Tuesday, June 15, 2010

First Flight, Circa 1970; Cessna Aircraft teaches me to fly; more.

A reminder:  this work is (c) 2010 by James Wiebe.  Reproduction is prohibited.  You may link to this blog or this posting.

Chapter 1:  First Flight

I grew up in Hillsboro, KS -- a town of about 3000 people in Marion County, Kansas.

Having lost my father before my fourth birthday, I have treasured experiences which I was given by other male figures in my youthful years.

I attended Parkview Mennonite Brethren Church in Hillsboro.  There was a man there, by the name of Dave Breese.  He was large man -- not necessarily in girth, but certainly in height, and also certainly in stature within that Church.  He was an 'evangelist', a radio speaker, an author, and -- a pilot.  I remember an odd characteristic of Dave Breese:  he attended our Church, but he was not a member.  Odd.  I don't quite know how to explain it.

As it pertains to flying, I do not remember how the invitation was made, but I do know that one Sunday afternoon, probably when I was 12 years old, he offered to give me a ride in his twin engine airplane.  This was an opportunity nearly on the level with Red Ryder BB guns.  An airplane ride.

I am positive that afternoon was a sunny day with bright white cumulus clouds.  A perfect flying day.

I do remember being in the airplane as he started each engine -- and I remember my anxiety that the engines wouldn't start.  But they did.

In those days, the Hillsboro airport was a grass strip.  In later years, it was paved; it suffered a fatal aircraft accident; (hence it's name, Alfred Schroeder field, honoring one of the dead) and I flew often from it.

Other than my anxiety with starting the engines, I remember exactly one other thing from that ride:  the wonder of going down the runway, then lifting off the ground as the airplane climbed into the air.  I don't remember the remainder of the flight, or the landing.  I just remember the fear that the flight wouldn't happen, then the joy of climbing into the sky.

Thank you, Dave Breese.  You were, and are, a wonderful man.

Chapter 2:  Cessna teaches me how to fly

I don't remember how it came to pass, but I worked for Cessna Aircraft Corporation during the summer of 1978.  I was 19 years old; and CAC let me work in the computer department as an intern.  It was good money, and I lived with my sister and brother in law in their basement.  No overhead for me; a decent wage; and work at an aircraft company.  What better way to spend a summer???

My job was to change paper in the printers and plotters.

It was a busy time at CAC:  they were working 4XX series cabin class aircraft.  (425?)  I remember seeing huge plots coming out the machines.  I had no knowledge of how the engineers designed the aircraft, but I remember seeing the plotter turning out loft cross sections of what I think were fuselages.  I remember a lot of concern over the fact that a customer delivered aircraft had recently fallen out of the sky -- something about an empennage problem, perhaps tail flutter.

I wanted to 'learn how to fly', and I was hopeful that working at CAC would somehow open that door.  Of course, I made an inquiry.

"NO, you can't join our flying club."  There was a several month waiting list for day shift employees to join the flying club -- and I would be out of a job at the end of the summer, just 3 months later.  I still enjoyed the work -- I felt like the wages I received were truly disproportionate to what I could contribute to that company.  So sweet to be young, well paid, and doing something that I was good at.!  The flying lessons would have to wait for another time.

(I was on a time clock.  I remember that I was once late for work, by about 3 minutes.  Mortified, I asked my supervisor if he could correct the problem.  He smiled, said No, and told me I'd have to live with having my pay docked by 3 minutes.)

About half way through the summer, the department supervisor pulled me aside and told me that he was transferring me from my day job to a night position.  Apparently, I could run the plotters and printers with enough competence that the lack of supervision on second shift wouldn't be a problem for me, or them.

I started the new night position job.

Someone suggested I should re-investigate the CAC flying club.  Maybe it was a voice in my head.  Maybe it was that departmental manager, with a twinkle in his eye...

The phone rings.  A voice answers on the other end --- "Cessna Employee Flying Club.  How can I help you?"  I respond immediately -- "I've been transferred to evening shift... can I join the flying club?"

The answer is friendly:  "Yes, you can.   Just come on by and fill out the paper work.  We'll show you how to schedule planes and instructors."

It seems that life had thrown me a curve ball, which somehow I'd swung at, and hit out of the park.  (For my foreign readers:  This roughly means that an unexpected good thing had happened to me.  Sorry for the U.S. sports metaphors...)

The flying club had an odd problem:  with most of the employees working first (day) shift, the aircraft fleet was very busy in the evenings and on weekends.  So there was a long waiting list for most employees to join the club.  But second-shifters had a big advantage:  the planes sat around all day long, until evening time.  So second-shifters could 'jump right in' and fly away.

My joy in joining the flying club only increased when I found out the rates:  $9 for a wet 150/152 and $10 for an instructor.  (In fact, the wet rate was $7 an hour -- they raised it to $9 while I was there.  Makes you want to work for Cessna, right?)

Scheduling planes and instructors was easy, and I had a new ally in my flight instructor, Jim Anderson (at least that's what I recall his name was.)  He was pleasant, competent, and a perfect complement to my anxious demeanor.  I didn't want or need a drill sergeant flying instructor.

This was the first or second year that Cessna was delivering 152s over the older Cessna 150.  Cessna still had some of the older 150's but had put several of the new 152s into the flying club. 

I soloed in 8 days.  In about 6 weeks of work, I was ready for my checkride.  It was scheduled for September.

One side note:  I remember that I needed one more solo cross country to fulfill my requirements.  I flew a 150 to Pratt, then had a major anxiety attack as I realized I'd embarked on this solo cross country without an instructor endorsement in my log.

I slinked back into the pilot center, and walked up to a senior flight instructor.  I told him what I had just done.  He was upset, then grabbed my log, endorsed it, and suggested I should never do something so stupid again.

Chapter 3:  The solo experience.

This is out of sequence.  It really should go in the prior chapter, but it somehow stands on its own.  My instructor, Jim, got out the plane after we'd taxied back into the pilot center.  This happened 8 days after I started flight training.  He told me to stay in the plane, and go fly it around the pattern at Wichita Mid Continent airport, all by myself, which is also known as KICT.

He told me to fly at least 3 touch and goes, but do as many as I wanted to.

I did 10.  Then I landed.  The joy meter was off the chain for me.  I think my instructor was very amused, and very pleased.

Chapter 4:  An aging flight examiner

The flight examiner was really old.  I remember someone telling me that this examiner was "10 years younger than God."  That old.  That is very old.  I saw him, and he was a frail man, and his hair was snow white, and the age description was not an exaggaration.  And he was a small man, too.

We got in the plane, and we took it up.  He asked me to demonstrate a number of things.  He wasn't satisfied with one thing:  I don't remember what, but he took the controls and very ably demonstrated the maneuver to his satisfaction.

We landed and went into his office.  He reached into his desk, and pulled out a pre-typed temporary pilot certificate.  He'd filled it out before I'd come for the check ride:  and he handed it to me.  I was a private pilot.

Chapter 5:  College Students can't afford to fly

The only problem with learning to fly, whilst a college student, is that college students can't afford to fly.  There are no real airplanes available which rent for $7, or $9 per hour.  I still had to pay my college bills, and I had sacrificed a good portion of my summer income to pay for the flying lessons.

At this point, most college student pilots either stop flying, or go deeply in debt.  I did neither.

Before I can continue the flying linkage here, I must tell you about Richard Wall.  The chair of the biology department was a gentleman by the name of Richard Wall.  He died a few years ago, I think it was Leukemia that got him.  I had a very hard time finding an acceptable link on the net, so I captured this verbal snapshot of the end of his life:
  • Richard Wall, 55, Tabor College professor, died March 27 at St. Luke Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.
  • The memorial service was April 2 at Parkview Mennonite Brethren Church, with pastor Gaylord Goertzen officiating.
  • A second service will be held at 1:15 p.m. Friday, April 8, in the chapel in the Lohrenz Building on the Tabor campus.
  • He was born Feb. 21, 1950, to Elmer and Frieda Bartel Wall of Hillsboro, who both survive. In 1973, he was married to JoAnn Hein, who survives.
  • He is also survived by two daughters, Jenny and Julie Wall, both of Hillsboro; one brother, Robert Wall of Conway Springs; and one sister, Sandra Garrard of Antelope.
  • Memorial funds have been established with the Tabor College biology department and the Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church Richard Wall Family Fund.

Richard had several passions:  his faith, his family, his work, antique tractors, flying, and restoring things.

Back to flying:  I walked into Dr. Wall's office at Tabor College.  He owned a 1967 Cessna 150, N22178.  He offered to let me fly it if I would meet several modest financial conditions:

1. Pay for the gas I used.
2. Pay a small portion per month to reflect a phantom ownership interest.

Well, that's just two financial conditions:  I can't remember much else.  I think he wanted me to pay $50 a month to fly his plane, plus pay the gas bill.  At the time, Avgas was probably $2 per gallon, and that bird used 5 or 6 gallons an hour.  I was back to flying at a decent rate:  About $10 or $12 per hour.  Hog heaven for a college student.

BTW, I found a photo of that exact airplane I used to fly on the internet:

And so I have posted it here.  I see the photo is copyrighted, but there has got to be an exemption for past college students who were phantom owners of the exact same aircraft.  My backup plan is to provide a link to the website with this exact same photo, and here it is.

I had an enormous amount of fun with that airplane.

Chapter 6:  Having an enormous amount of fun with that airplane.

One thing that is rarely discussed is the fact that teenage pilots have excellent technical flying skills and... a general lack of maturity in all other areas of their life.  This includes their decisions as to what to do in airplanes, especially with their friends.

I enjoyed doing the following fun things with that airplane:

Spins:  I would take my friends for rides in the plane.  I'd pull back power, force the aircraft to stall and develop a full blown spin.  There's few things so fun as seeing the earth globe below you do rotations, while your airplane is fixed above it.  Except doing this with a friend.  Everyone should spin an aircraft with a friend beside them.

Power off maneuvers:  My idea of a power off maneuver, is to pull throttle back to idle, then pull mixture to lean cutoff.  Then the engine would stop, and the propeller would stop, and the Cessna 150 would make a pretty good glider.  After a minute or two of this, all I had to do was push the nose forward (down) a little more, and the air blast would start turning the prop again, until the engine started.  Really, everyone should try this.  Preferably with a friend.

Flying home over lunchtime:  My roommate and friend, Phil Neufeld, enjoyed the little airplane as much as I did.  We would get out of convocation at 9:50AM, hop in the airplane and head to his hometown of Fairview, Oklahoma, have a nice lunch, homecooked, of course, courtesy of his mother, then head back to Tabor and arrive before the afternoon choir practice.  I just checked this on Airnav, and it is 138 NM in each direction.  Ida Neufeld cooked good lunches.  We would brag about the experience to our college friends:  "We flew, AHEM, to Fairview for lunch.  What did you do for lunch?"

Making friends throw up:  This only happened once.  Lawrence Kliewer was the victim.  He opened the window and spewed out the opening.  Thanks, Lawrence.  He even cleaned it up himself after we landed.

Seeing sights:  I learned that there are many things which are best understood by flying several hundred feet above them.  One of them is the original Santa Fe trail, which cuts through the prairie near Durham, Kansas.  You can't see that from the ground.  But from a downward looking seat, it is easy to see where wagons once went across a sea of grass.  Interestingly, the ruts now cause considerable erosion where they went across the sides of hills.

And here is the last 'fun thing' which I did with my college airplane:  I broke it.  At least twice.

One of the times, I simply opened the door when the airplane was sitting backwards to the strong Kansas winds.  It snapped a door hinge.  Richard was completely OK with that.  We flew it to Newton, KS and had it repaired.

The other time, I was practicing my unique style of 'power off'' flying, and I pulled the mixture control back to lean the engine to kill it.  Except the mixture control kept coming backwards into the cockpit -- a couple of feet of wire came through that tiny hole before I realized the mixture stop wasn't stopping my pulling.  I rammed that wire and that red knob back into the dash faster than...  and the engine did not stop, this time.

Well, the mixture wire had snapped off in the full 'rich' position, so the engine kept running.  Dr. Wall told me that it could have snapped off in the lean position, but that day, it decided to break off in the rich position.  Sometimes these mixture control stories don't end as well.  BTW, I don't know if I told Richard Wall why the mixture cable broke.


I believe in the power of personal relationships, and there are a couple of great ones in this very slight flying memoir:  Dave Breese and Richard Wall.  Both were enormously decent men, with caring hearts.  I was a young boy (or a young college student) and both helped me in ways that reverberate to this moment in time.  Thank you Dave, for giving a poor young boy a ride in an airplane.  Thank you Richard, for sharing your airplane as easily as if I'd asked to borrow a shovel, or some other lowly tool.

I am reflective of the fact that both of these men are deceased.  Dave Breese had a good long life, but Richard was in his mid-50's when he died.  Not fair.

There are many more stories, but that's enough for one night.

I've accumulated 1800+ hours and an instrument rating.  I fly planes because it is one of the things God made me to do.  My wife and I run a small aircraft company, Belite.


Brandon said...

I fly planes because it is one of the things God made me to do.

Thank you for this post.

ojanna said...

I'm crying, it's so beautiful.