W o r d s F r o m A u s t i n
It was pouring rain and I had get home-itis.
Mexico had been hot, dry and dusty and rather primitive back when I was 22
and flying home from cactus country.
It has been said that the Lord looks after drunks and little kids and I
like to think that he looks after VFR pilots in IMC sometimes too.
My radio was no good from the start and I was flying visual all the
Sometimes, daylight hours ran out before my stomach pangs for food and
landing for the night rang up higher on the priority list.
I found strips in the most unlikely places and set down and rolled out the
bedroll under the wing, and let tomorrow have me discover whatever lay in
store....bring it on......well, I was pretty young then.
All went quite well, even after having jeeps with flashing lights
beckon me to the tower where they ..."wanted to speak to me"....
Bad radio...I just happened to look over my shoulder while taxiing
out one morning to see a fighter jet right behind me, a blowtorch right at
my tail feathers....I got out of the way, and that was that.
Sleeping under the wing was just fine, with a quiet night and a ball
of orange in the peepers in the early dawn, and off to the public washroom
to shave, do the teeth and get fresh, do the pre-flight and get going.
There were no RVs in those days, and flying was simpler, but adventure was
How much more easy can navigation get than just keeping a coastline on the
Then came the mountains and a tired old single engine lightplane from
yesteryear barely able to climb the peaks of Oregon without a circle or two
like a Condor to rise above the highest granite reaching out to brush me.
At night now, when I walk through the hall at home, my killer cat, big
as a Lynx, reaches out to slash me as I drift by in the darkness....just his
way of keeping me sharp and showing that he is regarding me in his own
way.......it reminds me of the granite, reaching out to bring you down if
you are not sharp.
I got as far as Rosedale, tired and flying 9 hours a day, sure that
the 18 wheelers on the highway were making better groundspeed than me, rain,
winds, fatigue and nightfall, all conspired to dictate the end of another
day..."on the road...or more accurately..above it"....
A day and a half on the ground with nothing to do and no desire for
another greasy burger, I wandered into the Met office and determined that a
break in rain might just let me through the pass on and my way...
The fuel tanks carried about 5 hours worth at a time and I had flown
for about 4.5, and there was no fuel at Rosedale, so off I went over the
highway, following headlights and tail lights, dropping down ever lower
until at appropriately named "Drain", I could barely see the wing tips.
"This is madness and really pushing it", I thought, and I commenced the
tightest 180 I had ever done due to the hills around me, I levelled out over
the highway and booted it back to Rosedale and spent another day on the
ground....waiting....still no fuel, and less than I had before...
Next day was a fair bit better and I finally got out and had to put
down short of Portland somewhere because the fuel gauge was no longer
How many times since then have I heard of some one who " bought the
farm" in IMC, only to have the next day dawn clear and bright ?
What a difference a day makes.
A day to close a life forever, and a day to let you live on and enjoy many
more years of everything including flying.......what a difference a day
Ironically, I had to set down and overnight while only 50 miles from
home base because of low cloud, rain and poor vis.
The next day saw me home within a minute of my ETA, and that felt good....
I was so close, but the risk and payoff of pushing on was just too high.....
Another note of irony, just to show you that we really don't change much,
about 30 years later, a flight of 5 172s from a Christian school were
homeward bound from California and they got into low crud about 50 miles
from home base.
They just followed the leader and pressed on with "get home-itis"....
They all piled into the cloud laden hills close to home and all were
lost...just young kids...
All of them now..forever young....
If you want a good evening of doing nothing while resting in a good
chair with your logbook nearby, just get hold of one of those videos of
"Over Alaska", or " Over British Columbia" or any "Over America" series and
just watch and dream.
All that beauty below you, sometimes with the sensation of speed which a
helicopter down low over the land and water can pictorialize for you, and
that should surely give you pause to appreciate just how wonderful and
special our flying is as resolve to stay smart and live to fly another good
Mind you, all the footage you see is in good VFR weather, since that
photographs the best, but get on up close to the Queen Charlottes and
Alaska, and you will see dark rain clouds and low ceiling come at you on
your CAVU track so fast it will suck your breath away.
The coastal pilots know all the inlets and shelter and when the
rain slashes at the windshield and you can still see the float tips of the
Beaver, they put down where wind and rain are less danger and join the
killer whales rubbing their bellies on the rocky shallows of a remote bay.
This begs the question if you want to go where few dare to go,...is
it better to have a set of floats, or can my speed of my RV take me swiftly
beyond this present danger ?
But then, what lies beyond ?
Try it and see........you will never be the same pilot afterwards.