The following is a collection of interesting, humorous, or educational stories.
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* My True Story From: OX5 News (By Bob Barrett)
* Shelton's Early Airport & Sanderson Airfield (By Brian Gann)
* Fleet Field Early History of Bremerton National Airport (By Bob Barrett)
* Air Age (Bremerton Sun article about Fleet Field)
* Zero/Zero (By Charles Svoboda)
* Early IFR (By Bob Barrett)
* From My Pilot Log Book (By Bob Barrett)
* Transatlantic Cessna 150 (By Joan Kleynhans)
* Fastest Jet in the West (Sled Driver)
* Keep Your Mach Up (Sled Driver)
My True Story
(By Bob Barrett, OX5 No. 2163)
First place winner of the president's best story contest.
(OX5 News, Volume 22 Number 5, October 1980.)
The old Travel Air 2000 was sliding along smoothly at 3000 feet and I could count the blades going by as the OX5-powered prop ground out its 1250 RPM. My partner and I were making one of our frequent trips from our fixed base at Bremerton, Washington to Boeing Field at Seattle to conduct some business.
It was in the early summer of 1941 and the air was smooth and clear. The snow-covered Olympic Mountains were behind us, Puget Sound and the Cascade Mountains were ahead, and majestic Mount Rainier was off to our right. Being in the front cockpit and having nothing better to do, I took in all the scenery, but since I'd seen it so many times before I soon got bored and started looking down in the cockpit. The thing that first caught my attention was the socket where the joystick would be installed if it was there. I watched it for a while and it didn't move a bit. About the time we were halfway across Puget Sound I could contain myself no longer. I just had to do something, so I placed a heel on it and gave it a sharp push.
What happened next was one of the most unforgettable few seconds of my flying career. It seems that my partner, Wayne W. Lowe, wasn't at that moment minding the store. Also his seat belt, though buckled was far from snug and as the airplane nosed over he was busy with both hands finding structure to hold on to. Those who have flown the Travel Air 2000 know how unstable it was in pitch attitude. It was one of those kind of airplanes that didn't resist a dive. In fact, the faster you went the more it wanted to curl under. And that is exactly what it did until we had performed half an outside loop!
Now an outside loop is somewhat of a thrill even when you are thoroughly prepared for it, but when you are taken by surprise in an elderly airplane and without the comfort of a parachute, it can be a real thrill. I had given that stub only one little quick kick and as the airplane continued to curl under I grabbed structure and held on thinking that my partner was teaching me a lesson. About the time we were fully inverted it occurred to me that maybe he thought I had a stick and was flying it. At this time I let go with both hands and stuck both arms out toward the center section to let him know I wasn't in control.
These were the most terror-filled seconds of my life. The airplane had been built in 1927 and the seat belts and attach fittings were as old as the airplane. I thought about this while in the 4 to 6-G negative maneuver. It also occurred to me that I might be alone in the airplane.
All's well that ends well. Somehow or other my partner regained control about 500 feet above the briny and we continued our trip without further incident. I must admit that I learned a very important lesson about horseplay in an airplane.
Shelton's Early Airport & Sanderson Airfield
(By Brian Gann)
Shelton's Early Airport
On July 29, 1927, the City of Shelton celebrated the beginning of the construction of its new airport. Located next to the county fairgrounds, it was originally named the Mason County Airport. The airport would see only light use in the pre-war years. During that era the runway and facilities were still not fully developed.
By 1942, the United States had entered World War II and had begun expanding its military infrastructure. In July of that year, the U.S. Army purchased the Mason County Airport for development, but eventually sold it to the U.S. Navy, which would rename it Naval Auxiliary Air Station Shelton. The navy built two 5,000- by 150-foot asphalt runways. Barracks were constructed that could house upwards of 1,300 men.
Originally, when the threat of Japanese invasion loomed, the Shelton airfield was intended to station army interceptor aircraft. But as the war developed Shelton shifted towards Navy Utility Squadrons or "VJs." The primary focus of the Shelton VJ squadrons was target towing, providing services for aircraft, and managing an anti-aircraft gunnery school.
The navy began phasing out the Shelton airfield two months after the war ended. By 1947 all operations ceased. After the war, the Civil Air Patrol maintained the airport, known once again as the Mason County Airport. But for most of the next 10 years it would lie idle.
After the U.S. Navy left Shelton, the fate of the Mason County Airfield was unclear. Although the Civil Air Patrol had been in control since the late 1940s, the City of Shelton and Mason County sought greater community involvement in the airport. On September 10, 1953, the Shelton-Mason County Journal reported that Representative Russell V. Mack (1891-1960) had written to the Secretary of Defense asking for the release of the airfield. Representative Mack noted that the navy had no further use of the airfield and that putting it "into productive use" would create jobs in the Shelton area (Shelton-Mason County Journal, September 10, 1953). The Air Force briefly considered turning the $2 million airport into a guided missile site, but the plan was abandoned.
By 1955, the federal government had agreed to give the airfield, free of any cost, to Mason County, under the assumption that the county would then deed the facilities to the Port of Shelton. In May 1957 the County handed over to the Port all 1,080 acres of the airport and its facilities. After the transfer, the Port began refitting the airport for civilian use, dismantling the navy barracks, and consolidating the two runways into one.
In May 1966, the airport was renamed in Sanderson Field in honor of Shelton native United States Marine Corps Major General Lawson Sanderson (1895-1979). Dubbed by one biographer "Shelton’s most spectacular personality," General Sanderson was a famous early aviator, holding the world air high-speed record from 1923 to 1930. He was a distinguished Marine commander in the Guadalcanal Campaign in World War II (History of Mason County, Washington).
Between the 1960s and the 1980s, Sanderson Field continued to grow. From seven aircraft based there in 1965, the number grew to 42 by the late 1980s. In 1989 Sanderson Field received a $75,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration, which was matched by the Port, in order to significantly expand its capabilities and facilities.
Today, Sanderson Field operates one 5,000-foot runway and bases around 100 aircraft. Reminiscent of its navy heritage, Sanderson is operated under joint use agreement with the military, which composes a large portion of its traffic. The airport hosts a variety of craft including single- and multi-engine planes, helicopters, and ultralights, and welcomes commercial, corporate, and recreational aviation. Sanderson Field is a major aspect of the Port of Shelton today and continues to drive investment and interest to the Port.
Air Age (Bremerton Sun article)
Early History of Bremerton National Airport
(By Bob Barrett)
Several people have asked me to record the early history of Bremerton National Airport (formerly Kitsap County Airport). I will begin with a list of names of those who were there on the first day and before the first day. Many who showed up even a short time later will go unrecognized because this is an account of the beginning. I sincerely hope I have not forgotten someone whose name truly belongs on this list. The names selected below are the "us" and the "we" in the following account.
Oral "Swede" Allen
Robert E. "Bob" Barrett
Mr. & Mrs. Cecil Bayes
Gordon Bayes, Cecil Bayes' son
Clarence "Curley" Eskridge
William G. "Bill" Humes
Harry I. & Doris (Hope) Stoner
In the beginning there was - in the Bremerton area - a handful of aviation enthusiasts but no flying facilities. A few of these young men regularly traveled to Boeing Field once or twice a month for flying lessons. Dual flight instruction cost $12 per hour and $4 would buy a 20-minute flight lesson. Whenever we could scrape up $4 or $5 plus the ferry and streetcar fare, we were off to Seattle for another flying lesson. In the depression year of 1934 I was one of the fortunate few who were relatively affluent. I was a Navy Yard messenger boy and my monthly take-home pay of $41 allowed me to take a flight lesson about every other week!
The gang got together for frequent "bull" sessions, and the lack of a local airport was always cussed and discussed. On trips around the area I'm sure each of us looked at every meadow and clearing and mentally evaluated it as a possible airport site. Along with others, I went on several trips to inspect sites that we had found or that others had reported to us. Unfortunately, everything we looked at was either unavailable or unsuitable. In the early Fall of 1936 our luck changed. Someone told us about a place called Bayes' Bog out on the Belfair Highway. Maybe within an hour, but certainly not more than a day later, several of us were on our way to inspect another possible airport site. This was the present location of Bremerton National Airport. Bayes' Bog was an old dried-up lake bed about 4,000 feet long by 500 feet in width. Its length was oriented north and south and the present main runway was built right over the center line of the old lake. The property was owned by Cecil Bayes and Oral "Swede" Allen, both of whom lived on a stump ranch between the bog and the highway.
In spite of the fact that the bog was covered with buckbrush five feet high, we knew we had found our airport. It was long, level, on a hilltop, oriented into prevailing winds, and had no approach obstructions other than a few tall fir trees which could easily be eliminated. Furthermore, Bayes and Allen were as enthusiastic as we were!
We wasted no time. No feasibility studies, no site selection boards, no cost estimates, no environmental impact statements, no political shenanigans - we were doers! On the very next weekend we had a work party out there with shovels, wheelbarrows, axes and a truck. Somebody knew someone who arranged to have a State Highway Department sickle-bar mower parked nearby where we could appropriate it. Using Bill Humes' truck to tow the mower, we mowed and piled buckbrush until we had cleared an area about 1,000 feet long by 100 feet wide. This was done by about four o'clock that same afternoon. The next step was to get someone to try it out. I got on the phone and called Elliott Merrill at Boeing Field and enthusiastically described our new airport, inviting him to fly over and try it out. Within an hour he and his passenger Dick White were there with his Fleet biplane and made an uneventful landing. His takeoff, though, was something else. Actually, it was quite spectacular! He just barely managed to get airborne within the cleared area, so we knew there was more to be done. The mowed area was about as firm as a big mattress and had heavy brush stubble from four to six inches high. It would need a layer or gravel before it could be used for an airport. Far from discouraged, we were a tired but happy bunch that evening as we celebrated in Cecil Bayes' front room. We named our airport "Fleet Field" after the first airplane that landed there. We thought that name had a naval connotation and was appropriate for an airport near a naval facility. We toasted the future of our airport with milk of Magnesia. "Magnesia" was the name of Cecil Bayes' cow! This was day number one, October 18, 1936, the dawn of a new era.
In the following week we contacted various truckers, asking for donations for a day's work with their trucks. We came up with one truck from Bill Humes, two from the Hughes brothers, one from Mac McLenden and one from J.S. Kenyon. We also got permission to take gravel from the county gravel pit between the airport and the gun club. At the work party the following weekend we found it was very hard work loading trucks by hand, and we did not have much to show for our labor, but other forces were now at work to give us the help we needed. While we were working, a gentleman in a county vehicle stopped by and watched the activity for quite a long time. He finally told us who he was - Dick Carretti, South District County Commissioner. He mentioned that Barney White's Road needed a coat of gravel, and he would have a power shovel in the gravel pit on the following Saturday. If we could get the trucks again - and we did, his man would load them for us.
On that Saturday we had our trucks again and really started moving gravel. There were also two large county dump trucks. Their drivers apparently did not know where Barney White's Road was because they seemed to get lost and always ended up at the airport. By the end of that day we had completed phase one of our airport. We had a usable gravel runway 600 feet long and about 15 feet wide down the middle of our mowed area. This did not allow much margin for error but "beggars can't be choosers." The buckbrush was mowed about 100 yards beyond each end of the runway, and with clear approaches we had enough room provided we used it properly. WE USED IT ALL! At least twice airplanes were damaged by over-running on either takeoff or landing, but that's another story.
On about the third weekend after the initial flight, local flyers made their first flights from the airport. At that time Bert Thrasher, a Tacoma fixed-base operator, flew in with his two-cylinder Aeronca C-3 and the local pilots rented it ($6 per hour) for practice flight in the airport vicinity. Every inch of runway had to be used; so the procedure was to taxi to the far end, get out of the airplane and carry the tail around, setting it down with the landing gear on the first foot of runway. The carry-around procedure was required because the runway was only a few feet wider than the landing gear and there was no room to turn. We flew off this strip for about a year, at which time, with more work parties and more people available, we enlarged our runway to a spacious 1,000 feet in length by 40 feet in width. This was our airport until Kitsap County took it over in 1939.
I had the distinction of having the first local land-based airplane, a two-passenger, 40-horsepower Aeronca Model K . I purchased this airplane new in the spring of 1937. George Bowman had the second airplane on the field, a Challenger-powered Emsco midwing monoplane which he brought to the field in 1938. I was also honored by being chosen (they didn't have much of a choice) to fly mail from our airport to Boeing Field on a Roosevelt-proclaimed National Airmail Day.
As in all volunteer endeavours, some did more, others did less, but the important point is that together we moved Kitsap County into the Air Age.
Written by Robert E. "Bob" Barrett
Fleet Field (Above)
Bob Barrett Ushered In The Air Age
(By Seabury Blair Jr. - Bremerton Sun )
First, they called it "Bayes' Bog." Shortly thereafter, they changed the name to "Fleet Field," and Bob Barrett, a 71-year-old former Kitsaper is one of the few people around today who knows about Fleet Field.
In fact, Barrett - who now resides in Seattle - is one of the about 15 people who made Bayes' Bog and Fleet Field into what it is today: Bremerton National Airport.
A retired Boeing engineer, Barrett moved to Seattle in 1948, taking his recollections of the early days of the airport with him. But he wrote them down, and recently completed a short history of the county's major airfield.
It grew out of a swampy, brushy area almost as primitive as the aircraft that had soared the skyways of the United States for fewer than four decades. It was 1936, Barrett said.
"In the beginning, there was in the Bremerton area a handful of aviation enthusiasts, but no flying facilities," wrote Barrett, who moved with his family to Bremerton in 1919 and graduated from the old Bremerton High School in 1931.
"A few of these young men regularly traveled to Boeing Field once or twice a month for flying lessons. Dual flight instruction cost $12 per hour, and $4 would buy you a 20-minute flight lesson. Whenever we could scrape up $4 or $5 plus ferry and streetcar fare, it was off to Seattle for another flying lesson."
Barrett said he was one of the luckier Bremerton residents during the depression because he was "relatively affluent".
"I was a Navy Yard messenger boy and my monthly take-home pay of $41 allowed me to take a flight lesson about every other week," he wrote.
A man named Oral "Swede" Allen, and Mr. and Mrs. Cecil Bayes, owned the airport property. Barrett says the early pilots had been looking for a spot for an airfield for at least two years, without much luck.
"In the early fall of 1936, our luck changed. Someone told us about a place called Bayes' Bog on the Belfair Highway. Maybe within the hour, but certainly not more than a day later, several of us were on our way to inspect another possible site."
It was, said Barrett, "an old dried-up lakebed about 4,000 feet long and 500 feet in width. Its length was oriented north and south, and the present main runway was built right over the centerline of the old lake."
The owners lived on a stump ranch between the bog and the highway. Barrett says the group knew an airport site when it saw one.
"It was long, level, on a hilltop, oriented into the prevailing winds, and had no approach obstructions. Furthermore, Bayes and Allen were as enthusiastic as we were," he said.
"On the very next weekend, we had a work party out there with shovels, wheelbarrows, axes and a truck. Somebody knew someone who arranged to have a State Highway Department sickle-bar mower parked nearby where we could appropriate it."
Another of the airport boosters, William G. "Bill" Humes, brought a truck to pull the mower and a swath through 5-foot-high brush was cut. Barrett said the primitive runway was about 1,000 feet long and 100 feet wide.
"The next step was to try to get someone to try it out. I got on the phone and called Elliott Merrill at Boeing Field, and enthusiastically described our new airport, inviting him to fly over and try it out," said Barrett.
"Within an hour, he and his passenger, Dick White, were there with his Fleet biplane, and they made an uneventful landing."
Thus the field got its second name after the airplane which landed there. "We thought that name had a naval connotation and was appropriate for an airport near a naval facility," said Barrett.
The plane took off the same day, and Barrett remembers that Fleet Field very nearly recorded its first plane crash on the same day the field was christened.
"He just barely managed to get airborne within the cleared area, so we knew there was more work to be done. The mowed area was about as firm as a big mattress, and had heavy brush stubble from 4-6 inches high. It would need a layer of gravel before it could be used for an airport."
Barrett, who replied to questions in short, dry sentences, writes with a sense of humor that sparkles.
"We toasted the airport with 'Milk of Magnesia'," he wrote, then explained: " 'Magnesia' was the name of Cecil Bayes' cow!"
It was Oct. 18, 1936.
Others who worked to build the early airport included George Wallis, Harry Stoner and Doris Hope, his betrothed, George Bowman, Wes Wardleigh, Dick Caretti, Ted Phillips, Clarence "Curly" Eskridge and Barrett's brother, Max.
The week after the first landing, Barrett said the group sought donations from truckers who could carry gravel to the airport.
"We came up with one truck from Bill Humes, two from the Hughes brothers, one from Mac McLenden and one from J.S. Kenyon. We also got permission to take gravel from the county gravel pit between the airport and the gun club," said Barrett.
At a work party the following weekend, Barrett said, "a gentleman in a county vehicle stopped by and watched the activity for quite a long time."
It turned out to be Caretti, a South Kitsap county commissioner. In those days, commissioners worked out of road district offices.
"He mentioned that Barney White's Road needed a coat of gravel and he would have a power shovel in the gravel pit the following Saturday. If we could get the trucks again, his man would load them for us."
"On that Saturday, we had our trucks again and really started moving gravel. There were also two large county dump trucks. Their drivers apparently didn't know where Barney White's Road was, because they seemed to get lost and always ended up at the airport."
Barrett said that by the end of the day, the gravel runway was 600 feet long and 15 feet wide.
"The buck-brush was mowed about 100 yards beyond each end of the runway, and with clear approaches we had enough room, provided we used it properly."
About three weeks after the initial flight, local pilots began using the runway. They rented a two-cylinder Aeronca C-3 for $6 per hour from a Tacoma pilot, Bert Thrasher, for practice flights around the airport.
"Every inch of the runway had to be used, so the procedure was to taxi to the far end, get out of the airplane and carry the tail around, setting it down with the landing gear on the first foot of the runway. The carry-around procedure was required because the runway was only a few feet wider than the landing gear, and there was no room to turn."
"We flew off this strip for about a year, at which time, with more work parties and more people available, we enlarged our runway to a spacious 1,000 feet in length by about 40 feet in width. This was our airport until Kitsap County took it over in 1939."
Barrett owned the first locally based plane, a two-cylinder, two passenger Aeronca Model K, which he bought in 1937. George Bowman's midwing monoplane, an Emsco, was the second local airplane at the field in 1938.
On May 19, 1938, Barrett climbed into the cockpit of his Aeronca, stuffed about 20 pounds of mail into the craft, and flew to Boeing Field. It was the first air-mail delivery in Kitsap County.
"That was one of (Franklin D.) Roosevelt's proclamations," he said. Roosevelt had declared a National Air Mail Day.
"They did it all over the country on that day. Roosevelt was quite interested in stamps and the letters had the old air mail stamps on them. All the postmaster in the county were out at the airport."
"It was a nice day. The flight was no sweat. I had a limited commercial license at that time, which is something that doesn't exist anymore."
Barrett has a number of yellowing photos of the early airport, along with an aerial photo of Bremerton, taken in 1937. One of the more interesting photos shows the remains of the old Tacoma Narrows Bridge, "Galloping Gertie," about 1-1/2 hours after it collapsed on Nov. 7, 1940.
"We heard about it on the radio, so we hopped in the plane and went down to get some pictures," said Barrett.
Another photo shows an old gas station once located at the airport. On its roof sits a shiny new biplane.
"Tommy Erdman built that plane," said Barrett. "I guess he flew it about once. But by the time he finished it, he had learned so much about airplanes that he probably didn't want to fly it much."
So it was placed on permanent display atop Cecil Bayes' gas station.
Erdman "built his own engine for it, with the help of friends at the shipyard. He used three Harley-Davison motorcycle cylinders and got his friends at the yard to cast a crankcase for it. It ran pretty good," said Barrett.
Barrett says he stopped listing people who helped establish an airport in Kitsap on the day the first airplane landed there.
"I stopped then, on day one, because if I'd let it go longer than that, everybody in Kitsap County would probably be listed," he said. "It was a volunteer effort and some did more and other did less."
"The important point is that together, we moved Kitsap County into the air age."
(By Bob Barrett)
It's a dark dismal day in the winter of 1934. All of western Washington is covered by a thick cloud layer extending almost to the ground. At Boeing Field the ceiling is about 800 feet which is definitely IFR condition considering the 300 to 400 foot hills both East and West of the field. A United Airlines flight is due, and a United Airlines employee walks out of the terminal toward the center of the field. He walks about 300 feet then just stands there looking up at the dark sky. The Boeing 247D is approaching Seattle from the South. In the cockpit the pilot (they didn't have captains in those days) has his radio tuned to the low-frequency range station projecting its beam of interlocking "A"s and "N"s. He is totally involved in monitoring his instruments and following the beam which will lead him to the general vicinity of Boeing Field. But he could easily be a mile left or right of his desired course because the range station is located at Tacoma, about thirty miles away. The beam gets progressively wider with increasing distance from the station, so it is now about 1/2 mile wide - not a very precise fix for letting down between hills not much more than a mile apart.
Let's get back to the fellow who walked out on the field in front of the terminal. He's the third member of the team that's going to get that airplane safely on the ground! He has a telephone-type radio handset on a 300 foot extension cord connected to the United Airlines company radio. Though he appears to be looking up in the clouds, he is actually listening very intently for the engine sound of the 247D. When he hears engines in the distance he speaks into his radio. The co-pilot has his radio tuned to the company frequency and he hears that welcome voice from out of the gloom say "I hear you - give me a burp". Engines are throttled briefly and then restored to normal. The friendly voice responds "Identity confirmed - you're about four miles Southwest of the field". From here on in it's just a matter of telling the air crew where they are in relation to ground landmarks familiar to all, for example, the West Seattle reservoir, the Fisher Body plant, Boeing Plant #1, Georgetown, Beacon Hill etc. When the aircraft has been brought to a point half-way between Beacon Hill and the West Seattle hill, it is simply directed to spiral down out of the overcast and make a visual approach to the field. You might ask, "What are the Air Traffic Controllers in the control tower doing all this time?" The answer is, "What Control Tower?"
The foregoing procedure was first used in the days of the tri-motor Fords. Later, in about 1935, a Seattle range station was installed just off 24th Ave. South at about South 130th Street. A year or so later this range station was moved to the south end of Beacon Hill where it operated for many years. It was turned "off" at high noon on January 17, 1966. On that day it transmitted its last stream of A's and N's followed by the identifying dit-dit-dit, dit-da.
We are indebted to a retired United Airlines employee without whose first hand knowledge this article would have been very difficult to research. Although I had seen it operate several times, he was actually one of the operators. He was the man who walked out in the front of the terminal and talked the pilots down. His name is Robert W. "Bob" Ellis and he still does electronic systems maintenance at Seatac airport on a part time basis.
(By Charles Svoboda)
It happened sometime in 1965, in Germany. I was a copilot so I knew everything there was to know about flying and I was frustrated by pilots like my aircraft commander. He was one of those by-the-numbers types. No class. No imagination. No "feel" for flying. You have to be able to feel an airplane. So what if your altitude is a little off or if the glideslope indicator is off a hair? If it feels okay, then it is okay. That's what I believed.
Every time he let me make an approach, even in VFR conditions he demanded perfection. Not the slightest deviation was permitted. "If you can't do it when there is no pressure, you surely can't do it when the pucker factor increases," he would say. When he shot an approach, it was as if all the instruments were frozen; Perfection, but no class.
Then came that routine flight from the Azores to Germany. The weather was okay; We had 45,000 pounds of fuel and enough cargo to bring the weight of our C-124 Globemaster up to 180,000 pounds, 5000 pounds below the max allowable. It would be an easy, routine flight all the way.
Halfway to the European mainland the weather started getting bad. I kept getting updates by high frequency radio. Our destination, a fighter base, went zero/zero. Our two alternates followed shortly thereafter. All of France was down. We held for two hours and the weather got worse. Somewhere I heard a fighter pilot declare an emergency because of minimum fuel. He shot two approaches and saw nothing. On the third try he flamed out and had to eject.
We made a precision radar approach; There was nothing but fuzzy fog at minimums. The sun was setting. Now I started to sweat a little. I turned on the instrument lights. When I looked out to where the wings should be, I couldn't even see the navigation lights 85 feet from my eyes. I could barely make out a dull glow from the exhaust stacks of the closest engine, and then only on climb power.
When we reduced power to maximum endurance, that friendly glow faded. The pilot asked the engineer where we stood on fuel. The reply was, "I don't know. We're so low that the book says the gauges are unreliable below this point." The navigator became a little frantic. We didn't carry parachutes on regular MAC flights so we couldn't follow the fighter pilot's example. We would land or crash with the airplane.
The pilot then asked me which of the two nearby fighter bases had the widest runway. I looked it up and we declared an emergency as we headed for that field.
The pilot then began his briefing. "This will be for real. No missed approach. We'll make an ILS and get precision radar to keep us honest. Copilot, we'll use half flaps. That will put the approach speed a little higher, but the pitch angle will be almost level, requiring less attitude change in the flare."
Why hadn't I thought of that? Where was my "feel" and "class" now? The briefing continued, "I'll lock on the gauges. You get ready to take over and complete the landing if you see the runway. That way there will be less room for trouble with me trying to transition from instruments to visual with only a second or two before touchdown."
Hey, he's even going to take advantage of his copilot, I thought. He's not so stupid after all. "Until we get the runway, you call off every 100 feet above touchdown. Until we get down to 100 feet use the pressure altimeter, then switch to the radar altimeter for the last 100 feet and call off every 25 feet. Keep me honest on the airspeed, also. Engineer, when we touch down I'll cut the mixtures with the master control lever and you cut all of the mags. Are there any questions? Let's go!"
All of a sudden this unfeeling, by-the-numbers robot was making a lot of sense. Maybe he really was a pilot and maybe I had something more to learn about flying. We made a short procedure turn to save gas. Radar helped us to get to the outer marker. Half a mile away we performed the Before Landing Checklist; Gear down, flaps twenty degrees. The course deviation indicator was locked in the middle with the glide slope indicator beginning its trip down from the top of the case.
When the GSI centered, the pilot called for a small power reduction, lowered the nose slightly, and all of the instruments - except the altimeter - froze.
My Lord, that man had a feel for that airplane! He thought something and the airplane - all 135,000 pounds of it - did what he thought. "Five hundred feet," I called out. "400 feet ... 300 feet ... 200 feet, MATS minimums ... 100 feet, Air Force minimums; I'm switching to the radar altimeter ... 75 feet nothing in sight ... 50 feet, still nothing ... 25 feet, airspeed 100 knots."
The nose of the aircraft rotated just a couple of degrees, and the airspeed started down. The pilot then casually said, "Hang on, we're landing." "Airspeed 90 knots ... 10 feet, here we go!" The pilot reached up and cut the mixtures with the master control lever without taking his eyes off the instruments. He told the engineer to cut all the mags to reduce the chance of fire.
I could barely feel it. As smooth a landing as I have ever known and I couldn't even tell if we were on the runway because we could only see the occasional blur of a light streaking by. "Copilot, verify hydraulic boost is on; I'll need it for brakes and steering." I complied. "Hydraulic boost pump is on, pressure is up." The brakes came on slowly - we didn't want to skid this big beast now. I looked over at the pilot. He was still on the instruments, steering to keep the course deviation indicator in the center and that is exactly where it stayed.
"Airspeed, 50 knots." We might make it yet. "Airspeed, 25 knots." We'll make it if we don't run off a cliff. Then I heard a strange sound. I could hear the whir of the gyros, the buzz of the inverters, and a low frequency thumping. Nothing else. The thumping was my pulse and I couldn't hear anyone breathing. We had made it! We were standing still!
The aircraft commander was still all pilot: "After-landing checklist; get all those motors, radar and unnecessary radios off while we still have batteries. Copilot, tell them that we have arrived, to send a follow-me truck out to the runway because we can't even see the edges." I left the VHF on and thanked GCA for the approach.
The guys in the tower didn't believe we were there. They had walked outside and couldn't hear or see anything. We assured them that we were there, somewhere on the localizer centerline, with about half a mile showing on the DME. We waited about twenty minutes for the truck. Not being in our customary hurry, just getting our breath back and letting our pulses diminish to a reasonable rate.
Then I felt it. The cockpit shuddered as if the nose gear had run over a bump. I told the loadmaster to go out the crew entrance to see what happened. He dropped the door (which is immediately in front of the nose gear) and it hit something with a loud, metallic bang. He came on the interphone and said "Sir, you'll never believe this: The follow-me truck couldn't see us and ran smack into our nose tire with his bumper, but he bounced off and nothing is hurt."
The pilot then told the tower that we were parking the bird right where it was and that we would come in via the truck. It took a few minutes to get our clothing and to button up the airplane. I climbed out and saw the nose tires straddling the runway centerline. A few feet away was the truck with its embarrassed driver.
Total damage: One dent in the hood of the follow me truck where the hatch had opened onto it. Then I remembered the story from Fate Is the Hunter. When Gann was an airline copilot making a simple night range approach, his captain kept lighting matches in front of his eyes. It scared and infuriated Gann. When they landed, the captain said that Gann was ready to upgrade to captain. If he could handle a night-range approach with all of that harassment, then he could handle anything.
At last I understood what true professionalism is. Being a pilot isn't all seat-of-the-pants flying and glory. It's self-discipline, practice, study, analysis and preparation. It's precision. If you can't keep the gauges where you want them with everything free and easy, how can you keep them there when everything goes wrong?
From My Pilot Log Book
(By Bob Barrett)
When the sun awakened me on the morning of 5 April 1935 I rolled out of bed and looked out the window. I saw a beautiful spring day in the making. I was living in Bremerton, Washington at that time and the promise of good weather fit in perfectly with my plans for the day. I was a student pilot trying to accumulate enough flight time to qualify for a private pilot license. Fifty hours was the minimum. It was my intention to go over to Seattle and put in a couple hours of flight time in my recently purchased Buhl "Bull Pup" light plane. It was stored at Boeing Field because there was no airport in the vicinity of Bremerton at that time.
I think it is important that you should be aware that the events I will relate all occurred during the depths of the great depression and from time to time, I will go out of my way to shock you with prices and bits of information from that era. As a young fellow twenty-two years old, I was one of the fortunate few who had a "good" job. I was a messenger boy in the Navy Yard with a civil service annual salary of $600 per year. Being subject to an across the board salary reduction of 15% for all government employees plus withholding of 3-1/2% for retirement benefits, my weekly take-home pay was $9.40. Compared to unemployment it was still a "good " job because there were millions of men looking for non-existent $1-a-day jobs.
I lived at home paying two dollars a week for room and board so you can see that I was relatively well-to-do. Anyway, to avoid paying six to ten dollars an hour to rent airplanes, I bought one. I found a Buhl "Bull Pup" at the Mueler-Harkins Airport in South Tacoma, I thought it was a little jewel, but of course everyone loves his first airplane. However, it was in excellent condition and probably had cost about $3000 in 1931. I only paid $350 for it.
For those who are not familiar with the "Bull Pup" it was a single passenger (pilot only) mid-wing monoplane. It was powered by a 45 HP 3-cylinder Szekely engine which gave it a cruising speed of about 85 MPH. It had an aluminum monocoque fuselage, wire-braced wings, and a 10-gallon fuel tank providing a 250-mile cruising range, with no reserve. I had an arrangement with Lana Kurtzer of the Kurtzer Flying Service on Boeing Field whereby he would store and maintain my airplane in return for which he would make himself a few bucks renting it out when I wasn't using it. This was the same Lana Kurtzer who moved his operations to a floating hangar on the South end of Lake Union in 1938. He operated a successful seaplane flying service for well over fifty years.
Living in a city with no airport required many trips to Seattle. Bremerton is on the West side of Puget Sound and Seattle is 18 miles away on the East side. On this day I caught the 8 AM ferry from Bremerton. The fare for this one hour crossing was thirty-five cents each way. At the Seattle end I hiked up to Third Avenue where for a dime I got a thirty-five minute streetcar ride out to Georgetown. From there it was "shanks mare" for a mile out Airport Way to the Boeing Field hangar area. I arrived at Kurtzer's office in one of the hangars at about 10 AM.
The return was just the opposite and took another two hours minimum, however at this point my plans for this particular day were suddenly altered. When I bumped into Kurtzer, he saw me firsthand said something like, "Hey Bob, why don't you hop into your airplane and fly over to The Apple Blossom Festival at Wenatchee today. They tell me all visiting pilots are given a free refueling, and you need a good cross-country flight anyway?" Whether or not I needed that cross-country flight might be debatable, but to say that I made a hurried departure was the understatement of the century. There was no discussion. I wanted the flying time and I would go.
I went out to the Standard Oil service station on Airport Way opposite the terminal and picked up a free Washington State road map. I pre-flighted my airplane, and by 10:15 AM I was airborne. My little 3-cylinder engine never missed a beat as it put-putted me up to 6000 feet toward Wenatchee on the other side of the Cascade Mountains. I could have gone much higher but there was no good reason for doing so. This range of mountains has jagged peaks 10,000 feet high and runs North and South about ninety miles East of Seattle, splitting the state into Eastern and Western zones. I flew toward Snoqualmie Pass where Interstate 90 goes through the mountains. In less than perfect weather light aircraft can sometimes follow the highway and squeeze through the pass with cloud ceilings as low as 3500 feet. Past events have shown that a miscalculation here can easily demand the supreme penalty. But weather was no problem today.
Did Kurtzer give me any last minute instructions or advice prior to takeoff? Negative! I never received any navigation training from anyone. I not only didn't have a compass in my airplane but wouldn't have known how to use it if I'd had one! I considered Kurtzer to be my friend and looked on his failure to tell me all the facts of life as a compliment to my ability. While some people are timidly under-confident, others rush in where angels fear to tread. Looking back I can easily place myself in the latter group.
My flight to Wenatchee was scenic but without incident and was completed in five minutes less than two hours. It took about seven gallons of gas to re-fill my tank and one hamburger to refill my stomach, after which there didn't seem to be much to do. It was now 12:45 PM and I started thinking about the return flight. Everything had gone so smoothly on the first leg of my flight that I became overconfident regarding the true capabilities of both myself and my airplane.
Studying the road map it seemed that it might be a good idea to take a scenic detour. I would fly down the Columbia River to Portland and then up to Seattle. I would short-cut the bends in the river and if I could maintain an average 60 MPH ground speed, I should have no trouble completing the trip before nightfall I carried about $10.00 cash with me and this was plenty to buy any extra gas or food I might need. Because there was no highway tax involved aviation gas was cheap at about 20c per gallon.
With no one of mature judgment to deter me I was airborne again at about 1:00 PM, flying down the Columbia River. The weather was still beautiful. I left the river after passing the Vantage Bridge and flew up over The Horse Heaven Hills on the way to Yakima. These are the "hills" that rise above both sides of the Yakima River Canyon. It might have been more accurate to call them "mountains" because they are the Eastern foothills of The Cascade Mountains and rise 2000 to 3000 feet above the canyon floor.
In those days there were thousands of wild horses in the "hills" between Ellensburg and Yakima. Because the "hills" were grassy instead of forested, bands of horses and ponies were visible from the highway through the canyon. Of course I had to do a little impromptu aerial herding of a few small groups just to see them run. These wild horses were eliminated by the dog-food industry either just before or shortly after WW II. I'm thankful I got to see these beautiful animals before they were taken from us. I arrived at Yakima after 1 hour and 38 minutes for a re-fuel stop. Total flight time from Seattle was 3 hours and 33 minutes.
After re-fueling I was on my way again down past Goldendale where I intercepted the Columbia River. The weather was still beautiful but I now had a moderate headwind. I had planned to re-fuel at Hood River, Oregon but when I flew over the little town of Lyle on the Washington side of the river my fuel gage told that I'd never make it to Hood River. I was now bucking near gale force winds blowing up the Columbia and my ground speed was reduced to about 30 MPH.
Somehow I managed a successful precautionary landing in a pasture alongside the river. This was my first "forced landing". I hiked up to a gas station on the edge of town and bought 5 gallons of Union 76 automobile gas and was soon on my way again - this time headed for Portland at 3:20 PM. Flight from Seattle: 5 hr. and 5 min. after adding 1 hour and 32 minutes for flight to Lyle.
Weather was still beautiful but there was yet a problem. The further I progressed down the river the slower I went until about 3 miles upstream from Hood River progress virtually came to a halt I had been at about 1500 feet which put me in faster flowing but reasonably smooth air. I now dropped down to about 200 feet where I was again able to make satisfactory (20 MPH) progress at the cost of a very rough ride until I emerged from the Columbia River Gorge. At that point winds decreased and after a bucking bronco ride of one hour and 45 minutes I landed to re-fuel at Vancouver Washington across the river from Portland. It was now 5:05 PM and 6 hours and 50 minutes from my starting point.
At 5:37 PM I was in the air again heading for Chehalis where after an uneventful flight of one hour and 23 minutes I did my final re-fueling of the day. Flying time from the starting point was now 8 hours and 13 minutes.
At 7:13 PM I was finally on the home leg. The weather was still unbelievable but the shadows were getting awfully long. I also must mention that certain parts of my body were starting to feel grossly abused . The flight to Boeing Field took 1 hour and 2 minutes and was uneventful unless you consider watching a sunset near Olympia and landing in total darkness an event. Note to Department of Commerce: I know that flying at night without lights is illegal, but you didn't catch me, and besides that I claim temporary insanity. Flying time from start to finish was nine hours and 15 minutes - not a bad day's work!
Lana Kurtzer was still there when I arrived. To my surprise he had very little to say. I am not sure but I will always believe that he was in the process of making a few preliminary phone calls prior to initiating a full scale search for a dumb student pilot flying a Buhl "Bull Pup" on a long, long cross country flight!
Fuel used computed @ 3-1/3 GPH = 30.8 gallons.
Total cost of fuel @ $0.20 Per gal = $6.16
"Fastest Jet in the West"
Sled Driver - Flying the World's Fastest Jet
(By Brian Shul)
There were a lot of things we couldn't do in an SR-71, but we were the fastest guys on the block and loved reminding our fellow aviators of this fact. People often asked us if, because of this fact, it was fun to fly the jet. Fun would not be the first word I would use to describe flying this plane. Intense, maybe. Even cerebral. But there was one day in our Sled experience when we would have to say that it was pure fun to be the fastest guys out there, at least for a moment.
It occurred when Walt and I were flying our final training sortie. We needed 100 hours in the jet to complete our training and attain Mission Ready status. Somewhere over Colorado we had passed the century mark. We had made the turn in Arizona and the jet was performing flawlessly. My gauges were wired in the front seat and we were starting to feel pretty good about ourselves, not only because we would soon be flying real missions but because we had gained a great deal of confidence in the plane in the past ten months. Ripping across the barren deserts 80,000 feet below us, I could already see the coast of California from the Arizona border. I was, finally, after many humbling months of simulators and study, ahead of the jet.
I was beginning to feel a bit sorry for Walter in the back seat. There he was, with no really good view of the incredible sights before us, tasked with monitoring four different radios. This was good practice for him for when we began flying real missions, when a priority transmission from headquarters could be vital. It had been difficult, too, for me to relinquish control of the radios, as during my entire flying career I had controlled my own transmissions. But it was part of the division of duties in this plane and I had adjusted to it. I still insisted on talking on the radio while we were on the ground, however. Walt was so good at many things, but he couldn't match my expertise at sounding smooth on the radios, a skill that had been honed sharply with years in fighter squadrons where the slightest radio miscue was grounds for beheading. He understood that and allowed me that luxury. Just to get a sense of what Walt had to contend with, I pulled the radio toggle switches and monitored the frequencies along with him. The predominant radio chatter was from Los Angeles Center, far below us, controlling daily traffic in their sector. While they had us on their scope (albeit briefly), we were in uncontrolled airspace and normally would not talk to them unless we needed to descend into their airspace.
We listened as the shaky voice of a lone Cessna pilot asked Center for a readout of his ground speed.
Center replied: "November Charlie 175, I'm showing you at ninety knots on the ground."
Now the thing to understand about Center controllers, was that whether they were talking to a rookie pilot in a Cessna, or to Air Force One, they always spoke in the exact same, calm, deep, professional, tone that made one feel important. I referred to it as the "HoustonCenterVoice." I have always felt that after years of seeing documentaries on this country's space program and listening to the calm and distinct voice of the HoustonCenterControllers, that all other controllers since then wanted to sound like that... and that they basically did. And it didn't matter what sector of the country we would be flying in, it always seemed like the same guy was talking. Over the years that tone of voice had become somewhat of a comforting sound to pilots everywhere. Conversely, over the years, pilots always wanted to ensure that, when transmitting, they sounded like Chuck Yeager, or at least like John Wayne. Better to die than sound bad on the radios.
Just moments after the Cessna's inquiry, a Twin Beech piped up on frequency, in a rather superior tone, asking for his ground speed.
"Ah, Twin Beach: I have you at one hundred and twenty-five knots of ground speed."
Boy, I thought, the Beechcraft really must think he is dazzling his Cessna brethren.
Then out of the blue, a Navy F-18 pilot out of NAS Lemoore came up on frequency. You knew right away it was a Navy jock because he sounded very cool on the radios.
"Center, Dusty 52 ground speed check."
Before Center could reply, I'm thinking to myself, hey, Dusty 52 has a ground speed indicator in that million dollar cockpit, so why is he asking Center for a readout? Then I got it -- ol' Dusty here is making sure that every bug smasher from Mount Whitney to the Mojave knows what true speed is. He's the fastest dude in the valley today, and he just wants everyone to know how much fun he is having in his new Hornet.
And the reply, always with that same, calm, voice, with more distinct alliteration than emotion:
"Dusty 52, Center, we have you at 620 on the ground."
And I thought to myself, is this a ripe situation, or what? As my hand instinctively reached for the mic button, I had to remind myself that Walt was in control of the radios. Still, I thought, it must be done -- in mere seconds we'll be out of the sector and the opportunity will be lost. That Hornet must die, and die now.
I thought about all of our Sim training and how important it was that we developed well as a crew and knew that to jump in on the radios now would destroy the integrity of all that we had worked toward becoming. I was torn. Somewhere, 13 miles above Arizona, there was a pilot screaming inside his space helmet.
Then, I heard it. The click of the mic button from the back seat. That was the very moment that I knew Walter and I had become a crew. Very professionally, and with no emotion, Walter spoke:
"Los Angeles Center, Aspen 20, can you give us a ground speed check?"
There was no hesitation, and the reply came as if was an everyday request:
"Aspen 20, I show you at one thousand eight hundred and forty-two knots, across the ground."
I think it was the forty-two knots that I liked the best, so accurate and proud was Center to deliver that information without hesitation, and you just knew he was smiling. But the precise point at which I knew that Walt and I were going to be really good friends for a long time was when he keyed the mic once again to say, in his most fighter-pilot-like voice:
"Ah, Center, much thanks. We're showing closer to nineteen hundred on the money."
For a moment Walter was a god. And we finally heard a little crack in the armor of the HoustonCentervoice, when L.A. came back with,
"Roger that Aspen, Your equipment is probably more accurate than ours. You boys have a good one."
It all had lasted for just moments, but in that short, memorable sprint across the southwest, the Navy had been flamed, all mortal airplanes on freq were forced to bow before the King of Speed, and more importantly, Walter and I had crossed the threshold of being a crew. A fine day's work.
We never heard another transmission on that frequency all the way to the coast. For just one day, it truly was fun being the fastest guys out there.
"Keep Your Mach Up"
Sled Driver - Flying the World's Fastest Jet
(By Brian Shul)
As a former SR-71 pilot, and a professional keynote speaker, the question I’m most often asked is “How fast would that SR-71 fly?” I can be assured of hearing that question several times at any event I attend. It’s an interesting question, given the aircraft’s proclivity for speed, but there really isn’t one number to give, as the jet would always give you a little more speed if you wanted it to. It was common to see 35 miles a minute.
Because we flew a programmed Mach number on most missions, and never wanted to harm the plane in any way, we never let it run out to any limits of temperature or speed. Thus, each SR-71 pilot had his own individual high speed that he saw at some point on some mission. I saw mine over Libya when Khadafy fired two missiles my way, and max power was in order. Let’s just say that the plane truly loved speed, and effortlessly took us to Mach numbers we hadn’t previously seen.
So it was with great surprise, when, at the end of one of my presentations, someone asked: What was the slowest you ever flew the Blackbird? This was a first.
After giving it some thought, I was reminded of a story I had never shared before, and relayed the following:
I was flying the SR-71 out of RAF Mildenhall, England, with my back-seater, Walt Watson; we were returning from a mission over Europe and the Iron Curtain, when we received a radio transmission from home base.
As we scooted across Denmark in three minutes, we learned that a small RAF base in the English countryside had requested an SR-71 fly-past. The air cadet commander there was a former blackbird pilot, and thought it would be a motivating moment for the young lads to see the mighty SR-71 perform a low approach. No problem; we were happy to do it.
After a quick aerial refueling over the North Sea, we proceeded to find the small airfield. Walter had a myriad of sophisticated navigation equipment in the back seat, and began to vector me toward the field. Descending to subsonic speeds, we found ourselves over a densely wooded area in a slight haze.
Like most former WWII British airfields, the one we were looking for had a small tower and little surrounding infrastructure. Walter told me we were close, and that I should be able to see the field, but I saw nothing. Nothing but trees as far as I could see in the haze. We got a little lower, and I pulled the throttles back from the 325 knots we were at. With the gear up, anything under 275 was just uncomfortable. Walt said we were practically over the field, yet there was nothing in my windscreen. I banked the jet and started a gentle circling maneuver in hopes of picking up anything that looked like a field.
Meanwhile, below, the cadet commander had taken the cadets up on the catwalk of the tower, in order to get a prime view of the fly-past. It was a quiet, still day, with no wind and partial gray overcast. Walter continued to give me indications that the field should be below us, but, in the overcast and haze, I couldn’t see it. The longer we continued to peer out the window and circle, the slower we got. With our power back, the awaiting cadets heard nothing. I must have had good instructors in my flying career, as something told me I better cross-check the gauges.
As I noticed the airspeed indicator slide below 160 knots, my heart stopped, and my adrenalin-filled left hand pushed two throttles full forward. At this point, we weren’t really flying, but were falling in a slight bank. Just at the moment, both afterburners lit with a thunderous roar of flame (and what a joyous feeling that was), and the aircraft fell into full view of the shocked observers on the tower. Shattering the still quiet of that morning, they now had 107 feet of fire-breathing titanium in their face, as the plane leveled and accelerated, in full burner, on the tower side of the infield, closer than expected, maintaining what could only be described as some sort of ultimate knife-edge pass. Quickly reaching the field boundary, we proceeded back to Mildenhall without incident. We didn’t say a word for those next 14 minutes.
After landing, our commander greeted us, and we were both certain he was reaching for our wings. Instead, he heartily shook our hands and said the commander had told him it was the greatest SR-71 fly-past he had ever seen, especially how we had surprised them with such a precise maneuver that could only be described as breathtaking. He said that some of the cadets’ hats were blown off, and the sight of the plan-form of the plane in full afterburner, dropping right in front of them, was unbelievable. Walt and I both understood the concept of breathtaking very well, that morning, and sheepishly replied that they were just excited to see our low approach.
As we retired to the equipment room to change from space suits to flight suits, we just sat there: We hadn’t spoken a word since the pass. Finally, Walter looked at me and said, “One hundred fifty-six knots. What did you see.?”
Trying to find my voice, I stammered, “One hundred fifty-two.”
We sat in silence for a moment. Then Walt said, “Don’t ever do that to me again!”
And I never did.
A year later, Walter and I were having lunch in the Mildenhall Officers’ club, and overheard an officer talking to some cadets about an SR-71 fly-past that he had seen one day. Of course, by now the story included kids falling off the tower, and screaming as the heat of the jet singed their eyebrows. Noticing our Habu patches, as we stood there with lunch trays in our hands, he asked us to verify to the cadets that such a thing had occurred.
Walt just shook his head and said, “It was probably just a routine low approach; they’re pretty impressive in that plane”.
Impressive indeed. Little did I realize, after relaying this experience to my audience that day, that it would become one of the most popular and most requested stories. It’s ironic that people are interested in how slow the world’s fastest jet can fly. Regardless of your speed, however, it’s always a good idea to keep that cross-check up — and keep your Mach up, too.
Transatlantic Cessna 150
(By Joan Kleynhans)
Note: This story is best read at cessna150-152.com complete with pictures and accreditations.
Editors Note: I first learned of Leon Stoman’s transatlantic C150 flight more than a year ago.. It turns out that Leon ferries aircraft “Across the Pond” several times a year. While I was able to contact a number of Leon’s friends and business associates, no one seemed to have any idea where he was at the moment. In my search for Mr. Stoman I was treated to a number of wild stories about his aerial exploits including one in which he is reported to have won a South African cross country race by flying the entire route at 100 ft AGL in a Cessna 150. I finally reached Leon by phone, he had just arrived from an Atlantic crossing, and was leaving on another ferry flight the next day. Because of the shortness of time, I was unable to conduct a full interview, so Leon suggested that I quote liberally from an account of his adventure published in the November 1996 edition of Aero Africa magazine. The following account is excerpted from that article. Leon is now an honorary member of the Cessna 150-152 Club, we hope to catch up with him soon for an update on his many flying adventures.
When I had my first flying lesson with Leon Stoman on October 10th 1994, I learned that flying is fun! Leon's ability to transmit his sheer enjoyment of flying to his students is one of his best attributes. I was hooked! Of course I had to have my own airplane at some time. Finances notwithstanding, Leon and I decided to buy a Cessna 150 in partnership.
By April this year, when Leon went to Winchester, Virginia, USA to collect a Cessna 206 one of his other students had bought, we had a reasonable amount saved up. As luck would have it, "our" airplane was waiting for us in a hangar at Winchester! The moment Leon touched it, he knew that this was ours. N3050S is a low hour 1967 Cessna 150 with no training history.
However, Winchester, Virginia is a long way from Gaborone, Botswana. No problem. Anyone brave enough to teach me to fly should have no qualms about ferrying a 150 across the Atlantic and down the length of Africa. Shipping the aircraft was too expensive, and a ferry flight was made more attractive by the offer of generous sponsorship from Des Erasmus of Laser Cut Varios.
We planned to fly the aircraft to the 1996 Oshkosh Airshow in Wisconsin and afterwards continue to Bangor, Maine. Unfortunately, once the extra fuel tank was installed at Bangor, I would have to return to Botswana by scheduled airline, leaving Leon to complete the trip. Looking out across the Atlantic from Mount Cadillac on the east coast of America, I realized the enormity of flying a Cessna 150 across the ocean. Despite Leon's experience in ferrying aircraft across the Atlantic, I was still worried.
Leon meanwhile was too busy making final preparations to show concern. An extra "L"-shaped 66-gallon fuel tank had been made. It took up most of the baggage and right hand passenger area. The airplane was then flown to Moncton, Canada for transatlantic clearance.
After a day at Moncton, Leon headed for St. John's, flying about 30 miles offshore. It was here that a minor problem arose. Barely 30 miles into the flight, the 150 developed a small rpm drop and slight rough-running. The glitch called for an unscheduled stop at Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island, where a dead magneto was discovered.
The hospitality at Charlottetown was overwhelming. Gerald, the refueller, insisted that Leon stay in his quarters, as the hotels were full with the summer holiday season. The town has no aircraft engineer, but a local, Mike Quin, roves between the local airfields and replaced the magneto the following day.
The flight to Saint John's was a pleasure with magnificent views along the coastline made even more spectacular by a stunning sunset. After refueling and obtaining a weather briefing, Leon slept until 2 am with the intention of departing three hours before first light. After months of planning, this was finally it! No more turning back.
The Cessna's all up weight with the extra tank was 2,050 lbs. This was 500 lbs. over gross. The FAA had approved the increase of 30% over book weight. In spite of this, the night takeoff was an anticlimax. The little 150 lifted off in 400 meters and her climb performance was the same as would be expected on a highveld summer afternoon.
Leon now headed out over the Atlantic on course for the Azores. As he left the security of land, the ocean stretched out endlessly ahead, shimmering in the moonlight. Leon could not help feeling nervous, watching all the instruments like a hawk and listening for any unusual sounds from the engine. The weather was perfect with the help of a 20-knot headwind.
Because of the weight, an initial cruising altitude of 5000 feet was chosen. It took 2 hours to reach this. GPS greatly simplified the navigation and fuel management calculations - where would we be without it! The 150 had also been fitted with an HF including an antenna tuning mechanism and a trailing aerial. This was for two-way communication outside of the approximately 200-mile VHF range. At a hundred miles out, Leon unwound the trailing antenna to the 150 feet needed to match the required HF frequency of 5 MHz. Although all stations could be clearly received, Leon could not transmit as the tuning device refused to work. Instead, using the general VHF frequency of 131.8, he managed to use a message relay system via passing airliners for the entire trip to the Azores - 1350 nautical miles. Although Leon could talk to air traffic controllers in Gander, New York and Santa Maria, the biggest problem was the disbelief from the airliners when they continually asked for his aircraft type.
When passing into VHF range of the Azores, Leon attempted unsuccessfully to wind in the trailing HF antenna. After landing, he found it had become entangled in the tail-mounted tie down ring, explaining why it refused to transmit.
In all other respects, the 150 performed well, taking 14 hours to cross from St. Johns to Santa Maria in the Azores - a ground speed of about 95 knots. After 8 hours and needing copious cups of coffee to remain alert, Leon climbed to 7000ft and then to 10000ft after 10 hours. With the reduction in fuel and a gradual improvement in the aft centre of gravity, the 150's speed increased by a galloping 5 knots. Santa Maria was reached with a two hour reserve after an almost uneventful flight. However, the landing was different matter. A cold front had moved in, necessitating a VOR approach in thunderstorms and heavy rain. The approach, with a 1000ft ceiling, was hard work after a 14 hour leg. Three liters of coke, a good meal, and a night's sleep soon revitalized Leon's energy, and by the next day he was ready for the next leg. Departing the Azores at 11 am for Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, the weather was clear for this leg apart from a deterioration during the last hour. This sector was about 5600 NMS, taking eight hours, and although a direct routing would have shortened the trip, regulations determined that a longer IFR route be used. At Las Palmas, not only is there a 13,000ft volcano to contend with, but also the controllers' unfamiliarity with Cessna 150's.
With a Boeing 747 four miles in front, and an MD80 and Airbus behind, ATC instructed Leon to keep his speed up, land long, and clear the runway immediately. The event was nerve-wracking for both ATC and Leon. It is perhaps the first time a Cessna 150 had visited the islands!
Next morning Leon departed early for the 860 nm leg to Dakar in Senegal. Again there was pouring rain and a low base, this time 500ft. With strong easterly winds coming off the African coast, the prospect of embedded thunderstorms commands a great deal of attention when flying a 150. Nevertheless, after four hours, the weather began to clear and was replaced with dry air and dust from the Sahara Desert. The temperature rose to 35 deg. C., and soon the dust was so thick that visibility reduced to three miles with no discernible horizon. Apparently, the dust rises up to 12,000ft. About two hours out of Dakar, these conditions were replaced by the appearance of clouds again, although the weather still called for continuous instrument flying. Ten hours and fifteen minutes after leaving Las Palmas, Leon stepped exhausted onto Africa. The air filter had to be replaced immediately, as the dust had begun to choke the engine at full power.
Dakar's ATC forced a 30 minute delay which was to have expensive consequences. After spending US$200 on bribes, taxi fares and pathetic accommodation, Leon departed early the next morning for Abidjan in the Ivory Coast. This leg took 11 hours and after landing at one minute past sunset, the authorities insisted on charging a night landing fee of US$200. This was in spite of the fact that it was still well and truly daylight. Trying to reason with the controllers proved futile. However, fuel in Abidjan was fairly cheap and compared to the rest of Africa, service was acceptable. Although the taxi to the hotel was falling apart, the driver collected him the next morning on time after a good night at a good hotel.
The leg to Pointe Noire demanded careful planning. For one thing, the night landing fee had depleted cash reserves. A departure form Abidjan before nightfall was needed to arrive in the French Congo during daylight hours. ETE was 14 hours. Flying at night across the Intertropical convergency zone had the advantage of making thunderstorms easier to recognize by spotting lightning from afar. Moreover, passing airliners, who all communicate on a common frequency of 128.6 would be a help.
Pointe Noire was reached after a sea crossing of 14 hours and 20 minutes. ATC had no warning of his arrival, as Abidjan hadn't transmitted his flight plan. The tower controller couldn't believe a Cessna 150 had flown so far and according to Leon, "He insisted that I come to the tower immediately, as he had never seen an insane man before!"
After parking the aircraft and filing a flight plan for the next leg, Leon encountered some Court Helicopter employees. One of their pilots, Ken, offered his room for the day and helped with frequencies for the oil rig Omega, advising that the name of the radio operator was Dave Thornton. Using the HF antenna's "drag" funnel, Leon refueled the 150 from a bucket, paying almost R8 per liter!
At sunset Leon departed south west allowing a good distance from the Angolan coast. As night fell, the sky was lit for over a hundred miles with flames coming form all the oil rigs just off the coast of the Cabinda enclave. It was a spectacular sight. It was also homely speaking to Dave Thornton in Afrikaans, Leon said it was good to know that somebody out there was aware of his progress - a great morale boost and much appreciated.
Two hours after losing radio contact with Omega, the engine began to run roughly. It was an anxious moment caused by a problem with the auxiliary tank. On switching to the standby pump, the engine ran smoothly for a few minutes, but the problem returned. Fuel flow from the main tanks was unimpeded and Leon continued to use these. However, they only had four hours endurance and the 150 had gone too far to return to Pointe Noire and it was risky to continue to Ondangwa in Namibia. The GPS indicated the presence of an airfield at Namibe (formerly Mocamedes) on the Angolan coast about 70 miles away. Leon was forced to descend to 700ft through a thick overcast to find that the field was predictably unlit. Circling the town for half an hour, the harbor master eventually noticed the aircraft and sounded the alarm. Several vehicles were driven to the airfield to provide rudimentary lighting.
After landing, the police released Leon into the custody of Swakopmund fisherman Bruce Bennett. Once again, Leon was overwhelmed by the help and hospitality extended to him by a total stranger. Without Bruce's help, N3050S might still be in Angola. Bruce even had a small supply of avgas, kept on his boat in the event of an emergency evacuation flight. The fuel flow problem had been caused by a small rubber flange coming loose from the inside of the fuel pipe and consequently blocking the pump.
The rest of the flight was completed without incident, arriving in Gaborone on Saturday 27th August after covering 9,700 nautical miles of which 7,000 had been over the ocean. The time taken had been 107 hours and Leon had spent almost as much on bribes in Africa as the entire cost of fuel for the trip. On approaching Gaborone, five friends from the Kalahari Flying Club had taken to the air shortly before his arrival to escort the brave, but tired pilot home over the last 30 miles of this journey.
Brave? Some say mad! However, to me his achievement is epitomized in the words of John Denver's song, "The Eagle and the Hawk":
And reach for the heavens
And hope for the future
And all that we can be
And not what we are.
Reprinted with permission from:
Aero Africa magazine, published November 1996
Re-reprinted from: cessna150-152.com