Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Pilot's Two Worst Days

I lost 2% of my hearing today. That’s my best guess. Not since that KISS concert in ‘76 have my ears sang to me this way. Both times, the loss was worth it.
Warm water was running in the shower when I heard Bair at the door. His thick Black Lab tail wags into everything he approaches. “Whop, whop, whop” went the sound as I yelled, “HOLD ON.” It stopped.
As I walked toward the kitchen, the sound returned, this time from another direction. Whop whop whop. That’s not Bair! Grabbing phone and radio, I ran to the door. Outside, to the west, a Chinook flew north. Cool to see but not what I was hoping for. I turned to retreat inside, and the helimonster turned, too.
Trotting to the end of the house, I captured a horrible photo. Sans glasses and time, I’m lucky to have caught it at all. There, a mile away, the smoky black ship was skimming the runway. “So cool,” I thought. Then it made a brisk 360 and landed.
I post this to prove my words about the quality of the image.  See it?
This time, I ran. In the door I went and out the door I came with keys, no jacket, no camera, and the first shoes I had found. Waiting for the car’s glow plug light to extinguish seemed like minutes.
Backwards out the driveway, the car slid onto the road. First gear hit hard and I flew down the road. Up the airport entrance, I skated onto the grass. Patchy snow hindered the execution of an otherwise perfect drive. As I feared, approaching the ship, 150’ away, it began to lift. As it tilted forward, I thought I had missed them. NO, they saw me, and returned gently to the grass.
I had to laugh at myself – appearing there in the chilly swirl as a homeless man in random clothes. If it was my friend in that beast, he most certainly was having a laugh at my expense. Engines hot and rotors turning, the pilots waved me over.
Face down, the image of flailing grass and tumbling snow struck me hard. Leaning into the wind to stay upright, I couldn’t help but think of warriors doing the same under the heavy blanket of combat, dust blowing, men bleeding. I jumped onboard, and one soldier handed me a jacket; another, earplugs. I shook the hands of both men and saw the youth in their faces. Walking forward, I wondered who was working the tendons, giving this thing life. A few steps later there was my friend grinning widely.
Struggling to insert the earplugs and gather my wits from the hurricane of noise, I leaned in to say hello. Were you to silence the machine at that moment, neighbors down the road would have thought someone was being gutted, “HEY, WHAT ARE YOU GUYS UP TO?” I screamed so hard my voice cracked. The words drowned to a whisper. Adapted to it, and wearing a helmet, my friend somehow heard me and gave an answer. Amazingly, when he asked if Ginger was home, too, I was able to read his lips and respond. I was in the process of putting the homeless man away so I could pick her up from town when I heard them arrive. Still yelling as if it were a decibel contest, I then asked, “WHAT’S NEW?”
His demeanor changed as he looked me in the eye. With smile degraded, he shrugged and spoke these words, “It’s my last flight.” From that point on, nothing more needed said.
It’s a well-worn aviation truism that the two worst days in a pilot’s life are the day he walks out to the aircraft KNOWING it is his last flight, and the day he walks out to the airplane NOT KNOWING it is. My friend was experiencing the first and, were it not for his wonderful wife and kids I’d be unsure which he’d prefer. Either way, it always helps to shed some load on a friend who understands rare sentiment.
I may have forgotten my camera, but I’ll never forget that moment. On paper, it was a flight from A to B. To a man it was the end of something horrifying and exceptional. A part of life to remember with pride and forget for the sake of sanity. Something special to have experienced and hope your sons never have to. It was soaring through valleys of fire like a God and cruising among cool towering clouds easily capable of demonstrating man's insignificance. It was the last flight. It was every flight.
How do you respond to that? Having no ability to overcome the machine's howl, I put my arm around his shoulder and gave him the same hug every family member gets in times like that. Without a word it says I’m sorry, congratulations, that sucks, that’s great, and every other possible thing that needs to be said but there’s no time for. Ultimately, though, for me it said, “That’s great, now get off my lawn. You’re blowing the cones and filling my gutters with grass.” That’s how friends are.
Shaking the other pilot’s hand, I looked to make sure he was sharp enough to understand the significance of this day. Then I said goodbye to all, retreated to the relative quiet of anywhere but in that beast, and watched them lift off. Driving toward home, a shadow crossed my path and flew toward the sun.
Thanks, Mike. I am honored to have had a small walk-on part in that journey.
NOTE: In the interest of clarity and further understanding, I must point out my friend’s last flight was last in type and theatre. He is moving through a major transition in his career (and life) but will still be flying. From here on out, though, the machines will be different and will not be carrying him into the line of fire. After 26 years as a warrior, he’s earned it.
As for the young guys in the back who supplied me a jacket and earplugs, it turns out one of them is in his early twenties and set to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism under fire in Afghanistan. I wish for him, and the others, peace of mind and restful nights. They already have my greatest respect.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Aviation Video of the Day

Yesterday we posted an interesting video of a DC-3 stalling due to an aft CG.  You don't see that every day.  This evening we're offering something different.
The video below was sent to us by our friend Jimmy.  He has a great eye for humor and we think it's something you will enjoy.  It features brand new F-86's.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Video - Not Your Typical Stall

Years ago, when flying for Rhoades, another pilot and I used to stall the DC-3 on the empty legs home.  We practiced everything we knew could bite us so that those things never would.  What seemed crazy to others kept us safe.
What did we learn?
If you ever stall a "three" you'll never forget how it drops off.  It can be pretty aggressive.  Yet, unless there is something wrong with you or the ship, it doesn't go into a spin.  The stall happens around 50, you'll definitely lose some altitude, and you never ever want it to happen unexpectedly.
In the video below, you'll see something is clearly amiss.  From what I'm told, it was the classic "every jumper to the rear" maneuver that has bitten many sky-drivers (pilots of sky diving planes).  Additionally, one engine may have been pulled back to remove some blast from the divers, thus leading to obvious additional issues.  Whatever the case.  I am quite damn sure that pilot never let it happen again.

**Side note:  While I was at Rhoades there was one guy flying there who was not quite right.  After I witnessed him fly into a thunderstorm to prove a point, I refused to fly with him again.   When I asked someone how he ended up at the company, part of the story was that he had been hauling skydivers out beyond the Mississippi and ended up in an unexpected spin.  That incident caused him to leave and come to Rhoades.  I was at Rhoades roughly twenty years ago.  This video was taken twenty years ago.  I wonder...

Monday, January 18, 2016

Flawed Thinking Is A Dangerous Thing

I came across a fascinating article this morning.  It tells the story of how flawed thinking and scientific bias may have led to the deaths of many pilots.  Tragically, it also describes a point when the problem should have been revealed but egos prevented it. 
When aviation accidents began to stack up, post WWII, the military brain trust was at a loss.  What was going on?  Unknowingly, elsewhere the problem had been found.  Sadly though, when scientists were faced with the data of reality, the experts could not bring themselves to believe they were wrong.  Instead, they blamed others.
Fortunately, one scientist persisted to push his data to the military.   During a rare moment of clarity, the Air Force listened.  Aircraft design would change forever.
I must say though, the author of the book, from which this article was derived, missed a major point.  During WWII aircraft were designed in a manner fitting the later solution.  What happened in between to change that?  I suspect that story would be of equal interest.
To read the article, click here.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Aviators Need Trim Tabs

Want some quality artwork on your bomber jacket?
Aviation attracts creatives. An event horizon of sorts, the pull of airplane ecstasy blinds them. Beyond the light is the hole they cannot escape. Fun in three dimensions that feel like five is remarkable enough to warp time.
A guy dreams of flying in his time off and six months later, actually fifteen years, his world is nothing but airplanes. Swirling rapidly toward the singularity, it is only then he accepts this could end badly. If only he’d kept some balance; an orbit just outside to allow escape. Perhaps that would have been better.
I met Jim Harley when I volunteered to fly with The Collings Foundation. Easy to get along with, it was obvious there was more to him than flying planes. People are like dogs; you can see it in their eyes. What was it? A friend answered that question.
Jim had been a graphic artist when he started with Collings. Now he was Chief Pilot of the group, and the art was a distant memory. Or was it?
It doesn’t matter how much you love aviation. If you gobble it unrestrained for extended periods, you will become a charred cinder of your previous self. Someone could offer you a Mustang to fly and you would do whatever it takes to find someone else to take it.
Channeling my inner hippie (snicker), all I can say is “aviation is heavy, maaann.” Because of that, it has run more people out of CG, completely out of balance, than anything else I know other than drugs. It’s crazy.
When I met Jim, he was cooked. I’ve seen it enough to know. Therefore, when we went flying, I asked him about the art. His response was that of a pro ball player knocked out of the game in his prime with bad knees. He did smile, though.
Don’t get me wrong. Jim is the consummate aviator. He still loves aviation and has a list of planes he would kill to fly. Without balance, though, it wouldn’t be, and isn’t, as much fun. Knowing that, I was excited to see him recently post photos of his artwork online.
Now, as he tells me, he is back at his art and enjoying it. Not only that, but he’s also selling his work. Check out the photos in this post. He’s generating some great material.
If you see something you like, I hope you’ll support his newfound balance and give him a ring. His prices are well within reason. Plus, I’m hoping a little balance will keep him flying with Collings for the long haul. People I enjoy sharing a plane with are rare, and he’s one of them.
NOTE: If you have any aviation artwork in mind that you don’t see here, Jim will work with you to create what it is you’re after.  Click here to contact him. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Is Aviation Worth Saving?

This question has taken ten years of my life. The calendar read “2005” when I first realized something special would be required to save Lee Bottom Flying Field. What I came up with was grand. Instead of the focus, it would be the foundation of something greater – a refuge for aviation itself.
Minutes later, another thought crossed my mind, “Is aviation worth saving?” By “saving,” what I really wondered was, “Should I give my life, time, money, and remaining days to save something that few ultimately care about?” I’ve been at that moment ever since.
The first time I went aloft solo, the world made sense. That something else which captivated and drove others forward was finally visible to me. Born into a world of aviators, I was.
Everything aviation that could be consumed came my way. By luck or sheer will I found a way to experience it all. “What a life,” I thought, and I looked around for the others. They weren’t there.
Something so grand should have a line to get in. Aviation does not. Something so fulfilling should find supporters everywhere. Flying doesn’t. Instead, as with everything else, aviation has its version of the Kardashians. Endless empty calories absorbed at a table upon a rotten floor will make you fat, dumb, and happy until it collapses. Worse yet, when people are fat, dumb, and happy, and the floor falls in around them, they’re too fat, dumb, and happy to pick themselves up and do something about it. And yet, here I sit trying to help them.
If I were the type of person who builds monuments to himself, I would be going full speed. My vision would already be alive. I’m not, and it isn’t.
The future is what I see, a flying field in a bottle set afloat for others to find - a message from yesterday, filled with blind hope, created on the silly notion the very people it was meant for would find it. I know it’s absolutely insane, but that’s my dream. It could also destroy me.
My brother has expressed concerns I am not living because of this place, well-known authors have told me I’m mad, and those who claim to see the vision always turn out to have seen nothing but a collection of planes they could fly. Ginger loses her mind once a year because of the fly-in, I never get to visit other events, and I fly less than I ever have. But the vision
Creating what I see would take the best and brightest aviation has to offer. People from all corners of the planet would have to participate. One corner of the world, secure for aviation to survive, that’s all I ask.
Alternatively, I could sell everything and enjoy a great life of empty calories. Falling in line with the crowd, I would pretend I give a shit about Rob Holland, Harrison Ford, or Sully. I’d kiss the ass of an oil man or second generation wealth to fly their planes. Repeating the mantra, I’d tell everyone our aviation groups are saving us. My life would be great; full of people who loved me for being what they loved, empty calories. But who the fuck am I kidding?
Being that person would be suicide to my soul. All I ask for is one corner of the world, secure for aviation to survive.

NOTE:  I'm sorry if any of the language offends anyone.  The truth isn't always pretty and clean.  If you would rather read pretty "safe-space" bullshit you can find that almost anywhere else.