Flying at a new level

If the world headquarters of my personal airline was our home on Knight Street, the natural name had to be Fly By Knight – with a fleet of one Red Baron.

By this time, I had attained a degree of mastery, and the stories were more about the trips. Here are a few:

Who needs a jet

As publishers of multiple magazines in diverse specialties, Marie and I found ourselves attending numerous annual conferences and events. Often we were high profile players and wanted to look our best. And since we saw the same folks several days in a row, this meant lots of luggage – often more than a half-dozen pieces between the two of us. 

This posed no problem on Fly-By-Knight airways – the plane could accommodate both of us plus virtually unlimited baggage. Passionate about flying as I am, and with any city in the U.S. less than a day away, I loved these trips. Marie, on the other hand, found the Red Baron too confined for flights of more than a couple hours.

The tortoise and the hare
Annual hobby and craft show drawing 1,000 exhibitors and 50,000 buyers

For me the flight to Dallas for our biggest trade show of the year was a fun 3 1/2 hour ride. Marie envisioned unending torture. Our solution: O’Hare was seven minutes from home. I dropped her and her purse off on my way to Palwaukee. 

At Palwaukee, I drove into the heated hangar and stowed the bags. Then I gleefully threw my down parka (January in Chicago can be frrrreeezzzing!) in the back and sat down at the controls in shirtsleeves. All settled in, I gave a thumbs up to the attendant patiently waiting at the hangar door. He opened it and towed the plane out onto the ramp. In a couple minutes the engines and heater were roaring and I was headed south to warm Dallas.

Although my flight was longer than Marie’s, I landed at Love Field – an hour closer to our hotel. When I pulled up on the ramp, the rental car was waiting with a/c already doing its job. In the time it took to leave a fuel order, the line crew had all the bags in the car and I was off.

When I arrived at the hotel, Marie’s flight had probably landed, but she still had a long trek from DFW into town. Meanwhile, I was busy hanging up clothes, filling drawers – even arranging toiletries on the bathroom counter.

Marie finally arrived in our room and oohed and aahed over my thoughtfulness – then turned to me and impishly inquired, “What! My clothes aren’t pressed?”

Lifeline Pilots

One of the most rewarding aspects of having a private plane is the opportunity to give back to folks in need. LIfeLine Pilots, founded by Wanda Whitsett, offers just the solution. Their motto is, “The shortest distance between home and hope.” Volunteer aircraft owners and pilots make this possible.

In April, a youngster from Springfield, Illinois needed treatment in Knoxville, Tennessee. The trip for the child and he mother would be either an extremely costly charter flight, an airline trip with multiple stops, or a marathon drive. I could make the trip in an hour and a half.

When I arrived in Springfield, the patient and her family were waiting at theFBO. As is often the case, they were completely unfamiliar with “those little planes” we general aviation pilots fly. I explained what they could expect and answered questions until they seemed at ease with the trip. Then we loaded up and headed out.

Other volunteers met the patient and her mother on arrival in Knoxville and they were gone. I knew they were grateful, but, as a Lifeline Pilot, my role was done. I rarely learned anything more about patients or their treatment. 

Bonus lunch opportunity

After they departed, however, I had a special treat. Several pilots were hanging out at the FBO and invited me to join them for lunch at the Pioneer House. Dining was family style with a host of delicious down-home dishes and more dessert than I could possibly stuff into my face. By the time I returned to the airport I had a handful of new friends that I never saw again. That was thirty years ago, and my mouth still waters as I recall it.

Marie’s special spa trip

In June Marie had an opportunity to spoil herself at the spa in French Lick Springs, Indiana. As much as I love her, I was not willing to drive five hours down there and wait around for two days to drive five hours back home. But I did love an excuse to fly, and the trip was only an hour. Folks from the spa picked her up at the airport on Friday and returned her on Sunday. By Sunday evening Marie felt very pampered – and I was delighted to log four hours of blue sky flying.

Kids to camp

Jeff’s friend Paul Frederiksen kept telling him about how much he loved summer camp at Towering Pines – and ten-year-old Jeff was all in. This was a tough decision for Marie and me – rather than the two-week experience we expected, he would be gone for seven. But the camp’s owners explained that it took two weeks to adjust to their new community – and that’s when the real experience would begin. So off he went.

Towering Pines in Northern Wisconsin is a 350 mile drive from Park Ridge, Illinois. Fly-By-Knight could make it in a little over an hour. Easy choice. 

One of the challenges faced by pilots is how to get around once they land. FBOs at many smaller airports solve this by offering a courtesy car or crew car. Take it to lunch or run an errand and bring it back with a few bucks of gas added.

The FBO at Lakeland Airport in Minocqua-Woodruff, Wisconsin had found a Ford Fairlane station wagon retired from the U.S. Air Force. It hadn’t yet been run into the ground – not quite. The yellow USAF markings were spray painted in a blue that roughly matched the rest of the car. The seat cushions were only worn through in a few places. Two circular perforations for radio speakers had disintegrated leaving perfect round holes in the dashboard we used as drink holders. But the car started right up and we got Jeff and his gear to camp without a hitch. Several times that summer, I fondly used that jewel to grab a bite to eat with our camper.

From the time I left home until I was back in the driveway was just under six hours. 

Dove Hunting

Craig Zimmerman, a long time friend in the craft industry, invited me to join him and a friend to go dove hunting over Labor Day weekend. Knowing nothing of hunting and completely without equipment, of course I said, “I’m in!” 

The flight to St. George, Utah with a fuel stop in McCook, Nebraska was uneventful and I arrived mid-afternoon. With plenty of daylight remaining, we decided to do a bit of aerial recon over the prospective hunting grounds. I don’t think Craig or his friend Arthur ever made a 200 mph low pass over rural Utah – before or since.

The hunt was great and I was even successful once. Fortunately Craig and Arthur did better and they sent me home with enough birds for Marie to make a delicious dove pie. And doubly fortunate, none of the meat had any hidden pellets for us to bite.

An extra on the way home

One of the joys of flying a personal airline is I can stop wherever friends might be found. Years prior, Marie and I met Richard Koff because of his business expertise, and through working with him we became friends. A man of many talents, Richard also wrote several books on widely varied subjects. But when he retired and moved to Sante Fe, New Mexico, we rarely saw him. Aha! Sante Fe was on the way from St. George to Chicago. Richard was free so I stopped and we had a delightful evening catching up.  

The Cross Stitcher magazine

BJ McDonald, founder and editor of The Cross Stitcher magazine, realized that although it was loved by cross stitchers, she was drowning under the business demands of publishing. That September, we (Clapper Publishing Company) agreed to acquire her magazine if she would continue as editor – a win-win for all of us. 

To finalize our arrangements with BJ, Marie joined me on Fly-By-Knight airline to Jackson, Mississippi. The weather for the day was beautiful except for the possibility of showers in the late afternoon – pretty typical for Mississippi at that time of year. 

As luck would have it, near our destination my radar showed a storm heading toward the Jackson airport. And so were we. The race was on. Could we get there first? Yes … maybe! As we circled to land, the storm was right next to the airport. To this day, Marie and I disagree about whether or not we touched the storm. I’m confident that although we were right at the edge, we were never actually in it. She swears we were right in the middle with lightning all around us. Only God knows the truth.

That’s not all

During 1990, Fly By Knight made more than 20 trips including visits to our daughter Susan in school at Marshall, Minnesota; other Lifeline flights; and a couple weekends in Florida with my folks. Having a personal airline at my disposal was a blast.

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Total flying time to date: 1,308 hours

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