ERAU in just 10 Years; Crusaders

Excerpt from "ERAU in just 10 Years" a work in progress

My introduction to the T-303 Crusader came on the same day as my face-to-face introduction to the new president of Embry-Riddle, General Ken Tallman. It was the first day of Skyfest 1985 and I had elbowed my way into serving a shift or two as one of the "demo pilots" for the static display of the university's newest multi-engine trainer. The aircraft was selected to phase-out the Piper Seminoles which, after some half dozen years of service were rapidly wearing out. My job that day was simple; stand there in my Flight Team flight suit and talk about the aircraft to curious folks who happened by. The only problem was that neither I, nor my teammate Colin had ever seen the aircraft before! Thus, both of us hid inside for a while and quickly studied the manual for speeds, range and altitudes- the rest we just faked. It's an important skill for any professional pilot- the ability to act and look like you know what you're doing and the general public will never know the difference as long as you garnish it with a few good flying stories.

Me with the display T-303 looking like I know what I'm talking about.

While Colin and I were standing our shift with the Crusader, the university's Chief Pilot Paul McDuffee came walking up with our newly selected university president, General Tallman as well as Mrs. Tallman and just for good company some sales rep. from Cessna. It was apparent that McDuffee had briefed General Tallman about my protracted efforts to get through ERAU as well as my cartoon strip and it's havoc potential.

"This is the guy I was telling you about..." he began as he introduced me. 

I shook hands with the General as McDuffee asked what I thought of the Crusader?

"I love it," I stated almost reflexively, "I can't wait to start flying it."

"So, you're going to sign up for the multi-engine route in the Crusader?" McDuffee led.

"Heck yeah," I replied, "even if I have to wait a trimester to get in it."

Then McDuffee asked a question that fits the old aviation phrase "If you're not gonna like the answer, don't ask the question," and he immediately regretted asking me this one.

"How many of these do ya' think we'll need?" my chief pilot asked- right in front of the new president and the Cessna sales rep.

"Four," I responded without any hesitation, "at a minimum, five at best."

"No, no, no, no," McDuffee sputtered as if trying to stamp out a brush fire, "We're only getting two."

"Yer' gonna need at least four to start." I replied matter-of-fact.

"Oh no, no... we're only getting two." McDuffee insisted as he glanced toward the now grinning Cessna sales guy.

"When the pilots on this flight line get a load of this aircraft," I said assuredly, "they'll be lining up to get into that flight course and dropping out of the Seminoles if they can- you'll need at least four to accommodate that crowd."

Looking over I saw General Tallman grinning widely- it was clear that he agreed with me. I thought that the Cessna sales guy was going to have a reflex orgasm as well.

Doing his best to recover, McDuffee decided to continue the tour elsewhere. Reaching out the General shook my hand saying it was good to meet me and he winked. As they walked away Colin asked what that bullshit about getting only two Crusaders was all about?

"We're gettin' four," I assured my teammate, "you just watch."

The first three Crusaders, N111ER "C1", N212ER "C2" and N323ER "C3" were on the line just a few months later and within the following year a fourth Crusader, N5529V "C4" was being leased from Cessna. The first one that I flew was "C1"... sure, it cost me $12 a minute, but it was worth it.

N111ER- "C1" She was sweet.



Private and commercial spaceflight will soon open the frontier of space to everyone… except you.

(Author's note: I linked this piece to a popular social media space site and the discussion rapidly went out of control. I guess those who sit around and daydream that somehow they will be teleported into space, or the Elon Musk fanboys, have a rough time with the light of truth. Soon the "moderator" shut off discussion, yet with that said, "I'm not sure what the point of this op-ed is, other than bashing these companies and telling young people to give up aspiring to anything greater in space." Gee, talk about reading with one eye. If you are unsure of the point- in other words- you DON'T GET IT, read it a few more times, or ask the author what they mean and have it explained  more simply to you.    NAAA... it's easier just to shut down the whole discussion  *click* censored. So, I simply deleted the link and left this page open to grown ups. Oh, and by the way, to the keyboard cluck who, while pointing out that I had typoed the name "Burt" and said I thereby "...have absolutely no credibility."  Go screw yourself (if you are not presently doing that anyway). In the last 3 years I have written and had published more than a quarter of a million words (317,336 to be exact) on the subject of spaceflight, yet you dribble that my typoing one name causes me to lose all credibility while you sit at your keyboard and post pointless quips on FaceBook? Yeah, right. Have a nice day.

For the grown ups who can handle the truth- here it is...

More than a decade ago we watched breathlessly as SpaceShipOne rocketed away from the WHITE KNIGHT mother ship into space thus winning the X-Prize. Anyone paying attention celebrated because at last the day was here “commercial” or “private” spaceflight was about to make space accessible to us all. No longer would the far reaches of space only be accessible to astronauts, and cosmonauts working for assorted governments. In the years leading up to the flights of SpaceShipOne, Burt Rutan himself had boisterously spoken of the fact that NASA had a lock on space travel. Speaking to crowds of aviation enthusiasts he often said, “… NASA is screwing you!” Now the flight of SpaceShipOne would surely change all of that. And with the aid and sponsorship of billionaire Sir Richard Branson he began the development of SpaceShipTwo which would carry paying passengers beyond the boundary and into space. Of course, if you think that you are going to be one of those passengers, think again.

Ticket prices for a trip on Rutan and Branson’s magic carpet to open space to “everyone” are currently set at a quarter of a million dollars per seat. Thus, only the extremely rich and highly famous among us can possibly afford to make that little flight. The reality is now it’s not just NASA that is screwing you, but it is now also Burt Rutan.

Yet, many of us look at other options toward spaceflight such as billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin project. This private/commercial venture utilizes a returnable booster and a suborbital capsule designed to take private individuals into space and return them to the earth by way of the capsule. The system has, as of this writing, been tested three times with amazing success. The company’s own animation depicting the future shows space tourists in flight suits aboard the capsule enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime experience of weightlessness in space with an exciting yet pleasant return to earth. Indeed every one of us would love to go on that trip. Of course, Blue Origin has yet to set a firm price for such an adventure. The odds are good that unless you’re in the economic category of individual who will arrive at the launch site by way of your own private jet, you are unlikely to be able to ever afford that experience.

Xcor is out there and rapidly developing a suborbital space plane of their own. The sole purpose of that is to fly paying passengers, one at a time, on suborbital trips into space. Under full disclosure, I am an Xcor fan and have watched their development for more than a decade. At this moment I am wearing an Xcor hat as I write this article, yet the reality is they have not done the years of work, research and development as well as the commitment of investment cash to do anything other than make money. After all, that is what the term “commercial” actually means. Thus, like the others listed above in this story their ticket price for a single ride will be nowhere within the reach of almost all of you reading this article. Likewise their ticket price will be nowhere within my reach either. I’ll have to settle for my hat.

And then there is SpaceX and their vision of private spaceflight to fantastic destinations such as Mars. Elon Musk and his fellow visionaries at SpaceX are currently drumming up enthusiasm for us earthlings to travel with them and colonize Mars for the permanent habitation of mankind. What true space enthusiast would not want to take that adventure and make it their personal trip of a lifetime. Perhaps you have dreamed about this and perhaps you’ve looked at SpaceX’s plans for Mars and said to yourself that is what I would like to do with my life. Well, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but the odds of anyone reading this actually making that trip are not only dependent on SpaceX turning that hyperbole into reality, but also you becoming the absolutely physically perfect specimen to go on that trip. Frankly unless you have won the genetic lottery and are the type of specimen that could meet the approval of Hugo Drax himself you are better off attempting to win the lottery and fly with either Branson or Bezos.

The bottom line is that the development of private/commercial human spaceflight will likely never evolve the way the transportation of airline passengers developed. In the early years only the rich and famous could afford the fly aboard airliners, yet as time went on and the amount of seats available as well as routes available grew dramatically the price began to become affordable. Do not expect that to happen with spaceflight in your lifetime. Certainly, the rich and the famous will soon have their chance to experience spaceflight and thus it will be said that now space is open to everyone… except you, of course.


If you ever see me at Oshkosh again...

(Author's note: This is a re-post from 2009. Recently it has come up that I will be making an appearance at Oshkosh in 2016, but I will not be doing so as a vendor or author- I'll just be helping a friend (whose name will remain private to keep the AirIndenture secret police from doing something awful to him in a childish act of vengeance). Anyhow, I'll be keeping my word to not give another dollar of my money to AirIndenture. Some have asked what it is that the AirIndenture sadists did to me that earned them my everlasting disdain? Well, here's the story...)

If you ever see me at Oshkosh again, you'll know someone else is payin' the bills.

That's not because I don't like the EAA's annual aviation extravaganza, in fact, I love goin' to Oshkosh! I love seeing the terrific aircraft collections, meeting old friends, meeting Klyde Morris readers and doing all sorts of "Oshkosh" aviation stuff. The reason why I will not pay to go back and "do" Oshkosh ever again, is because I have been told, clearly, by the hag who sits upon high at Mt. AirIndenture, and who rules at her whim all that takes place among the building, the fly market and the poor souls who venture into that place each summer as vendors, that... my money is no good there.

Here is how my little air adventure into Oshkosh hell went... The year was 2003 and after several visits to AirIndenture for other people, I elected to have a Klyde Morris booth at the venture of '03. Of course I knew that there was a long-time pecking order in how things worked there, with one old crow who held all of the strings like a female Don Corleone of booths and buildings, and thus I expected to have to earn my way up over time. Yet when one pays good money for a place at an event, one expects that those running the show will at least be civil- hell, even the Godfather gave ya' kiss before he had ya' taken out and strangled with piano wire... not so at EAA and Oshkosh.

My disaster of 2003 began shortly after I arrived in the unpleasant village of Fon du Lac and the dumpster hotel disguised as an Econo Lodge. There we were told that they had no record of our reservation that we had made four months earlier. Additionally, the confirmation number that was on the printed copy of the reservation that we'd gotten from Travelocity was not even a number that Econo Lodge used. A few phone calls showed that our paperwork was indeed valid and a call to another Econo Lodge showed that the type of number we had was indeed one used by that chain. Still- we were seen as non-persons by the guy running the joint in the middle of that night- and this was especially so when he saw the rate that we'd gotten our room for... no, no... they never have that rate during Oshkosh. But... there was good news, he did have one uncleaned room open tonight and for about double our reservation rate, he's grudgingly give us that one. He was also kind enough to give us some semi-clean sheets to put on the bed ourselves. So, there we went, me and my 7 months pregnant wife, up to our not-clean room at twice the rate that we'd been confirmed for... we were loving it already. The following morning I raised a stink with the day management and they said they'd look into it... they did... that evening they dumped the story on me that several months ago, they had called my phone number to confirm the reservation, but the person who answered said that... I was dead. Great story... I'll bet it works every time they use it.

Yet- greater screw jobs were ahead as we were about to fall into the pit of human excrement known as being a vendor at Oshkosh.

We'd been granted a space in what is generally known as the "Fly Market" and is pretty much the ghetto you are placed into when you are new to the event. Of course I thought that I knew well the "market" area as I'd walked through it many times hunting for odds and ends and generally cool stuff. To me it was an absolutely acceptable place to start, however, I'd never been all the way out in the boondocks part of the market- I'd only walked through the parts of it where normal people stroll until they get tired or run out of water and die- our 2003 spot would be way beyond that point. We were, however, lucky enough to be within smelling distance of a huge bank of porta-potties and real close to parking for the other vendors- we were just not in a location where you can make any money. We were so far from civilization, that long-time Oshkosh attendees who knew me, and came looking for me could not find me.

No sooner did we get all set up with shirts, hats, CDs, glasses, Klyde dolls and all sorts of other cool stuff that no one would likely get to see, than our neighbor across the street fired up. It was the Westbend Cookwear Show! Yep- complete with loud speakers and free cold slaw, they boomed the show at us eight times a day for seven throbbing days. The people helping me had migraines, the few customers that we did see were sent packing, in fear that these hucksters were going to brainwash them into a skillet- everyone was tortured continuously by the cookin' show- everyone that is except me... I was already dead according to the Fon du Loc Econo Lodge, so it really didn't matter to me.

"And the Lord said: There is now Oshkosh and I shall let open the sky and the lightening will flash and the rains and thunder will come in the night and a great flood will be upon the market and all will be vanquished by the waters so as to pay for their sin of going to that place... except of course... for the Westbend Cookin' Show."

So it was that when we arrived at the tent the next morning, following one of those Oshkosh late night thunder storms, we found a lot of stuff soaked, and muddy. A whole display of iced tea glasses and coffee mugs, although located well inside the tent had somehow blown over and smashed. The worst thing was that a puddle the size of one of the local lakes had formed directly in front of our tent. So even if we did get any customers that day- they could not get to us! After contacting the AirIndenture people who were supposed to help us, we were told that they would come around "sometime" to dump wood chips on the puddle and restore access to our location. By that day's 7th showing of the Westbend Cookin' Show- we had our wood chips.

Perhaps just to forget how much money I was losing on this Air mis-Adventure, I took a walk through the buildings. We were three days into the event and I quickly took note that a lot of the booths in the buildings were left unoccupied. I counted more than a dozen empty spaces. When I returned to the ghetto I was talking to one of the other vendors and he informed me that if I went to the office and paid extra, I could get one of those empty spaces. I grabbed my credit card and sprinted to the office- there to learn the cold hard truth of how AirIndenture is really run.

Upon reaching the window through which all communication with the vendors takes place, I first encountered a sweet young lady. I asked if it was true that I could "buy-up" into a vacant indoor booth? She replied "Oh yes, you can do that." I passed my credit card through the slot and told here to charge me "Whatever it takes" to get me out of the Fly Market. She went into the back and was gone for a long, long time. When she returned she apologised and told me "Well, you can do that... but you can't." I asked for an explanation, but she could offer none. I asked who else I could talk to and she told me the decision had been made by the lady who oversaw the vendors- she gave me her phone number and half warned that if I really was sure wanted to call her that was the number. At that point I REALLY wanted to call her- but had no idea that doing so would be considered a sin so great.

You see... if, when dumb enough to actually pay to be a vendor at Oshkosh, you dare to speak with the wicked witch of the great white north, you will have angered her- because she is so high and mighty that in the act of speaking with a low life such as a vendor, she feels soiled. In our very brief conversation I was told that the reason why I could not get into a building was because "You're not a true aviation company- and we already have our quota of not true aviation companies in the buildings." When I pointed out that my cartoon strip only deals in aviation and aerospace subjects and that I have several million readers- nearly all of whom are in the aviation and aerospace industry, she replied "...well, then you are borderline- and we already have our quota of borderlines in the buildings." I asked if she was actually going to not take my money and leave those more than a dozen spots empty just based on that reasoning? She replied "Yes." and then followed up by saying that as far as she could see, it was unlikely that my company would "ever get into a building." In other words- just by asking the question, I'd pissed her off so she was now using her powers (which on a whim up-graded me from Not True to Borderline and could just as easily have reclassified me as True Aviation) to black-list me. Then she snidely asked if there was anything else she could do for me? I replied that I'd like to have her broomstick to take to the wizard so he could give me a brain.

When the week of hell finally expired, we broke our tent down along with everyone else who was in the ghetto. In all, my final calculation showed me some $3,000 in the hole due to my moronic decision to attend AirIndenture 2003. I am now forever marked as "Borderline" in the wicked witch of the great white north's big thick book of spells. You see, some people such as that have no real power or authority in the lives until that tiny space on the calendar that is the event over which they have always ruled. Then they become something beyond what they are the rest of the time- then they finally have their power once again... until the event is over. Thus I knew as I sailed upon the ferry BADGER on the way back across Lake Michigan that wicked witch of AirIndenture was now deflating rapidly up there in her office "...what a world, what a world..." she'd hiss as she shrunk into the carpet in billow of green smoke. Oh, she'd be back- in fact she's probably there right now. The funniest part of this story took place six months later. The cruds at EAA's Oshkosh vendor's office had the nerve to actually call me and ask why I had not signed up for 2004! They were lucky that my wife took the call and not me. 

I was told recently that some big changes may soon take place at Air Indenture- I doubt that they'll be anything that could root out the wicked witch, or her ilk. People like that are there until they die and then return just to haunt the place. Additionally, I will always carry the moniker of Borderline and the knowledge that I'll never get into a building and that my money is not good enough for the wicked witch, EAA or their Oshkosh event... if only I could have gotten her damned broomstick.