The Duchess

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.

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