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Pilot Stories

Enjoy pilot stories? Our Pilot Talk section is full of informative and entertaining flying tales from accomplished pilot authors.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Bitten By The Viper


This One Goes To 11



viperThis is my “Maverick” moment, so I better not make good on that call sign I was given a few years ago. I’m cinched tightly into the rear seat of an F-16 behind Major Stephen “Chak” Pinchak of the 421st Fighter Squadron, and my heart is racing. I’ve just armed my ejection seat, so I’m sitting on a live rocket, in a jet plane, and we’re about to blast off—literally.
Sunday, July 1, 2007

Refueling The Tacos


The Stratotanker Visits Davis-Monthan



refueling the tacosFrom the cockpit jump seat of a 1954 Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, our clunky, creaky roll on takeoff seems a stark contrast to the day’s activities at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tuscon, Ariz. After what feels like an eternity on an endless runway, we slowly lift off, leaving behind an incredible assortment of U.S. Air Force fighter jets, including F-15 Eagles, F-16 Falcons, F-4 Phantoms, A-10 Warthogs and two F-22 Raptors, on the ramp below.
Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Cowboy Christmas


Rodeo in the American West



Champion calf roper K.C. Jones is backing his horse, a brown-and-white paint named Mornin’ Spot, into the right rear corner of what they call the box, next to the chute. He’s focused like a red-tailed hawk dive-bombing a field mouse.
Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Overstressing The Airframe


Exercise good preflight and in-flight judgment to keep your airplane intact



Some pilots may believe that an instrument rating and a fair amount of flight time are good insurance against getting into a situation that results in losing aircraft control or exceeding an aircraft’s design stress limits. However, without a healthy amount of good preflight and in-flight judgment, along with recurrent training that includes partial panel work and unusual attitude recovery, those two things can set the stage for getting into trouble.

Sunday, January 1, 2006

The Katrina Aftermath


General-aviation pilots played a huge role in helping hurricane victims



My timing couldn’t have been worse. On Monday, August 29, 2005, I boarded an American Airlines 767 out of Los Angeles and headed for Orlando, Fla., well aware that Hurricane Katrina was scheduled to come ashore at exactly the same time when we’d be passing overhead. The storm had grown taller than 50,000 feet, far above the maximum altitude of a 767, and was directly in our flight path.

 

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Iceland, The Prequel


Summertime flying in the North Atlantic can be vicious



This is being written on the road or, more accurately, in the sky. As I tap out these words on my Think Pad, I’m cruising comfortably at FL390 in a British Airways 747, only two hours out from Heathrow Airport in London. I’m flying to Jolly Old England to explore the puzzling British penchant for cold meat as well as warm beer.

Saturday, October 1, 2005

The Touchdown Set-Up


Be prepared for any last-minute corrections when landing



One of the really great things about most light general aviation airplanes is that they generally are highly responsive to control and power inputs, and touchdown speeds are comparatively low, making it possible to turn a sloppy approach into a relatively benign landing through some last-minute maneuvering.
Saturday, October 1, 2005

Avgas Alternatives


Is there a solution to skyrocketing fuel prices?



I did something incredibly stupid the other day. My fuel is on an open account, and the price is always buried in a seldom-seen monthly statement. So, I asked the price. The nice young lady said (with a perfectly straight face) that because I’m a tenant, I get a discount. I’m only paying $3.88.
Saturday, October 1, 2005

Through The Eyes Of A Ferry Pilot


Observing places, people and planes is part of the job



Almost by definition, half of every delivery flight I make is on an airliner. I’ve been able to dovetail ferry flights to and from the same destinations a total of once in nearly 30 years of delivering airplanes.

Thursday, September 1, 2005

The Go/No-Go Decision


It’s better to be safe than sorry



Every pilot has his own tolerance for risk, but most of us who fly ferry across the oceans on a semi-regular basis have developed our own set of guidelines for when we will or won’t fly. We like to hope that those guidelines make perfect sense, but they often don’t. They’re just our way of doing things, they work, and that’s all that matters as long as they keep us alive.
Thursday, September 1, 2005

Weather-Avoidance Assistance


You can’t always rely on air traffic control for climate briefings



While the primary duty of controllers is to separate and direct traffic, they also have a duty to help pilots avoid weather hazards. The FAA’s handbook for controllers requires them to issue pertinent information on observed and reported weather, provide radar navigation guidance and/or approve deviations around weather when requested, define where significant weather is located in relation to an aircraft, issue the level of echo intensity and help pilots figure out the best alternative routes and altitudes to avoid weather.
Thursday, September 1, 2005

Remembering Curtis Pitts


Some losses are extremely hard to accept



I had just parked in front of my insurance agent’s office and was cursing myself for forgetting to bring the premium check when it hit me. It was as if someone way down at the end of a long, gloomy tunnel had whispered, “Curtis just died.” I looked down and saw goose bumps on my arms.
Monday, August 1, 2005

Turbulent Times


Grappling with gusting winds during landings



A few weeks ago, New York was experiencing an extended period of rainy weather, accompanied by what seemed like constant low overcasts, reduced visibility and winds that were designed to test the quality of airplane tiedown ropes. I was really looking forward to the break in the weather that had been forecast for the coming weekend.
Monday, August 1, 2005

The Derelicts


Are airplanes ever so far gone that they’re truly dead?



I’ve mentioned them before—those long-dead, thoroughly baked carcasses I taxi past each day that at some time in the past, were airplanes. Now they’re aeronautically shaped mounds of dust and bird droppings that occupy the last tie-down spots on the ramp. It’s as if they’re purposely quarantined away from “real” airplanes, those that fly, so as to not pass on the lethal disease they may carry. Out here, we refer to those kinds of airplanes as roaches. Don’t ask why. It just seems to fit.
Monday, August 1, 2005

A Chance Meeting


Sometimes reviewing the latest NOTAMs and TFRs isn’t enough



There I was, climbing through 5,500 feet in southeastern Texas, when I had a close encounter with a Boeing 747 named Air Force One. It was closer than I would have liked, anyway.
Friday, July 1, 2005

Safety In Numbers


The latest NTSB statistics suggest a decrease in general aviation accidents



This past March, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released preliminary accident statistics for 2004. The numbers show a welcome overall safety trend for general aviation (GA), with total accidents going down from 1,741 in 2003 to 1,614 in 2004. The accident rate decreased from 6.77 per 100,000 flight hours in 2003 to 6.22 in 2004. That’s a drop of more than 8%.
Friday, July 1, 2005

Fences


Whether real or imaginary, these obstacles keep us in and others out



Yesterday evening, a friend and I were flying across the desert a few miles south of Phoenix, when my fellow pilot asked, “Hey, wanna look at the horses?”

A wing dropped, and I found myself looking down at 30 horses that ignored us as we spiraled down around them. They were in a loose bunch in the sagebrush. Some were grazing, others were lying down, while a couple chased each other around in what appeared to be an equine game of tag. Every color and pattern was represented and spring had obviously arrived, as a number of colts frolicked about.

Friday, July 1, 2005

Wing Dings


Smoothing out those unwanted dents may have gotten easier



It’s a problem most of us with metal airplanes face at one time or another—dings, those small dents that seem to go hand in hand with owning an aluminum flying machine. Unless you own a wood-and-fabric airplane, you’re almost bound to develop some minor dings in your airplane’s aluminum surfaces. Rag and spruce designs aren’t totally immune from hangar rash, but almost.
Wednesday, June 1, 2005

For The Birds


Finding inspiration from these heavenly creatures



As far back as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by birds. I remember sitting on the beach during family vacations to Venice, Fla., as a kid of seven through 13, entranced by pelicans in ones and twos patrolling the roiling Gulf of Mexico surf for fish. The big-beaked birds seemed to have total command of the sky, gliding soundlessly or climbing for an instant with hardly a movement of wing, then diving straight down into the water faster than I could think about it.
Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Time Flies


Tomorrow has a way of becoming yesterday entirely too quickly



As I’m typing this, my little red airplane is in the hos-pital for a 100-hour inspec-tion that is going to cost nearly 1⁄5 of what the air-plane is valued new. Every time the phone rings, it’s another one of those $1,000 calls. Yesterday, I was in a funk when I figured out that I would have to fly it another 100 hours just to pay for that inspection and then it would be time for yet another inspection.