Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Part Three: Two Men, a Plane, and the Legend of Harvey

I Hate Ohio (no offense)
        However, if you take offense, then you clearly have a distorted image of Ohio. As we climbed out of Missouri and headed toward Ohio, I couldn't help but think things could only improve from here. Boy, was I was wrong. 
         We plodded along in the Might Cherokee and got passed along from center to center, listening to the big airliners above us doing their elephants on parade thing across the imaginary highways of the sky. I dutifully minded the GPS system and occasionally took the controls, fulfilling my duties as "domestic relief pilot". The weather was beautiful, and were not bothered by any nasty clouds. It seems the duty midwest thunder storm was on leave that day. 
         One of the interesting things I noticed about Ohio is that it's flat. Like pretty darn flat. Eventually, we had the airport and all that was Sidney in sight. Steven put the Mighty Cherokee into a the local pattern, announced our arrival, and made a pretty acceptable landing. As some of my naval aviator friends would say, it actually looked "shit hot" as far as general aviation goes. You can damn well bet it was the best looking Cherokee landing Sidney has seen to date. 
         I have to admit, it was one of he most quaint little airports I had ever seen. I expected to see an old man push a J-3 Cub out of the hangar and depart into the golden sunset. It was that good. I kicked the over wing door open to let the warm summer air into the cockpit, thus alleviating the stench of sweaty man and Capri Sun. The sweet smell of fresh cut grass immediately filled the cockpit, and I actually let my hard feelings toward Ohio go away for a minute. A minute. That was about how long it was before the we had to YIELD to a non-airport related, giant piece of farming equipment on the ramp. Don't believe me? Check this crap out. 

          Now, Steven, being no dummy, and also having a penchant for airport loaner cars, planned each facet of our flight to include being able to use the airports car for wayward pilots. After we shut down, tied down, and grabbed our gear, we headed to the FBO office. After taking care of getting our aircraft fuel situation covered, we asked about the car. Sure the guy says, take the car, it's right out there. He inquired as to when we were shoving off. We said we'd like to be headed out around 8 or so. Well, that was no good. You see Harvey, he has to use the car to check the runways for any debris (FOD) etc in the morning. We can't make a move until Harvey checks it out. And he can only use the car to do that. 
          I could have understood all of this if the car was, say, bright yellow with flashing lights on it. Sure, maybe it had a radio in it or some sort of measuring equipment. I could understand that. But that's not the case. It was a beat up old police cruiser, devoid of any type of special airport equipment. In the end, it was a car to use for free, so we went ahead and thanked him kindly and wandered into town. 
         Downtown Sidney was kind of neat. I  looked a lot like one of those fifties posters with the hold cars out in front of a diner or something. On the way toward the hotel we went under what I knew, from my years as the child of a rail fan father, to be a viaduct of the C&O railroad. When we finally wheeled into the hotel my prayers were answered. There was a Sonic in the parking lot. Now this may not seem to be a big deal to those of you near one, but the closest one to me, still, is two states away. I do love me some hot dogs and tots. 
          We parked the car and checked into the fabulous hotel. It was a hotel that would prepare anyone for a  career of flying and staying hotels bid out by the airline. We headed out into the fast failing sunlight towards the palace of tots that was built in the parking lot; Sonic. So we're standing there trying to read the menu in the dark, and then it occurred to us, they may be closed. I mean, it was after all a light up menu, and it was pretty much dark at this point, and it wasn't lit. So we did what anyone would,  we stared at it. Here are two men that can operate a piece of machinery to haul us home, but we could only just stare at a menu board. It was really the only thing for us to do. Clearly. 
           The story has a pretty happy ending though. The staff remembered to turn the sing on. You would have thought they were expecting the Presidential  Medal of Freedom for doing so though. Holy cow. We lugged our food back to the hotel and chowed it down over a few episodes of whatever Ohio type TV was on. I didn't really pay attention as I was tired. 
                                                Steven after the menu lit up. 
              Speaking of tired. We got up at the butt crack of dawn, packed our gear, and headed down for the free breakfast. Half he reason Steven picked the darn room was that it came withe free breakfast It was actually pretty good considering it was free. Everything tastes better when it's free. So after we ate, we knew it was coming up on Harvey time. Now by this point, we had cursed his name, his family, and his religion for causing us to have to leave so early. We had quite the mental image of him built up and were actually anxious to see him. 
                                                                          "The" car. 
                We headed across the flatness and made our way back to the airport in a reasonable amount of time, arriving before the requested time. Upon our arrival, however, there was no one there. This afforded me the chance to snoop around and see the old Air Force T-33 they had on static display there. As time ground on, the gentleman we had spoken to the previous night showed up. As it turns out, Harvey wasn't coming in after all. That's right folks. Not. Coming. In. Me, I was, well we shall say, not impressed. My hatred for Ohio returned, and Harvey, wherever you are, I'm sure you're a nice guy, but I never want to run into you. Ever. 
                 So, after the gnashing of teeth, some final checks were made, final pees were had, and we cranked up the Mighty Cherokee and pointed her east. It was a happy departure. Let's face it. Ohio is all frabbed up. 
                                                             Sidney's ramp area. Pretty neat really. 
              Departure was smooth and we cruised into the sun, slowly clawing our way toward Maine, one click of the DME at a time. The Mighty Cherokee was a great plane, but this particular model had a design flaw. The version I flew had nice high back seats in it. This little sucker had low back seats that were original to it. Not fun going across the good ol' USA. As is evidenced by me sitting here typing this, clearly I survived. 
              The rest of the trip actually flew by rather quickly. We made a quick stop in the Finger Lakes region of New York to get some fuel. After that we headed straight to Eastern Slopes Regional Airport in Fryeburg. It was a beautiful day for flying and it was a laid back flight. We managed to aviate, navigate, and communicate all within the law, with no near misses on top of that. 
             It really was a great trip and it afforded Steven and I chance to do and see a lot of things. I am forever appreciative of his parents for shipping me out there, and even more so to Steve for having me along for the ride. It was a great adventure I won't soon forget. 


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

An emergence of passion

     Among all of the reading that I have poured myself into since beginning the journey of aviation, there is one very common theme: perseverance. Except for the very lucky few, aviation is not a career, or hobby for that matter, that one just wakes up and gets fully involved with. There is a lot of hard work and perseverance that goes into doing aviation professionally. There is also a lot of hard work that goes into doing aviation well. 
     It all starts that same way, I'm pretty certain. You get that initial exposure. Maybe it's a Young Eagle's program flight. Maybe it's a family vacation that you go on your first airliner during. For some, it has been getting shuttled around in the service, for some television and movies. There are also a large faction that gotten bitten by the bug while looking up at the sky. 

     I was bitten by the bug while just a little boy. My father would bring me to the air port in Owls Head to look at the planes. This of course being Knox County Regional Airport (KRKD). Back then there was a little trailer, a hangar or two, and a wooden post fence that separated the parking lot from the tarmac. We used to watch the Beech 1900's from Colgan Air pull in. They captain and F/O would jump out and pull flight attendant, ground crew, and pilot duties all at once. They would greet the passengers, load the luggage in the aft hold, and take the tickets. 
     I barely remember this part of my own recollection, but the facts have been verified.  Dad and I loved to watch Thomas Watson Jr, president of IBM, former Air Corps pilot, and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, fly his Bell helicopter. As I have said time and time again, things were different in aviation back then. You could stand at a fence and talk to a flight crew face to face. 

     The airport in Owls Head really had a way of pulling passion out of many over the years. Originally built as a U.S. Navy base during World Wart II, it was designed to teach carrier pilots about flying in bad weather; or so the rumor went as it was always fogged in. In all seriousness, it was home to many Allied country's pilots as well as U.S. pilots, many of whom married local women and came back after the war. All of those young men, plying their wartime trade, all had a touch of passion in them. Let's face it, for the time, it was like having Top Gun in your back yard. 

     This knowledge led me on a quest in eight grade to complete my research project on the topic of the naval air station. I learned a great deal during that time, and even had a chance to explore some of the remaining original government structures on the airport. I think there may now only be a utility building left. I know when I was flying, the maintenance garage was the old crash rescue station. 

      When it came time for me to do the actual flying, I was there in KRKD doing it. My head was stuck to the sky, my nose stuck in books, and my butt stuck in every empty seat of every flight possible. I sat in the back during some lessons and watched Ed instruct. I took notes, I listened, I watched. I figured it out. If I couldn't be the one flying that day, I'd damn sure learn something all the same. I didn't give up trying to learn new things. I kept pushing. 

      I had the great fortune to volunteer at the Transportation Museum during that time. It was an amazing experience for sure, but it wasn't necessarily the place to toss a teenage boy. My salvation came through the flying club and a man named Gary who was rebuilding a plane. I became enlisted in the task of grimy restoration work. It was hard sometimes, but I kept pushing...and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I learned a lot about air craft maintenance that kids my age wouldn't have dreamed of. (Nor cared about excepting a very few). 

       My solo date came and went. I tell people I soloed on my 16th birthday, but I didn't. I soloed the day after. We were socked in so tight that not even Penobscot Island Air had made a move in a day or two. Ed and I went around once and were on the instruments 75% of it. 

      Life and death got in the way of aviation, but little things over the years kept my head coming back in it. A trip here, a trinket there, that sort of thing. There is one thing that never went away for me though. I don't care if it is a wee baby Cessna 150 or a Boeing 767, watching someone takeoff still stirs something inside of my heart. The process of seeing something so large, so menacing even, hurtling down the runway, only to leap into the air like a big bird and head skyward, calls to my very soul. Just the excitement you get talking about aviation, or the prospect of seeing your favorite plane land, or flying in general, just being up there, that excitement doesn't go away, no matter how long you've been out of it. 

     The other morning while driving north bound on the turnipike while headed to work, I saw a Delta MD-88, it's black exhaust trailing behind it like streamers, clawing it's way into the pink morning sky in the icy 20 degree weather. While I knew there was a good chance the flight crew, at least the junior ones, weren't making much money at all, that moment I knew they were the richest people in the world. They were doing something they absolutely loved, while getting to look at a postcard beautiful scene, and there is nothing better that that. You can't buy happiness. 

       As I have found out as of late, happiness is about perseverance. In my personal experience, you can't get one without the other. So long as my passion remains in the forefront, I will continue to push forward on this journey...

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Part Two: Two Men, a Plane, and the Legend of Harvey

First Stop: Dalhart, TX
Steven and I climbed out of Prescott, AZ at the official flight plan time of "ZeroDarkThirty", and pointed the nose of the tiny Piper toward Northern Texas. As I said before, I love the desert with all of my heart and there was something amazing about seeing the sun come up over it from 3,000 feet. It was the perfect combination of friends, desert, and planes. 

One of my main duties as "domestic relief pilot" was handing up beverages and snacks, as well as holding the GPS. Yeah, I said it, holding the GPS. The GPS was an older model and the bracket had long surpassed its useful service life. It spent some time on the floor, as Steve's stick and rudder flying is pretty spot-on. Within fifty miles of Dalhart I started to notice what I thought were shrubs, or maybe even rocks. But the funny thing is, they were moving! Was I going crazy? If so, it was far too early in the trip for that to happen. After a brief discussion, it turns out that they were cattle. Now here in Maine, 100 cows would be a lot of cows. Like a wicked lot. There were literally thousands here!

 As we skimmed along and I suddenly began to question Steve's breakfast choices. I looked down and we were above an enormous stock yard. So, it wasn't Steve after all. You can smell cow dung from 2500 feet at 130 knots. Crazy right? 

The next thing you know, we were looking at the chart and Steve was doing his pilot stuff and setting up for the approach into Dalhart. Enter the next new phenomenon: Crop dusters. Except, don't call it that out there. It's an air tractor. Uh, huh.  So, we hit the pattern behind the friendly neighborhood air tractor and made a nice straight in approach. Shutting down in front of the fuel pumps, Steve gave the line man the "filler' up", and we then headed inside. 

There wasn't much to see in the little office at the Dalhart airport. They had an airplane for sale, some stale donuts, and a soda machine. After having a couple donuts and a soda, we strolled around. It was clearly a WW2 training base, as evidenced by some of the old buildings, but that is about all I figured out. My research on it was a little ambiguous, but it kinda confirms that piece at least. There is also a prison there. We decided not to visit. 

We made one last trip to the rest room. There must have been a problem with people peeing on the floor, as we saw a neat poster above the facilities. I have posted it here for your enjoyment. Steve paid the bill, we took one last stretch, and strapped the airplane back on. 

Departing Dalhart was a little tricky. We were once again competing with the air tractor for airspace. I have to say, I really do appreciate the skill it takes to fly one of those beasts. Fact number one, they're huge. Fact number two, they're powerful, and fact number three, you need some excellent skill to whip that thing around the sky. I think my son is more gentle with his toys than they are with those planes. Excuse me, air tractors. 

                                                          Navion for sale in Dalhart
                                                        The infamous restroom sign. 

Next Stop: Nevada, MO
It was a beautiful day, visibility was clear and unlimited, and winds aloft were light. We clunked along taking int the country side, listening to the rest of the aviation world chatter about their business. Then came Nevada, MO. Nevada is a neat little place. Just don't say it like you think it's pronounced. It's actually pronounced Nah-vay-duh. Or so they'd have you believe. For those of you who know me, I pronounced it Ne-vah-da, like the state, just to be difficult. Shocking, huh? 

We managed to borrow the airport car to go get something to eat. After beating feet across the flat lands in the wrong direction for fifteen minutes, we finally got our asses turned around and headed toward town. It was pretty much like any other town, except, kinda southern. We attempted to go to a Chinese buffet, but it was closed. We were probably better off. Instead, we ended up at Carl's Junior. Not much better. But the price was right for two hungry flyers on the budget. As Steve would tell you , it was a "helluva deal". 

We headed back to the airport after our high end meal. In hindsight, it's a good idea we kept a low profile. When I looked the place up on line to see just how "southern" they were, the answer was "very". It seems my northern forefathers decided to burn the place to the ground during the civil war, and it used to be named Hog Eye. Good thing I didn't mention I was from the "deep north" I suppose. 

We headed back to the airport, paid the fuel man, and headed off into the afternoon sun. 

Next stop: Sydney OH to see Harvey. 
To be Continued.