Friday, May 23, 2014

Sam the Pilot

A friend sent an email today about a mid-air repair of an airplane tire by a wing walker in 1924. Reminded me of this.

The fellow who taught me to fly, Sam, was an ok pilot but he was not what you would call "professional" in appearance or demeanor. Kind of overweight, a bit dumpy...maybe more than "a bit."

I would often accompany him on the late night flights of checks stopping in Mitchell, SD, Sioux Falls and on to Minneapolis. We had a "Baby Baron," a B-55 twin engine, and the every-night routine was hard on any piece of equipment, especially an airplane.

One night in Sioux Falls, the right engine would not turn over and we discovered that the starter ground had come loose. Sam turned his cap around so it wouldn't blow off, instructed me to start the engine while he held the ground wire, throttle down as much as possible while he buttoned up the latch and he would sidle along the leading edge of the wing, between the wing and the prop and come around. I don't think I ever pressed my feet on the toe brakes that hard before. Think of what would happen if my foot slipped, the leading edge bumped him and he would fall into the prop.

That flight was always an adventure, thunderstorms in the darkness, snow the size of dinner plates frozen into streaks by the strobes (my only case of vertigo) and St. Elmo's fire that is truly beautiful outlining the props. Odd things happen after midnight.

Another time, we dropped back into Sioux City about 3:30 am, I was asleep in the back seat and another guy was in the right seat. I heard the tower recording tell Sam that it was foggy, visibility very poor. Sam announced that he was going to fly the ILS, see what it looked like and told the right seat to yell when he saw the runway lights. (I could hear all of this because he did not have headphones, just the speaker). Of course, I couldn't see anything from the back seat, but we went down, down, slower, slower the beep went off for the inner marker and he should have aborted by then when the right seat yelled "Lights!" That is the signal to lift your head from the instruments and see what's out there. It was about "one Mississippi, two Mississippi…" and the tires squeaked.
That is a low ceiling.

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