Short Flying Tales
Sam The Hawk
Fred Lidinsky, one of the members of the Colorado Soaring Association, had a pet red tail hawk named Sam. He got Sam as a chick out of the nest after his mother was shot. Fred would often bring him to the gliderport where he would sit on his perch in front of the clubhouse and glare at people as they came by. There was a sign on his perch, "My Name Is Sam And I Bite!"
Sam grew up thinking he was far more person than hawk, but once in a while his avian genes took over and he would try to fly away. Any time he was out of his cage in Fred's back yard, he had a long leather strap attached to his leg. He never seemed able to remember that he had a jess on his leg and would take off from his perch, fly to the end of his leash and come flopping to the ground. He would get up, re-arrange his feathers and return to his perch where he would sulk for an hour or longer.
The only time Fred could allow him fly free was when he was feeding him because he would always come back if Fred was holding food in his gloved hand. Feeding time always drew a crowd to watch. Fred would remove the jess and show Sam the food. Sam knew the drill well and would take off and circle. Fred would toss a piece of raw chicken into the air and Sam would snatch it on the fly. Then he would return to his perch to eat it. Fred knew how many pieces of chicken Sam would eat and instead of tossing the last one into the air, he would hold it and Sam would come land on the glove where the jess could be attached while he was eating.
One day several of the glider pilots began to discuss whether Sam would enjoy soaring or not and finally it was decided to take Sam for a glider ride. Fred got in the back seat of the club's 2-32 with Sam on his glove and another pilot got in front to do the flying. Fred was holding Sam up to where he had a good view out through the canopy. They took off, released and were circling in a thermal when evidently Sam's dinner began to not set very well and he urped up four or five pieces of partially digested chicken up on top of the pilot's head.
There was a lot of good natured razzing of the pilot about flying so badly that it made a hawk airsick.
Foreman, Is That You?
One time I was towing in a soaring contest at Hobbs, New Mexico and since the plane I was flying had a somewhat better climb than most of the other tugs, I cut my tow pattern short so I would be closer to the field when the glider pilot released at 2000 feet. Hal Lattimore, who was a Texas District Judge in real life, was the contest manager and he came on the radio, "Foreman, is that you towing through the start gate?"
"Can You read the numbers on the towplane?"
"Then it's not me."
I'm on fire!
One day Mark Palmer was doing a wave tow and he came on the radio with his best airline pilot voice and called the glider he was towing, "I have an emergency here so you'd better release." It was later determined that he had blown an oil seal behind the propeller and oil on the hot muffler was filling the cockpit with smoke.
The desk called, "Mark, what's the problem?
Mark's voice went up about two octaves and he replied, "I'm on fire! I'm going into the Academy." referring to the Air Force Academy. Then he called the academy tower and reported his emergency. They cleared him for any runway.
A few seconds later a different voice came on the Air Force Academy tower and called Mark, "Black Forest Towplane, what was your point of departure?"
"What was your destination?"
"The Pikes Peak wave area," answered Mark rather curtly.
"How many souls aboard?" The guy calling was already filling out a crash report before he was even on the ground.
"None, I'm an atheist!" shouted Mark. The questioning stopped.
As soon as Mark had the academy strip made, he pulled the mixture and killed the engine. With the power off, the muffler cooled and the smoke stopped. When he was sure that it was oil smoke and not fire, he cancelled the emergency, restarted the engine and returned to Black Forest at minimum power.
The Roach Coach
The 1-26 Soaring Championships were being held at the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs and one of the services provided to the people involved was a trailer loaded with box lunches, coffee, soft drinks and water which was brought to the flight line each morning. The official Air Force name for the trailer was Mobile Food Service Unit but it was known around the academy by a somewhat more colorful name, "The Roach Coach."
The day was coming to an end and it was time to send the trailer back. There was no phone at the flightline, so John decided to call the tower and ask them to notify the mess hall to pick it up. Since everyone involved in the contest was on tower frequency, he decided that it would be better to use the more formal name for the trailer. He called the tower and said, "Would you call the mess hall and tell them to pick up the Mobile Food Service Unit."
Back came, "You mean the Roach Coach?"
The CFI Check Ride
My CFI renewal was coming up and they told me they were going to have an
examiner down from Denver and he wanted to get some high performance ship time
and that he would renew my ticket at the same time.
When he got there he told me that all he had ever flown was a 2-33 and wanted me to do what I would do to check a pilot out in a higher performance ship and said he wanted to fly a 2-32. We also had a Grob, which I would have normally used, but he specified a 2-32.
I made out a lesson plan and where I put stalls and spins. He scratched out spins telling me that they didn't do spins in flight examinations. We went through the usual things like boxing the wake and slack rope recovery and when we got off tow, I told him to work thermals and get us some altitude. It turned out that he had never gained a foot of altitude in a glider.
I got him to where he recognized lift and how to stay in it and pretty soon we were at 12,000 feet (Black Forest is 7,200) I could tell that he was having a ball. I told him we would do some stalls and I wanted him to tell me when he felt the burble and when it was going to break. He went through the stall series and did very well. Then I told him that I wanted a stall out of a shallow banked skidding turn like doing a low turn to final. I started talking him through it; keep the nose up, we're close to the ground so don't let that wing go down, keep it turning, hold the nose up...
The 2-32 is like a lot of glass ships in that it does not warn you when it's going to stall in a skidding turn. It just happens without much warning. By then he had the stick all the way back in one corner and full rudder the other way and it just sort of sighed and started rolling to the left with the nose dropping. It was already pretty well into it when he realized what was happening and slammed the stick to the opposite corner and full rudder the other way, throwing us into a beautiful inverted spin with dirt and trash flying all over the cockpit.
I was just sitting back there hanging on and letting him work his own way out of it. He came out in a screaming split-S and I pulled the boards before he went past redline. After we were back to level flight, he turned around and said, "You knew that was going to happen."
"Yes, but you didn't and that's the main thing. Now I want you to do some shallow turns at minimum speed." I always had students do that after a spin just to see how tight they are wound. He did a pretty good job.
After we landed, he told me that his first thought was to bust me on the flight but then realized that I had done just what he asked, I showed him what a high performance ship would do to a novice.
The Mile High Club
This couple came to Black Forest one time wanting to join the mile high club in a glider and they had heard that a 2-32 could carry two people in the back seat. The staff decided that business was business even if a bit of monkey was involved. They drew lots to see who would be the pilot in charge of this rating ride.
The applicants were given instruction in the proper operation of seat belts and shoulder harness in the back seat of the 2-32 while in flight. (It was assumed that they needed no further instruction in accomplishing the remainder of the rating ride) They were also informed that there was no guarantee of membership and everything except for the actual flying of the glider was their responsibility.
When they landed something like half an hour later, the smiles on their faces indicated that the flight had been successful. The pilot had no comment since his (or her) attention was focused on flying the glider.
He's Just Knocked Conscious
Many years ago I had flown down to the November 11th fly-in at Fairview, Oklahoma.... remember it because I had taken Steve with me... he was about 10 at the time. Someone called in and asked for the active runway and was told to look at the tetrahedron. He said he was and it was going round and round. We looked and sure enough it was, and we could see the reason: a pair of legs were churning away under it. Turns out Steve was under it playing merry-go-round, but that's another story.
The FAA guy who had come to the fly-into keep things in proper order was about 5-5 tall and weighed about 300 pounds. They had a spot landing contest and then the flour bomb drop, using a barrel beside the runway as the target. Someone borrowed a restored J-3 to fly in the bomb drop and he came in very slow, about 30 feet high with the nose up and lots of left rudder so he could lean out the door and get a good shot.
He tossed the bag of flour which went right into the barrel just as the Cub stalled, did about an eighth turn to the left and hit the ground on the main gear, bounced once and ended up with the prop beating against the runway. It came to a rest on the main gear and nose as the pilot slammed his head against the back of the front seat.
The little round FAA man came running down the runway but quickly ran out of steam and it turned into a jog. About that time someone turned around and yelled the condition of the pilot, "He's OK, just knocked himself conscious."
The FAA guy came to a stop about 100 feet short of the Cub up on it's nose, so out of breath he could go no further, so he laid down on the runway and began to laugh.
Here comes the ambulance, skidding to a stop next to the body writhing on the runway, thinking it was the pilot. He kept trying to tell them that he was OK but was so out of breath that he wasn't getting much through as they wrestled him onto the stretcher and with the help of several others who were just arriving, lifted it to go into the back of the ambulance. Something went wrong and they dumped him on the runway from about three feet high, breaking his arm.
You Can't Roller-skate In A Buffalo Herd
It all began at the annual Black Forest Gliderport Labor Day soaring contest. The Air Force Academy arrived with three bright yellow 1-26s along with a squadron of blue jump-suited crew members driving matching blue pickup trucks towing matching blue trailers, a sharper group of spit-shined young people couldn't be found. They stood head and shoulders above the usual motley looking soaring people in T-shirts, shorts and floppy tennis hats. They illustrated America's finest.
The task was called, the gliders launched and one by one they zipped through the start gate and set out on the first leg to the east. There was a constant chatter on 123.3 except for the Air Force which had their own discrete frequency. They sort of disappeared silently into the sky filled with puffy white clouds.
The day dragged on while crews either trailed their pilots around the course or lounged in the shade, occasionally replying to cryptic messages with two clicks on the microphone. Watching a glider contest is like watching paint dry. Finally came a message over the radio from the first finisher, "Three miles out." Everyone was on their feet, eyes straining to spot thin white wings as they screamed toward the finish line. Then came "Good finish" as they whistled past and arced upward trailing twin streams of water as they dumped their ballast. Longer wings gave way to shorter ones and finally the stubby wings of the 1-26s came through. Two of the yellow Air Force Academy gliders finished and it was reported that one landed out and went directly back to the academy.
But no matter how secretive the Air Force might be, a rumor began to circulate that the one that landed out had an interesting experience but it wasn't till the next morning that the full story was finally told. Seems the pilot got low about twenty miles east of the gliderport and the pilot picked out a suitable pasture in which to land. He noticed some brown cows along one side but none on the side next to the road where his crew was waiting. The landing was uneventful but the crew discovered the gate into the pasture was locked with a large chain and padlock. It was also at about the same time that something else discovered or realized, those brown cows weren't cows at all, they were buffalo.
Other revelations were taking place at the same time, the big buffalo bull decided that he didn't really appreciate something strange and yellow being in his pasture so he came thundering toward it just as a blue-clad human climbed out. He now had an animate object at which he could direct his rage and he and the pilot entered a Lufbery circle with the glider in the center. Just like the fighter planes in WW-I, the smaller and lighter one could make a tighter circle and stay inside it, especially since he could hop over the fuselage behind the wing while the heavier one had to make bigger circles around it. Also, just like in WW-I any attempt to escape from the circle would have been a disaster.
Also, just like in any air battle, friendly pilots will rush to the aid of a fellow airman in trouble so his crew kicked the wire loose from fence posts so they could get into the pasture and came racing to the beleaguered pilot's aid. When they arrived the crew jumped out of the pickup and began to yell, "SHOO, SHOO" and wave their arms at the beast. Now, since buffalo don't speak English and they certainly don't take orders from anyone, the arrival of two more blue-clad animate objects simply gave the bull three times as many thing to chase until all three of them took refuge in the back of the pickup.
Since the buffalo couldn't get at the objects of rage, he took his anger out on the shiny blue pickup truck and began to headbutt it all around till he had dented every piece of sheet metal on it. Then he turned his attention back to the yellow object which was the initial reason he was there. He butted it in the side which put a big dent in the fuselage just behind a wing then he stuck one of his horns through the nose cone and tried to toss the whole thing over his shoulder.
It was at about this point that the owner of the place arrived on the scene and since he spoke fluent buffalo, knew just how to handle the situation. He pulled a bag of cow feed from his pickup and began to scatter it on the ground. Nothing sooths buffalo anger faster than a mouthful of tasty cow feed to munch on, giving the pilot and crew time to trailer the glider and get out of Dodge. As they headed for the gate, the buffalo realized that the object of his anger was escaping so he decided to give them one last parting shot. He lifted the back end of the trailer and swung it around so far that it bent the tongue which made the trailer run off to one side like a three legged dog. Needless to say, they headed directly for home to get things repaired. Then, like good fighter pilots, they were back in the contest the next day but with the glider showing its battle scars in the form of a large patch of primer on the side and a new nose cone.
In the usual Air Force way of doing things, the accident reports from this incident went up the chain of command and the story of how an Air Force glider and ground support vehicle were damaged by a buffalo found a place of honor for many months on bulletin boards at the Pentagon.
The Mongoose Cage
Soaring seems to attract an eclectic bunch of people and one of the more memorable was Mahlon Weir. He'd usually show up at a soaring contest with some new and unusual attraction, game or scam. He brought along his mongoose cage to a contest at Hutchinson, Kansas. It was a cage with a divider with a doorway in the center of it and some fur could be seen through the door. The trick was to get someone interested in his story about how vicious the mongoose was and how it was so fast that it could kill snakes. Once he got his mark hooked, he would trip a hidden latch, the top would fly open and toss a piece of fur at whoever was in front of it.
One evening some of the people told him that they had a new victim for his mongoose cage. They brought a fellow with gray hair to see his mongoose. Mahlon had never seen him before but jumped at the chance of a new victim. He went through his spiel then said he'd shake the cage to get the mongoose to come out where he could see it. The mark was bent over in front of the cage waiting for the mongoose to come out when Mahlon tripped the latch and the piece of fur flew out into the guy's face. He staggered back, grabbed his chest and flopped down on the floor. Two of the spectators, who just happened to be doctors, rushed to his side. They felt his pulse, pounded on his chest and put an ear against his chest. Then they looked up at Mahlon and said, "He's dead!"
Mahlon's face went ash white and a few seconds later, everyone began to laugh as the guy on the ground sat up. Mahlon had been scammed by his own trick. He put the mongoose cage away and it was never seen again.
A friend who operated a charter, flight instruction and banner towing service called to say he had a flight for me. I asked if I needed my Jep case (the black salesman's case of maps, approach plates and other flying stuff you see airline pilots lugging around) and he told me it was local.
I arrived at the airport to find five people with what looked like shoebox full of cat litter wanting me to fly them over Pikes Peak so they could scatter grandpa's ashes. Fortunately the Cherokee Six had only quarter tanks of fuel aboard so I could haul that many people to 15,000 feet. The cockpit of the Six has only two openings, three if you count the baggage door in the rear; the door and the applecore window next to the pilot's seat. If you pop the door in flight, it can be shoved open only a few inches against the 100 mph gale blowing past but then the suction is so strong that it takes two strong people who know what they are doing to ever get it closed again. With the door ruled out, that left only the applecore window whose main purpose is for the pilot to yell, "Clear!" through to warn anyone near that he is about to start the people-slicer. Another purpose is to toss things like Coke bottles in the movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy. I checked the box containing grandpa and by removing the lid and sort of crushing the sides a bit, I will be able to slide it through the window.
We all get in, fasten seatbelts, I yell "Clear" out the window and we are on our way. It's twenty-five miles west and two miles up to where we are going to bid farewell to grandpa. There is also an area of turbulence caused by the winds blowing over the mountain which we will have to go through on the way. Turbulence is rated all the way from light chop which means you need to hold on to your drinks to plastering flight attendants on the ceiling. It wasn't quite to the flying flight attendant level but it was certainly enough to bring out the Barf Bags and trigger serious bead counting. I'd been through it many times so it was just another trip through the rotor to me.
We made it through the rotor and into smooth air at about the third reciting of the Lord's Prayer and level with the Peak House. They pass grandpa up to me. I remove the lid and while flying the airplane with my knees, I shove the end of the box out the window where the slipstream locks it tightly in place and begins to blow the contents back into the cockpit like tumbleweeds in a whirlwind. This brings on fits of coughing, sneezing and muffled expletives. I couldn't get the box back inside so I finally gave it a hard shove which forces it all the way through the window to flutter down toward the oxygen-deprived tourists in the parking lot. Bet they wondered why someone had tossed a shoe box out of an airplane.
Back on the ground they create a dust storm by pounding on their clothes while I look for a Dust Buster to vacuum grandpa out of the airplane.
You Kids Will Smoke Anything
We used to use camphor to smoke the foils in instruments called barographs which were used to prove time of flights and altitudes during soaring flights. One time we were on the way to the gliderport and I realized that we didn't have any camphor so I stopped at a drug store and sent my son, who was about 14 at the time, in to get a couple blocks. He ran into the store, asked for a couple blocks of camphor, paid for them and headed for the door. The druggist asked, "Son, what are you going to use that for?" We smoke barographs with it," he replied. The druggist shook his head and remarked, "Damn, you kids will smoke anything."
Does Anyone Know How To say......
Soaring pilots from all over the world gathered at Marfa, Texas for the 1970 World Soaring Championship and while the cream rose to the top, there was one poor soul from Japan who seemed to end each day in some sort of fiasco. He spoke very limited English which didn't help the matter.
One day he landed near Ojinaga, across the Rio Grande in Mexico. The Sheriff of Presido County hopped into his patrol car and drove sixty miles to rescue him before it turned into an international incident. Fortunately the Sheriff was on good terms with the officials across the border and was able to extract him and his glider without any reports going up the ladder. Another day he landed on top of a small mesa and it took a couple dozen people to carry the wings and other parts of the sailplane down to where they could be loaded on the trailer.
Finally, on the final day of the contest, during which time he had never made it back at the field a single time, over the radio came, "Juliet Alpha, One mile out." The Japanese pilot was going to finish a day! People jumped to their feet and strained their eyes to find the small white dot headed for the field. There he came, flying very fast and they began to cheer when twin streams of the water ballast being dumped appeared. "Juliet Alpha, good finish," came over the radio as he flashed across the finish line and pulled up in a climbing turn to downwind in the landing pattern.
"Juliet Alpha, check your gear," reminded the finish line radio as he drifted downwind. The pilots were usually so tense from the flight that they sometimes forgot about lowering their landing gear so the finish line would remind them. Then as he turned base with his gear still up, the radio came on again, "Juliet Alpha, lower your landing gear!"
He turned on final for landing on the ramp and the spoilers appeared above the wings. "Juliet Alpha, your gear is up!" Then we heard the plaintive call on the radio, "Does anyone know how to say your landing gear is up in Japanese?" He touched down on the ramp and slid to a stop in a cloud of fiberglass dust.\
Trucks and buses?
The base commander at the Air Force Academy, a Major General, was having a budget meeting of all the officers on the base. It was just after lunch, the room was hot and budget meetings aren't the most interesting things around. This Major who was in charge of the motorpool was having a sinking spell and soon his eyes were closed and his chin on his chest.
The General hit a pause to check his notes so a Captain sitting beside the Major nudged him in the ribs and whispered, "The General just asked you a question and the answer is trucks and buses."
The Major leaped to his feet and blurted out, "Yes, General, trucks and buses."
Gliders are put to the test when these airmen take to the skies. It's a good thing most airmen have stomachs of steel, because these pilots might be needing them!
I was a glider pilot from the 442nd Troop Carrier Group, traveling on TDY from England to a dry lake bed about 40 miles north of Grossett, Italy. Much of our time in those days was spent preparing for the invasion of South France.
On this particular mission, each glider was to have a pilot and a copilot. We were paired off beforehand.
My assigned partner was not the run-of-the-mill glider pilot - he was quite a bit older and far more experienced. He had a pilot's license in the early '30s and had been a barnstormer, stunt pilot, wing-walker, and anything else you could think of - so long as he made a buck. He was recruited to engage in combat against the German and Italian airplanes. He survived all of this, and when World War II came along (being too old for cadets), he joined the glider program.
When we went to the flight line to mount our glider, we flipped a coin to see who would be the pilot. I won.
We were the last glider in our group, and we started out over the Mediterranean for Southern France. After about 30 minutes, the lead glider was having problems and cut off. The lead pilot thought he had nothing to deliver and started a 180-degree turn back to our base. There was radio silence and other pilots followed, not knowing what was going on. We soon realized our mistake and completed a 360-degree turn and continued. The group following us caught up, so we were all together.
We reached the landing zone, and gliders frantically were trying to find space to land. Being last, we were unable to find a good place to set down. There were gliders going in all directions and - oh, yes - anti-glider stakes.
I told my copilot we'd have to land in an orchard. Lining up to go between the tree rows, we entered the orchard. The wings came off, the nose caved in, and dirt was flying. I heard my copilot frantically say, "Looks like I've finally had it!" Luckily, we weren't hurt.
When we got back, several gliders that had not been used had to be ferried back to Naples. My copilot and I were selected to ferry one. This time, my partner insisted it was his turn to pilot.
We were on the downwind leg at the airport when we cut off. Normally you retain the same position, cut your airspeed, and land. But my partner started a loop. At the top of the loop, he shoved the control column forward so we were upside down on the downwind leg. He completed this maneuver, and at this point we were too high. He said, "Watch this!" We went into a falling leaf. I had never done this before, and for me it was pucker-up time. To my surprise, he landed us safely. He then turned to me and said, "Now, we're even."
- Carson Crabtree is a retired Air Force major. He lives in Sunnyvale, Calif.
Dieter and Helga
This German pilot came to a soaring contest and arrived about a week early to do some local soaring. He was driving a big, black diesel Mercedes to pull his trailer and his wife was his crew. Where most soaring pilots use either their contest numbers or code names when talking with their ground crews on glider frequency 123.3, he and his wife used their names like they were on a telephone. The people who were there early heard Dieter's thick, German accent as he gave his wife, Helga pure hell over the radio every day about most anything.
On the first contest day, the radio crackled with cryptic messages from pilots to crew among the calls to the start gate. Then we heard, "Helga, dis is Dieter, hook up the trailer and stand by."
A bit later Helga's voice came over the radio, "Dieter, Dis is Helga, vere are the car keys?"
The radio became very quiet as everyone waited for the answer which was a couple minutes in coming, "Helga, dey iss in my pocket."
There is a German word, Schadenfreude, which means taking pleasure in some else's misery and I'm sure that was going through the minds of most of the people at the contest. Then we heard, "Helga, dis is Dieter, I vill return to the field, drop the keys and take a new start."
At this point the contest manager's voice came on 123.3. "Under FAA regulations, you may not drop anything other than water, sand or shot over the airport."
An unknown voice came on, "A shot of what?"
In case some of you are wondering why he wouldn't just land, give her the keys and take another launch; doing so would have taken at least an hour by the time he dumped his water ballast, landed, refilled his ballast and got another launch. This would put him an hour more behind the rest of the field. Before long, he could be seen circling at about three thousand feet above the ground. Then we heard, "Helga, Dis is Dieter. I vill tie my handkerchief to the keys and drop them over the plowed area across the road from the airport. Ready, Vun, Two Three, there they go."
Hundreds of eyes were skyward watching as a white dot appeared behind the glider. But instead of the keys plummeting straight down trailing the white handkerchief behind it, somehow it was caught, forming a little parachute and the keys were drifting with the wind. Over the radio came, "Oh Chit! Dey is drifting."
Everyone watched as the skydiving keys disappeared into a field of six foot high corn. A number of people walked through the corn looking for the missing keys but they were never found.
Dieter took a new start and finished the day without landing out and Helga having to rescue him but the locksmith who was trying to get into the Mercedes declared that he could break into Fort Knox in less time.
This Damn Radio!!
Some of the funniest radio exchanges have happened during contests. One of the best was when Jim Munn was flying his Nugget in a contest at Estrella. The conditions were weak and he wasn't doing well. He pressed the mic button and called his crew, "Nose Dive Ground (his contest letters were ND) I'm getting low and may have to land back."
He didn't realize it but the press-to-talk button stuck and the radio was stuck on transmit. Everyone on 123.3 could hear everything going on in his cockpit. He didn't get a reply from his ground so he gave them another call, "Nose Dive Ground, respond."
When he still didn't hear anything, he began to bitch, "I just got this damn radio out of the shop and it's already quit." You could hear the audio on the vario as he tried to work the weak lift with more sink sounds than climb as he alternated between cussing the radio and commenting on how bad the conditions were. At some point there was a loud belch.
The gate had already done the usual thing when a mic gets stuck on contest frequency, they switched to 123.5 to continue but most everyone else was staying on 123.3 to listen to Jim alternate between bitching about his flying and his radio.
Finally he was heard to say, "Well, crap, four hundred feet and no choice but land." Then you could hear him talking to himself whether he was going to make it to the runway. He could be seen about a mile out and very low as he stretched it in.
Everyone finally breathed a sigh of relief as he drifted over the fence perhaps ten feet high. Then over the radio came a click as he unlocked the flaps followed by the Beep Beep Beep of the gear warning. That was followed by, "Oh SH*T!" then the grinding sound of the belly against the runway.
Fishing for Rattlesnakes
A long time ago and in a far away place, I was delivering WW-II surplus airplanes from Texas to California and during a flight in a basic trainer known as a BT-13, I looked down at the fuel gauges which stuck out of the wing roots about two feet below the footboards and there was a big rattlesnake coiled around one of gauges. It had probably crawled in through the opening around the tail wheel while the ship was parked at Lamesa, Texas awaiting sale.
Needles, California was just ahead so I landed there and we started trying to figure out how to get the critter out. The first suggestion was to squirt it with the Pyrene fire extinguisher filled with Carbon Tetrachloride which not only smells awful, but will burn your eyes if it gets in them.
A couple squirts with the fire extinguisher had the desired results, the snake went crazy and tried to escape, except heading for the opening in the tail, it took refuge under the tangle of cables and tubes up next to the firewall where it was even more inaccessible. We now had both a mad and a scared snake on our hands.
The more we tried to hook it with a rod to drag it out, the more he retreated and wedged himself back into his hiding place. There were inspection plates which could be removed but no one was about to reach up in there to grab the snake. We were running out of both daylight and options when someone finally suggested that the snake was probably hungry and we should fish for him.
We began a search for suitable bait by turning over boards and junk near the old hangar until we were able to flush out a mouse and catch it. We made a loop around its neck with another around behind the front legs and a final one around just in front of its back legs. We lowered the mouse to where it was swinging about an inch of the floor, tied the string and I went into town to spend the night in one of the motels with the least unsavory reputation.
Sure enough the next morning, we had a snake on our line with the mouse well down inside him. We knew that if we scared the snake, it would try to escape again so we pulled very gently on the string and sure enough, the snake came right along with its dinner until we had him out of the plane.
When I landed at Indio, they said they were expecting me the afternoon before and where had I been. I told them about the snake and spending the night in Needles and their reply was, "Yeah, Right! We know all about Needles and why you stopped there."
The Pepper Eating, Bourbon Drinking Contest
One evening after flying was over and everyone was gathered around the tables outside the clubhouse, these two guys got into a testosterone-induced battle as to who could do what better than the other and the conversation came around to eating peppers. I think it would be best if I left the two contestants nameless, being that both were men who should have had better sense but weren't displaying it.
It just happened that a lady had decided to pickle some peppers and thought she was buying Hungarian peppers but ended up with Habaneros. She pickled a whole gallon of them only to discover that they were so hot that they glowed in the dark. On the correct assumption that glider pilots will eat anything, she brought them down to the clubhouse.
Someone brought the jar of peppers out to the table to settle the question. The rules were set: it would be a Bourbon drinking, pepper eating contest and each of them put a $100 bill on the table, winner take all. It would be run like a spelling bee, first one would down a shot of bourbon and then a pepper (in whichever order they chose) and then the other would do the same. The first one to fail the task lost.
They faced one another across the table with the gallon of peppers and a bottle of Jack Daniels, flanked by two portraits of Ben Franklin between them. It didn't take long before it became obvious that there would be two losers in this contest. Then one of them happened to scratch his eye with a finger he'd been using to pick up the peppers. He screamed in pain and bolted for the shower where he had his face under the blast from the shower head.
He returned soaking wet, picked up both hundreds and tossed them across the table. His opponent handed one back saying, "No, I can beat you any time and I refuse to let you chicken out by sticking your finger in your eye."
The lady who had pickled the peppers made a sage observation, "I think the way they should have settled who was the bigger man was to drop their pants and get out a ruler."
Speaking of the craziness that goes on at soaring contests, several years ago
at a contest on the old Navy base at Hutchinson, Kansas, a soaring pilot by the
name of Bill Seed had bought the place and was living in the control tower (what
a neat place to live).
At any rate, he had his workshop in the old fire department under the tower and several people who had nothing better to do than try to prove Darwin right, decided to mix beer with good judgment after the soaring day was over. They discovered an acetylene welding setup along with a helium tank and some small weather balloons in the shop. By adjusting the welding torch to a nice, blue flame, then putting it out, they could fill a plastic sandwich bag with the welding gas and it would explode with a loud bang.
They would inflate one of the weather balloons, fill a plastic bag with the acetylene/oxygen mix and light a sparkler attached to the plastic bag and release the combination into the air. At several hundred feet altitude, the sparkler would burn into the plastic bag and they would have an aerial explosion.
With the thought that bigger must be better, they graduated from sandwich-size plastic bags to gallon size and finally to a Hefty garbage bag for their gas bomb. As they were filling the Hefty bag with the welding mix of gas, they thought it wasn't filling fast enough so they decided to pull the sides of the bag apart to give the gas more room. Evidently static electricity inside the bag set if off, blowing the doors off the shop and bursting several eardrums.
After a trip to the hospital to have their ears checked, they decided the whole idea wasn't as much fun as they thought. No report of any permanent damage except for the blown out doors and windows in the building.
Turn it On
My favorite bad pilot story didn't happen to me but to a very dear friend by the name of Gus Irvin who gave me my first two lessons (and probably saved my butt when I got off the ground in a Heath).
WW-II had just began and most civilian airplanes were grounded. He had picked up an old Fleet biplane in Florida and was delivering it on a flight permit to Texas where it would be used in a training program. He had skirted around Pensacola to keep out of all the Navy training going on there and was headed for the airport at Mobile. He was running on fumes and not sure he was going to make it across the bay when he looked down and saw all those Navy ships anchored in the bay. Then he noticed men running on the decks and every gun on them was pointing at him. He could see the airport ahead and all he could do was hope he could make it because the fuel gauge wasn't even bouncing.
The engine sputtered and died on final and he found himself setting in the middle of the runway with a dead engine and lots of sailors with guns running toward him. All he could do was sit in the plane with his hands in the air.
After a lot of him explaining and the Navy officers yelling, they finally agreed to give him five gallons of gas so he could fly another ten miles to the civilian field west of Mobile. They brought out a huge tanker truck of gas and had to find a bucket to measure out five gallons which they poured into the tank. Then he explained that the engine had to be hand-cranked. They got the crank out of the luggage compartment and began to crank the engine. Round and round they cranked it but not a sputter. As one sailor would run out of steam, another would take his place.
He had gone through half a dozen crankers when he finally bent over to where he could see the switch down under the instrument panel and realized that he hadn't turned it off after landing with a dead engine and he had moved it from "Both" to "Off" when he got ready to start it. He turned it on, the engine roared to life and he was able to get out of there.
One time we were on our way to Baja in the 210. I had a friend in the left seat getting some complex time and a guy who had just soloed was in the back seat. We were VFR on top a hundred or so miles southwest of Colorado Springs and could see mountain tops sticking up through the clouds. We were tweaking the mixture using the EGT which was mounted right next to the oil pressure gauge.
All of a sudden the oil pressure dropped to zero. I reached up under the panel to see if it was electric or had a line to it.... it was a line. I told mike to pull back to minimum power to save the engine as long as possible, grabbed the microphone, declared an emergency and gave him a heading that would get us over South Park in case we had to go down. All the time I was digging through the Jep Case looking for an approach to Alamosa.
The guy in the back suddenly said, "I see an airport right under us. Sure enough there was a hole in the overcast with a paved runway visible through it. We spiraled down through it and as we turned final, I tried to call Denver center to tell them we had an airport made but was too low. Some guy in a Jet Commander relayed my message to Denver Center.
We pulled the mixture as soon as the wheels were on the ground and coasted to the ramp. It turned out to be a duster strip at Del Norte. When we got out, Mike noticed that his right boot was oily and in checking, found that the oil pressure line had vibrated against a metal stiffener on the inside of the firewall which had worn a pin hole in it. We found we had lost less than a quart of oil with most running down the firewall and into the belly.
The crop duster had all sorts of parts and Mike had the line spliced in short order and we were on our way back up through the clouds and on to Winslow, AZ to meet friends in a 182. We shot an approach to Winslow and landed just ahead of the the 182 which had flown about 20 mile south to find a hole to let down through.
Later I heard the guy who had been in the back seat telling friends at the Black Forest Inn about the flight. According to him, we were on top of clouds with no idea where we were and the engine lost power due to an oil leak. Fortunately he spotted an airport through a hole in the clouds and we were able to get down safely. After repairs were made, we took off and climbed right back up through the clouds. But the amazing part was when we let back down through the clouds and there was the Winslow runway right over the nose.
We had a number of Japanese pilots come to Black Forest and this one JAL pilot was there to fly the wave. Everyone coming there was supposed to speak at least basic English and one would think that an airline pilot certainly would since English is the official language for air traffic control.
Their habit of smiling and nodding their heads whether they understood or not was frustrating if nothing else. I'd often ask them what I had just said to be sure they were really understanding something.
I was doing a wave orientation flight with a JAL pilot; we'd done the ground school, preflight preparations and were in a 2-32 headed for the wave. I'd told him that I would tell him when we were in the wave and to release. We were thrashing through the rotor and he was fighting the stick with both hands, going lock to lock which was making it even more difficult for him to fly in the rough air. I reached forward, put my hand on his shoulder and said, "Relax".
I suppose that Relax was too close to Release and BANG, he snatched the red knob and we were off tow in the pounding rotor. At least we were nearly through the rotor and on the up side of it so I took control and began to work the rough lift to save the flight. Next thing I know he has his face buried in a barf bag.
I was able to work up into the wave and he took over to fly the glider. We
finished the flight and he carried his barf bag to the office after we landed.
At least he didn't have to clean the ship.
They really gave me a hard time about my flying being so bad that I made airline pilots sick.
You’re as good a writer as ever!
I really like the Boom Town Land out, it so reminds me of my latest (never
say “last”, it tempts the gods).
It was a pretty good day at Inyo-Kern, and I’d made it past 9-mile canyon before I ran out of lift, so on the way back to the airport at IKY after I ran out of altitude, I picked a nice BIG field to land in, called my crew and all went well. Except I must have kicked up a good dust cloud because soon after getting out and looking things over I hear sirens and see the dreaded Red Flashing Lights on the highway.
It seems more than one of the houses on the perimeter of the field had called 911 to report the “Airplane Crash”. First on the scene was the Highway Patrol, followed by the sheriff and at least one deputy, and an ambulance, but the best was still to come, they called out the Brand New Airport Fire Truck with tires the size of VWs and the over cab mounted super blaster spray nozzle! Boy were they disappointed that they didn’t get to use it!
About the best part was the patrolman calling in to dispatch to log the
Dispatch, ”Any Injuries?”
Dispatch, “Any Damage?”
Dispatch, “Any Fuel Leaked?”
Patrol, “It’s a glider”
another long pause...
It’s always fun flying a 1-26!
Where Are The Wings.
We had someone get low after falling out of the Pikes Peak wave and landed the rented 1-26 in the Garden of the Gods golf course. When the line boy and a couple people hanging around the gliderport arrived with a trailer to haul the glider out, they were confronted by the course pro demanding a $500 "fine" for landing there.
The pilot had landed without any problem and rolled to a stop near the first Tee. A couple players helped him roll it to a nearby parking lot so it was no longer in the way of anyone playing golf.
After countless phone calls back and forth, the city police, country sheriff and some guy from the FAA were there. It was finally decided that he had broken no laws, done no damage and the golf course could not "fine" him for anything.
The first question when they arrived back at the gliderport was, "Where are the wings?" Turns out they had moved them out of the wind under the shed where the golf carts were stored and then forgot them.
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