By lex, on May 1st, 2011
So, last Sunday a former shipmate from USS Last Ship turned Certificated Flight Instructor – he’d been an ensign involuntarily released from flight school and spending a year or several waiting to see what the Navy would do with him – hit me up on email asking whether I’d be interested in flying up to KPTV in a rented Debonair for to meet and mix with the Red Star set. Your man is a good egg for all his previous misfortunes, had checked me out in a Beech Duchess when I was keen to refresh my multi-engine skills, and I always had admired his will to land at his destination regardless of the obstacles placed in his path, so I said, “Maybe.”
Not out of any concerns about his airmanship &c, for doesn’t he make his living at it? But rather at the untowardly egregious cost that the owner of a certain Beech Debonair charges for what is really rather a pedestrian piston single with 1970s avionics. When you could lease the Duchess for about the same and have that margin of safety, or the verra nice 182RG with the glass panel and 530WAAS GPS.
He’d planned to head northards in a T-34B owned in part by an acquaintance, but that worthy had been blocked on Thursday/Friday by another owner, who wanted to show the airplane in a static display until Saturday, if only for the tax relief that was in it. And your humble, he has the weekly work now, doesn’t he?
He does, still.
So it came to pass on Saturday morning at a very early hour that I found meself bundled into the back of the T-34, not grossly dissimilar the aircraft that I flew in primary flight instruction lo, these many years ago. And which my own dear Son Number One might hisself have flown during his own recently completed primary instruction, and if that don’t turn a father’s hair gray nothing else will.
Apart from the fact that it was powered by some class of IO-5XX something or other with its whirring and clashing pistons, rather than a good honest PT-6A de-rated to 400 horses.
Which anyway, it takes a certain act of faith to emplace your pink softness in the trunk of God-knows-who and hurtle through th’ insubstantial air in a piston single for some moderate distance, over no insignificantly inhospitable terrain, with never a emergency divert or even a suitable off-airport landing site within gliding range should the engine decide to play the fool, for our route took us east of the LA basin with all of its nasty rules and regulations and over the top of who should say “mountains” were they raised back east, but which are deceptively labeled “crests” or even foothills here out west. Though you’d be hard put to walk away from it should one thing lead to another.
Yet, we were all born to die, and maybe it would be OK. “How many hours do you have in the aircraft?” I asked the guy-in-front.
“About 800,” he said. Which is a goodly number to claim with avgas going at $5.70 to the gallon. Above a thousand, the guy-in-back comes to expect a certain degree of perfection, below 500, he gets a little quilty.
Our voyage north was remarkably unremarkable, apart from a certain thrumming that ran though the airframe, courtesy of the engine, just as we were at that point that bad to worse would have led to something ret awkward indeed, it being over the mountains ridges. Once we were over more suitable terrain, with emergency landing fields there for the choosing, the motor gave up on trying to frighten us and our descent to the overhead to break and land was almost entirely unremarkable.
For it came to pass that we were five miles south gunning for the initial, whilst a Cessna 182 was four miles north heading for the downwind, and taking into account the relative speeds, your humble figgered that we’d meet right there in the middle of the downwind leg. And wouldn’t that be a tragedy if we were co-altitude? What with all the belly-up collisions that’d be in it.
But the guy in front ducked down to 500 feet above ground level, put the spurs to her and – with the Skylane in sight, established on downwind, and at a proper pattern altitude – broke in front of her, as much as announcing his attention to cut her out. Like any Tomcat pilot might have done might have done back in the day, and it was your fault for following the rules.
Tight abeam we were, and all set up for an overshooting approach. Which the guy in front polished that particular turd by announcing – having fairly overshot in a wrapped up turn – that he’d land on the right side of the runway, as though that had been his plan all along malgre the fact that there was no one else to share it with. Rather than eating the sandwich he’d been served at his own request, going around and following the Skylane home, as would have been proper in a more nearly perfect world.
I didn’t really know this machine, nor the man and his capabilities, but the time to have expressed those reservations was about 1+45 behind us, and I settled back to see what would happen next, resigned to my fate and anyway I’m fairly well insured.
(To be continued.)