My Own Personal Airline



My dream was to use the Red Baron as my own personal airline. Airlines have an extraordinary safety record – and it’s no accident. They pay meticulous attention to the quality of both their equipment and their personnel.

Go left? OK with caution.
Go right? Don’t even think about it!

Equipment: The Turbo Baron had not only two engines, but two of everything dependent on those engines. Also, the radios on my Red Baron enabled instrument approaches to thousands of airports across the country – many of which weren’t served by airlines. With radar, I could see and avoid thunderstorms. And with deicing I could escape all but the worst structural ice. All that was missing was the black box to share what happened if things went terribly wrong – and I concluded I wouldn’t really care.

Personnel: According to Frank Borman, “A superior pilot uses his superior judgment to avoid situations which require the use of his superior skill.” Twice a year airline pilots go through rigorous recurrent training – and I was committed to doing the same. So I scheduled regular visits to Recurrent Training Center (RTC) to maintain my flying skills. Their course includes eight hours of simulator practice dealing with a host of inflight emergencies plus an equal amount of classroom time discussing safe decision-making processes.

But to really up my game, I needed to fly frequently. And what could be more frequent than every day? So I resolved that for a month I would fly daily. It might be a short flight to a nearby airport for an instrument approach and back to Palwaukee for another. Or maybe a trip. Since I was going to fly every day, I let it be known that anyone could join me for a ride. But whatever the excuse, I flew every day.

A quick look to the right corner of the panel revealed any engine anomalies.

RTC had drilled me to always make a last-minute check of engine instruments before lifting off – to never knowingly take a problem into the air. So on every takeoff as the airspeed built I could hear myself recite, “70 knots engine instruments green … 80 knots rotate.” By the end of the first week I was seeing things along the sides of the runway I had never noticed before. I could hear the sound of the engines and the wind and the wheels rolling on the runway. I still made the engine check call, but it was just confirmation of what I’d already observed.

Approaches were the same kind of experience. Rather than changing power settings or headings as required, I found myself ready and waiting for them well before they were due. It was exhilarating – the airplane was becoming an extension of me.

Two different trips to Cleveland

Marie dearly loves her cousin, Janet, who lives in Cleveland, but driving to visit her is an arduous five hour trek through Chicago and around the southern end of Lake Michigan. Flying is faster, but for Marie it meant an hour and a half of pure angst. I think it won her over when I told her that Fly Me I’m Lyle Airline serves wine on its flights.

My preflight inspection was a perfect time for a glass before takeoff. About 20 minutes into the flight as we neared the eastern shore of Lake MIchigan, I glanced over and noticed her holding a half empty glass in one hand … and a half empty bottle in the other. “How are you doing?” I asked. Her reply: “Fine (hic).” By the time we landed the wine was pretty much gone. And so was Marie.

The idea took hold. On the way to the airport for the return trip Sunday morning, Marie asked Janet if we could stop at a wine store. All in all, it was a wonderful weekend, and I think she was looking forward to seeing Janet more often.

A few months later a major advertiser invited us to his daughter’s wedding in Sandusky. After the wedding we’d take the short hop to Cleveland to spend the weekend with Janet and Mike. The challenge: A bottle of wine on the way to a wedding was not really an option. To her credit, Marie was a shining star through the entire experience – all without the benefit of wine.

Sightseeing at Pikes Peak

Although I love flying for just about any reason, business trips were decidedly the most valuable. Several times a year we attended meetings with wholesale magazine distributors – the companies responsible for about a third of our sales.

In October an important conference was held in Colorado Springs. While business meetings demand full attention every morning, afternoons are open for personal interactions. So I invited several customers for a sightseeing flight past the Air Force Academy and over the Royal Gorge. Realizing my Turbo Baron could easily climb to the top of Pikes Peak and itching to show off a bit, I asked if they were game. You betcha! And so up we climbed.

Winding road with switchbacks up Pike’s Peak Highway in Colorado

Everyone was thrilled as we circled the parking lot at the top of the peak. I, on the other hand, found myself very busy staying near the mountaintop. Wondering why this was so demanding, I suddenly recalled my private pilot training. We were doing a basic maneuver  – turns around a point. The idea was to fly a circular path around a fixed mark (like a tree) on the ground. Easy if there’s no wind. Challenging if the wind is trying to blow your perfect circle in the sky away from the tree that refuses to follow the wind. On this occasion the center of the circle was Pikes Peak, more than 14,000 above the ground. And the wind was trying to take us elsewhere at 40 knots. No wonder I was working so hard!

When everyone had all the pictures they wanted, I faced another challenge. The top of Pikes Peak is two miles above Colorado Springs Airport and only ten miles away. Eardrums would pop unless I descended slowly. I took a lot of flak for the 40 mile picturesque tour of tumbleweeds east of the Rockies.

Living the dream

During the course of 1989, I flew 165 hours averaging 250 miles an hour; a total of more than 40,000 miles. I took 24 trips. Other destinations included Washington DC (twice), San Diego, Cleveland (twice), Raleigh, Orlando, New Orleans, Jackson, MS, Toledo, Sandusky, Oshkosh, Cincinnati, and Naples, FL.

I was living the dream.

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Total flying time to date: 1,175 hours

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