Thursday, January 16, 2014

Night Departure from Tachikawa. 1958




The cockpit crew enters from the maintenance stand on the right side. Their shoes scrape the serrated, steep, metal stairs. The side rails are dirty and oily and they are careful not to let them touch their gabardine ‘suntans’. The cabin to cockpit door is closed and the crew compartment is cloaked with a dull red glow; the electrical inverters whine and the gyro instruments hum in anticipation of flight.

All cockpits have a familiar smell. If they are cold and the airplane is new, the smell has a sharp ‘auto body shop’ tang. If the airplane is old and the cockpit is warm, the sweaty smell of long flights clings to the crew’s seats and is released when the crewmembers settle in to make their ‘nests’ - the place in which they must endure the long hours of transoceanic flights. The nest in the cockpit ‘cave’ becomes their personal refuge from the elements outside.

They wait for taxi clearance. The warm summer rain spatters the cockpit windows; the ground crew waits beside the outside power unit with its umbilical cord supplying electricity until the engines take over.

The Cabin Door Warning Light extinguishes; the co-pilot looks at the inner right hand engine and says, “Ready on three.”

The Captain commands: “Start Number Three.” The starter whines, the propeller turns, the cylinders fill with gasoline vapor and obey the spark. The engine wakes up coughing through its exhaust pipes.

All engines started, the plane now alive, begins its journey, taxiing to the runway as the crew recites the litany of the checklists. The smell of the Orient fades as pressurized air fills the ‘plane. Cockpit lights are dimmed as they wait for takeoff clearance.

Now the Flight Engineer scans the engine instruments as the Captain orders, “Max power,” requesting the full power of the four, 14 cylinder Pratt and Whitney engines powering the Douglas DC-6. The Captain’s and Engineer’s hands push the throttles forward, and the maximum power is reflected on the engine instruments. The airplane’s brakes are released. Inside the aluminum tube, everyone feels the rapid acceleration of the propeller driven airplane.
The co-pilot focuses on the airspeed indicator waiting for it to register the speed beyond which the ‘plane cannot stop should the takeoff be refused. The Captain’s left hand which has tightly gripped the Nose Wheel steering control, begins to relax as the rudder now steers the airplane.

The Co-pilot says, “Vee one”, and the takeoff can no longer be denied. They are committed to fly. The Captain’s left hand smoothly moves from the Nose Wheel control and now grasps the yoke – the master control of the airplane’s altitude and direction. He pulls it toward his waist and the airplane begins to fly.  They are airborne, the engines at full power almost drown out the Captain’s command to raise the Landing Gear, but his right hand thumb jerks up – a visual command understood by all airmen, “Gear up!!”

The lights of the city pass under the plane and they enter fractured clouds leaving behind the growing population whose next generation will astound the world with its productivity.

Sayonara, Tachikawa.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013


This is Lew's story. I hope that he wouldn't mind my repeating it.

Lew departed 'west' for his final check last year. A great pilot who's Final Check would be all outstanding checkmarks. 

Memorial Day Weekend 1958
By Lew Wallick

In early May 1958, Boeing Flight Test moved 707-121, N707PA painted in Pan American
colors, to Edwards AFB in California for the continuation of 707 certification tests. The test
program included runway performance, aerodynamic performance, climb performance,
thrust and drag in all flap and gear configurations, handling qualities, and system tests. The
reason for testing at Edwards was excellent weather, minimal traffic, and convenient test
areas.

As Memorial Day approached, the LA newspapers each day had stories of the marvelous
DC-8 and how it would be superior to the 707. The local news media was strong supporters
of Douglas Aircraft in those days (unlike the Seattle media in regard to Boeing). The news
all published stories of Douglas’ plan to fly the DC-8 on Memorial Day weekend (Saturday,
as I remember), and bleachers had been erected on the airport for employees and family to
witness the first takeoff at about noon.

On the scheduled day, it was just another test day for the 707. Arise at 4:30 A.M., have
breakfast, go to the airport, and take off at 6:30 A.M. to conduct the first test flight for that
day. Our plan was to proceed to the vicinity of Catalina Island and conduct low altitude
climb performance and drag/thrust tests. We proceeded with our test plan and flew test
conditions until we had burned fuel to the level we could no longer maintain the gross
weight and center of gravity needed for the test conditions, approximately 9:30 A.M.

My co-pilot was Walt Haldeman, a CAA test pilot stationed in the LA region of the CAA.
As we departed the test area, we climbed to about 15,000 feet and set course for Edwards
AFB. By coincidence, the route was almost over Long Beach airport where the DC-8 was to
make its flight. When we reached altitude, we heard over the radio the various Douglas
photo stations, wind measuring stations, and other test support talking on the common
flight test radio frequency we also used to communicate with our mobile radio station at
Edwards. Walt and I discussed flying over the Long Beach airport and taking a look at the
DC-8. About 15 miles from Long Beach, I selected tower frequency, identified myself as
707 Papa Alpa, and requested to overly the airport at 5,000 feet.

The tower acknowledged the request, and after a brief pause asked if we were a Boeing 707.
I confirmed we were indeed at Boeing 707. The tower cleared us to overfly at 5,000 feet.
Shortly, the tower came back and cleared us to 3,000 feet, which I acknowledged. Very
shortly, the tower cleared us to 1,000 feet, which I again acknowledged. (They were really
getting into this!) When we were about three miles from the airport, with no request from
me, the tower cleared us to overfly the airport at any altitude we wished! I again
acknowledged the clearance. We lowered the landing gear and flaps and descended to about
500 feet (maybe it was a little lower) and flew the length of the runway, added thrust at the
end of the runway, and climbed out to continue to Edwards. All of a sudden, as we were
over the airport, there was absolute silence of the flight test radio frequency. We continued
to Edwards and landed and planned a second flight for the afternoon.

The next day, Walt informed me we were probably in trouble—at least he was. Mr. Douglas
had called the regional CAA Office and raised HELL with Walt’s supervisor. Apparently,
when we made our flight down the runway many of the local radio media people were in the
coffee shops surrounding the airport. When they heard us fly by, they ran outside and saw a
jet transport with in those days heavy black exhaust climbing away. They immediately, and
typically, reported by telephone that the DC-8 had successfully began its first flight and on
and on with their prepared spiels. As a result, many Douglas employees heard these reports
and very few actually showed up to witness the DC-8 takeoff. This really upset Mr.
Douglas.

I later found out that they also called Bill Allen and apparently read him the riot act as well.
No one in Boeing management said anything to me, good or bad. When the Convair 880
was scheduled for its first flight, Walt and I joked about going to San Diego, but decided it
was too far away.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Public Punishment at St. John the Baptist



Billy Critch


1945.

The Eleventh and Twelfth Commandments at St. John the Baptist were:

11th “Thou shalt not pimp.”

12th “Thou shalt not cry whilst enduring punishment.”

I was one of Sister Mary Clotilda’s Bursary Boys, the select group that she tutored so that we could continue our secondary education with a full-time scholarship at St. Joseph College, nearby. Photos of her successful students were prominently displayed on the wall in her classroom.

The good sisters were death on dirty jokes even if we didn’t understand what they meant; childhood smutty jokes we had picked up from older brothers or fellow classmates were anathema. Repeating dirty jokes was sinful and subject to capital punishment which would now be considered child abuse.

So we concealed our dirty sniggers and grins for those private times when we could escape the sisters’ ever-watchful eyes: on the playfield behind the small pavilion where the equipment was stored, or after ‘lights out’ in the dorms. Laughing was only for happy occasions such as an extra serving of dessert, the announcement of a student’s contagious disease which would close the school for a week or two as a precaution against its spreading.

Imagine my surprise when I was called to Sister Clotilda’s desk on the podium and calmly confronted with the report that I had been guilty of telling a dirty joke.

“Oh, no sister, I would never have said anything like that,” I said.

She pointed to one of my classmates who blushed and avoided my eyes. The rat had broken the 11th Commandment.

The inquisition lasted for what seemed like an hour and I suspect I must have admitted my guilt, as I was probably the kid who told the most dirty jokes in the history of the school. We were a simple bunch without radio, TV or Man Magazine, suggestive movies or access to Roy Rene at the Tivoli burlesque, but somehow I managed to acquire a great repertoire, which fortunately has lasted me through my entire life.

As her interrogation continued she became flushed and her voice became louder and angry. Finally she left her seat, opened her desk and produced what was the largest strap I had ever seen – a suitcase strap an inch and a half wide, and an eighth of an inch thick. With a flourish she threw back her veil over her shoulder grabbed my left arm and commenced to beat me on the backside. As she warmed to the task, I observed the 12th Commandment.

Sister Clotilda was not a tall woman, but born in a mining camp in Arrarat, Victoria, she was very sturdy and had the sisters fielded a Rugby team she would have been a Forward – probably the Rake. She laid into me with a fury I had never seen; classmates later told me I received over 40 lashes and would have received more but in her enthusiasm to root out evil, she made a tactical error.

A leg of the large, reversible chalkboard balanced on the edge of the podium caught the strap on the backswing of the 41st. stroke. The downswing pulled the old board on to the floor where it shattered, much to the amusement of the entire 5th and 6th Classes.

She shook me loose and fled the room. No one laughed nor broke the 11th Commandment by telling any of the other sisters.

And yes, I did pass the Bursary exam but having seen the Marist Brothers in similar punitive actions, next year I became a Riverview boy for, as everybody knows, the ‘Jacks’ were pussies.

If you believe that I’ve got a Sydney Harbour Bridge I will sell you!

St John the Baptist Preparatory School for Boys, Hunter's Hill. N.S.W. Australia

Thursday, April 12, 2012

We're Out of ice, Captain.


“Pacific 423, Medford Tower, you are cleared for takeoff.

It’s the Captain’s leg and late in the afternoon. Somehow we’ve ended up in Medford, Oregon, picking up a load of unhappy passengers whose day has been spoiled by nasty winter weather and delays on the system.The Captain sets the power and we climb out on course for San Francisco and into the ‘clag’. 

I’m a very new co-pilot with Pacific Airlines and am wary of saying too much or adding any suggestions to the Captain’s style or skill. Co-pilots are on probation for the first year and a bad report from the Left Seat can bring my budding airline career to a swift end.

“Pacific 423, you are cleared to climb to and maintain 11 Thousand. Contact Oakland Center one two seven point seven at Fort Jones. G’day.”

The Martin Four O Four is not a new airplane; it’s a twin-engine DC Three replacement built in the mid-Fifties. It has a very reliable engine and no bad habits like its predecessor, the Martin Two O Two that in its formative years had a nasty habit of losing its wings and falling from the sky with a load of thirty-five passengers and crew. Many of the larger U.S. carriers bought the Martin but have since replaced it with turbo props like the F-27 or kept their Convair 340s while they wait for their Douglas DC 9’s or Boeing 737’s to leap into the jet age.

Over the Siskiyou Mountains we are in clouds at our cruise altitude. The highest elevation below us is about 7,500 feet, but the weather does not make for a smooth ride. There is light turbulence and the Martin has no autopilot; the stewardess moving up and down the single aisle serving drinks causes the only change to our center of gravity, but it keeps us alert.Ice collects on the windshield.

“Let’s have the wing heat and watch the Carb Air Temp,” says the Captain.

 What he means is that I should switch on the wing heaters to melt any ice gathering on the leading edge and monitor the temperature indicators to maintain warm air entering the carburetors. If necessary, I will adjust the Carburetor Heat levers on the control pedestal between us. I must also monitor the cylinder head temperatures to ensure they stay in a normal range. The airplane I flew in the Air Force had the same engines and carburetors and this is a routine task.

The captain’s hands move to the pedestal to adjust the throttle setting. He glances at the Fuel Flow Meters. The fuel flow is increasing as he watches. The BMEP gauges are reflecting a decreasing engine power output. The Carb Air Temp is still decreasing.

“More carb heat” says the Captain. 

The engines are rapidly picking up a heavy load of ice that, if not melted can cause engine failure.I increase the carb heat and that causes a further drop in engine power. I turn on the wing lights and check the wing leading edge. Some ice is forming but not enough to cause a loss of lift. Our only problem is the engines and we don’t seem to have a solution.

There’s an old story about the Luck Bucket and the Experience Bucket:When you start flying, you are given a bucket full of luck. If things go badly and you don’t have a solution, you dip into the Luck Bucket and use some. But you must remember to replace it with experience because when you’re out of luck, all you have left is experience.

Even though the Mixture Control levers are in manual lean, the engine fuel flows continue to increase and like an auto engine, this will flood the engines and they will quit. The Captain and I are searching in the Experience Bucket. His tells him to lean out the engines, make them to backfire and blow out the ice. This is his DC-3 experience. Mine tells me that we must decrease the fuel flow just like my Air Force C-118.We both reach to further reduce the Mixture Control levers at the same time but for a different reason. The effect is the same. The engines do not backfire but the fuel flow decreases and the engines regain power.

A knock on the cockpit door and the stew enters.“We’re out of ice for drinks.”I point to the cockpit window.

“Jane, why don’t you pop outside and get some from off our windshield?”

She gives me a puzzled look and retreats to the cabin.

The captain laughs and breaks the tension.

Later as I wait for the bus outside Pacific’s new Headquarters lugging my Samsonite bag and a heavier bag full of charts and manuals, the Captain pulls up in his new sports car.

“I’m headed south, need a lift?”

“Yeah, thanks.”

Bags aboard, we head south; he’s headed for his Palo Alto Eichler rambler and Scotch, I to my stucco ranch-burger next to Bayshore and a beer. First Year co-pilots take home pay is $395 and it makes more sense for my wife to stay at home, look after the kids and keep a tight budget.

.“Hi honey, I’m home.”



Friday, April 6, 2012

"What Was That Name Again, Lieutenant?"






Like any war story, this one is not prefaced with, “Now this is no sh*t” which means that you can believe it or not. But it was told to me by an impeccable source, my best friend,
Colonel Edward Forbes Lincoln.
The C-124 was a very large, four engined transport plane which in its hey day of the Nineteen Fifties, carried freight for the Military Air Transport Service (MATS). It was affectionately called “Big Shaky” as its engines and propellers made a distinct rumbling sound which transmitted their vibrations not only the listeners on the ground but the aircrew flying in this behemoth. It was a bone-rattler and drained the energy of the MATS crews who flew it to every corner of the world. After a twelve or fourteen hour leg, they were tired out and longed for a couple of beers and a quiet spot for Crew Rest that was normally sixteen hours.
MATS C-124s landed at nearly every military and civilian airport in the world; if the runway was a mile long and the temperature was not extreme, Big Shaky could get in and out with a moderate load of cargo. Normally the crew consisted of an Aircraft Commander (AC), a co-pilot, a Flight Engineer and a Navigator. Handling the loading duties were two loadmasters, usually lower ranking enlisted men. It was a group of professionals who knew their jobs and could handle most anything that was thrust upon them: soldiers, sailors, tanks, large trucks, missiles, cartons of toilet paper or refugees from some war torn country.
On this particular trip in 1957, Shaky and its crew had landed at the Agana Naval Air Station on Guam. They were greeted by the Transport Control Center Duty Officer, a Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade, who told them that they would have a Minimum Crew Rest – twelve hours.
“Why?” said the Aircraft Commander. “We’ve been on the road for two weeks and this last leg was non-stop from Saigon – fourteen hours.”
“Tough! Tomorrow’s our Saturday parade which we hold on the ramp at 9 AM and I want your airplane off that ramp by 8 AM!” said the lieutenant. “The Admiral’s reviewing the Station and he is very insistent that it’s all ship shape. Everyone in Dress Whites with big medals.”
The AC was the same rank as the Navy jg but he came from an Air Force family and knew the rules. The Duty Officer had the authority to insist on the minimum Crew Rest and he was insistent.
Five O’clock the next morning, the crew was alerted and as the Navy chow hall didn’t open until six, no one had breakfast. But the AC made sure that there was coffee and sandwiches from the Terminal gedunk. They were airborne at eight o’clock grinding their way toward Yokota Air Base in Japan and the ramp was clear for the parade at nine.
Shaky had some unlovable characteristics: the engines were known ‘corncobs’; each one had twenty-eight cylinders and fifty-six spark plugs, not to mention fifty-six valves and enough internal ‘monkey motion’ to puzzle even the most skilled mechanic. This was a very complex piece of machinery skillfully managed by the Master Sergeant Flight Engineer. He knew those engines better than his lady’s contour.
Thirty minutes from takeoff at Agana, they had barely reached their 8,000 feet cruise altitude.
Voices on the intercom:
“Pilot, Flight Engineer.”
“Yes, what’s up?”
“I think we swallowed a valve on Number three engine. O.K. to feather it?”
“Feather three,” said the pilot.
The Flight Engineer feathered (shut down) the engine and advanced the power on the other three engines to maintain their altitude until they were cleared to descend.
“Agana Center, this is MATS 10042 declaring an emergency requesting a lower altitude and immediate return to Agana.”
“Roger MATS 10042, you are cleared to descend and cruise 2,000 feet. Contact Agana Approach Control when in range.”
Shaky began its descent slowly drifting down into the morning tropical rain shower. The crew was not concerned – three-engined flight was never unusual in this bird.
“Pilot, Load Master.”
“Yep.”
“We’ve got an oil leak from number two engine.”
“Flight Engineer, Pilot. How’s our oil quantity on Number 2?”
“Going down slowly. O.K. to reduce power?”
“Sure, keep me advised.”
“Agana Approach, MATS 10042, requesting approach to Agana. We have an emergency. Number Three is shut down and Number Two has an oil leak. We may have to consider a two engine landing.”
“Roger MATS 10024 you’re cleared for the approach, contact Agana Tower on final.”
The airplane was now on final approach.
“RPM 2400, Gear down, Flaps 30, Landing Checklist.”
“Agana Tower, MATS 10042 request landing, we have an emergency.”
“MATS 10042, you are NOT cleared to land. We have a parade on the ramp. You’ll have to hold until it’s over in 40 minutes.”
“Negative, Agana. This is an emergency. I’m on final, at 500 feet, with my gear and flaps in landing configuration. We gotta land this bird.”
MATS 10042, negative, negative. You’ll have to go-around. Contact Anderson Air Force Base Tower and request landing instructions.”
By this time the Shaky is at 300 feet, the Flight Engineer is not happy with the state of his oil leak and is thinking that if that engine quits, they are in a world of hurt. The ramp below that is adjacent to the runway is filled with Navy officers and men in their best whites with the Admiral and his staff on the reviewing stand. They can all see the C-124 ready to land its noisy engines drowning out the Navy Band playing “Anchors Aweigh.”
Gritting his teeth, the Aircraft Commander decides to ‘go around’. He calls for maximum power on the two good remaining engines, as much power that is available on the oil-leaking engine and slowly drifts over the parade.
A fine mist of engine oil drifts down on the Admiral and his sailors and covers them in black spots which does not make any of them look at all ship shape. The parade dissolves as they scatter for shelter.
Agana Tower capitulates.
“MATS 10042, you are cleared to land. Please report to the Duty Officer upon landing.”
A very red-faced and angry Admiral is on the ramp as the C-124 parks and the crew exits.
“Who is in command of this airplane?”
The AC steps forward, salutes the two star admiral.
“Lieutenant Twining, sir.”
The Admiral lets go with a verbal blast that would sink an aircraft carrier, but pauses as the AC’s name penetrates his anger.
“What was your name again, Lieutenant?”
“Dick Twining, sir.”
The connection with the current Armed Forces Chief of Staff filters through his salt-encrusted brain.
“Humph.” The admiral turns on his heels and marches off, his oil soaked whites looking very spotty.
“Let’s get some Crew Rest. How ‘bout 16 hours?” says Dick.



It sure helps to have fathers in high places.
From Wikipedia:
In 1957, President Eisenhower appointed Twining Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Swimming in Arizona


Thirty metre pool,
Water pattern crinkled, blue.
Aussie Crawl.
Pure Zen.

Desert hills, shadows
changing colors, black and pink.
Sauvignion Blanc.
Pour!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

HUBRIS at Flight Level 350




Do we challenge the gods? Or should we?

I had just celebrated my thirty-fifth birthday and life was becoming very sweet. I was flying airplanes I loved – newly painted, McDonald Douglas DC 9 Dash 30s. Within the year I would probably be a captain again, but this time, a well-paid airline captain, not an Air Force one. The skills were the same, but the airline job was much easier – we had a strong union and no additional squadron duties! At the moment, my co-pilot’s pay was certainly enough to give us a comfortable life, but captain’s pay would increase my salary significantly enough for lots of overseas holiday travel with the passes provided by Air West.

We looked forward to several vacations a year; taking the girls on overseas jaunts, enrolling them in a private school, private ski and dance instruction and further on in life, their attending the nearby university with its many sorority houses for the darlings of well-to-do businessmen. Life was sweetening with each salary bump. As they say now, "Life is good."

Flying north over Idaho in the late winter afternoon, the Captain pointed out how the shadows on the ground showed the wagon tracks of the early settlers. When I compared my life to theirs, I couldn’t help but think I had it ‘made in the shade’. After leaving our ticky-tacky house in California, we had settled into a 1914 vintage home in the North End of Tacoma – the ‘better’ neighborhood of doctors, lawyers and assorted white Indian chiefs, far to the north of the blue collar house where Marlene had grown up. Our two-storey house had a bedroom for each of our daughters and they were attending an elementary school to which they could safely walk. They had a ready-made circle of friends nearby and we looked forward to summer parties surrounded by rhododendrons on the lawn that was tended by our Japanese gardener. Marlene’s mum was delighted that she could see her grandchildren, her daughter and her successful son-in-law, the airline pilot.

Looking to the north from our cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, I saw a flash of lightning. Funny, there were no cumulus clouds there. Were the gods angry at my hubris? Was Zeus playing tricks on me, or sending me a message? Well, I had a break coming – three days off and plenty to do around the house.

Medical exams are a large factor in a successful career for ship’s captains, truck drivers and pilots; if you are aware of any health problems, you take appropriate steps to ensure that they are taken care of prior to an official record. So following our first trip to Europe, I discussed with Marlene the wisdom of having a private medical exam from a non-Federal Aviation Agency approved doctor to establish a base line for any future official physical exams. Our Family Practice physician had recommended a colleague who was equipped with the latest diagnostic equipment including a treadmill – an item not yet in the cardiologist's common inventory who usually used a small stool to conduct the Captain’s Two-step - a stress test named many years ago for ship's captain's medical exams and now used occasionally for airline physicals.

My April 15th appointment was at the beginning of a three-day break in my schedule so I was well rested when, fully wired-up with sensors, I stepped on the treadmill. Today’s machines run smoothly and without much noise but Dr. Billingsley’s machine sounded like an empty flatcar being shunted over Tacoma’s tide-flats just below our house. After three-minute warm-up, the slowly moving walkway was raised and the speed increased. I began to feel the shortness of breath I had experienced earlier in the week when I went for my afternoon run.

The machine stopped suddenly and Billingsley took my arm and asked me to step down and lie on the examining table.

“Are you experiencing any discomfort?” he said.

“No, just out of breath,” I said. “I’m a bit out of condition and I haven’t been exercising much lately.”

He put a small white tablet under my tongue and told me to lie still while the lab assistant removed the electro sensors from my chest. After a few minutes, I put on my street clothes and joined him in his office.

“Bill, I understand you are an airline pilot,” he said. “Have you had this shortness of breath any other time?”

I thought about a night the previous week when I was making a landing at the Tri Cities Airport near Pasco in southern Washington. An approach to the south west runway would normally begin from the east of the airfield, but as we were headed south from Boeing Field in Seattle we were required to ‘circle’ the field so as to land to the west. At that time, there was no precision approach and new to the route, I had not made this type of procedure here before. With the low ceiling, we circled to the north of the runway at 600 feet above the ground before making our turn to a final approach. As this was my ‘leg’ and I was flying in the 1st Officer’s seat, I could see lots of flashing red lights off the end of the runway. I suspected there had been an accident and was concerned about making a missed approach. The captain, noticing my apparent anxiety, explained to me that this was a “hump yard”, a train switching area and to continue the approach. I suspect I was anxious and pumping a little more adrenaline than normal, and at that time I noticed this shortness of breath that quickly passed as we completed our landing.

“Yes, Doctor,” I said. “I noticed it the other night on an approach to Pasco.”

Jim Billingsley was also a pilot and, as I later found out, a fairly good one who owned his own Beech Bonanza. He understood why I had been anxious, but he also knew why the shortness of breath had appeared.

“I’m sorry to tell you this,” he said, “but you have a serious heart problem. I saw it on the electrocardiogram tracing when you were on the treadmill. That’s why we terminated the test. If you had continued, you could have had a heart attack!”

I immediately thought about last week’s scenario in Pasco. If 1st Officer Critch had a heart attack, the airplane could have rolled right into the ground before the captain, distracted by a radio call, could take over. 

It was quiet for a minute. “Well doc,” I said, “I think I’d best ground myself until we get this sorted out.” He said quietly, “I don’t think it will get sorted out. It’s very serious and I suspect that your flying days are over, Bill. You have what I call a coronary insufficiency, which is to say that my preliminary diagnosis is advanced arteriosclerosis.”

I’m 35, look younger, I don’t smoke much, I drink booze like the rest of my contemporaries and I’m not overweight. What’s this arteriosclerosis? I’ve never heard of it! But I think of the consequences of not reporting this condition and continuing flying. Apart from a clear violation of Federal Aviation Regulations, a lot of people including myself could end up dead.

I came home much later than expected and Marlene and the girls were already having supper.

“How’d you like Dr Billingsley?” Marlene said.

“Not very well. I’m grounded!”

It became very quiet at the table. Sheila continued eating her fried chicken, but Tammy sensed Marlene’s reaction and she asked, “What’s wrong, Dad? Are you sick?”

Like most aviators’ wives, Marlene understood very well what ‘grounded’ meant. If it was permanent it meant a huge loss of income and a drastic change of lifestyle. Most of our pilot friends had big mortgages, several cars and very expensive tastes in travel and entertaining. Several were already on their 2nd marriage and were paying alimony and child support based on generous court settlements quickly agreed to. They had challenged the gods but no bolt of lightning warned them to back off. The gods were definitely not smiling on us! So much for the sweet life, ‘made in the shade’.

Of course, that’s not the end of the story.

That night with the kids asleep and ourselves wide awake, over a glass of plebian Pink Chablis, we discussed our resources and our future plans.

Did I challenge the gods? Should we?

Yes, I think we should. We challenge life by tossing the big, brown Australian pennies and shouting as they spin, “Sydney or the bush!” What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. My high school motto was, “Dare to do as much as you are able” and if I have passed that on to my kids, I’ve succeeded in challenging the gods….and won.

(In retrospect, it worked out rather well: we both started college two months later, scraped by on the money we had saved and in three years I was employed by Boeing; in five years Marlene was hired as the assistant Director of Medical records in a large local hospital. Of course, my flying days were over, but I continued to train ‘real’ pilots in the simulators and never again did I consider that we might have it “made in the shade.”)