Thursday morning Marie and I headed to Palwaukee for what promised to be a wonderful week: Dinner with a friend and advertiser in Danville, Kentucky; a three-day conference at a luxury resort in Naples, Florida with newsstand magazine wholesalers from all over the country; and on the way home a visit with another friend and advertiser in Atlanta. By this time, flying the Red Baron had become quite routine: flight plan, weather briefing, preflight inspection, takeoff, climb to altitude as we cross Lake Michigan, cruise on down the road. Easy-peasy.
Once we level off, flying is almost boring … until it isn’t. About an hour into the flight I noticed that the oil on the right engine was a little warm and the pressure was a little low. Maybe I was unduly cautious, but I gavea call and requested a precautionary landing in Muncie, Indiana.
Good thing. The oil cooler was leaking and I was down to less than a quart. As it turned out, the engine was going to stop – either on purpose or when the last quart was gone and the engine seized. Even though we would have landed safely on only one engine, the difference between replacing an oil cooler and an entire engine was megabucks. Worse yet, Marie might never fly with me again … and with good cause.
Hmm. Now what. First, fix the problem. The folks in Muncie were angels – they could replace the oil cooler and have us back on our way by the end of the day Friday.
Next, contact the client in Danville. Did I mention that he was a friend? “Friday would be fine,” he said. “Just be safe.”
Being stuck in Muncie overnight was not only easy, it was a pleasant surprise. The motel across the street had a vacancy. And the restaurant on the airport property, Vince’s, was one of the best steakhouses in town. Not only that, conversation with the server led us to believe that Garfield creator Jim Davis was the owner. I may be remembering it wrong, but that certainly took our minds off the airplane issues.
The FBO at Muncie had a Mooney rental available – and only a couple years prior, that was my main ride. I rented it for the short ride down to Danville and back. We were able to take care of business with time left over for dinner, albeit a day later than planned. And a bonus: Flying the Mooney brought back a flood of fond memories.
The remainder of the trip went as planned. Naples is a beautiful town and the resort was extraordinary. But I fear my simple upbringing didn’t equip me for sidewalks that were cleaner than my living room floor. And although there were no signs prohibiting it, I was dead certain that passing gas in public would land me in jail.
Laser tag is such a fun game that entire businesses have been built around it. It’s even more fun when played in the sky … in airplanes. Lifelong friend and flying buddy, Todd Parkhurst, and I decided nothing would do but a trip to Fulton County Executive Airport/Charlie Brown Field in Atlanta, Georgia.
We arrived in time for Todd to treat me to a delicious spaghetti lunch. Then off to our first briefing. The deal was simple. Each of us would have our own T-34 Mentor equipped with laser guns, receptors, smoke, AND an experienced safety pilot. Most of the safety pilots were Delta Airline captains that, when off duty, liked to get a little “upside down time.” Their military training often included Top Gun or its equivalent. Thirty years later I still recall Mongo – Todd’s safety pilot. Prior to Delta, Mongo flew for the U.S. Marines. I’m sure he had a neck connecting his head to his fullback body, but I was never able to detect it … decidedly someone I wanted on my side.
After a thorough briefing we climbed aboard and off we went … canopies open … hair blowing in the wind (or would have been flying if either of us had any!) On the way to the practice area, the safety pilots gave us a demonstration of formation flying – in a formation so tight I thought Todd and I could reach out and shake hands.
Reaching the practice area we separated for a minute then headed straight toward each other. As our wings passed, Mongo called out, “Fights on!” and I began twisting and turning, doing high yoyos, low yoyos and other crazy things in my attempt to get on Todd’s six. As soon as I lined him up in my sites, I pulled the trigger and smoked him. And his plane literally left a trail of smoke. Lest there be any doubt, gun cameras on both planes recorded every detail.
In the effort to outperform each other, we pulled as many as five Gs or more. Our heads weighed 100 pounds. The blood was drawn out of our brains. To remain conscious, we practiced an Anti-G Straining Maneuver (AGSM), driving blood to our brain as we tightened all our muscles. Kinda like grunting to overcome constipation.
Tight turns dramatically increase G forces. When I pulled too much on the stick to turn hard, I’d black out, let go of the stick, and stop turning. Of course, when I stopped turning, the G force let up, I’d regain consciousness and start pulling on the stick again. I know it happened that way – videos don’t lie.
Todd and I are both prone to motion sickness – Todd more so than me. So he planned ahead and put a patch behind his ear. My preparation was limited to stuffing myself with spaghetti. He repeatedly shot me down while I was busy reprocessing the spaghetti.
On day three the group before us returned from their flight all excited. Enroute to the practice area, they encountered an Air Force reserve flight out of Dobbins Air Reserve Base and gave chase. Our viewing room was jumping. While all eyes were glued to the screen, the phone rang. The reservists from Dobbin called to brag about how they waxed the tails of these wannabes. “Not so,” said Mongo. We’re looking at the videos: Sky Warriors 2, Air Force Reserve 0.
Regrettably, years after Todd and I flew with them, Sky Warriors lost a plane and two pilots. Ultimately this resulted in their downfall. I feel fortunate to have flown with them when we did.
The untold stories
As I review my logbooks looking for stories, I’m dumbfounded about the number of flights to wonderful destinations about which I remember nothing … nada:
- July – I flew to Kansas City on a Wednesday and back on Thursday. We had a printer in that area but that was years earlier. I also flew up to see Jeff, then went on to Flying Cloud, Minnesota and have no idea why I didn’t just fly back home after lunch.
- In August my logbook shows a trip to Cincinnati. There was a publisher there, but it was years later that we developed a relationship with them.
- And the one that really flummoxes me is why, between Christmas and New Year’s, I flew to Richmond, Virginia. I don’t remember even knowing anyone in Richmond!
The only explanation I can muster is that I was so busy loving flying that the reasons no longer mattered – I was just going somewhere in the Red Baron.
* * *
New types: Mooney M20J, Beechcraft T-34 Mentor
New ratings: None
Total flying time to date: 1,445 hours
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