Tag Archives: flying

Iguana Tales

iguana talesBack in the Long Ago — farther back than I care to remember most of the time — I spent a few years hanging out with some semi-reputable folks at a small airport in South Florida. One of the more colorful parties was another guy named Bill. He and I were drawn together by a shared love of airplanes, flying in general, drinking, the bars of Ft. Lauderdale and their stewardess habitués.

Bill, in addition to being a charming guy and inveterate manipulator of facts — hell, let’s just say it: he’d lie when it would have been easier to tell the truth — was a dreamer. He was always looking for the next rainbow or, lacking that, the next scam. I could write a small novel about his misbegotten escapades and may someday, but this is about the time Bill decided to corner the market on iguana tails. Continue reading

My First Kidnapping

During a brief discussion about pedophilia, I happened to mention to Murr that I’d been involved in kidnapping a couple of little girls some years ago. She demanded to know more, and since it’s so seldom that anyone actually asks me to write something, I guess I’d better encourage her.

Back in the long-ago, I drove airplanes for a living. I stopped for a variety of reasons (which need not be enumerated here), but during that short career I had some pretty interesting times. There was the time when the load shifted in the DC-3, the time I got hypothermia on a night charter, the experience with the runway light, the student who squealed “Oh, I can’t do it!” and let go of the controls ten feet off the ground (last lesson for that one), and a few others. It’s true what they say about flying being hours of sheer boredom punctuated by moments of terror.

Anyway, I was hanging around between flights one day when my boss called me into his office. This was alarming in itself, since Owen was egalitarianism personified, and rarely formal about anything. When he asked me to close the door, it became even moreso.

Owen: “Bill, how would you feel about helping a guy with a kidnapping?”

Me: “Ah…”

Owen: “It’ll be about seven or eight hours in the Aerostar.”

Me: “OK.”

(In our little world of aviating, flying the Aerostar was sort of like getting to run errands in a Ferrari. This goes to show how easy I am when it comes to crime. Even Federal crimes.)

Ted Smith Aerostar 601

As it turned out, this would be a crime only in the state of Tennessee. This guy, a custodial parent, had allowed his daughters of about 10 and 12 to visit their mother in Memphis, and she had neglected to return them.  At that time, in Tennessee, possession of the kids was nine-tenths of the law.  Maybe even 100%.  Numerous phone calls, letters, registered letters and threats from his attorney had elicited no responses that could be printed in the theoretical family newspaper. This was in the days before reciprocity amongst all the states regarding child custody, so Dad was sort of up the creek without a paddle — until his lawyer suggested simply going to get them.  He also suggested us, which tells you something, because he was a pilot himself, with his own airplane.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that the girls were both in favor of a return to Florida, Mom having apparently been just as much of a (ahem) as Dad claimed she was. This facilitated planning substantially, since Pop was able to get a schedule of their activities and determine that they walked to school every morning. Plotting ensued.

So it came to pass, in the fullness of days, that Ray and I (we’ll call him Ray, since I have absolutely no idea what his name actually was at 40 years remove) climbed into the shiny new Aerostar on a Sunday afternoon and aviated off to Memphis. There was a cold front on the way, but it wouldn’t be passing Memphis until after we left the next morning. The plan was to fuel and tie down the plane at Memphis International. In the morning I would fly from there to a little strip near where the girls lived, while Dad took the rental car and did the snatch. Then he’d leave the car at the little airport, bundle the girls into the airplane, and we’d all buzz off to sunny Florida.

We bunked for the night at the airport motel, leaving a call for 6:00 AM. At about quarter to seven the clerk remembered to call, and we blasted out of the room at warp speed. (I left my favorite sports jacket in the room, too.) A frantic dropoff at the Fixed Base Operator for me, followed by a panicked trip by Pops to the school route, resulted in all of us arriving at the meeting point at nearly the same time. We all climbed into the plane, the kids in their Girl Scout uniforms, and headed off into the wild gray? yonder.

Gray. The front had sped up — a lot — and passed during the night. I hadn’t had time to get a weather briefing before I left MEM, and found myself trying to get information on the run, as it were. I didn’t want to file a flight plan for obvious reasons, and it was imperative that we get over the Florida line so that we’d be in the home court’s jurisdiction before anyone could get the word out.

It doesn’t take all that long to get from Tennessee to Florida at 210 m.p.h., and we arrived at the Florida line about the same time as the cold front. Now, you need to understand that flying into a cold front is not considered good form unless you are on an instrument flight plan in a well-equipped airplane. Even then it’s something that you approach with considerable caution.

Well, I had it half right. The Aerostar was equipped with weather radar and oxygen. I did not, however, have a flight plan, so I decided to “remain VFR” and depend on the airplane’s altitude capability and speed to negotiate my way around the thunderstorms. That actually worked and, apart from a bumpy ride, the passengers were cool with the whole thing. No one even got airsick. That might not have been the case had they known that I lost a navigation radio, got lost myself for about fifteen minutes, nearly shat in my skivvies a couple of times and wanted to kiss the ground when we arrived back in Palm Beach County.

So I got away with it. That time. But I never flew into a cold front again at less than 30,000 feet, and that was my last kidnapping.

Lesson learned, whatever it was.

Patrick Smith Takes Exception To The “Automated Cockpit” Nonsense

Air Travel – Salon.com

I’ve heard it all. Nothing, however, gets me sputtering more than misunderstandings about cockpit automation — the idea that modern aircraft essentially fly themselves, with pilots on hand merely as a backup in case of trouble. “Baby sitting a flying computer” as one smartass letter writer recently put it here on Salon.

This is so far from the truth that it’s difficult to get my arms around it and begin to explain how. Baby sitting a computer? Really? I’ll keep that in mind during my next recurrency training and simulator check; the next time I’m weaving around thunderheads over the Amazon; shooting a VOR approach in Africa in a rainstorm at 4 a.m., or setting up for an ILS in blowing snow and a quarter-mile visibility….