Friday

POP! GOES THE FINAL EXAM



In the spring 1987 term at ERAU I suffered complications from an impacted wisdom tooth that I had surgically removed over Christmas break. Unfortunately, that secondary infection of the bone hit me just before final exams. In extreme pain I visited a local dentist, Dr. Holliday, that the school nurse recommended. He said that he could see nothing wrong and thus could do nothing to help me. Then he went as far as to imply that I had come to him just looking to get pain killers. Yeah, right, me the life-long non-drinker who never touched any recreational drugs; I was there trying to scam a couple of vicodin. When I got back to my house I called my folks back home and got the number of the oral surgeon who had removed the tooth. Dr. Spangler, whose office was up in Saginaw, Michigan, said he wanted me in his chair within 24 hours. I visited Dean Rockett’s office and explained my predicament and he said he’d have all of my final exams set aside until I got back to Daytona. My roommate Jose, who worked as a gate agent for a People Express Airlines feeder out of DAB, scammed me a free ticket and I was on my way up north that evening.

Anyone who had played hockey in the Junior levels or above knows too well what dental pain can be like, and this one was the worst of any kind I’d ever had right up until I had a kidney stone a quarter of a century later. Once in the oral surgeon’s chair he examined the area, took some X-rays and then thought a bit. The thinking part was the portion of the exam that the idiot in Daytona had failed to do. He asked if I’d had any pain leading up to this? I said that I had, but it always seemed to just ease off after several hours. I told him that within the past few weeks the pain was coming more often and was getting progressively worse. He said that what I had was an uncommon, yet clear case of an infection of the bone. The reason why it had come and gone, while getting a bit worse with each onset, was that my body had been able to fight it off until it just got too bad to vex. A bottle of antibiotics and I was as good as new in 48 hours. Yet, Dr. Spangler firmly insisted that I remain in town for at least five days so he could re-examine me just to make sure it had cleared up. He also equipped me with a letter from him to whatever dentist may need to treat me next explaining in medical terms exactly what my diagnosis was and also giving them a number to call him 24/7. I stayed on the antibiotic for the full 10 days as prescribed, but I flushed the pain killers down the toilet.

Although Dean Rockett had arranged for make-up exams when I got back there was, however, one exception and that was my aerodynamics class. The instructor, Mr. Blackwell, was gone on sabbatical to Mexico for 18 months and so there was no way I could make up his exam. I would be forced to take an “incomplete” for the class and repeat it later. That was actually fine with me. Frankly, sitting in his class was like sitting in an open grave. The guy lived out of “Aerodynamics For Naval Aviators” a text that although accurate in its theory and math, was probably as boring in the 1950s when it came out as it was in the late 1980s when we were forced to use it. To this day I believe they probably made Naval aviators read if for punishment. Thus, I was dragging bottom in his class and probably would have likely flunked it if I had taken his torturous final exam- several of my classmates were buried by it. So, why not take the “I” and repeat it with someone who knew how to make the subject less painful than my dental infection?

The following spring, April 1988, I had already walked across the stage for graduation and all I had left to do in my post-walk mop-up was two advanced flight courses, FA314 and FA315, and that aerodynamics course. Having pilots who had walked in graduation still needing to finish flight courses, especially those two, as well as a class or two was nothing new at ERAU. In fact at least 4 of my fellow classmates were in the same boat as me including one of my roommates. The university understood and allowed us the option to graduate… we just didn’t get a paper diploma until we’d completely finished. Now, a fill trimester after walking across the stage I’d already knocked off FA314 and was in the process of knocking off FA315 as I entered into that last class to finish aerodynamics.

I scored big by getting Mr. Kumpla for the aerodynamics course. He could teach a baked potato and have it completely understand aerodynamics. In fact, through all of my later years of flight instructing I used his class notes in order to teach the same material and used them again when I later adjunct professored in the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore’s short-lived aeronautics program.

Walking out to the GRW complex on at 2:10 pm on April 19th to take my aerodynamics final exam it suddenly struck me that this was it! It had been 128 months since I first stepped foot onto the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s campus and this was the last thing that I would do in a classroom. It was a strange feeling as I considered how far I had come. From that hockey psycho who stood there in his Bauer sneakers and received his orientation packet to a fully rated commercial pilot, with a Bachelor Of Science Degree in Aeronautical Science. On top of that I was the winner of the Student Leadership and Involvement Award, had been the Flight Team Chief Pilot, Avion newspaper’s editorial cartoonist, I was the founder of the first student-alumni association, buddies with J. Paul Riddle (the co-founder of the University,) I had been on a first name basis with two university presidents and I was now engaged to be married to the most amazing girl on campus. Man, I had come a very long way. ERAU had gone from being a place that made me homesick to a place that I considered to be home. The funny thing was; I had never, ever intended to accomplish anything like that. My singular, sole goal at ERAU was simply to finish- and nothing more.

Other than finishing that final exam, there had to be a way for me to, personally, mark that accomplishment. The exam itself had been piece of cake. Mr, Kumpla had done such an amazing job of teaching this material that even me, the guy with the huge phobia of multiple choice tests, was able to go through the entire exam with great confidence. It wasn’t as if the test was simple, it was in fact that the test made sense and was directly related to the material he had taught. Filling in the final dot on the answer sheet and re-checking my results, the way to mark the occasion suddenly popped into my brain. Nearly every student in that class, as well as Mr. Kumpla knew full well who I was, how long I’d been working at it and what I had accomplished. By the time you get to that level at ERAU, you pretty much know everyone else- it has become more like a family and friends than a cold university. That’s the advantage of, in 1988, having a student population of less than 5,000. Although the rest of the class were all busy completing the exam, I felt sure that no one would not mind one last exclamation point in my long story. I took the answer sheet and the exam up to Mr. Kumpla’s desk and turned it in- mine was one of the first. He looked up at me, I smiled and winked as if to say that I knew I did very well- then I returned to my seat. Reaching into my backpack I pulled out an “Embry-Riddle Alumni” bumper sticker that Tom Arnold, the director of Alumni Relations, had given me. Quietly I peeled off the backing, placed the sticker on the flat of my hand, wound up and slapped it onto the back of my class notes book just as hard as I could!

“POP!!”

The sound echoed across the silent classroom and every head looked up! Standing, I held the class notes book high above my head and turned to show my new alumni sticker to everyone in the room. Applause broke out as well as a few hoots and whistles. Even Mr. Kumpla was clapping as I paraded from the classroom. They all got it. They knew what my action meant and they also knew that their turn would soon come. Mine was 30 years ago, as of this writing.
This is the actual back cover to the class notes with the sticker right where I smacked it. In aviation there are some books that pilots keep- forever. Normally those are the ones from which you learned the most, or the ones you know you'll use again some day. Kumpla's notes are both.



If I could make it, if I could finish, so could anyone else who was willing to work hard, stay honest and never, never quit.

Tuesday

You never forget that first solo


Pilots tend to remember certain flights forever while most of the rest of their flights just fade into a blur. There are two that we especially have burned into our memory; 1) the flight where you almost got the most killed, 2) your first solo. To those of you who are not pilots- those two are almost never the same.

On March 20th, 1978- exactly 40 years ago as of this writing, I did my first solo flight. At the time I was a freshman in the flight program at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach Florida.




In later years, as a flight instructor, I personally certified and soloed a number of students. When a person solos there is the mythical tradition that either the new pilot’s shirt tail gets cut off, or they get a soaking. The legend which is most commonly told to students is that after the first flight of the Wright brothers, Orville, who made the flight, got out of the aircraft and as he did he snagged his shirt tail and ripped it and then stumbled into a mud puddle. Thus, when you solo you get your shirt tail cut off and or you get soaked with water in some way. My students always got the soaking because I didn’t want to have to replace an expensive shirt.

Normally the first solo is a big deal and it’s always best to not let your student know in advance that “tomorrow yer’ gonna solo,” because then they tend to worry about it and get the jitters. It’s always best to surprise them. I’d take mine on a few laps around the pattern and then as we taxied back for yet another takeoff I’d say, “Hold it, I need to check somethin’…” and I’d get out, look at them and say, “Go do three takeoffs and landings.” And you always had to add, “Yeah, yeah, yer’ ready.” All of my students had been told from the beginning that they would be far beyond ready before I’d let them solo. The long out-dated World War II military 12 hour solo is not only unsafe but it’s in violation of FAR 61.87 part B, D and especially P, subsection 3 which states that the student must demonstrate that they are “proficient” in the 15 maneuvers and activities in part D. Yes... FIFTEEN! There is no way a student pilot can gain true proficiency in all of those items in just 12 hours. Thus, when my students soloed in about 24 hours of total flight time- I knew they were both ready and fully in compliance with the regulations. So, while it was a surprise every time- they too felt honestly ready.

At ERAU the program was quite intense and professional. We had a book that showed each lesson step by step and then before soloing we went up with a check airman, or “prog. pilot” to ensure our proficiency and full compliance with FAR 61.87. In my case I did my prog. with Rick Hopewell who said I was fine with everything, but my landings needed some smoothing out. As a result I had to fly an extra 0.4 dual and do three more take offs and landings at Daytona with my instructor John Jaworsky. I then did a re-check with prog pilot Roger Kenny (the nicest person on the planet) and was thereby approved to solo- I had 18.4 hours.

At ERAU your solo was never a surprise. Like everything else in the flight department it was scheduled. I knew it was coming three days in advance.

March 20th was a great day to do that first supervised solo. The Florida weather was clear with light winds. John and I flew out to the Deland airport and after one practice dual landing he got out and gave me the go ahead. I hadn’t been worried about doing the solo. Instead my brain was focused on the procedures and I ran them over and over again in my mind. I’m a lip-biter and as I put the takeoff power in I was chomped down so hard on my lower lip it’s a wonder it wasn’t bleeding. At 55 knots I rotated the Cessna 172 “chickenhawk” and N77ER practically leaped off the ground! John hadn’t told me that without his extra weight onboard the increased performance would be that noticeable. Climbing out I flew over to the crosswind leg and then turned onto downwind leg and that’s when it dawned on me… I’m doin’ this all by myself!

About mid-field on the downwind a Moonie cut me off in the pattern. I just pulled off some power and let the faster Moonie slide well ahead of me. Gripping the yoke to the point where my fingerprints were likely to be ingrained in the plastic I watched for my throttle back point abeam of the runway. What I didn’t notice was John down on the ground waving me to go around as he thought I was too close to the Moonie.  Abeam the end of the runway I pulled the carb heat on and throttled back to 1,200 rpms and watched for the airspeed to hit the white arc. Meanwhile the Moonie made close traffic and was no longer a factor. Inside the arc I dropped 10 degrees of flaps and looked for my 45 to the runway in order to measure my base leg turn. It all came together as I went through the procedures and set up for the touchdown. Flairing I felt the mains touch and letting the nose down I hit the flaps to “up” carb heat off and crammed in full throttle.

I’d done it!

As I rotated into the second climb out I began to giggle… this was FUN! Coming back onto the downwind there was no other traffic in sight and just as I went into another giggle the biggest damned bird I’d ever seen dove past right in front of me- the thing was the size of a freaking pterodactyl! No more giggling for this pattern. Again, I set up just as I’d been instructed and made the approach and landing. John told me in the de-brief that he was motioning “OK” but I never looked at him- all I saw was the runway as I crammed on the power again. This time the climb giggles were replaced by loud maniacal laughter a rebel yells. It was like scoring a goal in a hockey game and my exuberance was only interrupted by the required radio calls. Even the fact that a second Moonie had cut me off in the pattern again didn’t shake me. Shook the hell out of John (who, unseen, was waving me off again,) but not me. After that landing I taxied over and John climbed back in. He asked if I’d seen him waving me off? I told him “No” I was too busy spacing with the traffic. I asked if he’s seen the pterodactyl on downwind and he said he hadn’t… so, we were even.




Arriving back at ERAU we went through the de-briefing and then John scheduled me for a second supervised solo that evening. That was it- I headed back to the RSI dorm. There was no shirt cutting or water soaking- nothing. It was all professional; another required unit completed as scheduled- period. Interestingly, the instructors at ERAU in those days seemed to have two standards for first solo ceremonies. The male students usually got the no frills treatment… the female students, however, got the works! Even when my soon-to-be wife soloed, her shirt got the whole freaking back cut off of it and a bunch of stuff written on that cloth. Other girls that I knew at school also got their shirts cut. Makes ya’ say “hummmmm.”

When I got back to the RSI many of the guys there knew it was my solo day. My pal Mark “Doc” Holliway, who had gotten his private pilot certificate before coming to ERAU and thus had soloed in the real world, dropped buy my room to congratulate me. He was a bit appalled that I’d gotten no shirt cut or water treatment. He left and returned shortly with a bunch of guys… who picked my ass up and threw me into the pool.

Professionalism is good… but so is tradition.

Twenty years later to-the-day I was flying a Falcon 20 down the Florida coast toward Fort Lauderdale. There, down below, was Deland airport. After looking down at it and remembering, I went to the back and pointed the airport out to Mr. Porter, the billionaire owner of the jet.

“Twenty years ago today,” I told him, “I did my first solo at that airport.”

He looked down and a huge grin of delight came to his face.

“And look where you are now,” he said.

Friday

Orbital Klyde


On December 8th, 2010 the second Falcon 9 rocket ever to fly boosted the first Orbital Dragon spacecraft from Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 40. I was there to watch it fly. That spacecraft completed a two orbit test flight for Space Exploration Technologies, also known as SpaceX. Following splashdown and recovery of the Dragon, SpaceX founder and chief designer Elon Musk proudly displayed the cargo that had been flown aboard the Dragon; a top secret wheel of cheese. At the time it was implied that the cheese was the only thing aboard the Dragon, but there was something more aboard the spacecraft as it flew into orbit that day. 

Aboard the first Dragon spacecraft was not only the cheese, but also a nine inch tall, plush Klyde Morris doll.



That fact, however, was not for public release at the time. It was a BIG secret.
How did Klyde get aboard the C1 Dragon you may ask? Well here’s the story…

Originally the Klyde doll was not supposed to fly. I sent it to my friend Brian Mosdell, who at that time was the director of operations for SpaceX at Cape Canaveral. Brian and I went to college together at Embry-Riddle and we both served on the Avion newspaper together. He was the sports editor and I was the cartoonist. In the summer of 2010, after the first Falcon 9 launch Brian and I were a part of a radio talk show panel and we got talking about Klyde. Brian said if I sent him a doll he would mount it in the flame trench and focus a high-speed camera on it for the next launch. I thought that would be fun, so I sent him the doll. 


But that’s not what happened.


On November 1st of that same year Brian sent me an e-mail asking me to write the most favorable SpaceX cartoon that I could. He said that he wanted to fly Klyde aboard the orbital Dragon and was going use the cartoon to help convince the powers that be to let him do that. I did the cartoon...


On November 17, 2010 I received an e-mail under Brian's SpaceX e-letterhead indicating that both  Gwynne Shotwell "our president" and "Elon" approved- and Klyde flew into orbit in December.

So, why was this a secret?


Simple.


Permission to fly the Klyde doll was granted by Gwynne Shotwell, the president of the company, but only on the condition that we would keep it to ourselves. You see, SpaceX had a score of sub-contractors as well as NASA folks who all wanted to have an artifact on that first flight and they were all turned down. The company felt that if it got out that Brian’s doll had been aboard it may upset their sub.s, or worse yet, NASA.


I wasn’t exactly ordered to “tell no one.” In fact I told Aero-News. net and some of my friends in the hardcore space press such as Robert Pearlman from collectSPACE dot com before I knew it was supposed to be a “secret-secret.” Then, after the flight, Brian said I could tell family and a few "friends." I said, “How about Miles O’Brien, he’s my friend?” Brian just groaned and said, “Give me a break.”

Gwynne Shotwell had, however, approved a Klyde SpaceX astronaut dream sequence cartoon idea for after the flight...



So, you may ask again, why are you going public now?


Well, Brian is no longer with SpaceX and so I asked if I could put the story out and he said that he now had no problem with that.


If you are wondering what happened to the Klyde doll that orbited the earth on that historic mission- the answer is again quite simple... 

Brian told me that the doll is very safe, it sits on his wife’s desk at work.

KLYDE'S FIRST DAY



February 15, 1978… a day which will live in infamy… okay, well… maybe not. Anyhow for your reading enjoyment, this is what the day that the first Klyde Morris cartoon appeared in public was like for me; the newborn cartoonist plus some immediate results and non-results.

Keep in mind that I was a second trimester freshman at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University where “The Avion” was the very popular student newspaper. Wednesday was always “Avion Day” and stacks of the newspapers were dumped at strategic locations all over campus at about lunch time. For the rest of the afternoon when you showed up for class EVERYONE had an Avion open and was reading it at their desk. It was not at all uncommon for the class instructor to be sitting there with an open Avion before class started. So, when you put an item into the Avion, everyone from the lowest freshman to the university president was going to see it. That was the environment into which I submitted my first cartoon strip.

The Avion staff had snuck that first cartoon strip into the paper because the idiot editor, the late Ray Katz, had ideas to make the cartoon what he wanted rather than what I created. It went to the printer on Monday night and after I waited all day Tuesday, it finally appeared on Wednesday the 15th.

Getting off the bus from our off-campus dorm (a motel out by the interstate called the Royal Scottish Inn, and in Riddle speak “The RSI”) I snapped up an Avion and headed off to my Nav. II class at the flight line complex. I took a moment to make sure the cartoon looked okay. After all, I’d hand drawn all of the frames and done the whole cartoon with a black Bic pen, so who knew what it would print up as. To my surprise it looked just fine. Now, however, came the real acid test- what would be the reaction… if any.

Strolling into the classroom I got my first taste of the best part of being a cartoonist… no one knows who you are! Since my last name is so hard for teachers to pronounce, on the first day of every class the instructors took one look at it and asked if they could just call me by my first name when they called roll. Of course my registered first name isn’t “Wes” so when the call went out for “Walter” I just said “here” and that was it. Thus, Wes Oleszewski never answered the roll in any of my early college classrooms. Now, I could sit in class with anonymity and watch the others as they opened their Avions with my cartoon strip at the bottom of page 2. There were no other cartoons residing in the Avion at that time.

As the guy in front of me opened to page 2 he looked right at the cartoon… and then went to the sports section without as much as a snicker. Nuts! Next over beside me another guy sat down, opened his Avion and then went directly to the fraternities page. Crap! The guy two rows up opened to page two, then folded his paper over to read page 3. Shit! Everyone that I watched seemed to just skim right past my cartoon. There wasn’t a single snicker or “Hey look at this,” or anything… no reaction what-so-ever. In my chemistry class that afternoon, it was the same exact nothing! I got back on the bus to the RSI and no one there seemed to notice my cartoon either. I dragged myself dejectedly to Room 182 and flopped into my bunk. I was sure that my cartoon had bombed. When my roommate got back he said that he hadn’t even looked at it. Gee, that helped. My other roommate just shrugged and said, “Yeah, I saw it.”

Ugh.

Late that afternoon we got a rain shower that moved through which added to my gloom as I boarded the bus back to campus to have dinner. As the bus stopped at the doors to the University Center, the bus doors opened and I saw a rain-soaked Avion resting in the gutter opened to my cartoon. The guy who got off the bus ahead of me stepped on the cartoon.

Cutting one’s wrists with a butter knife from the cafeteria was an option, but with my luck the paramedics would get there in time to save me. I considered that the food alone may just do me in. Then it dawned on me that in the strip I’d lampooned not only William Stafford, the director of admissions, but worst of all Jack Hunt the University President. Stafford probably couldn’t do me a lot of harm, but President Hunt could boot my smart ass right out of the school with little more than an afterthought. Now I’d put my college life and my whole future at risk over a bombed cartoon! I figured I was deader meat than the over-cooked cheese burger sitting in front of me.

The following day I went to the Avion office for their weekly meeting. I just knew that Katz was going to carve me up in front of everyone… but he wasn’t there. In fact no one was there but Keith Kollarik the assistant editor. He told me that there would be no paper this week because Monday was President’s Day. I mentioned that the first strip was a dud and he just turned and said, “It was fine, we’ll need another one for the next issue.”



Now I was puzzled.

What I would not actually realize until the following autumn was that I’d been judging the reaction through a keyhole. Where I was not looking, the reaction was that the strip was a major hit. So, I spent the rest of that spring 1978 trimester with my head down writing cartoons, turning them in and then running for cover. Meanwhile, the other students, the faculty, the staff, the administrators and most importantly President Hunt, loved the strips from the beginning.

I should have been tipped off when I got a message in my mailbox saying that Dr. Jeff Ledewitz, the VP of Student Affairs, wanted to see me in his office. I ignored that. Soon a memo came up to the Avion office telling me that Dr. Ledewitz wanted to see me. I vanished into the student body as best I could. Finally, Dr. Ledewitz’s secretary May, came walking into the Avion office and she had my photo in her hand! Looking around she spotted me. “You!” she pointed, “Come with me, Dr. Ledewitz wants to see you.” That was it… I was getting my butt kicked out of school. But all he wanted to do was tell me how much he loved the cartoons- especially the ones about him. Ooooook. (Many years later he told me that when we met I was not at all what he expected me to be. Instead of a wild and crazy cartoonist, I was this meek quiet guy. I told him that was because I was expecting him to kick my ass out of school.) As I left his office after that first meeting he had one final word of advice, “Oh, by the way, President Hunt’s looking for you.” A wave of doom swept over me.

About a week later I was coming down the staircase in the UC making my way from the Avion to the cafeteria when I looked up and saw President Hunt coming through the doors at the north end of the building! AKK! I knew that President Hunt knew every single student either by name, face, reputation or all of the above- so he’d know me in a heartbeat! When I got to the bottom of the stairs I ducked around the corner and pinned myself against the wall. I stood there hardly breathing until I was sure he’d passed, then I bee-boped out and headed to the cafeteria to fetch my morning tea. As I passed one of the pillars just outside the entrance, an arm reached out and nabbed me by the elbow! “GOTCHA!” Hunt barked. I probably could have paid off my tuition with the solid gold brick that I shit at that moment. But, just like Dr. Ledewitz, all President Hunt wanted to do was tell me how much he enjoyed my cartoons. He then offered me, “an open door” to his office to drop in and talk about anything. Yes, I often took him up on that. (A quarter of a century later, Dean Rockett told me that I was only one of two students that Hunt ever extended that privilege to. Hell, I thought he did it for every student.) Many times we disagreed on subjects, but when it came to “our” university we saw eye to eye. In one such visit in the early 1980s he said that I didn’t realize just how much power I had on campus. I scoffed big time- “ME… power… HA! I’m just a workin’ class Polack kid from the wrong side of Saginaw, Michigan who draws funny pictures that happen to show up in the school paper… I don’t even know what power means,” I told him. He’d always lean back in his chair when he went into teaching mode- and as he did that he said, “If you drew a cartoon that told everyone to break the windows out of the University Center, the next morning I’d get calls from campus security telling me there were windows broken.” I was shocked, “Good Lord,” I half gasped, “I’d NEVER do ANYTHING like that!” President Hunt smiled and said, “Exactly. That’s why you’re the right guy to be doing what you’re doing right now.” He went on to explain that our university was going through growing pains and would continue to do so for many years to come. As long I was lampooning him and the other characters and events on campus, the students would read it and say, “Yeah! That hits them where it counts,” rather than taking their frustration out on the property, the staff and the campus security. President Hunt gave me a wider view of our university and my cartoon strip, as well as my own, place in it.


From that point on, I saw Klyde Morris as something much more important than just a cartoon- plus I was more careful about where I aimed it.

Monday

WILL THE FALCON 9 HEAVY FLY?



For anyone who may not know it, I’m NOT a SpaceX fanboy, or an Elon Musk zealot- not by any stretch of the imagination.  The big Hollywood style Dragon 2.0 unveil and the testimony in front of the Congress with the launch dates that could never be kept, the crowd of cheerleaders at SpX headquarters for each launch and the Tesla payload publicity stunt didn’t impress me at all. So, you may ask, do I think the Falcon 9 Heavy will fly?

Yes.

There may be a few scrubs and perhaps a delay or even a rollback, but I think that the big bird will quite likely fly and may actually complete its planned profile. Normally, in modern times as rocketry has grown up, it is a pretty good bet that the first launch of a new vehicle will be successful. I’m sure that the staff at SpX has looked carefully at every little detail and they are highly confident that this new configuration will indeed fly successfully.

Keep in mind also that the catastrophic Falcon 9 failures of the past involved the second stage and not the first stage. Now SpX has taken 3 of those pretty reliable first stages and strapped them together. Additionally, even though there are a lot of engines burning at once- the vehicle is NOT the N-1. This one has been fired on a test stand which was a luxury that the Soviets never had with the N-1. Nearly all of the N-1’s shortcomings would have shown up in a static firing. This is also NOT a Saturn V. Comparing the Saturn V to the Falcon 9 Heavy, as some have tried to do, isn’t comparing apples to oranges… it’s comparing apples to a grape.


The time when the glitches turn into bitches comes not in the first flight, but in subsequent flights. It comes when corners are cut, schedule pressures get high, management over rules engineering and the faults of sub contractors find their way into tiny little parts. So the time to watch for the fireball that is three times larger than any that SpX has made before, probably won’t be tomorrow. 

If it is, however, let’s hope it’s far enough out to sea so that any of the pieces over about 8 pounds won’t make as far as the Saturn V Center where they can actually do some damage.

Wednesday

AN OLD PILOT'S LESSON IN LIFE No. 133:

 THE GYM


One day, while in the middle of a trip as a corporate pilot I found myself flying with a much younger captain. Just for anonymity, we’ll call him “Luke” as in Luke Skywalker- the original from the earliest scenes in the first Star Wars movie; young and a good pilot but far short on knowing what the big world of airlines was like, yet yearning to get into that first airliner cockpit as well as other things. Me, well I’d come into that corporate job with three airlines in my past, a bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Science and a master’s degree in Who Gives A Shit, but Luke and I flew very well together- he was a lot of fun.

On this trip, however, we came off of an overnight at DFW and got a notice that our trip had been changed. Now we were headed to San Francisco to RON and pick up another customer the following afternoon. Looking at the dispatch Luke got giddy. Indeed our cheap-assed management had forgone our usual nice hotel in SanFran and stuck us in a crew hotel across from the United facility.

“Look’it this,” he nearly giggled, “have you ever been to this hotel?”

“Yeah,” I groaned, “been there a few times.”

“This place is crawlin’ with babe flight attendants,” he went on having not heard me at all.

I rolled my eyes behind my sunglasses. Having the reputation as the most happily married man in aviation, I was far more interested in how many cable channels the room’s TV received- and from what I could recall- this hotel only had about 9. Yet as we went to the airport, got the aircraft and headed for SanFran Luke went on and on about the babes at the hotel. His zero knowledge of how airline crews actually work together and hotel together, plus having apparently seen a few too many movies led him to the fantasy that this was some sort of a meat market as opposed to a crummy crew hotel.

“The hotel gym is where they all hang out,” he began to school me where I didn’t need to be schooled, “ya’ just walk by the place and ya’ can see ‘em in there.”

I told him that he could do whatever he wanted, but I was gonna slam-latch tonight.

“No way pal,” he insisted, “yer’ goin’ with me to the gym, I don’t wanna be there alone, it’ll look like I’m just there for the chicks.”

“But you ARE just there for the ladies,” I scowled, “right?”

“Well it’ll just be cooler if yer’ there too,” he insisted, “this is an order, you’ve gotta be there, you’ve gotta do this.”

Now, anyone who really has known me for a long time will tell you that the last thing in the world that you want to ever say to me is any version of, “…you’ve GOT to do this.” The results will not be happy for the person saying it. In fact I actually take someone saying, “I’m gonna kill you,” better.

Yet all the way to SanFran and on the van ride to the hotel, Luke said it over and over. Then he gave me a time to meet him at the hotel gym.

Now, gyms and I do not get along. I have, in fact, so many old hockey bangs and dings that even the treadmill set on low makes me hurt. I’ve always said that if you ever see me running down the street you’ll know that the guy ahead of me just stole my wallet, and the only time I even enter a hotel gym is if the pool runs out of towels. So, up to my room I went- slam-latch!

At the appointed time I get a call from Luke; he’s in the gym and there are “babes” there. He wants me in there RIGHT NOW and he’s not kidding.

Okay…fine.

I took out an old pair of cotton running shorts that were at least a decade out of style and put them on. Then I took my black frame sunglasses and using my glasses tool, popped out the lenses than added a band aid wrapped around the nose bridge to give the proper nerd effect. I wore my uniform T-shirt and my black socks and black uniform shoes. Dressed like a total dweeb (which isn’t far from my normal look anyhow)- I walked to the gym… fortunately, it was on my floor, so no elevator ride was involved. Bursting through the door I gave Luke an oh-shit moment that he’ll never forget- but that was just the start.

Sticking out my chest like a rooster I gave a hello to the three young ladies in the gym as I strutted over to the free weights. I proceeded to perform a bit that I saw Michael Richards do on the old TV show “Fridays” where his dweeb character “Dick” shows up in the gym and tries to impress the locals.

“Hey there girls,” I crowed, “I’m Wes and Luke here is my captain. We’re corporate jet-jocks” I boastfully sighed aloud. “He told me that I just HAD to be here and check out the (winking clownishly) action.”

Grabbing a 10 pounder I struggled just to make it move as I grunted loudly.

“Oh yeah,” I groaned straightening up and leaving the weight behind, “that felt great.”

By this time Luke had his head in his hands mumbling something about “gonna kill” me.

Next I moved on to the treadmill and bumbled frantically as the three young ladies stood in the corner and giggled with delight. Then I moved to the water cooler, filled a cup and poured it all over my neck and shoulders.

“Whooo” I groaned, “workin’ up a real sweat.”

Just as Luke stood up to grab me and drag me out of there I nabbed a towel and wrapped it around my neck and asked if I should go to my room where I wanted to be, or if he wanted to pump some more iron with me? Hanging his head he said quietly that I could go now.

Pointing a pistol finger at the young ladies I winked some more and said, “I’d give ya’ my room number… but it’s unlisted,” and I swaggered away. 

They laughed and said “Bye, bye.”

Dinner that night was a fairly somber occasion as he said he never wanted to see me in the gym again. I said that was the idea in the first place. By the following morning he’d cooled down quite a bit as we sat in the lobby waiting for our van to the FBO. Crews were coming and going and suddenly from behind me stepped one of the three flight attendants who’d been in the gym. Luke just groaned. She was accompanied by another young lady FA as she addressed me,

“I was just telling Tammy here about your little show in the exercise room yesterday,” she snickered as she handed me her business card, “if you’re ever laid over in Denver, give me a call.” Her card had a phone number scrolled on the back. “Me too,” the other FA giggled as she handed me her card, also with a phone number on the back.

They both just giggled and headed out the door giving a flurty wave before getting on the UAL bus.

I thought Luke was gonna pass out. 

After their bus drove off I took both cards and stuck them into his shirt pocket.

“Lesson in life,” I told him, “humor beats macho… every time.”


Friday

Christmas Break 1977- 40 years ago

Christmas Break was a magical term as my first trimester at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University came to an end in 1977. When I’d started the tri in September I didn’t give a thought about getting back home, but by November it was all I could think about. Finally, on December 15th, 40 years ago today, that day had arrived.

My former roommate, Mark “Doc” Holliway and I had booked our flight to Flint together- mainly because I’d never flown on an airliner before and I wanted to travel with someone who knew the ropes… like Doc. (I stuck him with that nickname because when his freshman packet of checks came from the Sun Bank printer they read Mark “Holliday” rather than “Holliway.” He turned around and nicknamed me “Hawkeye.” Lucky for me I’ve never had a nickname that stuck). Like good ERAU students we asked for a flight itinerary that had as many takeoffs and landings as the Eastern Airlines CSR could pack into it. Thus, we went from Daytona to Atlanta, to Chicago- switched to United and flew from Chicago to Muskegon and then to Flint, Michigan. The adventure took almost the entire day and we enjoyed every second of it.

When we were on the ground in Muskegon we went up to the cockpit and talked to the crew. The UAL 737s in those days had an FE, so there was lots of room in the cockpit. They told us about the VOR approach that they had to fly into Muskegon because the ILS was out and about hiring curves and stuff. The chat went on for quite a while- then the FE came dashing in from the terminal sayin’ “We were supposed to be off the ground seven minutes ago! They wanna know what the holdup is!” Well, the captain just said “whoops, you guys better scoot- we’ll make up a good story.” Mark and I just scrambled back and nabbed two of the many empty seats and strapped in. On the way to Flint the captain came on the PA and gave some BS announcement about ATC delays and told everyone we’d burn some extra fuel and make up the time. Oh yeah… the days before de-regulation and ACARS… you could get away with lots of stuff. Doc and I just snickered.

After landing in Flint we taxied toward the terminal and Doc was at the window seat.

“Holy cow!” he exclaimed, “There’s a huge banner hanging up there that says "Welcome Home Wes!”

Looking past him I could see it strung up on the rail of the terminal’s observation deck with several people waving at us. He said that it must be for me and I said that unless there was another Wes on the plane, he was probably right. As it turned out a long-time young lady pal of mine, JL, had made the sign and rode down from Saginaw with my parents to meet me. Considering that my relationship with my steady girlfriend of nearly three years, Debbie, had evaporated by long distance over the past three months, JL was a great sight to see.

Me on December 15th, 1977- happy to be back in Michigan and lookin' forward to getting back on my skates!


This was the biggest welcome at an airport that I’d ever get. Of course that goes with the territory. As a pilot, you are always arriving at and walking into terminals and no one ever gives you a second glance. You do, however, get to witness a lot of welcomes like the one I had back in 1977.

The following day I drove to Kalamazoo to pick up my sister from Western Michigan University and that evening we all went to the Saginaw Gears hockey game. JL had posted my banner high up on the arena wall among all of the booster club banners. After the game the Gears radio announcer, Wally Shaver, saw me in Zamboni alley and put two and two together. He said he’d been wondering all night who “Wes” was and why he was being welcomed to the arena. Now it finally dawned on him that I was home from school. That was a pretty good laugh.

During the Christmas break I ate cookies, chowed on Mom’s home cooking and even played a pick-up hockey game. I was in mid-season form, or so it felt. We had a Christmas party at JL’s house and a bunch of the Gears players attended- primarily because her brother-in-law was one of the players. Meanwhile, Michigan provided plenty of snow for a white Christmas. About the only downer was when I had to drive down to Novi and meet Deb for the last time so we could exchange personal items that we were both holding. I never saw her again, but all of those love letters made great kindling in my folk’s wood stove later on. By the way- don’t feel sorry for me. I can safely say that every guy who came to ERAU that trimester and had a steady girlfriend back home saw the relationship crash and burn. Either that or they dropped out of school and went back home to her. In that era there was a fad where when you went away from your sweetie you could first buy matching pendants shaped like a heart or a coin zigzag cut in half. So when you were reunited you’d put the two halves back together and make it a whole… how sickeningly romantic. Personally. I didn’t have one because I never wear chains around my neck, but lots of guys had them. By the middle of the trimester you started seeing those frigging things tossed everywhere around campus- in the grass, in the parking lot, in the mote, in the gutter… I even saw one, (no foolin’) in a urinal out at the flightline restroom. That must have been really bad break-up. The worst incident was when a pal of mine and I went bicycle riding and as we were coasting through the RSI dorm parking lot one of the room telephones came flying through a window as the guy in the room was screaming, “You rotten cheating f$#%ing bitch!” At least my relationship died a quiet death.

As the days of my Christmas break began to expire a friend of mine from high school held a New Year’s Eve party and I attended. There were a lot of old friends from my high school class there and it was a real blast. Thus ended the year 1977. Four days later that great Christmas break came to an end as well. I did not want to get on that aircraft and fly back to the ERAU pressure-cooker, but I did it anyhow. Oddly after my summer break I couldn't wait to get back to the university and keep flying. I had realized that visiting the people back home was pleasant, but I no longer belonged in Mom and Dad’s basement.


It’s just too darned hard to punch holes in the sky from there.

Thursday

MOON BURGER



Thanksgiving break at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in the autumn of 1977 was a bit strange. It was my first Thanksgiving away from home and I was dreadfully homesick. To make matters worse my long time girlfriend back home was trading me in for parties at Western Michigan University, bong hits and red Solo cups full of temporary feel-good. Add to that the normal meat-grinder / pressure-cooker of attending college at ERAU and I was pretty beat. Thus, my pals and I decided on an excursion to Walt Disney World on Thanksgiving day as good medication for the bunch of us. I’d been looking forward to that adventure for nearly a week.

By late November the huge crowd of 2,500 freshmen that had invaded the campus at the beginning of the term had thinned a good bit. Classrooms where there was almost standing room only, now had a number of empty seats. That number seemed to grow every day. Our dorm, the “RSI” or Royal Scottish Inn motel, where we had been packed in by three to a room in the final week of August now had some solo rooms and some vacant rooms. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving I went to campus and found that in my Foundations class there were exactly seven of us in attendance. My English class was cancelled and my late night Reading and Comprehension class, which was a pain in the ass non-credit bullshit class intended to increase my reading speed (which instead soaked me for some extra tuition dollars) had its door locked. Apparently the upperclassman who proctored it had split early for Thanksgiving break. In fact, everyone who could bug out for the break, did bug out. It was the first time I’d ever seen the campus nearly vacant- that was a bit strange.

On Thanksgiving day five of us piled into our dorm neighbor Russ’ land-boat car and motored our way to the Magic Kingdom. For most of the guys it was their first time, but I had been there in February of 1973 on a family Florida vacation. Of course in 1973 not all of the attractions were fully open. By 1977, the park was in full swing. We parked the land-boat in the Goofy lot and jumped the tram to to the monorail and the main gate. A 1977 “12 Adventure” ticket book was $9.50 and contained “A” “B” “C” “D” and “E” tickets. For those of you who did not “do Disney” in the ticket era; “E” tickets were the good stuff, “D” tickets were the fairly fun stuff, “C” tickets were the stuff you did when you ran out of “E” and “D” tickets, “B” tickets were for the stuff you did because you didn’t wanna leave yet or spend any more money and “A” tickets were the ones that always went home with you and lived in a drawer forever.

For ERAU students the one place that you could go to and actually fully escape the pressure-cooker was Disney World. Almost everyone went once each term and some went more than once. There you could forget classes, tests, prog-checks and just be gone for a day. You could even forget how much you wanna kill one of your roommates. It was a true escape and we strolled around without a care- for a change.

For my Thanksgiving dinner I had a Tomorrow Land moon burger and large fries as well as an iced tea. It probably cost me as much as going to the store and buying a whole turkey, but it came with the privilege of eating while watching Michael Iceberg performing live. He covered the Moody Blues “Dear Diary” in a great fashion.

As the time for park closing drew near our driver, Russ, remembered a critical piece of information. He told us that he suddenly remembered that his car was nearly out of gas! Of course he shared this fact with us after we ALL had completely spent every last cent that we had. Now we wandered around the park trying to figure out how in the hell we were gonna get all the way back to Daytona. We were totally devoid of ideas until my roommate Mike came out of the Arcade waving a ten dollar bill over his head! He had been walking around looking of change in the machine return slots and spotted the tenner laying on the floor under a pinball machine. Four of us rejoiced, but Russ, who was so Midwest that we other Midwesterners noticed, insisted that it didn’t belong to us and we had to put it back where Mike found it. Russ nearly got the shit kicked out of him at that moment. Of course we headed home with ten bucks worth of gas in Russ’ land-boat.

I’m 100% sure that our Thanksgiving trip to Disney gave me the boost that I needed to get me through the rest of that first trimester at ERAU. Of course a huge percentage of my freshman class went home for Thanksgiving and never returned. After that break there were A LOT of empty seats in the classrooms, because once back home a lot of guys didn’t want to come back to the pressure-cooker. That’s what led to the saying that ERAU was the easiest place to get into, but the hardest place to finish. I filled my place in my classes right up until Christmas break and returning to Michigan.

When I told my mom that I’d had a moon burger for Thanksgiving dinner- she cried saying, “Don’t you dare ever suffer like that again.” I told her it was one of the best Thanksgiving dinners I’d ever had.


She never really did understand why I love moon burgers… at Disney.

Sunday

If your check bounces, so do you.

As a freshman in the Aeronautical Science department at Embry-Riddle in 1977, that first month on campus was somewhat dizzy. It’s sort of like stepping from the comfort of your home directly onto a moving sidewalk that is traveling at 75 miles per hour- it’s a bit hard to keep your balance. To add to the circumstances you have no real idea as to exactly where you are going, but yer’ goin’ fast. In that first freshman month we saw a good number of our fellow freshmen that wanted off of that train and who headed back home.

For the rest of us the school had a “clubs and organizations day” to help us bond with other students and hang in there. It was at that event that I noticed a really good looking girl at the table for the ERAU Skydiving Club. She was signing up people to take their first parachute jump. Hell, she could have been signing up people to do razor-wire climbing and I’d have put my name on the clipboard that she handed me. There were at least 60 other names that had been signed above me as I added my scribble onto that list and agreed to show up at room C-405 on the following Tuesday evening. Thus, in a heartbeat she had gathered my name as well as the name of my roommate Mike. We’d signed up for a series of evening ground schools followed by a visit to the airport at Eustis, Florida for more ground training and then a static-line parachute jump. Walking away my roommate giggled, “Do ya’ think she’ll be there?” Forever the cynic I replied, “Probably not.”

Although that pretty young lady had probably gathered more than 100 signatures at that event, when Mike and I showed up for the first night of parachuting ground school only 25 other individuals were in attendance. The previous Sunday, on the phone, I had made the mistake of telling my parents that I was going to learn parachute jumping. My Mom sounded like I was already dead and my Dad urged me not to do it because, “It’s just not worth it.” So, I can easily imagine what parental pressures were placed upon the others on that list. For me, I tried to explain to my folks that my reasoning for doing this was quite logical and professional. If I was going to make flying my future and career, you never know when I may have to strap on a parachute as required by the FARs. In such a case I’d be wearing it as a safety device and if I had to use it I would need to do so without hesitation. A moment or two of doubt could, in such cases, mean the difference between life and death. Learning to use it now, early in my career, would erase that hesitation. As an example I told my folks that I may one day get a job carrying sky divers in order to build my flight hours- most pilots who do that wear a parachute. Or I may do aerobatic training- a parachute is required. My Dad saw that reasoning- Mom still thought I would plummet to my death. I didn’t mention the part about the girl who signed me up... they’d have thought that I was making decisions with parts of me other than my brain.




While the 27 of us sat there in room C-405 there was a high degree of apprehension in the room. No one came out and said that they were nervous- some gnawed on their pencils, or tapped pens on their desk. The rest chewed on their fingernails or moved their legs rhythmically to unheard music. Personally, I’ve always been a fingernail chewer- it drives my wife nuts to this day.
Jimmy Godwin was the owner of Paragators Inc. and our ground school instructor. He was a strong blunt man who could make a total malfunction sound like an old classic joke. His first act of business was to get all of us to pay for the class. One guy blurted out, “Will you take a check?” To which Godwin replied, “We sure will- but remember, if your check bounces, so do you.”

As the class went on I slowly realized that the whole point was- if properly trained you’ll develop an instinct for your equipment and knowledge for how it works and through that you could readily do something that so many people were frightened away from doing. If I had a confidence in my training and in the equipment and procedures I could not only do this, but I may actually enjoy the ride. I found that lesson to be true through all of my aviation career. I also realized that the pretty girl who’d signed me up was nowhere in that classroom. It was just my ass there training to do something that gives other people nightmares; another basic axiom of aviation.

On Saturday, September 24th, 1977 we all gathered at Eustis Airfield for our jump day. All 27 who had attended the ground school were there. It was 95 degrees in the shade and that was at 0900 in the morning. Fortunately the temperature would only climb to 97 as the day went on. We all went through two hours of additional ground training using a mock-up wing strut and step, a small three-foot high platform with a pit of saw dust where we could practice our PLF (Parachute Landing Fall) roll and then to the actual aircraft where we practiced getting in and out.  We also visited the “peas” which was a large 12 foot circle of pea gravel that was the target we’d be aiming for- hopefully with a fully deployed main parachute over our heads rather than streamering above our heels. They showed us a big florescent orange arrow. The ground crew would be holding this up as we descended and pointing it in the direction that we needed to steer our canopy. We were told that once they felt we had the knack of steering, they’d turn the arrow onto its side and we’d be responsible for the rest of the steering. The object was to “hit the peas” but they joked that probably none of us would actually hit the target. It was my hope just to hit Eustis, Florida.

After our final ground training we all gathered under an old tin-roof shade cover and stood in front of a huge, ancient blackboard. Jimmy Godwin was in front and shouted out, “The light weights will go first. Give me 3 light guys.” A chorus of 27 names were blurted out- everyone wanted to go first! By this time, Jimmy knew who was who and he quickly picked the first three and placed their name on the board as “Team 1” then he selected three more for the second team. I couldn’t believe that anyone was lighter weight than scrawny ol’ me, and then I saw Jimmy write down “Novac,” “Karger” and “Olesz.” I was on the third team to jump. We all watched the first team suit up with the help of Team 2 and then watched as they tromped out to the Cessna 182 and took off. Next the three of us on Team 3 helped Team 2 get ready. I went with Bill Rose and Wes Goodman to the trailer where they were tossing out our jump suits and Rose and Goodman both got theirs and started dressing. Both Rose and Goodman would go on to make a lot more jumps as the year went on. Goodman even joined the ERAU skydiving club. We took a short break to watch Team 1 jump and then saw Team 2 off to their Cessna 180- then it was our turn.
Jump team #3 (LtoR) Karger, Novac and me.


Reaching into the trailer one of the guys tossed me a crappy blue jump suit with a huge rip in the crotch. Lucky for me it was way too small so I handed it back and was issued a new green suit with a cool Paragator’s patch on the right shoulder and an American flag on the left- now we’re talkin’. If I was gonna burn in, I wanted to do it lookin’ like an aviator and not a hobo. In a heartbeat they hustled us over and strapped on our parachutes. Those damned straps were so tight that I thought my ability to have children would be removed when the chute deployed. The shoulder straps cut into me and when they placed the reserve chute onto my chest I felt like I was in a nylon vise. I was soaked with sweat and it was about then that I discovered that both of my chutes had been packed by a 15-year-old kid.

They marched us out across the little wooden foot bridge that led to the aircraft and we paused just in time to see a guy jump from Team 2- it was Rose. Now, Bill Rose and Leo Wood were the most noticeable guys on campus. They were fresh out of USMC boot and both still sported their Marine crew cuts among all of us long haired 70s students. Of course when you go through Marine Corps boot you learn to use your voice in a big way. For all of our parachute training we had all practiced the vocal count, “Arch thousand, two thousand, three thousand, four thousand, five thousand, six thousand, Check Canopy!” We had shouted it over and over countless times and we lay on our bellies practicing our arch. Rose and Wood were, of course, the loudest. What no one had told us was that the parachute deploys with one hell of a jerk and does so in just over one second. So, off the wing goes Rose and down on the ground we clearly heard his now familiar voice shout, “ARCH THOUSAND, Gaaaak!”  followed by, “CHECK CANOPY!” The entire field cracked up.
Rose and Wood- my two favorite Marines from ERAU


On Team 3 I would jump last, Karger first and Novac in the middle. We all squeezed into the back of 182 with Novac and I up against the bulkhead and Karger crossways. Nothing could have felt better that that prop-blast coming in through that door as the engine started- we were really over heated up until then. We’d been told to guard our reserve ripcord with one hand at all times- I took no chances and hugged mine with both arms. If that reserve deploys and goes out that open doorway- you’re gonna go too, and it won’t be pretty.

Soon we were climbing toward 3,000 feet. Novac looked at me and asked, “You gonna go through with it?” I nodded confidently. Actually my only fear by then was that I would chicken out. Upon reaching altitude, the jump master guided Karger over to the open door. “Feet out,” He commanded to Karger, “Get out,” Karger’s on the wing strut, “GO!” Karger’s gone as the jump master reels in his static line. The aircraft banks around and he motions to Novac. Again it is “Feet out, get out, go!” and Novac is gone.

Now it’s my turn and I slide up on my butt toward the door and the jump master has me turn around so my back is up against the instrument panel. As we bank around the jump master opens the door and I stick my head part way out and look down. “Get ready,” I hear through my helmet. Then he orders my feet out and forcing against the slipstream I put my boots on the airfoil wooden step. “Get out,” and I push myself out and grab that wing strut as tightly as I can while the relative wind shoots up my nose and is nearly as bad as having water going up your nose. “GO!”

The sensation was that of being sucked up a vacuum cleaner feet-first and the speed was unexpected as I shout “Arch thousand…” and do my best arch yet my senses were momentarily overwhelmed. I seem to be falling and falling at high speed for a long, long time. Then some huge unexpected force takes hold of me and suddenly I’m looking at the toes of my boots right in front of my nose! I spring like a puppet on a rubber band and I hear myself blurt out, “THREE THOUSAND!” Looking up I see the chute fully deployed over head and I mumble, “check canopy.” The entire process took just over two seconds.

My biggest worry through all of the training was the steering toggles that are used to slightly deform the canopy and allow air to flow through the two modifications in the chute, thus turn the rig.  I worried that they may be out of reach or tangled somewhere, but they are both right there in front of me. I nab one in each hand and begin to look around of the airport. Scanning around in the distance I cannot find it. At length as I lower my gaze I see it’s directly under my left toe! And the arrow is pointing in the direction that I’m going.

It is totally silent around me and I felt as if I’m sitting on a cloud. “This is of f#$&ing cool,” I giggle to myself. In short order, however, I’m a bit impatient with the arrow guy. I want to make a turn and see how this thing handles but he has me going straight. “Come on, gim’me a turn,” I whisper to myself. Just then he turns me left and then right is a brief “S” turn and then back on heading. I figure he’ll have me on the arrow nearly all the way down like the others that I’d watched and I have a long way to go. Just then he turns the arrow on its side and I’m on my own! Nuts! Now I gotta work!

In retrospect I just did the best that I could to guesstimate my course, but I had no real idea if I was right. I just tried to keep the peas between my toes. Then, as I still felt high up in the air they shouted the command, “Feet together- look at the horizon!” I did what I was trained to do and wham! The Earth came up and smacked me! I crumbled into the pea gravel and tried to do some sort of PLF as the canopy deflated over top of me. Looking at the ground all I saw was pea gravel- I’d hit the dang target. Officially I was 4 meters from center and only one other guy hit the peas that day- but he was almost dead center and totally beat me.

Me at about 30 feet up- feet together and lookin' at the horizon


Overall we stayed there all day and watched our whole class jump. Rose jumped at least one more time that same day. We all had fun and we all learned a lot about ourselves. There was only one close call and that came when one jumper lost his glasses and could not see the arrow. We’d all been warned to get sports bands for our glasses, but he’d forgotten. So when the parachute deployed and jerked his head back he lost a pair of badly needed glasses and managed to almost get up close and personal to a barbed wire fence.

I’ve never regretted signing up on that clipboard handed to me by Barbara Shalit, that good lookin’ girl at the Skydiving Club’s table. She was then the club president and managed to get a few new club members and a handy chunk of change for Paragators. I always wanted to do it again, but really had to knuckle down on studying for the rest of the trimester. Thereafter, I never had enough money to eat, let alone go parachute jumping. In my career as a pilot I only wore a chute two more times, but was always confident in doing so thanks to Barbara, Jimmy and Paragators. Jimmy passed away on March 26, 1998 while in his hangar doing light maintenance on N5357B, the aircraft from which I had jumped two decades earlier.


None of our checks bounced- and on September 24th, 1977, neither did any of us.

Wes Oleszewski is the author of  23 books and you can find much of his work at Amazon.com