Quazy’s Takeoff

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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.