I know you all were disappointed that I didn’t get to fly the Cirrus to Berlin this weekend and entertain you all with the trip report. It was going to be too. I was going to see just how fast I could make the trip from Wisconsin to Germany and call it the Kessel run.
“You’ve never heard of the Millennium Falcon?…It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.” Han Solo
Get it? I was going to make the US to Germany run really fast…….Call it the Kessel run………Well I thought it was funny.
I was going to finish up the trip with some good German beer and then run home in time for Number One Son’s Friday night football game, BING, BANG BOOM. But alas it was not to be. So to try and make it up to you I’m going to share another story from my distant past that can also be found in my Book when I finally get it published. So without further ado here’s the story
THE SOUND OF SILENCE
Things were really starting to get busy for me in the summer of 1992. Pete was sending me all over the world delivering planes and I was taking a more active role in managing the dropzone in Wisconsin. All over the country skydiving was going through a metamorphosis and our little club was no exception. Teaching people how to skydive and taking them on tandem jumps was starting to become a profitable business. Where before a jump master or instructor taught students just for fun and to keep the sport alive, now you could actually make a living throwing strangers out of airplanes.
I’d taken the time to get all my skydiving instructor ratings so whenever I wasn’t flying planes I was jumping out of them. My favorite thing to do when I was working at the drop zone was to teach students how to fly their bodies in free fall as an AFF (Accelerated Free Fall) instructor. With the AFF program one or two instructors jump out of the plane holding onto the students in order to keeping them under control and making sure they did all the important things, like pulling their ripcord.
My personal life was starting to go through some major changes as well. I’d started dating a beautiful Finnish farm girl from the upper peninsula of Michigan named Cathy Rajala. Cathy was attending the University of St. Thomas at the time and although very serious about her studies she was just as much fun to hang around with as the other women I had been seeing but there was something about her that impressed me and made me want to spend more time with her. We both pretended to be just friends for almost a year before a kiss at a New Years Eve party ended up lingering a little longer than either of us expected.
As we saw more and more of each other Cathy started coming out to the airport to see me off when I left on ferry trips. It was great having her there when I was getting ready to leave, it reminded me that there was someone nice waiting for me when I got back. One thing always bothered me though; she never seemed very worried about the dangers of flying small planes across the ocean. I don’t know if she was putting on a brave front or if she didn’t really grasp just how dangerous ferry flying really was. Her perception of ferry flying might have been faulty because when I got home from a trip I tended not to tell her about the dangers and tended to make excuses when she overheard one of my friends asking about one of my close calls.
I had no idea I’d have one of my closest calls when Cathy dropped me off at the South St. Paul Airport on a beautiful sunny June day. I was ferrying a single engine Mooney to Rome, Italy and the first leg of the trip would be an easy flight to Bangor, Maine. It was an easy day of flying and getting to know a new aircraft until I was confronted by a large line of thunderstorms over the Adirondack Mountains in New York State. If God was trying to make me feel small and insignificant, the wall of clouds He had laid out in front of me was definitely working. From 19,000 feet the billowing white mass towered five miles above me and stretched 100 miles to either side.
I’d been talking to the professional weather guessers at flight service for the previous half hour, trying to get a good understanding of what lay in my path so the line of thunderstorms hadn’t taken me by surprise. The picture they painted for me wasn’t pretty, a line of thunderstorms marching eastward across New Hampshire and heading for straight for Maine, directly in my path.
After plotting the system on my map along with its heading and speed I was presented with two choices; land and wait for the storms to work their way across New Hampshire and Maine, which would mean spending the night somewhere, putting me behind schedule; or try and find a way through. Luckily for me, or unluckily as it turns out, the storms were not as strong as the giant thunder-boomers we often have in the Midwest.
The thought of stopping two hours short of Bangor, Maine didn’t appeal to me very much. If I stopped not only would it mean an extra two hours flying time tacked onto the next day but I would still have to stop in Bangor to clear customs. The extra flight time and customs would delay my arrival in St. Johns, Newfoundland until well after dark.
I liked to get to St. Johns early so I could get the plane fueled and ready, make an appointment with the weather briefers the next morning and get to the hotel in time to have a good dinner and relax a bit before the long trans-Atlantic crossing. If I got there in time to spend a little time at the local bar next to the nursing school so much the better, a little exercise in the form of dancing helps me sleep.
With nothing but the professional concern for the safety of the client’s plane in mind I pushed my oxygen mask aside and called center to ask them to help me find a crack in the wall. The controller suggested I fly south along the line of storms. He thought there might be a way through in that direction. As I flew in the clear sky along the trailing edge of the storm I monitored the storm on the strike finder that was installed in the plane. The strike finder showed lightning strikes as little green dots on the screen making it possible to identify where the thunderstorms were. When I looked at the dozens of green dots on the screen I knew I had my work cut out for me.
To be continued: