|The original military hangar used by Rhoades.|
Mixed throughout life are those moments when you are told someone or something you treasure has ceased to exist. Often times it turns out to be a person you were good friends with in school. If so, you stop to think, “That sucks”, and move on. It’s life. Stuff happens. You wish it wasn’t so, honor their memory, and take the next step forward. The older you get the less shocking these things become. Yet there is one death that’s different.
It’s hard to explain but if you’ve experienced what I’m about to discuss you know exactly what I’m talking about. You remember because of the unexpectedness of it. What is it? The end, the death, the final nail in the coffin of someone or something you never knew you cared about.
Here’s how it typically happens. You’re talking with a family member back home and they mention some obscure person from your childhood has passed or an old burger joint hang-out has closed for good. Whatever the case, everyone thought it to be mostly a side note to your life, but when you heard of its demise it was obviously so much more.
Remember the movie “Stand by Me”? The main character had only a narrow window of time with one friend before life went on without him. Yet when the character Chris Chambers, the long lost friend, was stabbed and killed, the main character’s life (Gordie) stood still so he could put their story to words. Their time together had been ages ago and relatively small, but it was formative. Therefore, it was something he just could not move beyond without a proper remembrance.
The other day I got my “old burger joint” call. Well, actually it was a text. And it wasn’t a greasy spoon either. Nope, for me it was the place where I had what I would call my first true commercial aviation job – Rhoades Aviation. They were closing for good.
|Rhoades also had Convairs. Just like everywhere else everyone wanted the|
bigger plane except me. It required a training contract and I loved the 3.
My time at Rhoades physically exists as logbook entries. Somewhere between barnstorming and flying for the airlines I recorded hundreds upon hundreds of hours flying their DC-3's. That’s pretty much it as far as most people know. Yet, like I referenced earlier, when I heard the news I immediately realized how much more those hours meant.
Where do I start? My stint with Rhoades was a time of giving up. For many reasons, I gave up my dreams of business to do the easy thing, fly. Flying had always come naturally to me so it seemed to make sense to trade the one skill I had for steady income.
But to get
to that point I knew I had to get more multi-time. That’s where the DC-3's came in.
How far from the mainstream was my chosen route to the regionals? I told a good friend what I wanted to do, he picked up the phone with me still sitting there, called Rhoades, and
Bud (their operating manager)
said, “Tell him to go get his multi and show up for class on X date. It was two months away and that’s what I
did. There was no application, no “where
do you see yourself in five years” interview questions, and no flight
evaluation. Although I’m sure the nearly
2000 hours of tailwheel and radial time didn’t hurt, the truth is that nobody
wanted to work there. Kids of that era,
again just like today, had no interest in those oily old birds and to get a
call from one with useful experience must have made them wonder if it was a
joke. It wasn’t.
|I sat right there in that very airplane many times.|
Yes, the DC-3s floor is uphill and, although we had a winch to help, as pilots we loaded our own freight and secured it for flight. Sometimes there was so much cargo we had to get a ladder and enter through the hatch just aft of the cockpit.
Built into the
left side of the fuselage it was known affectionately as “the hamburger hatch”.
If it was raining outside it was raining inside and if it was snowing everything inside was frozen. Several pilots carried trash bags to shed the water and sleeping bags to sit in while at the controls. God forbid you had food poisoning. The trash can was the lav.
While there I learned never to fear the FAA and only respect them when they earned it, how to see, feel, and avoid weather when it was pitch black, and methods for comfortably flying in conditions most pilots today believe will kill you. Another valuable piece of knowledge I gained was that the
MEL list is
actually a maximum equipment list. And
truth be told, most planes are perfectly safe fully maxed out with deferrals. Maintenance from a pen really is magic.
Other notable lessons learned included the fact that the chief pilot will always claim everyone wants to fire you for what you did but that he saved your job. Along with that came the insight that as long as you never killed anyone nobody was going to fire you; even if there was a recording of you using the F-word four times in one sentence. In fact, once the higher-ups realize you don’t give a shit, they pretty much leave you alone and you might even get away with killing someone as long as you can still earn them money. It’s the threat that binds people; letting go of the fear unlocks the chains and shuts down management.
|Sitting waiting to be burned. Yep, it's true. The very first Rhoades DC-3|
now belongs to the City of Columbus.
I also came to understand better, some things I already knew. People who want cargo transported and people who want to be moved, want to do so for the smallest monetary amount. If you can’t meet their demands, there’s always someone else willing to do it cheaper. When you yourself stand on a slick wing in the rain and pump 759 gallons of gas and five gallons of oil, you are reminded how much it takes to move the machine. Things break, pilots who think flying is supposed to be glamorous throw hissie fits, and the government is always there to get in the way or take its cut; sometimes both. It isn’t easy and the aviating is just a part of it.
Did I mention I learned how to fight in the cockpit?
When I got the news Rhoades was closing, I knew I should pay them a visit. Two days later I stood in the FBO talking to
Bud Robertson. There was something I just had to do; thank
It was great to see
again. Today he’s on his second heart
and says he feels better than he has in fifteen years (I started there 15 years
before we moved too far from the subject, I expressed what I felt was most important, “Today I fly 747’s
all over the world and I want you to know it was this job that taught me what I
know, and it was this job where I learned to safely do things that scare
most of the people I work with. It has
helped me get the job done when others wouldn’t or couldn’t and again I wanted
you to know that”. Bud
got a big laugh from the things that scare people part and then he said that he’s
had a lot of guys come by through the years who told him the same thing, and he
repeated “a lot of guys”. Then, as he
looked to the horizon, he added a reflective sounding “Yeah, A LOT OF GUYS”, and hesitated.
He was running the list in his mind. For
a few seconds, if you could have seen his thoughts, a novel could have been
written. Up until today Rhoades had been a hold-out. Now it was all going by and was
about to end. And in that moment I was
so glad I had made the effort to visit.
|Anyone who claims they know exactly how this works is lying.|
I’ve called the operation at Rhoades many different things through the years. Of course I’ve also been known to call my best friends things like “asshole” or “fuckstick”. It’s what we do as pilots; they're just words. Ultimately though, if you have any skill, you learned it or honed it somewhere and you should be thankful to those who offered the opportunity. There are many people who have done so for me.
But today I specifically remember Jack, Bud, Darryl,
JD, and the rest of the folks in . Without Rhoades I would not be who I am
today. Columbus Indiana Blame
it on them.
|I still can't believe we had to wear white shirts.|