on, and training rules prohibit you from forward hemisphere gun attacks. Because, while these are valid in combat, in training they would lead to far too many crashes, too many deaths, as each pilot strove for advantage.
At 1.5 miles separation, you are seven seconds away from each other.
You turn in slightly nose low – to maintain airspeed, to build turning room in the vertical. The airframe is moaning from the airspeed, the afterburners throbbing behind you – your g-suit inflates and deflates as the spring-bob which controls the valve is alternately depressed and released. You look over your shoulder, with a fixity of purpose that’s maybe only paralleled in a surgical ward: You must not lose sight.
He’s in the HUD – a left-to-left pass. Check the sun – no advantage, either way. Check airspeed – slow! Bunt the nose down. Better. Grit your teeth, he’s coming. He’s coming.
Pull the stick back in your lap, groan under the sudden onslaught of g – your 150-pound body now weighs well over a thousand pounds. The blood is pulled from your head, down towards your abdomen and legs. The g-suit inflates, fighting it. Your vision narrows, it dims. You strain, and grunt, willing the blood back up, back to your optic receptors. You must not lose sight. You fight to breathe against the strain, against the g-suit pressing on your thorax. You gasp for air. You drown.
Hard, hard across his tail, and down now, more g, striving for advantage. The earth fills your windscreen, but it’s far, far away – 20 seconds at least. Life is measured in much shorter periods in a fight. Ten seconds is an eternity.
He counters high – you dare to smile through gritted teeth inside your mask: A mistake. What goes up, must come down. What must come down is predictable. What comes down must fight against the earth’s own g force when coming back up again. A g against him, and one for you as you add your pull to earth’s own. That’s two g’s to you.
Too close now for a missile attack. It will be a guns kill, unless he rashly tries to flee: He doesn’t. He can’t. There’s time still to spend, long seconds. but it’s all over now, all over but the crying. He made a mistake.
You only get one mistake in air combat.
You have the angles, you add the pressure. You beat him down, merciless, pushing hard – now he’s out of altitude, nowhere to go. Now he’s out of airspeed, no way to get there. You switch to guns, pull lead, solve for plane of motion, solve for range. You pull the trigger. You call him out. It’s over.
There’s nothing quite like a guns kill: Missiles are mechanical – guns are aimed, guns take skill, guns require mastery.
A guns kill is personal.
The Caravan is sick, has a cold or Corona virus, or something. Symptoms? Metal in the oil. (considered bad, potentially fatal if not addressed)
So the old girl had a doctors appointment in Arkansas first thing Monday morning. Not a problem. fly jumpers all weekend, then head off for the 2.5 hour flight to Pocahontas Arkansas. We even got done a little early on Sunday so the pilot could make most of the flight in daytime. (not as scary I guess)
But no, “I’ll leave first thing in the morning” he says. I pointed out that the weather along the route was fine at that very moment, and even though the weather was supposed to be “OK” in the morning why not just go now? Why not? Well dear reader, if you are at all familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs it says humans have some very basic things that they need in life. Things like, food, safety, friends, esteem and self actualization. That is the needs list for normal people. Pilots and skydivers have a different list. It’s shorter. Beer, women and aircraft. In no particular order.
Our hero already had a plane to fly and it wasn’t Miller Time so can you guess what need he wanted to fill? Yep. “Momma always says, womens is the devil”
So instead of getting when the getting was good our fair haired put off takeoff until tghe next morning. What difference could it possibly make?
To say I was grouchy about the pilot’s decision would be an understatment.
Luckily my runway drains quickly so by late afternoon there was a strip of grass that was dry enough to use. When the pilot finally showed up (GRRRRR!) I walked him out to the runway and showed him exactly where to start his run and where to head for. (my runway is very wide so a guy can get a little lost in it)
The pilot loaded up the plane with his overnight bag and a cute blonde and fired up. I decided to park myself halfway down the runway a shoot some video. You never know when something interesting is going to happen.
Somebody wasn’t paying attention when I told him what part of the runway to use.
What a great weekend! Tons of people wanted to jump out of reasonably good airplanes and for the first time this year nothing on said airplane broke. The weather was perfect and only two students landed in the trees. (Ok, that kind of sucked but no one got hurt so I’ll take it) It was almost like 2020 was trying to make amends for the crap it’s pulled so far.
Clouds started to roll in at the end of the day on Sunday and we had to scramble a bit to get the last load up but we got it done. The gang wrapped up the weekend by sitting in front of the building and rehashing the jumps we made over a couple of cool beverages. My daughter Claire (AKA “Super Girl”) even complemented me on my performance on the jump we made together on Saturday. (She’s WAY better than me now and I’ll take what I can get) Yep, it was the perfect end to a perfect weekend. This skydiving business is OK.
Then it started to rain. No big deal. We’d gotten everything done and the runway was getting a little dry anyway. Perfect.
Later that evening Super Girl sent me this picture of her boyfriend.
The kids at the dropzone are standing around drinking in the rain and splashing in the puddles. So cute. Oh, to be young again.
Then I heard my phone ringing at 3:00 AM. Now whenever the phone rings late at night it’s never good news. My guess was that hail or a tornado had destroyed the airplane. (It’s parked outside) Nope, it was an extremely drunk pilot (but I repeat myself) and he was in quite a frenzy. It seemed that some of the aforementioned gang had taken advantage of the upcoming no-fly day and continued their celebrations into the wee hours. A good thing too. Because when one of them ventured into the main building to re-stock their supplies he found that things were getting just a bit moist. Very moist. Water was pouring into the building! ( ! indeed)
Cathy and I were ready to get dressed and spring into action but the drunk skydivers (again, I repeat myself) told us that they had things under control. They got all the parachutes and gear off the floor and saved what they could.
The next morning things were just a bit different out when the jumpers who live in our trailer park woke up.
Needless to say we have our work cut out for us.
Last week, (month? year? Things all run together for me this time of year) our jump plane had a chip detector light come on in flight. A chip detector is a small engine probe that can detect any metal that show up in the engine oil. It looks like a small spark plug and can detect even the tiniest amounts of metal in the oil.
There is supposed to be metal in the engine, NOT in the oil! Metal in the engine oil in an indication that something in the engine is coming apart. See: bad. The engine might continue to run for years or seconds. No way to know. But when that RBL (really bad light) comes on in a multi million dollar airplane full of squishy bodies the prudent pilot puts her on the ground, fast! The jumpers? They left the pilot to deal with the problem alone. That’s one of the advantages of being a skydiver.
” Anything I can do to help? No? Ok, well . . . See ya later. Good luck!”
So we got the Caravan on the ground and sent for the calvary. The man coming to the rescue in this case is Jorge “Horhay” Mechanic extrordonaire. We unbuttoned the plane and pulled the chip detector dreading what we might see.
We were hoping for a loose wire or something. What we really didn’t want to see was what Jorge called an “afro” An “Afro” in a chip detector that is full of metal and is generally considered “bad”
“We don’t likes bad, do we precious?”
We pulled the plug with baited breath and . . . . . nothing. Whew! Well, not exactly nothing. when I looked really close I could see just the smallest of black lines on the the plug.
There was just one tiny little hair of metal on the end of the plug. Matel. Bummer. But at least it wasn’t an afro. We reassembled the plane and ran the engine on the ground for 10 minutes and didn’t get another chip detector light so we test flew it. Still no light. The metal was probably just some tiny random sliver of metal that somehow worked it’s way loose after all these years. Probably.
So we filled the Caravan full of squishy bodies again the next day and hoped for the best.
Guess we’ll see.
I made my first jump in 1986 and back then we thought we had it all figured out. You jump out of the plane, fly on your belly to grab your friends and then see how many formations you can make in the short time you have left before break off. For a short time jumpers sought to increase their freefall time by wearing big floppy jump suits called Balloon suits. The theory was the more drag you have the slower you go. The slower you go the more time you have to play. In practice they didn’t work very well because of the dirty air they produced. They also had a tendency to create very slow openings, which made things a little more exciting than they were looking for.
Fast forward to today, we still fly on our belly’s (sometimes) but my new favorite thing to do is what’s called angle diving. On an angle dive you chase the leader as he rockets through the sky in an almost straight down angle. It’s very challenging because you’re going almost as fast as you can go (250 mhp +) and if you make one tiny error you will be watching your friends from the cheap seats. And one of the coolest things about it is when you breakoff from each other you actually pull a lot of G’s with your body as you pull out from the steep angle and streak across the sky. It’s . . . exhilarating.