Plane & Pilot
Thursday, May 1, 2008

Paws In The Sky

Dogs make wonderful copilots, even if they do sometimes complain about the landings

x country logYes, I’m guilty. The rumors are true. I am one of those silly, sentimental pet lovers who regard dogs as a couple of steps above most humans. I’ve owned and raised a succession of Siberian huskies, Alaskan malamutes, German shepherds and dobermans for the last 40 years, and as a group, they’re some of the most wondrous creatures on the planet. I’m ecstatic when they’re born, and I cry when they die.
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Though I was rated for instrument flight, the old Bellanca wasn’t, and its venturi-driven gyros didn’t take kindly to airspeeds much below 85 knots. The L.A. Basin sometimes experienced unexpected fog, and before I learned better, I was forced to come down through the glop several times.

In one instance, returning from a story in Arizona with Kenai half-sleeping in the backseat, I was concentrating on shooting a near-minimums ILS into Long Beach when the venturi-powered artificial horizon rolled over and died.

I hurriedly switched to needle, ball and airspeed and tried to remember everything I could about partial panel. I was just inside the outer marker and beginning to sweat a little when I felt a large Husky tongue licking my right ear. I couldn’t help laughing, and that cut the tension in half. The rest of the approach and landing went okay (at least, we survived it—“rawl-ooh”), and though the event hardly qualified as an “animal miracle,” Kenai got a rib eye for dinner that night.

Among my fellow pilots, one of the most notable traveling pets was not a dog. Rene and Wilma Guerin owned a Skylane and traveled regularly with their pet skunk, and before you ask, yes, it was a “destunk” skunk. The animal was a beautiful and friendly little weasel, dressed in shiny black fur with a bright white stripe.

Flying someplace with the Guerins was always fun, and we always made them land last so we could watch. When they let the skunk out of their 182 onto the ramp at Palm Springs or Santa Barbara or Van Nuys, you should have seen the lineboys scatter.

In one instance, the Guerins and six other couples flew a club trip to Yuma, Ariz., for the Silver Spurs Rodeo. We all checked into the same motel the night before the rodeo and went to a late dinner. While we were gone, someone broke into five of our rooms and stole a few minor things, fortunately nothing too valuable. The Guerins’ room was one of the victims, but they’d left their skunk on guard. The door had been jimmied, but absolutely nothing in the room was disturbed. Funniest thing.

Sadly, the Guerins’ skunk, Kenai and the little cocker spaniel are all long gone—the latter two are probably still joyously chasing each other around that huge dog park in the sky. It’s one of God’s crueler jokes that despite our animals’ gift of unconditional love, they’re almost never allowed to outlive us.

Terry and Cirrus, my two current German shepherds, are still with me, both senior critters now, and I’m doing everything possible to keep them happy and healthy forever. It’s a joy rather than a responsibility, and I’ll do it as long as…

Forgive me, I have to go throw a ball for a dog.

Bill Cox is entering his third decade as a senior contributor to Plane & Pilot.® He provides consulting for media, entertainment and aviation concerns worldwide. E-mail him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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