Friday morning October 23, 1998… I was at my workbench in
the basement of our Annapolis townhouse tinkering with one of my lakeboat
models. As a corporate pilot you normally don’t have a schedule, so at any time
the phone can ring and you’re off to who knows where for who knows how long.
Thus, the phone rang. It was the typical “how fast can you get to the airport?”
It turned out we had a customer at DCA who was supposed to
be on some short hops in the Falcon Jet, but the jet got there and it broke.
There were no other Falcons available, so I was supposed to take the King Air
200 over and pick up the folks. No sweat- I “hurried” to the airport, where my
new-hire F.O. had already pre-flighted the aircraft and we blasted off for DCA.
Waiting at the executive terminal was none other than
senators Bob Dole and Mitch McConnell as well as three staffers. They were
off-year campaigning for republicans and had several stops that day in which
they were to smile and wave for the local TV news cameras and say a few words
for the selected candidate before flying off to the next stop. However, they
were supposed to start off in the Falcon Jet at 11:00 and now it was nearly 12:30.
When Senator Dole saw the King Air pull in, he was TICKED. He said he knew
airplanes and this bird was too slow. He ordered his last two stops cancelled.
“Senator,” I told him, “I’m your captain today, and you don’t
need to cancel anything. I can get you back on your jet schedule.”
“Can’t do it.” He snarled, “We’re canceling those last two
“You can go ahead and do that sir, but I’m an old turboprop
pilot. I know every trick in the book and I can get you back onto your jet
schedule,” I tried to convince him.
He didn’t wanna hear any of it.
As we walked out to the aircraft, I quietly told his aid
that be ready to un-cancel those two stops, because we’d be back on the jet
While we strapped in my F.O. asked how we were gonna do that? I
told him to amend our clearance and request minimum vectoring altitude and
direct. We blasted off and screamed at 4,000 feet toward stop number one. This particular
King Air 200 would do about 307 indicated if all was right, but today I was
happy to snug it up against 250, which is the speed limit below 10,000 feet and
set for max continuous temperature. I figured if thing got too I reduce back to max continuous torque, but
as it turned out, that was never a factor. It was clear and million that
afternoon with light winds- perfect conditions for a hustle flight. ATC
vectored us directly to a near straight-in
approach at the first airport. As we zoomed in toward the end of the runway I
kept my speed up to just under 200 and tower cleared us to land. But here we
are, hot rodding in clean, and my F.O. is getting fidgety as the runway drew
“Watch and learn,” I told him as I pulled the power levers
back and the engines groaned. The props acted like speed brakes. At the gear
speed I commanded gear-down and started feeding flaps. She slowed nicely and
rolled onto the runway. I cobbed the props into beta and then reverse and we
taxied clear. I turned to my F.O. and told him to get our clearance for
departure while I taxied us in.
The crowd and cameras were waiting as the two politicians
did their thing and in short order climbed back aboard. I was in the taxi roll
while my F.O. was still walking up from closing the door. We repeated the
process and by our third stop we were within 15 minutes of Senator Dole’s jet
schedule. The key was that all our hops were fairly short. Plus, we didn’t have
to climb to altitude for fuel economy. We did order fuel to be topped while the
senators were doing one of the stops and that line guy could’ve worked for a
NASCAR pit crew. He was in and out in no time and now Senator Dole was back on
his jet schedule.
His aid came aboard and happily informed me that the last
two stops were back on the trip. I decided to just keep up the pace and by the
next to last stop we were ahead. As I taxied up, they were going to park me
between two aircraft- the senator’s aid stuck his head into the cockpit and
told me that one was some big donor’s Citation and the other was the governor’s
King Air 90. It was a tight fit.
“If I don’t make this,” I told my F.O. as we both saw the
army of TV news cameras point through the terminal’s picture windows, “we’re
gonna be the lead story on CNN tonight.”
We made it in without getting into any negative inches. As
senator dole got ready to exit he asked if either of us wanted to go in a
stretch our legs?
“Sir,” I told him, “we’re just gonna sit right here and stay
as far away from those news cameras as we can.”
He laughed and said, “I wish I could do the same.”
It was at that moment that I noticed that both senators
looked exhausted. I’d been so focused on flying and keeping our pace up that I
hadn’t really considered how those two men were doing. That stop took a bit
more time than the others and afterward as the passengers were back aboard I
took the opportunity ask them how they liked the trip so far. Senator Dole told
me to just have a seat and remarked that he needed to relax a bit. I had my F.O.
go stand back by the door and told him that if he saw any media coming toward
the aircraft to just pull the door shut.
Senator Dole told me that he had been on the road
campaigning for people for a remarkable 52 days straight. And he had six more
days to go! Heck I was only 41 at the time and 52 days of planes, hotels,
buses, news media and all that goes with it would have worn me to a frazzle.
Senator McConnel was only along for today, so he’d gotten off easy. It was no
wonder that Senator Dole was miffed when they replaced the jet with a
turboprop. Now, however, he had a bit of time to decompress. So, we sat there
on that fine autumn evening, relaxed and burned up some of that ahead-of-schedule
time that we had built up.
We hit the final stop about nine minutes ahead of his jet
schedule. On this leg I let my F.O. fly and he tried his hand at my
smart-flying technique. The only tricky part is at minimum vectoring altitude
you have to keep a very sharp eye out for VFR traffic- especially on a Friday
evening with great flying conditions. At this stop the senators had to board a
bus and head over to a rally at some convention center. My F.O. and I hit the
airport eatery and had our late dinner. While we were there one of the guys
from the line office came in and gave us a message that the passengers were
taking longer than expected.
Since my F.O. had such a good time flying the previous leg
he wanted to fly the final leg unto DCA. Comin’ up from the south we were
between banks and the traffic was nil. We got our last straight in final of the
day. As a corporate pilot, you have to really make nice with your passengers,
so I went to the back to open the door for the senators and walk with them to
the terminal. I told Senator Dole to look at the time. We were nine minutes
ahead of his jet schedule.
“We flew fast!, We flew fast!” he chirped happily as he
punched his fist in the air.
“No sir,” I said quietly, “we flew smart.”
“We flew fast!, We flew fast!” he repeated gleefully.
I don’t think he even heard me. He was just glad to have the