Beechcraft Duke – Traveling in Style

Our sales manager loved to ask prospective candidates, “Do you enjoy business travel?” If they answered, “Yes,” he knew they were rookies. Experienced business travelers dread the beginning and end of every trip. Getting to and from the destination. But for me, that was like time in my sandbox – a few hours of sheer joy.

Though I couldn’t offer inflight movies, traveling in the Beechcraft Duke hardly left passengers feeling like they had taken a ride with Waldo Pepper. Even when flying alone, I packed a cooler with fresh veggies, dip and a sandwich … maybe even a shrimp cocktail. If I had passengers, beer and/or champagne were included with the ice cold water and Coke. And the passenger sitting next to me was welcome to take the controls for a bit if she so chose. 

1993 included nearly 200 hours of flying – four hours a week. Here are a few highlights:

Air show in Champaign

In June Lifeline Pilots hosted an airshow at the University of Illinois/Willard Airport in Champaign. The site was special to me – it was the airport where, 30 years prior, I learned to fly. 

Several hundred visitors could walk around the ramp and get a closeup look at a wide variety of aircraft – both civilian and military.

University of Illinois Memorial Stadium
Assembly Hall (now State Farm Center)

Additionally, about a dozen pilots, including me, volunteered their time and airplanes to give rides to the public. For a few dollars anyone could get a bird’s eye view of the University of Illinois including Memorial Stadium and the Assembly Hall where the Fighting Illini played football and basketball. Both are quite a sight from the air.

Most of the rides were in single engine planes that accommodated two or three adults plus the pilot – a very exciting experience for first-time flyers. My Duke kinda stood out – I could take four or five with me. Although people might have been excited to climb into my flying limousine, I think those in the single engine plane had a better view. Pressurization requires small windows. In smaller planes a passenger gets a much better view – seeing in all directions out of giant wrap-around windows.

Each ride lasted about fifteen minutes, then I’d pick up the next five people in line. Just like boarding an airliner, passengers had to listen to my SAFETY briefing. The passenger sitting next to the door received special instructions; it was imperative that they could open it if I were disabled.

All in all, I made ten trips around the town, each lasting about 15 minutes. I was too busy flying to learn how successful the event was, but every time I looked the line seemed longer. At the end of the day I flew home aglow with the fun I had sharing my flying passion.

Marie and Nina fly to Washington

There’s nothing like mixing business with pleasure. In July, Marie and I flew out to Westhampton on Long Island to visit with our friends Bill Reyer and Nina Link. Bill and I are flying buddies and Nina and Marie, in addition to being closest friends, were both on the board of the Magazine Publishers of America. 

Bill and Nina

After a brief stay at their home, Nina, Marie and I flew to Washington for an MPA board meeting. Marie was always happy to spread out in the back seats and Nina was delighted to sit up front where the action was.

When we settled into our cruise, I invited Nina to take the controls. Sure thing. She immediately got the hang of it – sort of like a steering wheel on a car. NOT. In a car to keep turning, you keep the wheel turned. In a plane once a bank is established, you return the controls to neutral and the plane keeps turning. I explained to Nina, “If you keep the wheel turned you’ll roll the plane over.” From the back Marie shouted, “I don’t want to hear any more.” Nina learned quickly, and we never rolled over. And I learned an important lesson: Keep instructions that might distress the passenger on the down low. Marie and I are still happily married today.

A difficult trip with a spectacular ending

In August, Barrett Rochman, a lifelong friend of Marie, and his wife Pinny lost one of their sons in a tragic auto accident. Marie and I flew to Carbondale, Illinois to attend the funeral. When I called the airport to arrange local transportation, the person was remarkably unhelpful. They didn’t have rental cars and the cab service was somewhat unreliable.

About 15 minutes before landing, I radioed ahead and asked the attendant to call for a cab, allowing ample time for the cab to get to the airport. It wasn’t there when we landed. It still wasn’t there 30 minutes later. Unreliable, indeed. The funeral would be starting soon and we were still waiting at the airport. Marie was getting anxious.

The cab finally arrived leaving us tight on time but still able to get into town before the service. Enroute the driver made an unexpected turn, explaining that it would only be a minute. He took on another passenger. WTF?! Then he did it again. When he started to make a turn to take on another, Marie exploded. “NO MORE! You take us directly to the funeral home. Immediately!” We arrived with little more than a minute to spare.

A procession was forming for the 30 minute ride to Barrett’s farm, where the family had established a burial ground. Cars were starting up with air conditioning set to max. Marie and I had graciously been offered a ride with a couple who did not believe in wasting gas. During the service, their black car had become a sauna. Their idea of cooling it was to open the doors and let the 90 plus degree air flow freely through the car while we waited. 

The procession began rolling. Ah, we thought, now they’ll start the a/c. And they did. But again conservatism reigned – the blower set on minimum gently wafted cooled air to the front seat. 

When time came to head home, Barrett, again being the consumate host, arranged a ride to the airport. The couple driving us introduced us to team driving. The husband was blind and the wife couldn’t drive. So she directed him when to go,  when to stop, when to turn and how hard. Marie was never so relieved as when she climbed aboard Fly-By-Knight airlline.

Two isolated storms, both more than 100 miles from our course

The last leg of our day was special. The weather briefing revealed extremely clear skies all the way. The only activity was a hundred miles west over the Quad Cities and out over Lake Michigan way east of Milwaukee.

A perfect night for a beautiful flight.

Soon after we took off we could see the St. Louis and Springfield lighting up on the horizon. Then the lights from Chicago glowed to the north – from more than 150 miles away.

But what we also saw was lightning in two places, one a little to the left and another a little to the right. So I cranked up the radar to see what was up. Nothing. Then I called ATC. Again nothing except two isolated cells far from our course. 

What gives?! The air was clear and calm. Visibility was perfect. The only storms were far away. Yet the lightning persisted. And that’s the way it remained all the way home. God must have felt like treating us to a fireworks display from two remote storms on a crystal clear night.

* * *

New types: None

New ratings: None

Total flying time to date: 1,750 hours

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