Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 28, 2009

From Hero To Bum—Almost

You can learn from your mistakes…if you can just survive them

A LEARNING EXPERIENCE. Flying the first production Piper Mirage from Florida to Germany proved to be more than just a simple delivery.
It was January 1989, and I had just delivered a new Grand Caravan to Comair in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was sitting in the manager’s office waiting for transport to the airline airport to start the 30-hour trip home when the call came through.

Wilfred Otto of the Piper distributor in Germany was calling. Happens all the time when I’m in South Africa.

Wilfred asked if I’d be good enough to fly back to Vero Beach, Fla., and pick up the first production Piper Mirage for delivery to Kassel, Germany. Sure, I said, why not? I was between deadlines at the magazine, and there wasn’t anything more exciting to do. I jumped on a South African Airways flight to London, changed to an American flight to Orlando and drove an Avis the last 100 miles to Vero Beach.

The Mirage was waiting, the first of the Lycoming-powered, 350 hp Malibus. After two days for tanking in Lakeland, I climbed aboard and headed north toward Bangor, Maine.

Talk about a change of climate. Lakeland was a balmy 22 degrees C when I departed, and predictably, things became progressively colder as I flew north. Level at FL210, I watched the temperature plummet well below minus-10 degrees C passing New York.

The temperature aloft was of little concern (I’d added Prist before departing Lakeland), but the temp on the ground was becoming downright frigid. As I picked up the Bangor ATIS from 100 miles out, they were reporting minus-25 degrees C.

I entered the pattern at BGR, selected gear down and watched as the three gear lights illuminated: one, two… Oh well, no big deal, I thought, it’s just a little cold and stiff outside. I’ll just recycle. I put the wheels back to bed, waited for a second and put the switch back down again. One, two…


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