I flunked Christmas bidding this year. As Len Morgan says from Flying Magazine, “Anyone can fly a trip—but it takes a genius to bid them!” I think he’s right. I have no idea what happened. All I know is that with almost 30 years of seniority at my airline, I was unable to “hold” Christmas off and as I write this, I’m on day 3 of a 4 day trip that began Christmas day. Sigh. Nonetheless, there’s still been times this month where I’ve been able to be with friends and loved ones and celebrate what Christmas is about. In those settings, maybe because of the novelty of being an airline pilot and certain perceptions about my livelihood, non-fliers will often ask: “Have you had any close calls?”
Sitting around the hangar, or hanging at “Hotdog day,” or congregating wherever pilots like to congregate, that dumb joke will always bring smiles…except for me…It’s not as funny since August 19, 1985.It was a beautiful morning as the other student and I met with our Air Force Instructor Pilot (IP) at the Squadron Ops desk to discuss the morning’s training sortie. It was a Monday morning and at “oh-dark-thirty,” after talking about our weekends, we were looking over the clipboards with the tele-typed weather reports of various airports around the surrounding area and discussed where we would go on our third flight in the glorious, Vietnam era, C-130.
I’m not sure of the Captain who taught me to make a PA before departing the gate to “let the folks hear your voice in the event of an evacuation later” —but I never was convinced that there would be any resemblance between the sound of my voice then as compared to my voice actually commanding an evacuation! Nevertheless, for the 18 years, I’ve been a Captain, I’ve tried to remember to make my “pre-departure PA.” I usually say something like, “You picked a great night to fly!"… On this particular flight, however, I had to tell them the truth...
The weather that had been preventing me from completing my solo cross-country while in Navy flight training had finally moved on. The cold front had passed bringing with it beautiful blue skies, one hundred mile visibility, and pristine flying conditions. I could not wait to get in the air and enjoy the performance of the taxpayer-funded T-34C Turbo Mentor (quite a hot rod actually) that I had been training in. What could go wrong?
In the 1970s, the Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) was like college with airplanes. Over the 53 weeks of UPT, at least half of each day was dedicated to classroom academics—typically six-week courses in everything from aerodynamics and navigation to weather, or more properly, meteorology. It was that course, meteorology, specifically the section on thunderstorms, that probably saved us.