Wednesday

CATCH 22?


Exactly 30 years ago this month my wife Teresa was somehow tricked into marrying  a devil-may-care slob pilot and writer of books… me. Yet, someone tried to throw a last minute monkey wrench into our turbofan. Here’s the story…

WEDDING CATCH 22




I was up in Michigan and Teresa was in Sterling VA working for Presidential Airlines just a few weeks prior to our wedding date. To tie up a few loose ends in at my parents house was my chore as all of the other pieces had already been moved toward their proper positions while the wedding date approached. Some guys think of their wedding day as “the end of their freedom” but not me. I wanted to be married to Teresa in a big way. I’d been single for three decades and as far back as high school I detested it. I like being a “couple” and I’m hard wired to be in a relationship. Teresa is the best thing that ever happened to me- a perfect fit. My only hope was that I could be good enough for her and that was the only thing that made me nervous. Now the tux’s had been fit, the invitations ordered, received, sent back, corrected and received again then sent out. The ceremony had been scheduled and people were literally flying into Daytona Beach from all over to witness us get married.

Originally, we had scheduled the wedding to be in Michigan in the summer of 1989 so that my huge extended family could all attend… but there was a problem. Teresa, who was born in Japan had very few relatives to sit on her side of the aisle… in fact she had none other than her mom and dad, because her cousin and sister were both bride’s maids. Awkward? Oh yeah.

While at an alumni event at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University we were standing with some faculty as well as the director of Alumni Relations and this problem was mentioned. It was then that Phyllis Salmons, the physics teacher whose class Teresa and I were in when we first got together, came up with a formula that solved the problem. 

Phyllis

She suggested that we move the wedding up to homecoming 1988 at the university, get married on campus and then we could have family and alumni attending- thus filling both sides of the aisle. Brilliant! Tom Arnold, who was the alumni relations director immediately chimed in saying we could hold the service in the atrium of the new administration building. Tom and I had worked closely together to further student and alumni relations. In fact, in 1987, with his help I founded the first ERAU Student/Alumni Association and Teresa was the first SAA president. 


 Student Alumni Assn. President Teresa conducting the "Day In The Life Of A Pilot" forum


So, this was great because both students, alumni, faculty and staff could all attend the wedding. Even the university’s co-founder J. Paul Riddle said he would attend. We were off and running… until that one day a few weeks before the wedding.

I was down in the basement of my parents house clearing some more of my stuff out when the phone rang. Mom answered and shouted down that the call was for me and it was Tom Arnold on the phone.

“Wes I have some bad news,” he began in a somber business-like tone, “you can’t hold the wedding in the administration building’s atrium.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because it’s already been reserved,” he sighed.

“For who?!” I barked

“Well, that’s the tough part. It’s been reserved for you by me so you can’t have it. You see [PERSON’S NAME CENSORED TO PROTECT THE GUILTY] is in charge of all buildings during homecoming and since we didn’t ask her for permission before booking the event, she feels we went over her head. So now she says you can’t have it because we reserved it. She’s also concerned because there is expensive artwork on display in there at the same time.”

“Does she know that many of the guests will be faculty and administration?” I asked pointlessly.

“It makes no difference, she says you can’t use it and that's it. I’m really sorry Wes, but I’ve been told that this is completely out of my hands.”

“Nice catch 22 eh?” I quipped.

“Like I said Wes, I’m really sorry, but there’s nothing I can do.” Tom sounded deeply troubled about the situation.

“Don’t worry Tom,” I assured him, “I’ll handle it.”

“Okay, you can try, but this is really final.”

“I’ll handle it Tom.”

Apparently this middle level administrator who had just decided to go on a fun little power-trip had little or no idea who she was messing with. In one of my sit-downs with President Hunt, way back in my early days as the cartoonist, he said  to me, "You have no idea how much power you have," and of course I scoffed. When he made his point clear to me, however, I was struck with a huge sense of responsibility. Being the campus cartoonist of a hugely popular strip read by pretty much everyone at the university was like walking around with a phaser in your pocket... there is a lot of power at hand, but you have to be damned careful where you point it. I once had to go through three layers of administration just to get an unofficial transcript that I needed to apply for some financial aid. Why? Because they were scared shitless that I had walked into their freaking office!! Finally I ended up talking to the director! He said that he just wanted to make sure his office wouldn't end up in next week's cartoon strip. I told him that if he simply gave me that little sheet of paper he was holding I could assure him they wouldn't... but after that circus I was tempted. Yet, in all of the years that I held the pen to the throats of the self-important little Napoleons on campus at ERAU and all of the times that I found ways both in print and behind the scenes to squash them I never did so on my own behalf. It was always for the greater good or in the defense of someone held defenseless. In the face of this bullshit game, however, I didn't hesitate to use that accumulated influence to step on the neck of a weasel for myself and perhaps for anyone else she may decide to screw with in the future.

After I hung up the phone I went and got my little black book… the one where I had my really important phone numbers. Thumbing through it I located the number for University President, General Ken Tallman. NOT his office number mind you… but the private one that would ring right at his desk. You see, I was one of the first students that General Tallman had been introduced to when he first came to ERAU. Subsequently we got to know one another on a first name basis… well that is… he called me “Wes” whenever I strolled into his office and I called him “General Tallman”… always.

General Ken Tallman... whose signature is on my diploma BTW

I remember this conversation as if it happened this morning…

“Ken Tallman,” the general answered his phone.

“Good afternoon General, it’s Wes Oleszewski.”

“Hello Wes,” he answered pleasantly, “hey, I’m sorry I won't be able to attend the wedding. They’re sending me out of town that weekend.”

“That’s okay sir. I have a bit of a problem on my hands sir.”

“What’s that?”

“Well sir CENSORED says that we cannot use the administration building’s atrium for the wedding because it’s already been reserved.”

“Reserved for who?” The General asked.

“Reserved for us sir.”

“You’re kidding?” he groaned.

“No sir. Apparently she feels that since we didn’t clear it with her first, we somehow went over her head and stepped on her toes in the process. Tom Arnold says the matter is completely out of his hands and there’s nothing anyone can do sir.”

There was a brief pause as the man who has dealt with countless military catch 22s spooled up his turbines.

“Don’t worry Wes, you’ll get a call back within the next half hour and this will be taken care of.”

“Thank you General Tallman.”

“No problem Wes, have a great wedding and kiss the bride for me.”

“Yes sir!”

I’d like to say it took 15 minutes, but it was probably more like 10 minutes before the phone, at my parents house and not at my home in Virginia, rang. It was CENSORED’s administrative assistant telling me that we could now use the atrium. I asked her if CENSORED was in the office and she replied that she was. I said I wanted to speak with her and not her assistant. The administrative assistant tried to argue, and I firmly insisted. I was on hold for about 20 seconds…

“CENSORED,” she answered in a forced pleasant tone.

“Yes, this is Wes Oleszewski,” I replied calmly, “I understand that our problem with using the administration building for our wedding has been cleared.”

“Yes,” she snapped, “you can do whatever you want.”

“You would do well to keep that in mind when dealing with alumni,” I retorted, “good day.” And I hung up.

My mom said later that I should’ve invited CENSORED to the wedding just to rub it in. But I replied that then I would have given her the satisfaction of turning me down.

That evening I called Teresa and told her about the little catch 22.

“How long did it take you to fix that one?” she snickered.

“About as much time as it took me find General Tallman’s number in my book.”

Teresa just laughed.

Friday

TWO PICTURES


With consideration that in this month of November 2018 my wife Teresa and I will be celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary, I’d like to share… hold it! “Share?” Ugh… I loathe that mushy-mouth kindergarten sort of speak. I’m a frigging story-teller! I’m gonna TELL you this story and it’s gonna be both fun and amazing… because that’s what I do for a living these days. I write stories that people pay to read and enjoy… yer’ gettin’ this one for free… it’s my pleasure. And yes- this really happened…

TWO PICTURES

It was about a third of the way into the autumn trimester at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach and the Avion newspaper was having a staff party. Now, I’m not much of a party animal, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs, so I was never one to go looking for the trademark college “parrrdeee!” This one, however was being put on by the Avion and as the staff cartoonist it was important for me to attend. I had arranged for my girlfriend of the time to meet me there after she got away from work and it would be a nice evening spent with my family away from family- the Avion staff.

Arriving at the event by way of a standard “approach plate” (a map-like invitation drawn up to look like an IFR approach plate) I quickly blended in with the with the folks that I knew so well. There were long time senior staff as well as new staff members floating around in the house. Food, drink and laughter were the way of the evening. One senior staffer, Joe Elm, had brought a date to the party, convincing her to go with him because he would introduce her to the guy who drew the cartoon strips. A beautiful oriental freshman she was a new staff member but had never met me as I’d been a bit scarce in the foregoing weeks as I tended to my new girlfriend, Laura.

Of course since this was a student newspaper party a staff photographer was moving around in the crowd shooting candid photos. He closed in on me just at the moment that Joe introduced me to his date; Teresa.

“Wes,” Joe motioned as he got my attention, “I’d like you to meet Teresa, she’s Japanese.” Pointing toward me he informed her, “Wes is the guy who does the Klyde Morris cartoons.”
Teresa smiled, but didn’t say a word.
“Yer’ Japanese?” I asked rhetorically.

“Yes,” she responded meekly.

I pointed my finger at her and acted suddenly angry.

“Well I’m still a little pissed off about the ARIZONA!” I half shouted.

For a moment she had no idea how to respond, but the rest of my Avion family knew me far better and burst into laughter. Then Teresa laughed a bit and said, “Well… I’m sorry,” and then smiled realizing that I was making a joke.

At that moment I heard someone call my name from over my shoulder. As I turned, there was the Avion photographer and he took a photo of us. Then he asked us to pose closer together for a second shot. 



For me this was the standard “getting your picture taken with a reader” deal. When you get your name published, especially when it’s attached to a product that gains some popularity, folks often want to have their picture taken with you. So, thinking nothing of it I leaned in toward Teresa and he took a second photo. Then I politely told her to have a good time and excused myself to go and rejoin my friends on the staff. As it turned out my girlfriend never did show up at the party. She was very tired after work and decided just to call it quits for the day.

On the following morning I rode my bike over to campus and headed up to the Avion office. For some reason I had the urge to check out those two pictures. Although I’ll always put on a good front and look happy to have my picture taken with a reader, I normally dislike posing for a photo. The camera does not like me and I usually come out looking like a dork. One of the hardest parts about publishing a book id selecting an author’s photo to go in the back. I normally ask Teresa if she has a candid shot of me where I don’t look like a dork- here standard reply is “Can’t be done dear.” That was probably part of why I went up to the Avion office that morning, but for the most part it was a compulsion that to this day I cannot put my finger on. In the office that Sunday morning was just one person- our staff photographer. I asked if he’d developed those photos that he took of me and that little Asian girl at the party. He said that he’d just taken them out of the soup and they were in the dark room hanging up to dry. He also said I could have them both if I wanted, because he had no real use for them. I went in and took a look at both shots- I liked the one of us posing together, but if I kept that one and Laura found it she’d probably knife off an important part of my anatomy. So, I decided on the more candid one- because if I got caught with it, it’d be easier to explain. Thus I nabbed that one, told the photog. “thanks” and peddled my bike back to my apartment where I stashed the photo in among the pages of one of my Great Lakes books and promptly forgot that I had it.

Two years passed and Laura and I broke up long before the time that Teresa and I finally got together. We were engaged three days after our first date. After another two years of engagement we were married, twice, (that’s a whole nother story folks) in November of 1988. One day, while weeding out our single person belongings to combine it into a married couple’s pile of stuff, I found a picture of Teresa and I at that party stashed in HER photos!

“Whoa!” I crowed, “I’ve got this same picture!”

“No you don’t,” she argued, “I got the only one of those.”

Rooting into my library I found the Great Lakes book that had hidden my photo for the past four or five years. When we put the two together we found that they were different shots. What had happened was that shortly after I’d left the Avion office, Teresa, under the same compulsion as I had, went up to the office and got the other picture! 



The photographer never let on that this had happened.

If anyone tries to tell you that some things are not meant to be, or that some couples are not directed together by something that we cannot explain- they’re blind. I was totally happy with my girlfriend the night of that event and we remained together for several more months. I figured that meeting Teresa was just me meeting another reader- one of about 5,000 at that time. Most of all I could never have imagined that the girl I met that night would be the one I would wed, raise a family  and grow old with. Yet that next morning something drove me to go over to campus and get one of those pictures. The same thing caused Teresa to go and get the other one. Think about it- how many married couples have photos taken of them at the exact moment they met? We’ve been married now for 30 years, and we’re as happy as ever. By the way- Joe Elm, the guy who introduced us, also was a groom’s man at our wedding. Of course, I think Joe stood up in just about everyone’s wedding. If you’re an ERAU alum. or just in the aviation business and you get married, it cannot be done without Joe in attendance. He was indeed instrumental in putting Teresa and I together.

Some things, however, are simply destiny.

Wednesday

I FOUND THE BIRD


N204JP... a classic

“I’VE FOUND THE BIRD!”

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I freely admit that I am a Falcon Jet person. Some people have a thing for horses, or motorcycles, or pop tarts, or sailboats, or blonds or bridges… for 40 years I’ve had a thing for Falcon Jets… especially the classics.

When you attend any professional pilot’s school such as UND, or Embry-Riddle (which was my school) as you go through the program everyone seems to pick up a favorite aircraft that they dream of one day flying. Sometimes you’d make it to that cockpit and other times the eddies in the industry sweep you into a different direction. When I started ERAU I really didn’t have a specific bird that I wanted to fly- I just wanted to survive the place and graduate. Yet during that first year in Daytona Beach, we all had our sights set on Eastern Airlines who regularly flew in and out of Daytona International Airport (DAB). Of course during the decade that it took me to work my way through that place Eastern went from the place where you had it made, to the place to avoid at all costs. So too did the types of aircraft evolve. During my freshman year I had a friend who was totally enchanted with the DC-9-10 “baby 9” that EAL flew in once a day. He said it was like a little sports car. I don’t know if he ever made it to the cockpit of the baby 9 or not. “The Ultimate,” however, was always to be flying your dream aircraft into DAB someday, some way-  it was the freshman’s fantasy. By the end of my freshman year, I still hadn’t set my sights on a dream bird, I was just happy to have gotten through that first year… alive.

That summer break I got a job at MBS (Tri-City) Airport just a mile from my parents home in Freeland, Michigan. I had been given the prime bottom feeder position as a car-hiker for National Car Rental. It was a highly technical position where I had to get the cars coming in, clean them inside, wash them outside, gas them up and park them for customer pick-up. Hardly a brain cell was needed. I did that chore until June 30, 1978 when the owners gravity-challenged daughter screamed at me for losing a set of keys that I didn’t lose. That incident inspired me to walk across the airfield to Hangar 6 and the local FBO, a place called “Air Flite and Serv-A-Plane.” Their receptionist was my 11th grade girlfriend’s mom and so she knew me well. She introduced me to Tim Alexander the no-nonsense hangar ram-rod who supervised the aircraft maintenance department. Tim hired me on-the-spot to work in their parts department. This place was a certified Falcon Jet Service Center and it was there that I got to get up-close and personal with those fine flying machines for the very first time. Between 1978 and 1985 Tim would hire me three different times.

Air Flite wings


Compared to the nonsense of National Car rental, Air Flite was low pressure and a great place to work. There was plenty of opportunity for a budding professional pilot to stroll out into the hangar and visit the assorted aircraft, most of which were corporate jets, in various states of disassembly and inspection. It was there that the hangar’s A.I., Bill Crowler, introduced me to the Falcon Jet. Sure, I’d seen them fly over my house countless times- I lived right under the final approach path to Runway 5 and Dow Chemical, which was based at MBS, had two Falcon 20s and two 10s, plus Dow Corning had a 10. Considering that Hangar 6 was a service center, Falcon Jets from all over the nation came in for inspections. Yet, although I’d seen them, I’d never touched one. One day I was ogling Mrs. Dow’s Lear 35/36 when Bill and I started talking about other jets verses Falcon Jets.

“Le’me show ya’ something,” Bill led me over to the Lear Jet. Pointing at the top of the wing he instructed me to, “Knock yer’ knuckles on here.”

I did so, and heard a tin-like metallic echo.

“Ya’ hear that?” he asked instructively.

“Yeah,” I replied.

Then we turned and took a dozen steps to a Falcon 20.

“Do the same thing here,” he indicated to the top of the 20’s wing.

I knocked on the wing and it was like armor- the difference was night and day.

“Holy shit,” I heard myself sigh.

Bill just stood there and grinned having given me the first of countless lessons that he would pass along in the years to come.

“Which one would you rather fly when yer’ picken’ yer way across a line of thunderstorms at 35,000 feet?”

At that moment I’d found the bird.

A brief history of the Falcon 20 needs to be added here so this story can go beyond the “it’s cool and Wes likes it” phase.

On May 4th, 1962 Dassault (pronounced “duh-so” for those Americans  like me, who cannot speak a word of French) Aviation rolled out their Mystere 20 mock up. Just 11 months later on April 1st, 1963 the prototype of the aircraft was rolled out and made ready for its first flight.

Mystere 20


 That flight took place three days later in front of some very important spectators from Pan Am Airways. Pan Am was seeking to enter the business aircraft jet market and had been hunting for a suitable aircraft since 1960. Originally they had their eyes on the De Havilland DH125, but had come to Dassault to check out the Mystere 20. Chief among the Pan Am aviation delegation was world famous aviator Charles Lindbergh. He had been assigned, by Juan Trippe himself, the task of finding the exact right aircraft for the company’s biz-jet needs.

The Pan Am gang... Lindbergh is in the hat, Mr. Dassault is holding the model.

Following a detailed tour of the Mystere 20, the Pan Am delegation witnessed the aircraft’s maiden flight. Originally equipped with Pratt & Whitney JT-12 engines the prototype flew like a homesick angel. Once the flight was concluded, the numbers were reviewed and the test pilots debriefed, Lindbergh sent a telegram to Juan Trippe that read simply, “I’ve found the bird.” Pan Am requested that the engines be changed to the GE CF-700 and then on August 2nd they placed an order for 40 of the aircraft with a first option for 120. Marcel Dassault was very happy.

Interestingly, “Dassault” was not the name that Marcel had been given at birth. He was born Marcel Bloch in Paris on January 22, 1892. His entry into aviation came as an engineer doing design work during World War I. In 1930 he set up his own aviation company producing military and civil aircraft. When the Nazis occupied France in 1940 he refused to collaborate and was sent to the infamous Buchenvald concentration camp. With the end of the war he wanted to make a fresh start and with that changed his name. He adopted the nick-name Dassault given to his brother, General Paul Bloch- the French resistance fighter. The name was “char d’assault” which is a reference to the general’s preference for battle tanks.

Before going for U.S. certification a few minor changes beyond the CF-700 engines took place in the manufacture of the Mystere 20. The wing area was increased  from 1,271 square feet to 1,448 square feet and the fuselage was lengthened by 23.5 inches. It is sometimes said that the Mystere 20 has the same vertical stabilizer as the Mirage F-1 and Mirage G fighters. In fact the Mystere 20 was designed and constructed more than two years before the two fighters; so it is the fighters who have the 20’s vertical stabilizer and not the other way around. Certification came in both France and the U.S. on June 9th, 1965, but there was just one problem; customers in the U.S. had no idea what Mystere meant or how to pronounce it. It was a marketing stumbling block. An advertising executive in New York City, whose name is likely lost to history came up with the name “Falcon” and Pan Am’s director of Business Aviation Jim Taylor loved it! Marcel Dassault agreed and the Mystere (Mystery) 20 became the Falcon 20. Like it’s builder, it changed its name and went on to success.

At the same point in time that I was busy flunking the third grade, test pilot Jacqueline Auriol set a speed record in a Falcon 20- the date was June 10th, 1965. Over a 1,000 Km closed course she piloted the aircraft at 534.07 mph, (yeah- I know that’s mixing metric and English units, but it’s how Dassault published it) from Istres to Cazux and back to Istres, France. Five days later she broke the record for 2,000 Km closed course between the same cities flying at 508.98 mph. Both records were without payload. A year later Marion B. Burton set a record for speed over a recognized course on September 26th, 1966 by flying from Boston, MA to Gander, NF at 639.75 mph. That is an official Falcon Jet speed record that stands to this day!

Jacqueline Auriol after her record setting flight

When Embry-Riddle informed me that I would not be allowed to register for the Fall 1979 term because I owed them too much money I needed a job… in a hurry. I contacted Air Flite and Tim had me working there the following day. I was the “hangar rat” and my job was simple, “Mop the hangar floor, empty what’s filled, fill what’s empty and everything else paint yellow.” Of course I’m a worker bee and Tim knew it, so soon I was given the task of dropping panels on aircraft for inspections, removing seats and crawling into spaces that the other guys could not fit into. Additionally I took on washing aircraft and, since I lived so close to the airport, Dow Corning contracted the company to have me on call to turn around their aircraft when they needed a quick turn after business hours. That still wasn’t enough for me so when I heard that one of the mechanics who was in charge of doing the engine runs on the Falcons hated to talk on the radio, I volunteered to go with him and do the radio. It all added up to not only overtime, but a rapidly growing knowledge of the Falcon Jets. I even reworked the wood work on Dow Corning’s Falcon 10. By the time I went back to ERAU I was a raving Falcon Jet fan.

By the summer of 1985 I was on track to finally finish ERAU and my financial problems had been tamed, but I still had to work a summer job. Of course the first place that I went to was Hangar 6. Tim was no longer the ram rod there, so I found myself interviewing with Bob Handley. Bob knew me from way back, but said that he really didn’t need anyone right now. I asked if it was okay if went out in the hangar and said hello to the guys? He said that was okay and so I strolled out among the jets on the jacks. There at the far side of the hangar was Tim! He was working for Steelcase now and was in with their jet. It was great to see him and I casually said that I’d come in looking for a job, but Bob didn’t need anyone. We chatted, joked and he wished me the best. Getting on my bicycle I made a leisurely ride back to Mom and Dad’s house. When I got there my Mom told me that Bob from the airport had just called and I was supposed to call him back right away.

Answering the phone in his normal deadpan tone Bob said, “We’ve got this big “D” inspection coming up that’ll take all summer and Tim says I’m a dumb ass if I don’t hire you because you do the work of three of these guys- you start tomorrow at eight.” I was hired for the third time at Hangar 6 which was now owned and operated by Aero Services. This time I was a mechanic working under the shop certificate. Our big project was the first ever “D Inspection” of a Falcon 20!

Aero Services crowded Hangar 6 in May 1985. The blue and white Falcon 20 in the foreground is the bird that we would take completely apart for the first ever "D" inspection on a 20. A note about this photo... it appeared in an Aero Services pamphlet for the MBS station... I shot the photo! The company had contracted a professional photographer to shoot the busy hangar. He came and set up the lights and started to take photos. I went up on the deck and with my own camera took this shot. When the photos came back from the pro. I showed the boss my shot and he used the professional's images for all of the outside and people working shots, but liked my in-hangar shot better... so they used it.


The job involved nearly a complete disassembly and re-assembly of the aircraft. Everything came off and came out. Delicate and tedious tasks such as removing the wing bolts (which required dental tools to remove the hardened sealant that had been placed there during factory construction) was part of what I did. If we put the smallest scratch on one of the existing bolts it had to be replaced. We ended up replacing more than a dozen- most from corrosion. All the while the people from Dassault Falcon Jet watched over us and took notes. At one point all of the cockpit windows had to come out. They were sealed in so well that a mechanic with a 12 pound no-bounce sledge hammer had to stand on top of the cockpit and smack the windows repeatedly to get them to break free. We asked if Falcon Jet representative if that was a good method? He replied that he had no idea because as far as he knew, no one had ever done it before! The removed windows were thrown away. One of the mechanics, the guy with the no-bounce duty, asked if he could have one of the front windows? Hell, they were junk anyhow, so sure. He took it home and shot it at close range with a .357 magnum. The slug went half way in and just mushroomed! When the Falcon Jet representative saw that he asked if he could have it? He ended up taking it back to Dassault for study.

Toward the end of the inspection I was picked along with one other guy to re-seal the wing bolts. Dassault had engineered a better sealing method where a Styrofoam cover was pressed into the area surrounding the wing bolt after we had filled the space with something called Mastinox Compound. It was sort of liquid rubber paste that never hardened. We had to wear disposable cloths and once we started the job we could not stop, for anything, until it was finished. Weeks later I was back at college and still picking that yellow stuff out from under my fingernails.

After college, my pilot career later took me into the airlines rather than corporate flying where I really wanted to go, but fate played in my favor. One day my climb up the airline ladder came to sudden and unjust halt. I found myself without a job and doing the ignored resume thing. Eventually my wife decided that I needed to get out of the house and she took me to an airport were a youth event was being held on the corporate ramp. As she manned the table for the company that she represented I strolled around. Spotting a King Air 200 I asked the lady sitting at a card table under its wing what kind of time someone needed to fly that thing? She started giving me the standard new pilot line of, “Our new hires have to have 1,000 total time, 200 multi…” I stopped her and asked what kind of time do REAL pilots have to have? She asked what kind of time I had and when I told her she nearly jumped out of her seat. She told me that they also flew Falcon 10s and 20s and I told her I’d been a mechanic on Falcon Jets- she wanted a resume… right away! 

The "Corporate Bullet" the Falcon 10


Soon I sat with the owner of the company and after talking to him I got home and found a message on my machine asking me to come in on Saturday, fly the Falcon 10, do three take offs and landings to see how I did on it. The 10 was my old pal from way back in my hangar rat days when I used to sit in Corning's 10 and study the cockpit. We flew together like I'd been driving her for years.That afternoon I returned home to find a message on my machine asking me to come in the next day to fly the Falcon 20 and see how I did on it. By the time I got home from that flight there was a message on my machine to report the next morning at 0830… they had a trip for me. Just that easy, I was a corporate pilot flying my dream aircraft.

That first trip was as First Officer on 204JP the immaculate Falcon 20 that was the personal aircraft of MCI President John Porter. She was a beautiful and classic aircraft- finely adorned inside with gold metals and white leathers. 

Aboard N204JP

On the outside she was spotless clean- a far cry from filthy junk they had at TWA.  As I walked around giving 204JP my personal once-over I suddenly came face-to-face with Mrs. Porter. She wanted to know all about my qualifications and experience. After about three minutes she was satisfied that I’d be their new pilot. Just like the 10, this 20's seat was exactly the same shape as my ass. Even though I'd never been to "class" on this aircraft, I was totally at home aboard her. I knew every system and every switch... we were made for each other. 

N204JP


I loved every second of flying Mr. Porter and although many hated his guts after WorldCom went under because it swallowed MCI, he was always great to me. On one of our flights, after he bought into a NASCAR team, I got to do “the ultimate” flight.

It was speed week at Daytona Beach and we were flying into DAB so Mr. Porter could watch “his boy race.” Turning onto final for runway 25R there was ERAU out my window. As I contacted the tower and told him we were on final he surprisingly said,

“Does it feel good to be back again?”

Mr. Porter had never had his jet into DAB before- but I just went along with the conversation.

“Just like old times,” I quipped back and he cleared us to land.

My captain, who was the owner of the company, looked at me and asked, “Does he know you?”

“Aviation’s a small world babe,” I replied wanting to stretch out my boss’ misconception that everybody involved with ERAU knows everyone else, “and I was flyin’ out of here for a long time.”

We landed and when ground came up it was the same controller.

“You goin’ to the Riddle ramp today?” he asked half joking.

“Old habits die hard,” I replied, “but we’re goin’ to DBA today.”

“Cleared to DBA, and welcome back,” the controller retorted.

My boss spent the rest of the month in total amazement that we flew into my old stomping grounds and the controller appeared to recognize my voice. Actually it was probably just a good guess on the part of the controller. That day we went over to campus and I got a hold of my former director of flight ops. and had him come over and see 204JP. He was amazed that it had a skylight in the lavatory. For me that trip was full circle- I came back to Daytona piloting my dream jet.



Thus, I’ll always be a Falcon Jet guy- after all, I got to fly both of the classics- the “Mystere” 20 plus the “Corporate Bullet” 10- I loved it! I wound up my pilots career flying the Falcon Jets and I still keep buying the T-shirts… much to my wife’s dismay.

I’d found the bird and flew it back to my old nest.

If you enjoy my writing... try one of my books! Lots of airplanes in there.

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?

By the way- check out my latest book!

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.


Be sure to take a look at Wes' latest book... lots of WWII airplane stuff in it.

Friday

Orbital Klyde


Before you read this blog post...
read this!!


 It's one of his six book-series on spaceflight!

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.