In the last (first) installment of this diary, I wrote about the most memorable people I met in aviation. In this installment, I will tell a couple of stories about flying itself; about the pure joy of seeing the world from your own plane and the personal gratification of learning a skill that few possess.
I am going to be 63 in June. I have run my own business (Advertising) for 26 years. About 10 years ago, I noticed that all my clients were now younger than I was.
I was a pilot. I owned a plane. Those were the days. You become a pilot for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is "12 O'Clock High", at least if you are my age. I gave up flying about 18 months ago and I miss it, but it was the right decision. I do, however, have some really good memories and stories to tell, and I think here lies my best audience.
Most people read pilot stories to find out about emergencies and crashes. I never crashed and only declared 3 emergencies (all worked out fine).
Two things about being a pilot stand out to me: The people you meet and the thrill of just being in control of an airplane. This diary is about the former.
When I first decided to get my license, I went to the place with the biggest sign on the airport. I was relieved of $500 and introduced to a nice-enough guy about half my age. We went flying together for about two weeks every third day. I learned almost nothing. His mind was on something else: getting an airline job.
Next, I went over to the smaller place on the field. I now had a logbook with about 8 hours in it. They took no money and introduced me to Jack. Jack had flown in Korea, I believe. He was about 70 and weighed about 135, soaking wet. He drank a lot of coffee. He smoked a lot of cigarettes. His voice was gravelly. He was generally grumpy. He was a great flying instructor.
The first day, he simply growled, "Go preflight the airplane; you know that much, don't you?" I went out to the plane, a ratty Cessna 152, and did what I thought was a pretty good pre-flight inspection. Then I stood there. 20 minutes later, Jack strolled up and started asking questions about the condition of the plane. I got about half of them right. He said, "OK, now let's learn how to do a pre-flight, 'cause I ain't setting my ass in your plane until you can do it right. This shit could kill us." 40 minutes later, I knew what was important to check on an airplane and what was nonsense. When I wiggled the fuel line, he said, "Well, you've proven it's on there tight enough, but you just shortened its life by a couple of years. Don't do that. If it's leakin' you'll SEE it. Don't try to break it!"
Halfway through our first hour in the air, Jack asked, "Which way are you going to turn to get us back to the airport, and how long will it take us?" I offered a vague answer like, "left; and about 20 minutes". He said, "Are you guessing?" I said, "Kinda." He went on to tell me that guessing is not an option in an airplane. You need to KNOW. Which means you need to remember stuff. He taught me to always check the clock or my watch before I took off and if I didn't trust my memory, to write it down. "That way", he said, "When you want to know where you are, you have a starting point: You know where you took off, you know what time it was - now you have to remember what your heading was when you left, you know what time it is now, so the opposite heading for roughly the same time will take you home. Simple, see?"
After our flight was over, Jack rescinded my solo flight privileges, which I had gotten from my first instructor. He told me to meet him back at the airport 2 days hence. We flew together in that tiny, beat up Cessna for almost 45 hours over the course of the summer. I became a pilot ("in name only", according to Jack) after my second attempt at the "Check Ride".
The Check Ride was given by the owner of the flight school, Spence, who was older, skinnier, and smoked more than Jack. If anything, he was grumpier. Now, the check ride consists of about an hour's flying and an hour's oral exam. The oral part went OK, I thought, but I made a huge mistake. The day of the ride was drizzling rain with an overcast deck of about 3,500 feet and visibility of about 6 miles. This, I knew, was technically VFR (visual flight rules) weather, so when he asked, "Given your current experience, would you fly alone on a day like this?", I answered, "Yes". Then he took me out flying. I did fine on all the maneuvers and airplane handling stuff. I even navigated to a nearby airport and demonstrated reasonably good landings in various configurations. On the way back to the airport, Spence pulled the throttle to idle at 3,000 feet and said, "You just lost your engine. There's a grass strip near here. Take us there and land on it." I stared at the chart in my lap, found the grass strip on it and then tried to figure out where I was in relation to it, all while slowing the plane to best glide speed. When I thought I knew (guessed) where to turn, I eased the old Cessna into a shallow turn to the left and started squinting out the windshield for a grass runway. Spence said, "You got it?" I said, "I think so." He said, "land the airplane." I protested that this was a private airfield and I needed permission from the owner to land. He said, "God damn it, this is an emergency, Wyckoff, land the plane!" As we glided farther down, I realized that what I had identified as a runway was a soybean field with telephone wires at the end. At about 500 feet, Spence shoved the throttle in and said, "Take me home, this ride is over."
Two days later, on a bright sunny day, I flew again with Spence. When the ride was over, he said, "I'm going to pass you on this test, but I want to know... Do you know what you did wrong on the last ride?" I said, "I couldn't find that airstrip." He said, "Partly... the main thing is that you overestimated your experience and skill and flew on a day you shouldn't have tried. That's poor judgment. Poor judgment is what kills pilots. You're not done learning. Go slow, fly on nice days. When the weather gets iffy, scale back your expectations. Be more cautious."
A year later, I went back to Jack and told him I wanted to get my Instrument License. He said, "Wyckoff, instrument flying is a thinking man's game and I'm not sure you fit the mold. I'll try if you will." I did, eventually get my instrument license.
I want to add my experience with the ACA (Obamacare) to the long list of (eventually) satisfied and relieved citizens.
Yesterday, I completed my application and as of January 1, I will be saving $832 A MONTH. Follow below for all the details:
After almost 20 years earning my living (partly) by designing websites, I have some advice for fellow designers as well as (more importantly) for website owners looking to have a re-design done. Keep it simple. Keep it fast. Make sure it works for EVERYBODY, and don't try to make the site to impossible things. This does not mean that all websites have to look and act as though they were built in 1995, but it does mean that if your site is unusable to more than 4 or 5% of the browsers out there, you have done something wrong. If when viewed on a 5-year-old monitor, you have to scroll side to side to see everything, you have done something wrong. If your site behaves oddly when viewed on Internet Explorer 9, you've alienated a good portion of your audience (and yes, I know IE9 is possibly the worst browser ever shipped). If your site takes more than 3 seconds to load when using a slow (under 1 MB/S) DSL, then it's too big. Follow me below the fold to get more.
At 62, I have learned a lot. Unfortunately, about half of it is now useless. Sometimes I think I will spend my retirement at some sort of history theme park putting on live demonstrations of arcane skills used in the mid to late 20th century (this presumes I can ever retire). I've been going down the list and here is what I have so far:
When I graduated from High School in 1969 there was a growing war in Viet Nam and I wanted to be a photo-journalist. I had already won first prize twice, four and five years earlier) in the Eastman Kodak/Scholastic Photo Contest (total prize money: $250, which I spent on a spruce and canvas kayak kit I bought from the back pages of "Boy's Life"). I wanted to be Alfred Eisenstaedt whom I had met in person. I didn't want to go to Viet Nam, except as, perhaps a photo-journalist. My father ran the local portrait studio and we were living quite comfortably. I was accepted into Drake University's Journalism School. I learned everything my father didn't know about photography and had a huge leg up because of what he HAD taught me. Fast forward to 1973...
Life is what you make it, my mother says. Of course, I have to remind her of it these days as her health is failing at 84. Still, the last 3 weeks, for me have been a roller coaster ride that included abject fear, unbridled (well, almost) joy, physical pain, and anticipation. Like the rest of you, I sometimes wish the pain and fear would leave me alone, but I suppose without them I wouldn't appreciate the rest as much.
Waiting for Godot.
Advertising in an age of deep recession.
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