“Bad Decisions Make Great Stories.”

I can think of a few in my lifetime…like the time I spent my entire savings on backstage passes at an Evanescence concert to impress a girl…how silly.

What are yours??

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Human Nature?

I’ve been restoring an old Cessna 140A (from 1947) with a close friend from work for about a year and a half now.  We usually meet on whatever day we have off, once a week or so, in a hangar out at Ryan Field outside of Tucson.  Today, as I was reassembling the engine’s left-hand magneto, it occurred to me that I was really, genuinely happy to be doing that.  You know the feeling–you get lost in your hobby so thoroughly, and all of a sudden there’s only fifteen minutes to pick your wife up from the airport.  (Sorry, honey.)  This morning was fun and cathartic for me because I take a lot of joy in tearing something old and beat-up apart, and putting it back together all shiny, and with all-new parts.  I would have felt quite proud to explain exactly what I’d done if my wife surprised me and came home early to find me tinkering.  I’m proud of the mechanical, critical thinking, detail-oriented set of skills I’ve developed all around, actually.  They’re not the best, but they’re mine.

So why is it, then, that work has become as monotonous and boring as I feel it has lately–when I sometimes do exactly the same things on my own time?  I imagine my attitude would change if I wasn’t looking at it as a twelve hour grind through the day, and I probably wouldn’t resent being there if I didn’t have to in order to pay my bills…but is it human nature that colors our thoughts the way they are?  Is it more the fact that I’m not being challenged at work as much as I was when I was new and a sponge?

Just a strange little thought that hit me as I was riding my motorcycle home from the airport…it’s almost comical, if you look at it from far away.  Have you ever had this feeling before?

Back Home From Home…

I have just returned after a trip to the place I’ll probably always call “home,” despite that I haven’t lived there for almost four years now.  I grew up in the southwest Chicago ‘burbs, and every time I go home (about twice a year, on average), it seems like something is different–there’s a mall where there used to be open fields, there’s no new school where the old and dilapidated one used to stand, that kind of thing.  One thing that still stands intact and in use, however, is the private airport that was across the street from the house I grew up in.  My folks didn’t live on the airport, where the houses had their own hangars that backed right up to the taxiway, but over the twenty or so years that I lived there, we became friends with some of the people who did.

As I drove my wife around the perimeter, pointing out the building I got my first flight physical in and telling her how the guy who gave it to me used to own a cherry, legendary P-51D Mustang and sold it for a “mere” half million dollars, I became nostalgic.  I lived across from that runway since the age of five, and one of the local pilots gave me my first airplane ride at about 8 years old (excepting once when I flew on a jet down to DisneyLand at age six).  The wonder of flight never ceased to amaze me, and I went up with our neighbors across the street whenever Mr. Siegfried (Rick)–a 747 Captain with United–was feeling charitable and had some free time.  There, my want to be in aviation was born and nurtured.  In an old, classic Stearman, and an old, classic T-6 Texan.  I was (am) lucky to have known him.

I remembered back to the first time I was in a plane, then the first flight physical I had, then once I got my Private Pilot’s license, I felt like I was armed with infinite wisdom whenever my folks would ask aviation-related questions.  I had all these experiences that the majority of kids–of people–never get to experience.  I looked at the airport differently with each new thing I learned.

As I was driving the perimeter of the airport, it occurred to me just how long it’s been since I’d seen those areas–my folks have moved from the house since then–and I looked at the one, lone hangar on the small ramp/tie-down area, and realized that I could someday own it.  If I bought it, I could DO the maintenance, I could DO the flight instructing (given a little more time), I could turn that place into a business.  I don’t know exactly how yet, but I know I could do it.

I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that it’s so fascinating to me to look at something like the airplanes, or the hangar, and over time I’ve realized that the same object can mean so many different things to me.    I’ve always felt pretty in-tune with the way I perceive the experiences I’ve had, but this one kind of threw me.  I realized it at 38,000 feet, on the way home from “home,” and I have to admit that seeing the big picture surprised me.  From a self-actualization standpoint, I’ve reached the pinnacle thus far, I think.  I can’t wait to see what happens next!

If any of you have had some kind of experience like this–or if I’m just a babbling moron–share it here.  I’d love to hear your stories, and soak in the lessons you’ve had to come by as honestly as I’ve come by mine.

The SECOND New Pair Of Drawers…

Later on in my initial career as a flight student, I had spent much time planning my first solo cross country trip.  I was to fly a 259 mile circle from Salina, KS to two other airports and back again.  I checked out the aircraft, organized my things, and was wheels up by 1:30 pm on a cold and breezy day in November 2000. The wind was 090 at 10 kts (I had a ten knot direct crosswind coming from the west).

I made it without a problem to the Emporia, KS airfield, right on schedule.  I made three attempts to land on runway 36 (which stands for 360 degrees on a compass, or 12 o’clock on a clock), but kept getting blown off course.  Upon failure of the third attempt, I left the area for Herington, KS–I was wasting time and falling behind.

When I entered the pattern at Herington, I was determined to get at least one touch-and-go in.  I “crabbed” the aircraft into the wind (pointed it about twenty degrees to the left (west) so that it would track straight toward the runway), and stayed on course to land.  I straightened out once I was in “ground effect,” and landed the aircraft.  As it was a touch-and-go and I had plenty of runway left, I shoved the throttle to the wall (full throttle), pulled my flaps up, and began to takeoff again.  Any experienced pilot knows what happened next.

I still had a crosswind, and hadn’t corrected my ailerons for it on takeoff.  As my speed built to around fifty knots (55 mph, about), something I didn’t see coming happened–I began to “weather vane.”  The aircraft–which wasn’t off the ground yet–pointed the left (west)–in the direction of the prevailing winds that day.  I cut the throttle immediately and locked up the brakes, trying desperately to stop the aircraft.  I began skidding sideways, and my left main wheel came off the ground, threatening to flip the airplane on its back.  By the grace of GOD, it didn’t happen, and the gear slammed back down and I continued to skid along the runway.  I slid across the snowy median, across the icy taxiway, and about thirty yards into the field to the west of the runway.  I came to a stop facing directly west, with the sun setting and the propeller spinning at idle as if nothing had happened.

I looked toward the Herington FBO–not a soul in sight.  No planes, no cars, no lights on, even.  I turned the aircraft around and taxied back up onto the taxiway, eventually coming to a stop right at the hold-short of runway 36.  I set the parking brake, and got out of the plane, prop still spinning, and crouched down to check for any kind of damage or leaking brake fluid or something.  Not the smartest move to leave the engine running, but I wasn’t thinking logically at the time.  I saw no leaks or damage, so I climbed back in, lined up for takeoff again, did the Sign of the Cross, and slowly pushed the throttle in.  I released the brake, and built up speed enough to leave the ground, getting blown off-course just the second I did so.

I flew back to Salina–flew the plane back to Salina–for no other reason than I wanted to get back home, and not a damned thing would stand in my way.  I found out later on that there was damage to the propeller from the accident, and knowing what I know now as a mechanic, it could’ve  unbalanced the prop, or caused a hairline crack that could’ve made my prop disintegrate before my eyes on the trip home.  I literally could have killed myself by flying that plane home.  Ignorance really is bliss.  I didn’t fly for two months after that.

Some call that episode courageous, some call it desperate, some call it stupid and unprepared.  Whatever you call it, I’ll tell you something: No pilot you’ve ever flown with who hasn’t had a similar experience, is as safe a pilot as I am because of it.

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Needed A New Pair Of Drawers!

One time, as a wide-eyed and excited flight student, I went out into the practice area with Kansas State’s trainer–a nearly-new Cessna 172R–and I began to practice the maneuvers that the curriculum specified.  I made it three maneuvers in, to power-on stalls.  I pulled the yoke back, waited for the buffeting to start, then fought for dear life as the stall broke, and the plane rolled over to the right, flipped on its back, and dove to the ground.  I lost a thousand feet in seven seconds before sheer instinct pushed me to do a textbook spin recovery, and promptly flew straight and level for a good fifteen miles before regaining my wits and calming down enough to function again.  I learned a lot that day, but it would only partly prepare me for a day that  would forever change the way I view myself, and why complete mastery of the aircraft’s controls is imperative.

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