I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before but I know how to skydive. Actually, jumping out of perfectly good airplanes is my main bread and butter these days. And with around 20,000 jumps in my logbook and 36 years of experience you might say I’m something of an expert. Well, you might not say that but I like to.
There are a lot of disciplines in skydiving and not only do I know how to do them all but I’m fairly good at most of them. There is belly flying, (flying on your belly), Swooping,(the art of diving your canopy at the ground and ripping across the grass as fast as you can), wing suiting (flying in a squirrel suit) angle flying (the art of flying with your friends at very steep angles at speeds approaching 250 mph), and lastly flying head down, (the name says it all I guess).
I’m pretty good at most of them except flying head down. I can do it, but I’m not great at it. I just haven’t spent the time to perfect that skill. Comparing my skills at head down flying to guys that are really good is like saying that while yes, I can drive a car, I’m not quite ready to hit the formula 1 circuit anytime soon.
This week a group of skydivers who are slightly better than I am at flying head down are trying to set an new world record by linking 200 of them together in freefall. I know a lot of the jumpers on the record attempts including my daughter’s boyfriend Liam. I wish I could be part of the effort but my skills would only be useful in the cockpit of one of the Twin Otters.
I like flying twin engine aircraft. I like the extra speed you (usually) get by doubling the engines. I like the extra complexity you get by having twice the buttons, dials, knobs and levers to fiddle and play with. (Toys are fun, the more the better) And I like the extra safety you get by having a spare engine hanging on the other wing in case the first one decides to play the fool. Again, (Usually).
I say usually because losing an engine and continuing the flight on the remaining engine can be a hand full and if not performed correctly can result in loss of control which usually ends up poorly for an unsuspecting pilot. If the pilot lets his or her airspeed get too low, the operating engine can overpower the pilot’s ability to to control the aircraft resulting in the aircraft rolling over and going vertical. That’s usually considered “bad”. If it happens at too low of an altitude to recover, it’s fatal.
Listening to your multi engine instructor tell you that you’re just ten knots from certain death is scary. Watching a video of a Queen Air getting slow and VMCing in is terrifying.
In the video above the pilot was clearly having engine problems and was trying to land back at the airport. (You can hear one of the engines popping and backfiring.) It looks like he’s maintaining altitude and should have to trouble making the runway, if he takes his time and flies a nice wide pattern with easy, shallow banks. unfortunately he does the exact opposite and tries to pull off a steep bank and dive for the runway. To make matters worse it looks like he turns into the dead engine. The result was predictable.
Now I’ve been flying multi engine aircraft for close to 30 years and have logged over 2000 hours in them but I still treat them with the utmost respect. On every takeoff I visualise what I’ll see and what my actions will be if I lose an engine right before or after rotation. Basically, I go over “the drill”. The drill is the sequence of actions a pilot must perform if he, or she, loses an engine on takeoff. It goes like this.
Engine out, the airplane will yaw one left or right dramatically.
Step 1. Fly the airplane. Put the nose down slightly and center the ball on the turn and bank indicator.
Step 2. Identify the dead engine. You do this by first noting which foot you’re using to keep the plane going straight. If you’re pushing down on the left rudder pedal then it’s the right engine that has failed. “Dead foot, Dead engine”
Step 3. Verify. This is where you double check that it’s the right engine that has failed. To do this you pull the right throttle back to idle. If you’re correct nothing will happen. (that engine is already producing zero thrust) If on the other hand you’ve guessed incorrectly things will get noticeably quieter, (because you’ve cut the power to the only engine that’s producing power) If you do that you should put the throttle back where you found it, like immediately.
Step 3. Feather the dead engine. Pull the propeller lever back past the detent the feather the prop.
If this sounds like a lot to do (especially if it happens right after takeoff) it is. If you’re not ready (who ever is?) and don’t have the drill down pat . . . well . . . you’re going to die.
Marcio stabs off the autopilot and gently raises the nose of the Phenom. Then the white centerline appears in the hazy beam of our landing light.
“It looks like we’re going to live today.”
“I think so.”
Marcio aligns the nose of the Phenom with the rudder, brings the throttles to idle and we touch down with a slight bump. We are down.
“The beer is going to taste soooo good tonight! Flaps coming to zero.”
“This would have been a real bitch without any lights!”
“Was the issue ever in doubt? Maybe . . . just a little.”
And just like that, it was over. No big deal. The taxi in was challenging. The runway and taxiway lights were a collection of multi-colored orbs, appearing magically in front of us as Marcio tried to keep from hitting one. Sheets of heavy mist raced past the twin beams of our taxi lights like ghostly apparitions as the wind increased. I estimated the visibility at around two hundred feet, sometimes less. As we crept along, searching for the ramp, conditions altered between terrible and really terrible.
After we finally found the ramp and parked Marcio shut the engines down. The silence was like a physical thing hanging over the cockpit like a heavy blanket. The contrast between the peace of success and the chaos of battle is always remarkable. Neither of us moved or said anything. Would have spoiled the moment. We’re only allowed a few seconds of reflection before the indestructible, unflappable pilots were expected to reappear.
“Well that was exciting.”
Marcio chuckled, offered me a fist bump and levered his big frame out of his seat.
That incident was a classic example of what can happen when you’re flying over parts of the world where crossing the point of no return means landing successfully at your destination or . . . Not.
I wasn’t terribly surprised. Our alternate airport at Pevek was north west of Anadyr and would be getting the bad weather sooner that Anadyr.
“What do you want to do man? What do you think?”
“We don’t have the option of turning around. I think we should go faster so we get there before it gets any worse. No sense flying slow and saving fuel now.”
Marcio agreed. The longer it took us to get there the worse the conditions would be when we arrived. He bumped the power up to high cruise while the reports from Anadyr kept coming in.
Two hundred fifty feet and two miles visibility.
Two hundred feet and one mile visibility.
Two hundred feet and one half mile.
There it was, our legal minimums to shoot the approach and land at Anadyr and we were still forty five minutes out. It would only get worse.
Marcio and I wanted to be left alone with our thoughts while we prepared for what was coming. John had different ideas. With the utmost confidence in his pilots (misplaced) he went about filming a TV show. He couldn’t do real interviews with us but he did make us talk about the situation we were in. We gave him a few minutes of dialog but our hearts weren’t in it. I hoped we looked calm and cool on camera while we casually talked about our possible impending doom.
I thought about what we might do differently if the cloud base was really low when we arrived. What if it was zero, zero? A totally blind landing? How would we handle that? The only thing I could think of was that maybe we should burn our fuel down to a minimum state before we landed. That way if we crashed in Zero visibility conditions there would be less fuel for the fire. I hated the thought of being burned alive. Or dead for that matter.
Thirty minutes out, one hundred ninety feet and one quarter mile visibility. Below minimums.
We’d been flying over some very interesting terrain for the last hour but I had a hard time caring. Thick forests had given way a craggy mountain range and what looked like a dormant volcano. The first signs of the low cloud layer appeared and covered everything in its path leaving only a few peaks sticking up in the fading light.
In the descent now. One hundred fifty feet one quarter mile, mist.
“We’ll have fuel for three, possibly four approaches when we get there.”
“If we’re in a good stabilized approach I’ll continue to the runway no matter if we can see it or not. It will only get worse if we go around and try it again.
I agree with my Captain’s plan and study the approach plate on my iPad.
“Anadyr tower Phenom seven bravo foxtrot, can you please request runway lights full bright. Lights full bright at the airport please.”
“Aaaah, lights are inoperative.”
Marcio and I looked at each other.
“Did he just say no lights?”
“No lights. Doesn’t help much does it?”
“No . . . That’s not good. We better make this first one count.”
Wonderful, we were about to attempt a night landing in almost zero visibility conditions and the runway lights were out. Things just keep getting better and better.
“Seven bravo foxtrot, wind three zero zero, six meters per second.”
I didn’t know how to convert that to miles per hour but it sounded windy.
As we got close to the airport a lone mountain top was poking up through the overcast. The fast moving clouds were flowing around the mountain, coming back together in a jumble of swirls and rents. I catch a glimpse of inky blackness beneath. Then it’s behind us as we turn in and begin the approach. All light leaves us as soon as we enter the clouds. The instrument lights give off a warm glow as Marcio adjusts the autopilot while I keep track of our progress on my iPad. I read about an Air Force cargo plane that was forced to do a true zero zero landing back in the nineteen fifties. The crew never saw the runway and landed using only the primitive navigation instruments of the time and flared using only the altimeter. I was thoroughly grateful for a good autopilot and the GPS system as we rode the Phenom to whatever awaited us at the end of our approach.
“When we hit five hundred feet I want you to call down our altitude.”
Everything is all set now. The landing gear is down and locked, flaps are set, all instruments in the green. There’s no point asking for a condition update, the die is cast. John hasn’t said anything for a while. I briefly wonder what he’s thinking?
“Four hundred.” Marcio gently puts his hands on the yoke but leaves the autopilot engaged.
“Three hundred . . . Two hundred.” Our legal minimums. Nothing outside. We should go to full power and execute a missed approach . . . We don’t.
“One fifty.” Nothing . . .Fuzzy white runway lights suddenly flash on in the mist! Someone’s been working overtime! More lights appear as we drop another few feet.
“I see the runway.” I say as I transition to the instruments in case Marcio can’t see them when he looks up to land.
I think I might have mentioned once or twice that I’m an international TV star. OK, “star” might be a bit of an exaggeration. I was, for a brief span of time, on the DIscovery Channel series “Dangerous Flights”. And as a result of my handsome mug being broadcast to millions of homes all over the world I am from time to time mobbed by fan. Yes, “fan” singular, as in once every few months some random aviation geek will recognize me and say something like, “Oh, yeah, I’ve seen that show.” High praise indeed.
Once they finally compose themselves and decline my offer of an autograph or photo with me, (no matter how much I insist) they often ask how much of the show was fake or scripted. Now I understand why a fan might ask that question. Most TV documentaries (reality series) have a reputation for, shall we say, “exaggeration”. Especially Airplane Repo. That show is BS from stem to stern. And I get it, most of the time nothing happens on reality shows so they have to make mountains out of mole hills. And if they can’t do that they make shit up. But not us! Well . . . mostly.
Soon after we started filming, Pixcom (the TV production company that produced Dangerous Flights) found out that when you follow real ferry pilots around the world on real ferry flights you don’t have to make stuff up. The action and drama never stop. And actually they ended up with so much great footage they ended up having to cut some truly amazing stuff from each episode. Of course they didn’t come to this conclusion until after forcing me to fake something. But that’s a story for another day.
The next question I usually get is “what was it like when you (insert dramatic situation I found myself in on the show)” Then I would end up telling the fan all about the episode he was wondering about and fill in all the missing pieces that the show didn’t have time to cover. That was the main reason I wrote “Dangerous Flights”. The trips we took while filming the show were so amazing and action packed that I felt the entire story needed to be told. That, and the fact that it’s just a rip roaring good tale!
One of the episodes I get asked about a lot is a dark night in Russia when I was the co-pilot on a Phenom 100 business jet. The trip started in Sydney Australia and our route took us up through the south Pacific, Japan and Russia. we pick up the story in Petropavlovsk one of the last legs in Russia before we cross over to the US. Marcio Lucchese and I are being helped by a beautiful but grouchy russian named Natasha. (No, I didn’t make her up).
Natasha took us up to the weather office where an actual smiling young woman printed out the weather forecast for our next leg to Anadyr. Anadyr was located in far northeast Siberia and was our last stop in Russia before crossing the Bering Sea to Alaska.
The weather girl told us that the weather en-route to Anadyr was good but the forecast for the airport called for low clouds, very poor visibility and high winds. If the forecast was accurate, the cloud base would be right at the two hundred foot limit when we arrived. The trend only got worse after that. Much worse.
Both Marcio and I looked at the forecast and said “Nope, not doing that.”
It wasn’t worth the risk because Anadyr was located way out in the middle of nowhere Siberia, hundreds of miles from the next nearest airport. It was one of those “Point of no return” routes that committed you to making a press on or turn back decision hundreds of miles from the destination. Once you crossed that line you wouldn’t have enough fuel to return to your starting point and were committed to landing successfully at your destination or crashing. It was definitely not a situation you wanted to get into with a terrible forecast at the destination airport. It looked like we’d be spending the night in Petropavlovsk.
“There is one thing you should know. This time of year when the low clouds and fog move into this area from Central Siberia it can sometimes last for one month, or more. I’m not telling you what to do. It’s just that I’ve seen this pattern many times and thought you should know.”
Natasha, always a ray of sunshine.
That little bit of information made a big difference. It was one thing to spend a day or two relaxing in some small town in central Siberia, while you wait for the weather to improve. It would be another thing entirely if we were stuck in that little town for a month or more. We all had lives and families to get back to. I also had a dropzone to run, Marcio had to go back to work at Delta and John had another trip he needed to film. Plus, I didn’t want to spend a month in Siberia! Of course if we went for it and got killed . . . well, that wouldn’t be very productive either.
“Get home itis” has probably killed more pilots than all other factors combined. The desire to “get there” regardless of the conditions is something that pilots are cautioned about from the beginning of their flight training. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the saying “It’s better to be on the ground wishing you’re in the air than in the air wishing you were on the ground.” Unfortunately that attitude doesn’t go along well with being a ferry pilot. A ferry pilot doesn’t have the luxury of waiting on the ground for nice weather. His job is to get the plane to its destination as quickly and as cheaply as possible. That means you’re expected to keep pushing on unless you think you will die in the process. And even then you’re supposed to go take a look.
Marcio and I looked at the forecast, checked the distances to Anadyr and the only other airport in the area and did fuel calculations. No matter how we looked at it, the answer was the same. If we went for it, it would be close. The point of no return was almost five hundred miles from Anadyr and the only airport we could divert to was hundreds of miles west in the direction the weather was coming from and not much help.
Then much to my surprise, Marcio told me to make the call. He said that flying jets had never put him in that situation before and he would defer to my experience.
So much for my vacation from hard decisions.
Fighting my own case of “get there itis,” I suggested a compromise.
Let’s take-off and head that way and we’ll keep getting weather updates for Anadyr as we go. When we approach the point of no return we’ll decide what to do then. If the weather looks good, we’ll keep going. If it looks like shit, we’ll turn back.”
Marcio liked that idea so we scrambled to take-off as fast as we could. Drifty had been filming the entire briefing and decision making process and wanted to take a few minutes and interview each of us about how we felt about the situation. I nixed the idea telling him that every minute we delayed meant a greater chance of us not making it. John persisted though and I almost had to grab him by the belt and throw him in the plane to get us out of there.
Once we were in the air and moving things didn’t look so bad. The skies were sunny and bright and the updates from Anadyr were good. It was starting to look like we’d been all worked up over nothing. The first report had a cloud ceiling of eight hundred feet and five miles visibility. The conditions were unchanged thirty minutes later. Then ATC called us and reported that the ceiling had dropped to six hundred fifty feet. Still not too bad, but the downward trend had started.
Decision time. The point of no return was fast approaching and we could stall no longer. The cloud base at Anadyr was holding at a little over six hundred feet which was acceptable but we still had two hours to go. I looked at the moving map on the instrument panel and pondered. The Phenom’s navigation software had an amazing range feature built into it. A maximum range circle was constantly displayed that showed us how far we could fly based on our remaining fuel, power settings and winds aloft. It was perfect for our situation. As I looked, the edge of the range circle behind us moved a little closer to Petropavlovsk. As soon as Petropavlovsk was outside the circle we wouldn’t have enough fuel to return.
“What do you think Poppy? Keep going or head back?”
“I don’t know. It looks Okay. What do you think?”
“Well, if the trend continues we should be able to make it in. But if things get worse we could be in trouble.”
Marcio was silent, waiting for me to make a decision.
“Let’s go for it. We still have Pevek airport as a possible alternate.”
With the decision made things were less stressful in the cockpit. It’s amazing how much better you feel once you’ve made up your mind and picked a course of action. Five minute later the range circle passed over Petropavlovsk and we were committed. Twenty minutes after that we were screwed.
“I called for an update. It was six hundred fifty feet, it’s now three hundred ninety feet. It got pretty bad in twenty minutes.”
“Twenty minutes huh?” Marcio said, not liking the rapid change and trend.
Then ATC called with a weather update for Anadyr. (That’s never good)
“November 777 Bravo Foxtrot. Anadyr now overcast at ninety Meters.”
Both of us heard that and I did a quick conversion. “That’s two hundred ninety feet.”
“That’s pretty low.”
“And the trend is dropping fast.”
“I’m thinking about going somewhere else. That’s not going to work.”
We had an alternate airport in our flight plane so I called ATC and told them that we’d like to divert.
“November seven bravo foxtrot, Aerodrome uniform hotel mike papa is closed.”
“That’s just great. Just close our alternate airport. Nice.”
Number One Son finally took his checkride last month and got his Private Pilot’s License. It’s been a long journey to the finish line. Connor started his flying career sitting on my lap at three years old with his tiny hands on the yoke. Right away I could tell that he was a natural. He immediately grasped how to make the plane go up and down, left and right by moving the yoke. To him it was just a really big toy that was fun to play with. And while I was impressed at how quickly he got the hang of I was also concerned with his complete lack of fear.
Fast forward to this spring and Connor was finally able to knuckle now and finish the last piece of the puzzle and take the FAA written exam. I say last piece of the puzzle because three years ago he’d finished all the flight requirements to take the checkride but couldn’t be bothered enough to study for the written exam. OK, I’ll give him a little slack because it was just before his Guard unit was deployed to the middle east and he wanted to spend time drinking beer with his buddies instead of studying. He promised to study in his off time but apparently the Army doesn’t give their Black Hawk crew chiefs lots of time off.
But the boy (now a man) made it home safely and finished up his PPL. Now the real learning starts. I checked him out in our Cessna 182 jump plane and he immediately started taking his friends for airplane rides. Pleasure flying is all well and good but I prefer flying with a mission to accomplish. I started out having Connor fly me in the 182 to book presentation at an airport 150 miles away. Of course when it was time to leave he discovered that the plane had a flat nose wheel so he scrambled to find an alternate aircraft. Any other 182 at the local flight school to rent? No? How about one of their 172s? All booked up. When I showed up at the airport he was all set to go, in a Cessna 150. Not as fast as the 182 but good enough. Welcome to aviation. It was a nice summer evening flight to the EAA presentation followed by a night flight home. The fact that the had to ushis headlamp because the 150 had almost no panel lights just made the trip more educational.
His next two missions were two hour cross country trips to a skydiving school in Chicago to ferry a jump pilot back and forth and then it was time to teach him how to fly skydivers. Now normally I don’t check out a new pilot until he has his commercial pilot’s license and about 500 hours of flight time but I’m the boss so exceptions can be made.
I sat Connor down and explained to him how to drop human meat bombs without killing anybody or damaging the plane. Then some of the jumpmasters who were sitting around drew straws to see who got to be on Connor’s first load and up we went. With all the seats removed, the jumpers sat on the floor and I knelt behind the pilot’s seat so I could see what Connor was doing and give instruction as needed.
The ride to altitude was quick and soon the door was open and the three jumpers climbed out on the wing strut and left. I stayed in the plane to show Connor how to close the jump door by slipping the plane and when I was sure he had it I jumped too.
Well, I finally got off my lazy rear end this last winter and spring and wrote another book. DANGEROUS FLIGHTS is about the ferry trips and experiences I had while on the Discovery Channel TV show called . . . wait for it . . . DANGEROUS FLIGHTS. I know, I can be pretty clever at times.
I was a little more nervous about writing and releasing this book because I wasn’t entirely sure that readers would find it as entertaining as my first book FERRY PILOT.
I was concerned because while I knew the stories in “Ferry Pilot” were a fantastic collection of crazy in-flight emergencies and adventures, “Dangerous Flights” was more of a record of complete ferry trips. It gives readers the day to day account of what it’s like to fly a small plane all over the world while at the same time filming a TV show. I needn’t have worried. “Dangerous Flights” has been selling well and the reviews are fantastic and people want more! I guess I’m going to have to buckle down and keep writing.
So if you’re looking for another good book to go in your aviation library pick up a copy of “Dangerous Flights” You won’t be disappointed!
Available on Amazon. Or signed copies at kerrymccauley.com
Back when the earth was cooling and dinosaurs still roamed the upper midwest I was a young man learning the art of aviation in two very non-traditional ways. The pilots and mentors who influenced me didn’t fit the mold of “normal” flight instructors. Instead of learning from young, clean cut CFI’s with a whopping 250 hours of flight time under their belt and an aircrew shirt complete with Captain’s epaulettes (what the hell is with that anyway?) I learned from the pirates and cowboy pilots in Army Aviation and skydiving.
As a young Huey crew chief I rode in the back of Army helicopters and learned that speed is life and flying low = fun. Many of the pilots in my unit had become masters of their craft in Vietnam and didn’t stand for any ticky-tack safety bullshit. They flew low and fast and got the job done.
My other form of aviation instruction came when I actually got my pilot’s license and started learning how to fly skydivers. Back in the 80’s the skydiving community was still mostly filled with cowboy pilots and operators, flying high time, beat up old Cessnas off of dirt strips in the middle of nowhere. These guys flew planes most pilots wouldn’t fly in conditions most pilots would never consider.
And with both sets of pilots I learned volumes of knowledge on how to and how not to fly and accomplish the mission. They had seen it all and had the stories to prove it. I particularly paid attention to the stories on the crashes because of the old saying “Learn from the mistakes of others. You’ll never live long enough to make them all yourself.”
Of course sometimes I got to learn these lessons first hand.
One of my best teachers was Pat “Quazy” Quasnick. Quazy was one of the most experienced skydivers in the country and had the foresight and vision to see that skydiving was on the verge of becoming big business. Two years after I started skydiving Pat walked into the local bank, laid five credit cards down on the managers desk and bought the farmland the St. Croix Valley Skydiving club was located on and became a dropzone owner. Having been around the skydiving business for years he was well aware that he couldn’t do tandems, fly the plane and answer the phones all at the same time. He needed to hire someone to help him do all the little things he couldn’t do himself. And because he’d sunk every dime he had into just buying the property he needed someone who would work for peanuts. That’s where I came in. Quazy had me doing all the stuff he either didn’t have time for or didn’t want to do. I cleaned the clubhouse, worked on the driveway, packed parachutes and flew his jump plane. I also helped him strip all the paint off his 182 to save weight. I basically did whatever he needed doing and he paid me by letting me jump out of his plane for free whenever I wasn’t flying it. It was a good arrangement for both of us.
One afternoon Pat had me come over to his apartment to answer the phones and take reservations while he flew his 182 up to North Dakota to visit his mother. When I got there he asked me to get the forecast for the route he be taking while he got ready for the trip. This was way back in the days before the internet so I had to call flight service and talk to a real person. The briefer I talked to didn’t paint a pretty picture. A large area of midwestern thunderstorms lay astride Quazy’s intended route and while they were isolated storms with possible breaks in between the briefer ended his cautionary tail with the often uttered phrase “VFR flight not recommended.” After hearing all that I completely agreed that Pat’s flight to his mom’s house was not a good idea. Trying to pick your way through a line of thunderstorms was never a good idea. It was an even worse idea if the pilot in question didn’t have an instrument rating like Pat. Although not having an instrument rating didn’t really matter much anyway because Quazy’s plane didn’t have any of the instruments needed to fly in the clouds anyway. Yes, It was Quazy’s 182 that I’d flown into the clouds earlier that summer and he still hadn’t replaced the artificial horizon or turn and bank indicator.
So no, Pat definitely should not attempt his flight to North Dakota that afternoon. So of course he went anyway. I tried to talk him out of it. I repeated the warnings the briefer told me about massive thunderstorms that would rip his plane to shreds or the low clouds that would force him into the dirt but to no avail. Pat’s mind was made up. He was an old time jump pilot who wasn’t afraid of a little rain and lightning. He told me that he could just pick his way through or around the storms, and if the clouds got low, he’d just go lower and scud run his way home.
“After all,” he said, there aren’t any mountains between here and my mom’s place. I can fly pretty damn low if I have to and still not hit anything.”
It was another case of a more experienced pilot making what I thought was a big mistake. But this time I’d be safe on the ground answering phones and watching TV instead of in the cockpit with him. Three hours later the phone rang and instead of someone calling to make a reservation to go skydiving it was Quazy. He sounded a little shook up and when I asked him what was wrong he told me that he’d been forced to land his plane on a country road in the middle of nowhere and needed me to come and fly it out. When I asked him what happened he said he didn’t want to talk about it and when I asked him why he didn’t just fly it out himself he told me that he was too shook up and had gotten a hotel room and was laying down trying to collect himself. I got the location of the hotel and hopped into his red Camaro and took off for Buffalo, MN to rescue Quazy.
When I got to the hotel and knocked on his room a visibility shaken Quazy answered the door. I was dying to hear what had happened because I’d never seen him like that before. We got in his car and he told me the story on the way to find his 182. He told me that as advertised, he’d run into the line of thunderstorms in central Minnesota. Not having an instrument rating or the necessary instruments to fly through the clouds that blocked his way, Quazy dropped down low and started hunting for a way through the storm cells.
“I kept getting pushed lower and lower until I finally couldn’t get see more than a few hundred yards ahead of me. He said. “At that point I figured it was time to turn around and get the hell out of there. The only problem was when I turned around I saw that the clouds had closed in behind me and it started raining like hell. I was getting pretty worried when I saw a nice straight stretch of road right in front of me. I chopped the power, dumped the flaps and slammed her down. By the time I landed it was raining so hard I could barely see the road I’d landed on. When I came to a stop there was a turn off into a farmers field so I pulled into it and shut down.”
After the storm passed and it stopped raining Quazy just left 84Alfa in the turnoff next to the farm field and started walking down the deserted country road. He hadn’t gone far before a farmer stopped and gave him a ride into town. As Quazy told me his story I pictured what it must have been like in the cockpit of the 182. Being caught under a thunderstorm with low clouds and pounding rain all around you and no escape in sight must have been terrifying. Our mission now was simple; Get the plane the heck out of there before the FAA found out about it. There was only one minor problem, Quazy wasn’t exactly sure where he’d left the plane. When the farmer gave him a ride into town he was still pretty shook up and wasn’t paying attention to the roads leading into town. All he could tell me was that it was somewhere southwest of town. We drove around for almost an hour before coming over a slight hill and there it was sitting in the field access driveway just like he told me. I pulled up to the plane, hopped out and began surveying the aircraft. I didn’t see any damage and looking up and down the road determined that getting it out of there wouldn’t be much of a problem. I was about to climb in and check to see how much fuel was left in it when Quazy spoke up.
“Never mind Kerry. I’m feeling better, I’ll fly it out.”
“You sure? I don’t mind. You should take the car back and I’ll meet you at the airport.”
“Nope, I’m good. I’ll fly it.”
Just then a sheriff’s car came over the hill towards us. We both stopped talking and just stood there, trying to look innocent and failing badly. Undoubtedly someone had seen the plane sitting where it shouldn’t be and called it in. I tried to think what kind of story we could come up with to explain a plane in a farm field when the sheriff’s deputy just drove by with a wave. We couldn’t believe it! I thought we were busted for sure. We quickly came up with the plan to get Quazy safely off the ground before the deputy came back. Looking up and down the road Quazy decided that the best way to takeoff was back up the road toward the hill. I agreed and told him that while he hopped in and got the plane started I’d drive up to the to of the hill to look for traffic. I told him that I’d wave my arms if a car was coming and just hold them straight up if the way was clear. Quazy agreed and I jumped in his car and sped up the road but just before I got to the top of the hill I noticed a single strand power line running across the road. Alarmed, I stopped and jumped out for a better look. The line was only about eight hundred feet up the road and when I looked back I was shocked to see that Quazy hadn’t waited for me to get into position to signal if the coast was clear. He already had the plane started and as I watched he taxied onto the road and started rolling. I immediately started jumping up and down waving my arms above my head frantically. It was no use. Quazy was at full power and gaining speed quickly. I stopped waving my arms and started pointing at the line, moving my arm back and forth trying to warn him of the danger. Being light the silver Cessna jumped off the road quickly and headed right for the line. I continued to jump up and down pointing at the line. The next few events happened quickly. It was apparent that Quazy finally saw what I was pointing at and he dropped the nose of the plane slightly before pulling up again, apparently undecided as to weather to go over the line or under. Nose down, nose up, then at he last second he dove down aggressively at the last second and swooped under the power line with tail just missing the line by inches. At that exact moment a grey sedan with four teenagers came over the top of the hill and were greeted with a windshield full of Cessna headed right for them. Having just cleared the powerlines, Quazy then pulled up hard and roared over the car just a few feet above the roof. I stood there shocked and unable to move as this all happened right in front of me. As the kids in the car passed me they all looked over at me with wide eyes and shocked looks on their faces. All I could do was smile and shrug my shoulders as they went by.
I can’t imagine what they would tell their friends at school the next day.