Winning Bets

The following is an excerpt from the book I'm currently writing the working title of which is "NON-STANDARD APPROACH; I was only at Embry-Riddle for three terms- one for Carter and two for Reagan" 
Everything in this post is Copyright 2020 Wes Oleszewski and may not be reproduced without express written permission.

I never bet unless I’m 175% sure I’ll win. As a corporate pilot I had a customer who flew to Vegas about once a month and had us stay there for a day or two. I never lost a dime on gambling- because I never bet. On one trip my boss brought his wife along and she was really bugged by the fact that I wouldn’t gamble. I explained that the odds are highly slanted toward the house and I was getting paid to be there- not the other way around. As we left dinner one evening I walked right past a row of slot machines ignoring them all. Finally she stopped me and gave me a quarter out of her purse.

           “Here!” she said directly, “Just put this in one of those machines and pull the handle.”

Hey, it was my boss’ wife… so I inserted the coin dutifully and pulled the handle. Then I walked away to my room while the wheels were still spinning!

           “You can’t just walk away like that!” she shouted down the hall, “What if it wins?”
           “It won’t.” I replied over my shoulder.

And it didn’t.

I applied that same attitude all through my Embry-Riddle saga. When we entered the school as freshmen, the student bookstore had lots of swag with which to relieve us of even more of our money. Most of it was fairly high quality and we snapped it up. One such item was the weather-proof zip up book satchel. It was made of neoprene with a heavy duty zipper and was said to be totally waterproof. In the Florida climate, that was a good thing for your books- which were certainly not cheap.

My 1977 neoprene book bag.
Not in bad shape after all these years.

I bought one- we all bought them. They had the ERAU logo on them and they were easy to carry.
One day while we were getting off the bus at the RSI and walking back to our room I was goading my roommate Mike that these bags were completely waterproof and I could actually toss mine into the pool and my books would come out dry. That turned into a bet… five bucks, a hand shake and I tossed my book bag, with my books in it, directly into the pool!

It sank like a rock.

Kicking off my shoes and ditching my wallet I dove in after it. It was at the bottom of the deep end and I went down and easily recovered the bag. Surfacing I shook off a bit and with a small crowd watching, I unzipped the bag. Every book was bone dry, and Mike paid off. I didn't bother to tell him that I saw one of the other guys do the same thing earlier in the week, so I had the edge.

Mike should have known better because he had lost a bet for $10 several days earlier when I boasted that if he gave me anything… anything, I could make a contraption out of it that would fly. That evening after dinner he handed me the cash register receipt and a tooth pick and told me to make it fly. Later in Room 182 I sailed the contraption over to his bunk and he tossed me the cash. It was simple matter of taking the receipt and folding it in half crosswise then making to small rips in the fold and threading the tooth pick through them. I extended the wood to give the contraption a slightly forward CG and it flew quite well… just like the ones I used to make when I was in high school.

That’s what we were at ERAU to figure out. Fly something and get paid for it.

Those two little tales lead into this one- which I think really quantifies ERAU.

While waiting for a “Nav. II” class to begin I waved a 3x5 note card at Earl, a pal of mine who was seated behind me, and I boasted that I could take it alone and make an airplane that would fly to the front of the classroom. He bet me a seafood dinner that I couldn’t do it. Considering that I was on a starvation budget, one would think that such was a bet I’d never take. But I love seafood and I had an ace up my sleeve.

I decided to make one just for this
blog post.Yes, it flew...
I still got it, eh.
Since the beginning of the school year I’d been fascinated with the concept of flat plate lift. One afternoon I had spent nearly an hour in the Avion office being informed on the subject by one of the upperclassmen who was an engineering student. In my spare time I sat in my dorm room and built small airplanes with flat wings out of 3x5 cards. I had it down to a science where I could make a good flyer out of just one card. The airplanes had a one-piece wing that ran through a slit in the “V” shaped fuselage that was long enough so you could adjust the wing laterally for CG. The wings had small winglets and the vertical stabilizer was a section of the fuselage that was folded upward so the “V” pointed forward. That caused the relative wind to force the nose up and induce an angle of attack. At the front I folded the fuselage over itself a few times to add nose weight. The horizontal stabilizer was simply a rectangular flat piece that slid into a slot in the aft fuselage. They flew quite well, but when you gulled the wing… they flew great! My only problem now was that in class I didn’t have my trusty Xacto knife. 

I’d have to tare carefully…there was seafood at risk.

Our instructor in that Nav. II class was Mr. Mike Dougherty, which was great. I’d had him for my very first class at ERAU, “Foundations of Aeronautics.” He was a former Air Force KC-135 driver and was as cool as they come with plenty of aviation war stories and sick jokes. Today, that quality would come through for me.

I sat there during the lecture, passively constructing my little flat wing glider. I made my wing slots with a pencil point and then balanced for CG on the pencil as well. When it was done I held it down low and showed it off the Earl. He leaned over the desk and whispered,
           “Okay… now fly it.”

Hey, I said I love seafood.

I cocked back my elbow and gave her a toss.

The damned thing not only flew, but it took off!

Mr. Dougherty had been lecturing toward the other side of the room and I’m not sure what caught his attention; the glider in flight, or the rippling chorus of snickers and “whoa”s. The little plane flew right up and plopped down gently near his feet. He stopped his lecture and picked it up.

           “Who made this?” he asked casually as he examined the little airplane.

A half dozen fingers, led by Earl, pointed to me as I meekly raised my hand. Mr. Dougherty eyed the airplane intensely and then he wound up and gave it the skilled toss of someone who'd been launching paper planes since he was a little kid!

Again the little airplane took flight and stalling slightly a few times nearly made it to the classroom door. Everyone snickered and Mr. Dougherty just shook his head.

           “Come up after class and get yer “A” for the day,” he said pointing at me. Then he turned to the rest of the class and said firmly, “Don’t none of y’all get any ideas either.”

This little event, I’ve always thought, says a lot about what ERAU is all about.

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