Jump to content

The Four Conquerors


The Four Conquerors

By Michael DeLong (29 January 2005)


While my true love is in aviation, I've always had an interest in theater/acting and role-playing. (More on this in a moment.) I've also seen lots of articles on FlightSim.Com and many discussions in forums about how payware is better than freeware (and vice-versa), gripes about certain aspects of Flight Simulator, discussions on how people should be thankful for what freeware we have; the list goes on.


To the point: with all the complaining, debating, arguing, and flaming (in a word, politics), I have to wonder how anyone has fun anymore? Each day, I find myself wondering what that day's topic for debate will be. I wonder, "How can I have fun flying my simulator today and not get involved in all the politics?" It gets harder each day. But then, I had an idea: what if I were to put my two interests together--aviation and role-playing--and "buy" an airplane? I'm probably not the first nut to think of this, but I think it's a neat idea nonetheless. I certainly can't afford a real airplane, nor do I have the real-life licenses to fly any of the ones I mention in a moment (working on it though), but I found myself, if necessary, very willing to pay the average $30 for a simulated one. It's a neat idea, I think, and it doesn't involve any politics--sort of a new approach to having fun with Flight Simulator. Let me remind you before you continue reading that what follows is sort of a mix between an article and a short story. What I've done is taken the idea of going through the process of buying a real airplane, aimed it at Flight Simulator, and then writing a story about it.


So, it was decided. I would pretend to purchase an airplane. But, there are literally hundreds of them out there. Which one is best for me?


Research Begins

There my task of researching began. I started posting messages at AOPA's forums and sending emails off to friends who are lucky enough to own one (or two!) for themselves. I asked, "What aircraft can fly 8 people (enough for family and friends) and all their gear, an average of 1,000 miles at about 250 knots, with reasonable 'maintenance and operating costs,' and has a price tag of around one million dollars?" Unfortunately, very few airplanes matched those specifications for my desired price tag. Those that did weren't readily available for any version of Microsoft Flight Simulator past version 7 (FS98). So, I gave in and doubled my budget (we'll pretend I won the lottery--hey, it could happen), hoping I'd be able to find one or two others as crazy as I am to share the cost (and the airplane, unfortunately). My grandchildren will be paying for this airplane even twenty years after I'm gone; I can just see it coming.


With a two million dollar budget, I now had several candidates. Here's the list:


  • Flight1's Cessna 421C Golden Eagle, Cessna 441 Conquest II, and Piper Meridian;
  • FSD International's Piper Cheyenne 400LS;
  • A freeware Piaggio Avanti (or a payware version coming soon from FSD-International), Mitsubishi MU-2, Pilatus PC-12 (or a payware version soon coming from Flight1), Socata TBM700, King Air C90B, and a Merlin III;
  • The default King Air 350 or recently-released King Air 200 from Aeroworx;
  • And a "very used" Gulfstream I or II, Cessna Citation II-SP (from EagleSoft), or a Lear 25.


So, keeping in mind that airplanes never fly by the book in real life and even less often in Flight Simulator, I attempted to gather exact specifications for each airplane into an Access database. Maximum takeoff weight, useful load, fuel, range, both fast and economy cruise speeds, number of seats and other amenities, an estimated "workload rating," and so on. A "workload rating" is an educated guess on my part based on my minimal personal experience, published specifications, reviews, and discussions on forums and in emails. This was an important factor to me as, at the time of writing and as far as I know, Flight Simulator STILL cannot accept more than one person actually flying the aircraft/manipulating any of the controls, avionics, or systems across a network as a co-pilot could. (Hint-Hint, Microsoft and/or add-on programmers: The instructor's station with the current software just doesn't cut it. I know of no one who uses it.) This means I'll be the only one at the helm and, while I enjoy being at the controls, I also like looking out the window from time to time.


The Results

I downloaded all the reviews I could find for both payware and freeware candidates. (I ended up with over 150 pages of printed text and pictures/screenshots.) Slowly, but surely, one by one, I eliminated candidates based on their quality, learning curve, "workload rating," and specifications. After several weeks, a few all-nighters, and countless hours of number-crunching, one candidate stood out as the best choice: Flight1's Cessna 441 Conquest II.


At about $1,000,000 to $1,500,000 for a late 1970s to mid-1980s bird, with specifications which nearly duplicate my requirements, and a sim put out by a very well-respected group of designers, it was out to steal my heart. However, the choice wasn't easy and the biggest reason I picked it over the very similar Piper Cheyenne 400LS was that I've bought products from Flight1 before, including their Cessna 310, and I had some idea of the quality of product I'd be getting. In fact, somewhere along the way, I'm pretty sure all of the Conquest's competitors will end up on my hard drive.


Step Two

It's time to fuel it up and fly off into the sunset, right? You'd think, but I took the idea a step further. In the real-world, airplanes aren't born of binary code and can't be transported through telephone lines and satellite signals. They're made of metals, plastics, and sometimes composites and they have be picked-up by the customer and physically flown to their new home. What a concept!


So, that's exactly what I'm going to do. I've researched real Conquests for sale on the Internet and I found one that had a similar paint scheme to the N441P repaint (blue/gold) and gray interior modification, both done by Bill Browning, and available at FlightSim.Com. The only differences are the interior configuration, avionics, and, of course, the registration number. Its location: Palm Springs, CA. The price: $1,399,000.00.


(At the time of writing, the aircraft I found was for sale two-weeks ago in AOPA's classifieds, but has since been sold and taken off the listings. I even called the phone number I wrote down from the ad to double-check.)


My Conquest Cohorts

Now the real work begins: finding at least one person as nutty as I am to go along with my little scheme. I started by emailing and instant messaging my friends. After asking ten people, two of which were VATSIM founders, only one gentleman was interested. Everyone I talked to liked the idea, but they didn't "have time for another project." (Not that I'm complaining or anything.) What I tried to convey to all of them, but I guess failed to do, was that the only "work" involved on their part is the time they'd spend actually flying the aircraft in Flight Simulator. Oh well! On the bright side, I found at least one person to co-own the Conquest with me, which is better than no one. But a $1.4 million airplane split two ways is still a big chunk of change, especially when it could be split three ways. In the words of George Clooney in Ocean's Eleven, "You think we need one more? We'll get one more."


I'd already exhausted all my friends and acquaintances, so the only way to get another owner would be to post a message on a public forum. With the odds I seemed to be up against (1 in every 10), I knew it'd have to be a big forum or several small ones. With almost 60,000 members, any of VATSIM's forums would do, and since I'm in the United States, the U.S. forum was a logical choice. Almost too logical.


Within thirty minutes, I received an email from a VATSIM supervisor. Take a guess: Was I being warned for advertising or was he interested in my little scheme? Go head, think about it. I can wait. I'll keep his name under wraps for the moment, but if you guessed that I was being warned for advertising, I'm happy to say: You're wrong. I was in total shock, especially because of who it was.


"Alright, already. Who are these masked men," you ask? No more beating around the bush: Neal Glassett and Ernie Alston! Neal is a very good friend of mine, a Senior Controller at Fort Worth, and a student pilot in real life with 33 hours thus far. He and I used to fly from the same flight school that I worked at in Addison, TX (KADS) until it went bankrupt in February of 2004. He's currently an accountant for chemical company here in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Ernie Alston--well he needs no introduction, but I'll give him one just to be fair. Many of you know him as the Chief of the VATSIM Albuquerque ARTCC, but most of us know his name because he's the developer of the wonderful flight planner, FSBuild, which helps make IFR flight planning quicker, easier, and more realistic. (Version 2.1 is the most current version at the time of writing, available at www.fsbuild.com for EUR29.00.) Ernie is a freelance software developer and currently lives in New Jersey.


After discussing it with Ernie and Neal, I decided that I should try one more time to get one more person. Even though I had already asked all my friends, I decided I'd ask once more, and I got lucky. I contacted one of those friends who really seemed to be enthusiastic about the idea, but wasn't sure if he'd have time for it. I tried to explain, as easily as I could, that there was no work involved on his part except to fly the airplane, when he wanted to, which was supposed to be fun and not work. Nate Burns agreed to be an owner, but warned me that he wasn't sure how often he'd be able to fly the aircraft because of real-life priorities. I told him that was fine; sometimes airplanes don't fly for months at a time in real life, so why would I expect him to fly the Conquest any more often than it might be flown if it were a real one? (Nate is a mechanical engineer for an automotive supplier here in the Dallas area, and also a controller for the Fort Worth ARTCC.)


The hardest part is finding people who will buy into an airplane with you. Now with a total of four owners, we can claim that battle as a victory and actually start the buying process--it's time to make first contact.


The Pre-Buy Process

In any real-life aircraft purchase, the potential customer will setup an appointment to come see the aircraft for what is part of a process called, "Pre-Buy." This is similar to a real-estate agent taking a potential buyer on a tour of the property. Another part of this same process (for used aircraft at least) is to have every nook-and-cranny of the airplane inspected by a licensed aviation mechanic and have him report anything and everything he sees, right or wrong, good or bad. The buyer can then request the current owner fix whatever may be wrong before he actually buys the aircraft. (By the way, I don't claim to be an expert in this area. I have never really tried buying an aircraft, nor have I ever been directly involved in the process. My knowledge in this area is minimal and the above may not be entirely correct. My knowledge is based on observations and the conclusions I've drawn from them. Okay--back to the story.)


I called the owner, one Jessie Rothwell, to let him know we were interested in his Conquest and asked if we could setup a date and time to start the Pre-Buy process. He offered to fly the aircraft to Dallas, where I live, and talk about it over lunch, followed by a tour of the airplane on the ground and then a short ride in the air. I thought that was too generous of him and agreed only on the condition that we meet him half-way, in Albuquerque. Everyone thought that that was fair and so we set a date for August 1st at 2:00 PM.


Southwest Airlines' flight 194 departed Dallas Love Field at 13:08 CST, and arrived in Albuquerque promptly at 13:45 MST, with the four of us carrying enough clothes and baggage to stay one night. The first Southwest flight back to Dallas wouldn't leave until 09:00 MST the next morning, so an overnight stay was necessary, not that I had any objections.


We were to meet Mr. Rothwell at the Quiznos in the airport, which just happened to be right next to our gate. We decided to wait on claiming our baggage until after lunch--we were quite parched after all those Southwest Airlines honey-roasted peanuts, and not to mention hungry, too! Those peanuts just don't fill you up.


Mr. Rothwell had described himself as about six feet tall, brown hair and about 165 pounds. He would be wearing a rather worn leather flight jacket and khaki slacks. Despite the fact that his description of himself could have made him anybody, he was pretty easy to spot. At first glance into the restaurant, I thought I had spotted Rod Machado. I couldn't believe it, and so I didn't. Upon closer investigation, I realized it wasn't Rod, but instead probably Mr. Rothwell. He was reading the local newspaper, rather intently. In fact, he was so consumed by it that he was completely unaware of our presence.


After a tap on the shoulder, I offered my hand and said, "You must either be Rod Machado himself, or Mr. Rothwell! I'm Michael. How are you?"


He laughed at my remark and countered with a firm handshake.


"No," he said, "I'm not Rod, but I am Mr. Rothwell--you can call me Jessie--and, I'm doing just fine."


"You must get that a lot. Standing back there, I could have sworn you were him and about fifteen seconds ago, I was trying to figure out what I would say to ask you for your autograph."


"Yeah, I do get that a lot. Sometimes I wish the powers that be would just make me him or change the way I look--this looking-like-him-but-not-really-him can get frustrating at times. I get a lot of his 'fame' but none of his fortune!"


"I bet. Well, if he ever decides to do any acting in Hollywood, you can be his stunt double!"


We all chuckled and then I introduced the rest of the gang as they each shook hands with Mr. Rothwell. Everyone walked up to the counter to place their orders and then sat down while our food was being prepared. Mr. Rothwell placed his newspaper aside.


"How was the trip?" he asked.


"Oh, it was fine," I said, "Light chop at times, but otherwise, just great. That Southwest captain planted that 737 rather well, too."


"Good to hear! After lunch, we'll go take a look at the Conquest and take it for a spin. I parked about a five-minute-walk from here."


Just then, our orders were being called out over the loudspeaker, his first and then mine.


"Sounds good," I replied as I stood up, "but we'll need to claim our baggage before we go."


He acknowledged by nodding and then went to retrieve his sandwich, with the rest of us not far behind.


While we all ate our lunches, Mr. Rothwell talked about his beginnings in aviation, and how he acquired the Conquest. As it is with many pilots, most of his family had been involved in aviation in some way. His father was a pilot for Braniff and his mother a stewardess for the same company, and others. Naturally, he flew with his father on countless occasions and had decided to follow his footsteps. Currently, he flies left-seat in a Saab 340 for American Eagle flying out of Palm Springs, CA (KPSP).


The Conquest had been a gift from a multi-millionaire oil-tycoon from the Texas Panhandle to Mr. Rothwell's father. It was handed down from father to son after his father's passing. His father had once saved the life of the businessman's daughter and future-son-in-law after they had been in a car wreck. Apparently, his father had originally planned to practice medicine before he decided to be a pilot. He was on his way to Dallas on I-35 when he noticed a car was nose-first in a ditch on the side of the road. What training he received before his decision for a career change was enough that he was able to keep the two occupants stable until the paramedics arrived and airlifted them to a hospital in Oklahoma City. The doctors told the millionaire that, had it not been for Mr. Rothwell's father, neither of them would have lived. Both fully recovered, however, and eventually married. Out of gratitude and respect, the oil-tycoon bought him a brand-new Cessna Conquest II, as well as the necessary training, and a year's worth of insurance and maintenance. The two became best friends, and when Mr. Rothwell's father died, the millionaire put on a grand funeral and paid for all the expenses. As he told this story, I was thinking to myself, "I wish more people in the world were like these two. How grand their friendship must have been!" It takes something big, like a death of a friend or family member, or something like 9/11 to make me cry, but this had almost brought tears to my eyes.


"This oil guy, what was his name?" I asked.


"No one knows for sure," he said with a heavy sigh, "except that he went by 'B.J.' and that's it. He wouldn't tell anyone what his name was or what 'B.J' meant; just to call him 'B.J.'"


All I could manage was, "Wow." There were no other words to describe this story.


We continued to talk, each taking turns giving our own stories of growing up around airports, our close calls with birds and other aircraft, places we'd been or would like to go, and the things we'd never do again. We must have sat there for an hour or more, even though we were done eating. I had totally forgotten the purpose of our visit; I was having so much fun just talking, the Conquest never entered my mind. It took Mr. Rothwell's needing to visit the little-men's room for us to realize how late it had become.


"Alright, so I'll go start pre-flighting her and you boys can go get your baggage and meet me on the ramp?" Mr. Rothwell directed.


We all nodded our heads in unison and proceeded towards the baggage claims downstairs. We claimed our baggage and asked for directions to the general aviation ramp, which was easier to find than in most airports. As we approached the Conquest, butterflies started fluttering in my stomach and adrenaline began raging through every vein and artery in my body with the ferocity of a white-water rapid in the Colorado Rockies. I couldn't wait for the ride ahead.


As we approached the Conquest, I couldn't help but quicken my pace, almost to the point of jogging. I was in total shock and nearly speechless. What words I could get out were jumbled and so badly stuttered that I'm surprised anyone understood a single syllable. Simply put, the plane was a gorgeous and majestic piece of art. (My compliments go to the designers of this plane.) Her blue and gold stripes sparkled in the late-afternoon sun, teasing me to come closer. Maybe it was just me, but she looked bored to me just sitting there; she looked like she was itching to go somewhere.


Mr. Rothwell was nearly finished with the pre-flight inspection as we scurried up like little mice chasing a monstrous block of cheese. When he saw us, he called us over and we began working out who would sit up front first. I knew I shouldn't be the first one because I was too excited. I've felt like this before, and I knew from past experiences that I wouldn't be safe to fly until after I could calm my nerves down; my hands were shaking like a rattler on an angry and cornered Diamondback. So, Ernie elected to strut his stuff first. Mr. Rothwell finished up the pre-flight as we anxiously watched over his shoulder. Once all his exterior checks were complete, it was time to saddle up and see what this sexy thing had in store for us on the inside.


The inside was just as good as the outside, if not better. Gray leather seats looked as good as any La-Z-Boy I had ever seen, and talk about spacious! I began to daydream: No more sharing armrests with the guy next to you in the isle seat, who has to travel every minute of the flight leaning across you to see out the window, and yet insists that it's not necessary to switch seats with him; not to mention that he has the worst breath you've ever had to sample for an hour and a half from what must have been a weeks-old homemade fajita lunch, smothered in jalapenos. Let's not even talk about what he had had to drink, nor how much. (If you've never had to deal with a guy like this one, trust me, you're not missing anything. Be thankful!) The latter thoughts brought me sharply back to reality, and rarely is reality ever better than a dream, but this reality was. I was standing in my future airplane!


After everyone else had wakened from their own little dreams, Ernie started to climb into the right-seat but was stopped half-way there by Mr. Rothwell.


"What are you doing?" asked Mr. Rothwell.


"Um, getting into the right seat...?" responded Ernie, obviously as confused as the rest of us.


"No, no, no. What made you think you'd be sitting in the right seat?"


By now Mr. Rothwell had a mischievous grin on his face that went from ear to ear. I nearly fainted when I realized what that probably meant, and so did Ernie because he nearly ended up doing the American-Splits over the left armrest of the copilot seat.


"No way. Uh-uh. You don't mean--" Ernie was cut off.


"Yep, I sure do. Get over there. You're flying this thing, not me."


Right then, I'd have to say that Ernie was as nervous as I had been just walking up to the plane. Sweat was beginning to appear on his forehead.


"Jessie, there's no way. I don't know to fly this thing. The closest I've come is--" Ernie said, continuing to protest, but was cut off again.


"Yes way, Jose. You'll do fine."


Apparently, Mr. Rothwell has kept his MEI ticket current because he instructs on the weekends and in his spare time for fun. Most of his time instructing is in a Seminole, but he does checkouts in several others, including King Air 350s. So, it looked like Ernie was going to have to fly this thing from the left seat, or else we'd sit there roasting in the ninety-degree heat.


So, that was that. Ernie's nerves were so bad that he barely managed to climb out of the right seat and into the left. I don't blame him--he had just realized what a pressure-cooker he'd put himself into by volunteering to go first. Mr. Rothwell knew what he was doing though. He knew that if we were to really buy his plane, we'd need to know what we were getting ourselves into. This was a big plane, with lots of power, and though it's possible to fly it with just one guy at the controls, the only sure-fire way of finding out if we could handle it was to take 'em from the start.


"I'll help you as much as I have to, but the point of you being in the left seat is to find out how big of a bite you can chew. However, if you're beginning to feel overwhelmed, let me know. Don't panic and I'll try to help. Okay?"


"Okay." Ernie said.


"First things, first: Everyone take a few deep breaths, calm your nerves and focus on the task ahead of you." A pause, and then, "Now, follow along with me as I explain the avionics. Let me know what to skip so we don't waste any time, and if you need me to repeat or explain something differently, let me know. Mike, Nate, Neal...follow along, okay?"


He went on explaining the things we hadn't seen before and how everything worked on this plane. I'd flown a piston-powered twin before, but never a twin-turboprop. Things weren't too much different as far as basics go. I understood enough of what he said that I was more confident after his little lesson than before. I think Ernie felt the same way because he didn't seem quite as nervous as before, though he was still obviously quite tense. Mr. Rothwell seems to exude this calming quality that I think could calm even a panicked passenger on an airliner in an emergency.


Eventually we got both engines started. Ernie got a VFR clearance to the northeast. We decided, while looking at the VFR sectional, that we were going to go direct to Santa Fe Municipal (KSAF), practice some landings, and come back to Albuquerque. Like a pro, Ernie dialed in KSAF on the GPS and a cruise altitude of 11,500 into the altitude pre-selector; this would get us there well above any obstructions and obstacles. Pretty soon, we were taxiing to the runway.


Holding short of the runway, we were about third in line for takeoff behind a couple Southwest 737s who were waiting on a strand of arrivals. Within ten minutes or so, we were in the batter's box. Just when my nerves had begun to settle down, I hear the words, "Conquest One Hotel Charlie, winds one-eight-zero at seven, runway one-seven, clear for takeoff. Traffic is a Boeing 727 on a six mile final." in my headset. (That's right--I could listen to ATC even in the cabin!) Within seconds, Ernie's got us lined up on the runway, Mr. Rothwell coaching him through every step, and the engines kick into high-gear as Ernie advances the throttles to full-power. No prop-driven aircraft, twin or single, has ever been able to throw me back into my seat like an airliner's turbine engine does with its 20,000 plus pounds of thrust, but this turboprop gave me the distinct feeling that I wasn't going to be in Kansas anymore! I felt like I was literally being pinned to my seat nearly the same way I had been just a few hours ago on Dallas-Love's 13R.


Ernie's no amateur pilot. He's logged a substantial amount of hours, so he made the takeoff look easy. Granted, it wasn't his best and I've done better myself, but this was his first time flying in this kind of aircraft; who's to say I would do better on my first? With the takeoff out of the way, Ernie now needed to focus his attention on maintaining our climb speed of 140 knots and getting us on course, all while following ATC instructions and avoiding turning us into an accordion with other flying-machines in what was a rather busy slice of airspace pie. To give Ernie some relief, Mr. Rothwell did handle tuning the radios, but Ernie still had to do all the talking.


With my passive noise-canceling headsets resting comfortably over my ears, there was almost no noise to be heard except for the constant radio chatter. Not to push my luck, but I decided to see how loud it was without the headsets. What I should have been looking for was how loud it wasn't going to be. I was truly impressed; the noise volume was no where near what I had been used to in my rented 172S back in Dallas. In fact, there was just slightly more noise than what you're normally subjected to on an airliner, and that's only because of the extra vibration created by the two propellers, whose tips are nearly breaking the sound barrier only inches from my porthole. I could certainly live with that for several hours, quite happily and comfortably.


By now, we were reaching our cruise altitude of 11,500. It didn't take long as we needed a 2300 foot/minute climb rate to maintain climb speed. Setting her up for cruise requires you to follow the "Pitch-Power-Trim" memory-aid and so Ernie leveled off at 11-5 and maintained full-power for a moment to build some momentum and then reduced the power setting to "fifteen degrees less than current EGT." A condition lever change to no less than 96% RPM is also done "for passenger comfort," followed by trimming for level flight. I'm sure the autopilot could make all this a little easier, but then again, that would sort of defeat the whole purpose of this flight.


One must be very careful not to overspeed the Conquest; she dances with the barber pole in just about any cruise setting and at any altitude. I was right after all: she was itching to go somewhere, and fast. Never-exceed speed on this wild animal is an amazing 245 knots with cruise around 240 knots. A headwind gust of anything as little as 6 knots or greater will overstress the aircraft, so wind must be accounted for in every portion of flight. Our groundspeed readout on the GPS showed 300 knots!


The above overspeed problem becomes an even bigger issue on descent because you don't reduce speed on descent! Standard procedure has you descending at 240 knots, with a downwind/base speed of around 220 to 200 knots. Approach speed in landing-configuration is about 120 knots. The final notch of flaps is put in about 1 mile out and we aim for about 80-90 knots on touchdown. All of this is very tricky because if you're above any of these speeds at any time, you'll end up floating down the runway. Any bit below and you'll end up dragging her in. Pitch on touchdown is about five to seven degrees at a rate of about two degrees per second. Any greater pitch or faster rate will cause you to balloon. Ernie handled all of this very well for being his first time, and with each lap around Santa Fe Municipal, he was getting better and better. The winds at Santa Fe weren't being very helpful though. Winds were out of the southeast at ten to fifteen knots, gusting to as much as twenty-five knots.


After Ernie made about five trips around the airport, we did a full-stop and switched; I was next. I did my own five laps and did just about as well as Ernie, though my first takeoff and landing was a little hairy. (It was the nerves again; they were starting to get to me.) Neal and Nate followed after I did, each doing just as good as the other. I must say, we were having so much fun that I wondered how it could have possibly been legal.


Nate got to fly us back into Albuquerque, which was still as busy as we had left it. By now, we were tapping on 6 o'clock's door and the sun was low on the horizon. I'm sure sunsets around here are as beautiful as I imagine them to be, but there wasn't time to find out if I was right or wrong. By the time we'd landed, taxied and shut down, and walked out of the airport to catch a shuttle to the hotel, the sun had already gone down and nightfall was upon us. As we hopped into our shuttle bound for the hotel, we thanked Mr. Rothwell for everything and told him that we'd keep in touch. As much fun as he is to talk to, my stomach wasn't going to let me stand there another minute; it was time to grab some dinner and take a nice swim in the indoor pool at the Holiday Inn before our flight back to Dallas the next morning.


We found a Chili's restaurant next to our Holiday Inn, which was a nice surprise because Chili's is one of my personal favorites. Our telling Mr. Rothwell that "we'll keep in touch" was merely a courtesy; I was already sold and I was hoping the others were too. Of course, I knew I'd have to discuss it with the others. However, I wasn't going to wait until we got back to Dallas; I made sure that the Conquest was our topic over dinner, though no one had any objections. Again, each of us took turns throwing in our two cents about this and that. The biggest concern everyone had was maintenance, since none of us had ever owned a plane this size before. However, by the time we were having dessert, we each had plans to call home once we were back in our rooms to announce that we were soon to be proud parents of a Cessna 441 Conquest II!


I don't think I slept a minute that night. The whole night through and the entire next day on our way home, all I could think of was that Conquest and what adventures I would soon be having. When I could finally stop daydreaming, the next step was to give Mr. Rothwell the call we promised him. On the recommendation of my wife, I forced myself to wait an extra day before I called. It's not that she was against anything; I think she just didn't want us to sound like we were too eager. However, around noon, I feverishly dialed Mr. Rothwell's number. When he answered, the first thing I said is, "We'll take it." He chuckled and we talked for a few minutes. By the end of the conversation, he was going to have the plane given a thorough physical and report back to me when all repairs were done. I couldn't wait.


Each day was spent waiting in agony. At first, I could barely focus at work and I found myself constantly talking about the Conquest to everyone I knew. When at home, I carried the phone (cordless, of course) around with me everywhere and never let it ring more than once. I started to worry that my wife might think I had fallen in love again and was cheating on her. Of course, she had more sense than that.


Three weeks pass, but then, finally, he called. All repairs were done and he was ready for us to come take a look and pick her up. I couldn't set a date just then because I had to find one that suited all the other guys, but I promised to get back to him within two days. I wasted no time--the second I hung up with him, I called the boys and gave them the news. We started going through our calendars for a date that was open for everyone. Unfortunately, Neal wasn't going to be available for next the month and half because he would be studying for his CPA exams and Ernie was working on a project for a big client and wasn't exactly sure when he'd be done. So, it would just be me and Nate. The soonest both of us had the open week and half needed for this trip was September 26th. I bet you're thinking, "A week and a half to pick up an airplane?" Yes, well, all of us would need to get real training before we went solo, and Mr. Rothwell didn't have time. So, Nate and I decided we'd go to training together; Neal and Ernie would have to work out their own training.


The Pickup

I placed a call to a company called ProFlight, Inc. located in Carlsbad, CA. They train pilots to fly the Conquest, among a few other birds. Their curriculum involves five days of intense training on the ground, in simulators, and in the air at a cost of about $5,000 per person. It wasn't cheap, but it was worth it. I enrolled the both of us in the Conquest course for the week of the 27th through October 1st. I also organized our transportation--two Southwest flights on the 26th to get to Los Angeles (due to Wright Amendment restrictions), then pick up a rental car and drive to Carlsbad. We'd spend the night and begin training the next day.


I won't bore you with a page and a half about the training. I'll just leave it at this: it was fun most of the time and involved a lot of cramming and hard work. Having a friend along made it easier for both of us because we could use each other as study partners when we needed to. I was just glad to be done with it so we could go pick up the Conquest; I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve.


After the last day of training, Nate and I left Carlsbad for Palm Springs at 8 AM the next morning in a rental car to meet Mr. Rothwell and pick up the Conquest. We were to meet him at Cactus Jack's Cafe at around 10:30AM. We'd eat brunch and then walk over to MillionAir, where he hangared the Conquest. Cactus Jack's has some really nice food, even if they do close early on Saturdays (2 PM). While we sat there eating, I suddenly realized something that had not even occurred to me before. My Christmas Eve giddiness vanished all at once and a feeling of overwhelming guilt came over me, stronger than I think I'd ever felt before. I, and three others, were about to take something, something that had a lot of meaning and memories, from this wonderful man, and his family. As I sat there and ate, I began to wonder if I should really go through with this. I felt that if I went through with it, I'd be listening to the devil on my shoulder; I'd be doing something very wrong. I couldn't take it anymore--I had to talk to Nate about it. I felt that I should at least say something.


"Jessie, would you mind excusing me and Nate? I need to talk to him for just a moment," I said, suddenly.


"Why, um...sure," he replied, puzzled.


"Thanks. Nate, would you come with me for just a second?"


"Okay," he said, just as puzzled as Mr. Rothwell.


After we were out of earshot, Nate began to interrogate me.


"What the heck is the matter with you? Do you realize how strange--"


"Yes," I said, "just let me explain. I just had this very sobering realization back there and I'm having second thoughts."


"Second thoughts? What do you mean, 'Second thoughts?'" he said, obviously irritated.


"Well, do you remember that story he told us about his father and how he acquired the Conquest in the first place?"


"Yes, of course..."


"Well, don't you feel the least bit guilty about what we're doing? I mean, this aircraft means a lot to his family; it holds a lot of memories. Think about it--we never even asked why he was selling the airplane in the first place!"


"Well, you have a point, but, obviously he's selling it, so it can't mean so much to him that you should react like this."


"We don't know that. He may be in financial trouble or something and he has to sell it just to make ends meet. I don't know any more or less than you do; I'm just guessing here. I just feel like what we're doing is wrong somehow."


"Well, why don't we ask? It wouldn't be rude, would it?"


"I don't know, but I know I'd feel better if I knew why," I said, taking a deep sigh.


"Okay, well, if it'll make you feel better, we'll ask."


"When you say, 'We'll ask,' do you mean you, or me?"


"Well, you're the one having second thoughts."


"I know, I know, but what if he gets offended?" I said, trying to avoid the inevitable.


"You'll just have to cross that bridge if we get there."


So, we walked back and sat down.


"Everything okay?" Mr. Rothwell inquired.


"Yes and no." I said, "I just realized a minute ago what it was we were about to do."


"What's that?" he asked, still confused.


"Well, when you first told us that story about how your father got the Conquest in the first place, you never did tell us why you were selling it. And, just a moment ago, I realized that we were about to take something from you and your life, and your family's as well. Something--something that had a lot of meaning and memories. I just realized all this and I suddenly felt so guilty, and began to have second thoughts."


"Oh, gosh. I see your dilemma. Actually, the reason I'm selling it is that it's an airplane and airplanes are supposed to be flown. I'm so busy in my day-to-day life, flying for American Eagle and all, that I never fly it. Even when I go on vacation, I never fly it because I usually get free or dirt-cheap tickets with the company. It's just sitting next door at MillionAir, collecting dust and putting my wallet on a diet in hangar fees."


"You don't feel bad that it's going to be hundreds of miles away? I mean, it's not like you won't see it ever again, but still."


"Well, yeah, of course I'll miss it. But, here's the way I look at it: B.J. gave the plane to my father and my father gave it to me. I think that both of them would be happier to see it fly than to see it collect dust, even if that means someone else is flying it. So, don't feel bad. You're actually doing some good."


"Yeah, maybe so, but I still feel a little guilty."


"Well don't. It'll be okay." he said, reassuringly.


We left it at that. I paid our tab and the three of us began the short walk over to MillionAir.


We walked through a lobby, a set of double-doors, and down a side walk into the hangar. There she was--that gorgeous work of art. No one talked for the whole two minutes we were walking. I could tell that what was about to happen was finally setting in with Mr. Rothwell. He was feeling that sadness we had just talked about. It was obvious in his body language. His hands were tucked into his pockets, he walked without energy, he kept his head down watching his feet as we walked, only looking up to grab a door when necessary and his eyes were obviously trying to hold back tears. I tried to avoid looking at him because I knew it wouldn't help me get over how I felt back in the restaurant, but it was no use. Even when I didn't look at him, I still knew.


The three of us just stood there for a few moments, staring at the Conquest. The hangar was empty except for the three of us, a small Piper and the Conquest.


"You boys start your pre-flight and I'll watch from here," he said as he sat down in a chair next to us.


"Okay," we replied.


So, we did just that. We started our checks, and about half way through, Nate noticed that Mr. Rothwell had disappeared. I told him that he'd probably gone to get someone to come tow her out of the hangar. By the time we finished our checks, ten more minutes had passed and Mr. Rothwell still hadn't come back. A total of fifteen minutes passed before came back with two linepersons following closely.


"Gee, it took fifteen minutes to get two linemen?" I asked.


"Yeah, that's not unusual on a busy day here, and it's busy--this hangar is usually full of planes."


As the two linemen tugged the airplane out, I handed Mr. Rothwell the check for the down payment. (I'd setup a checking account for the Conquest that the four of us would contribute to, equally, each month to pay for our monthly-payments and maintenance, etc.) He handed me the keys. That was the straw that broke the camel's back; Mr. Rothwell couldn't hold back the tears anymore. He didn't completely break down, but he appreciated the Kleenex I gave him. (I knew I'd need to keep some with me today.) He sort of laughed at the irony--"men" aren't supposed to cry. But when it comes to captains and their ships and pilots and their airplanes, men can and will cry. To us, losing a plane or a ship is like losing family.


I gave him a firm handshake and a pat on the back.


"It'll be okay. We'll come to visit, you have my word."


"Mine, too!" said Nate.


Mr. Rothwell smiled, a little embarrassed at the whole situation.


"Okay, and if you don't, I'll come visit you," he said.


We all laughed.


"Take good care of her, okay? She's been good to me and has never done me wrong. So you treat her right!"


"Yes sir. Take care of yourself. And, go get some ice cream--it always makes me feel better." I replied.


"Okay, I'll try that," he said, laughing and still a bit teary-eyed.


We said good-bye and climbed in. On the flip of a coin toss, Nate won and would be the PIC for this trip. After we got the engines started and received our taxi clearance, I looked over to where Mr. Rothwell had been to wave bye one more time, but he was gone.


I felt really awful because I 'forgot' to tell him that we weren't headed back home to Addison. We were headed to WestStar Aviation in Grand Junction, Colorado. The Conquest was going to get a new paint, a new interior, and, over time, we were going to be putting in a glass cockpit. The next time he saw the Conquest, he wouldn't recognize it. I'm just hoping he'll like it because we chose the theme and the registration number with him in mind, and I wanted it to be a surprise.


Hop, Skip, and a Jump

They say pictures are worth a thousand words, so rather than telling you all about the flight to Grand Junction and then home, I'll give you a photo album of all the pictures I took and give a little comment on each one. We start off just shortly after departing Palm Springs; I was too busy working with Nate in the cockpit to take any pictures before then. (Sorry!)



Just departing; the city of Palm Springs can be seen in the background.




Just reaching our TOC at 27,000 feet, passing the Twenty-Nine Palms VORTAC.




Hey, look! It's the Grand Canyon from FL270!




What a beautiful canyon! We're just passing Peach Springs, AZ right about now.




Yes, some more of the Grand Canyon!




Say, "Good-bye Grand Canyon!"




Okay, Okay - last one! I promise.




The Hoover Dam? Just northeast of the Grand Canyon near Page, AZ.




Four miles out on the visual approach.




"Hold it off, hold it off, hold it off..." Beautiful touchdown, Nate!




Cleaning her up as we exit the runway. Welcome to Grand Junction, Colorado!




Time to stretch our legs. The hangar to our right is where WestStar would be in real life!



An hour later, after having turned over the keys to WestStar, we were boarding an EMB-120 to start our trip home. We'd have to catch a flight in Denver that would take us back to Dallas.



Taking the active at Grand Junction.




Bye Grand Junction! (A sharp gust blew us to the left just as we rotated; a little hairy to say the least.)




Aspen and its infamous approach are off our right wing.




Short final in Denver.




Looking back after deplaning.



A short time later, we boarded another United flight, a 737-300, for our flight back to Dallas. This was becoming one very long day.



Either this gate doesn't have a jetway in real life, or FS2004's default scenery is missing it. Either way, we boarded at Gate B43.




Denver has some wonderful sunsets! Just look at that.




I can hear the co-pilot now: "V2, positive rate, gear up!"




Turning enroute.




We breathe a sigh of relief and satisfaction--we're finally going home.




Clear skies and a smooth ride all the way home, especially in New Mexico. Look at those stars coming out!




Half way home, and look, my friends at Fort Worth knew I was coming! Isn't that nice?




There's Dallas, the other sea of lights. What a beautiful and awful sight for sore eyes.




Closer still! Joining the ILS 35L. Smooth vectoring Regional Approach!




Touchdown ("...in the land of the Delta Blues..." Okay, so it's not quite Memphis, but hey, I like the song.)




Gate B30 at KDFW. No jetway again? Oh well, we're home.



Here we are, home at last! I picked up my car from the parking garage, as did Nate, drove home, got in bed, and fell asleep almost before I could even say hello to anyone. The Conquest would stay in Grand Junction for about a month before we'd come to pick her up. Needless to say, that month to November would be a long one.


When the Time Is Right

It's now almost a month later and I'm happy to report that not much has happened since the beginning of October. I did turn another year young last month; to celebrate we went to the horse races here in the Dallas area. I limited my self to spending only $25 dollars for betting that day and nearly lost it all by the eighth race. However, a smart bet on the last race won nearly all of it back. We got the best seats in the house and the food was delicious--well worth the $200 it cost to bring my immediate family and just one of my friends.


Anyway, enough about that. WestStar called me on the 27th saying that the Conquest was ready to be picked up! I told them someone would be there on the 30th to take delivery. Having hung up with WestStar, I called Nate, Ernie, and Neal to tell them the good news. This time we were putting everything else on hold and all of us were going to pick her up. This wasn't to be missed.


I started hunting for the best one-way fares back to Colorado. It turns out that Delta and Skywest had the better fares this time around. So, I booked four seats on Delta flight 1453, a Boeing 737-300, from Dallas/Fort Worth International (KDFW) to Salt Lake City International (KSLC). From there, we'd catch a Skywest E120, flight 3727, to Grand Junction. We depart from Dallas at 5:40 PM central time and arrive in Grand Junction just before 10:00 PM mountain time, and stay overnight at the local Holiday Inn. As before, I'll tell the story of our trip using a photo-storyboard. Enjoy!



DAL1453 pushing back from gate E17 at KDFW.




Lining up on runway 18L for takeoff.




Smooth takeoff!




See you tomorrow Dallas!




Flight Simulator's sunsets are beautiful aren't they?




Nice clouds!




I just can't help myself - I rarely see sunsets this good in real life! We're in Colorado at the moment.




The moon is rising over Grand Junction. "I'll be back!"




Final approach to Salt Lake City's 16L on the visual approach.



With just under an hour before our flight to Grand Junction departed, we grabbed some dinner to-go and checked in at gate E24. Unfortunately, I fell asleep and only got two pictures: one boarding, and one offloading. Besides, I needed to save some space on my digital camera for tomorrow.



"Final boarding call for Skywest flight 3727, service to Grand Junction, CO."




We're at Grand Junction already? D'oh! I fell asleep.



Even after my nap, I was still very drowsy. I couldn't wait to get a nice hot shower at the Holiday Inn and fly back home, once and for all, in our Conquest.


Unfortunately, the weather wasn't playing nice with us the next morning. Weather was just barely above minimums and the forecast at home wasn't all that great either. Having minimal experience in this aircraft, and considering the investment we'd all made into this venture, we unanimously delay the flight home until the weather significantly improved, which wouldn't be happening for at least another twenty-four hours. So, we just sat in our hotel rooms watching movies and checking the weather every hour, just in case we could get lucky. We didn't, however, and we weren't able to takeoff until late afternoon the next day. I was amazed when I finally got to see what WestStar had done to an already wonderful airplane. If a normal picture is worth a thousand words, this one is worth ten-thousand:






It's just simply amazing. I was so excited about the new paint that I almost hyperventilated! I had to know who did this paint job and personally thank him or her. According to WestStar, a majority of it was a team effort, led by William Browning. Fortunately, he was there that day so I got to shake his hand and say thanks.


Let me take some time to explain the paint scheme and how it relates to Mr. Rothwell. First, the tail number: N885BJ. It was in August of 1985 when the late Mr. Rothwell saved BJ's daughter and then-fiance, marking the start of one of the greatest friendships I have ever heard of. August is the 8th month of the year, so 885 is August of 1985 shorted to fit in a tail number. And what the letters 'BJ' stand for should be obvious: BJ himself. The paint is patriotic in nature and is so because I believe that brave people, soldiers and civilians alike, have fought and died for the liberties we enjoy and often take for granted. Their friendship was a very strong example of one of those freedoms. To all who have served, the four of us--Ernie, Nate, Neal, and I--thank you. Your efforts are not forgotten.


Time was flying by quick, and it was getting darker by the minute. With no time to waste, we loaded our baggage and began our flight hom/p>







Taxiing out to the active.




Holding short, ready to go.




Checking final for traffic after we're given our takeoff clearance.




Taking the active.




Rotate at 98 knots.




Climbing out.




We also had a new interior installed. Nice picture Ernie!




Bye Grand Junction. Thanks WestStar!




Catching up on the weather we had waited on for so long. Much weaker now than had been before.




Yeah, more sunset shots.




Whoa! That snuck up on us. First time I've ever seen cumulonimbus clouds in FS2004! This cell actually existed in the general area I found it--over Wichita Falls.








Beginning our descent.




Another nice shot Ernie!








Short final runway 15.




If this were a real picture, I'd be standing just south of Midway Road. That building behind the Conquest is actually supposed to be a Sonic.




Just about to flare!




N885BJ, welcome to your new home at FirstAir in Addison, Texas!



Ah, home at last. While I'm exhausted now, give me a couple days rest and I'll be rearing to go somewhere. There's no telling where I will go. Even now, I am wondering about the adventures that lie ahead: Some dirt strip in Arizona for vacation? Perhaps a municipal airport in Louisiana for a Cajun lunch? Or even a major metropolis airport on a business meeting? Where will the others take her? In the words of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, " I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."



	16:20 CST:	Depart Dallas Love Field (SWA155/B733/Gate 11/$153.60).
	17:05 MST:	Arrive in Albuquerque (Gate A5) and switch planes.

	18:00 MST:	Depart Albuquerque International (SWA216/B737/Gate A7/$186.60).
	19:00 PST:	Arrive in Los Angeles (Gate 3A).

	19:30 PST:	Pickup rental car and drive to Carlsbad, CA.
	21:40 PST:	Check-in at the Carlsbad-By-The-Sea Holiday Inn.

9/27/2004 through 10/01/2004:
	09:00AM PST:	Train at ProFlight, Inc., for 8.5 hours each day.
				- Pre-Flights
				- Aircraft Performance, Limits, and Systems
				- Day/Night Normal Takeoffs/Landings
				- Day/Night Crosswind Takeoffs/Landings
				- Day/Night Short/Soft field Takeoff/Landings
				- Day/Night Straight and Level Flight, Turns, Climbs and Descents
				- Day/Night Steep Turns and Ground Reference Maneuvers
				- Day/Night Slow Flight, Power-On and Power-Off Stalls, and Spins
				- Day/Night Unusual Attitudes
				- Crew Resource Management
				- Day/Night Emergency Operations
					- Day/Night Aborted Takeoffs/Landings
					- Day/Night Single-Engine Operations
					- Day/Night Emergency Descents

	08:00 PST:	Drive to Palm Springs, CA.
	10:30 PST:	Brunch.
	11:30 PST:	Fly the Conquest (N441HC) to Grand Junction-Walker Field (KGJT).
        14:30 MST:      Arrive in Grand Junction. Turn plane over to WestStar
                        Aviation for repainting and reupholstering.
	15:00 MST:	Take WestStar shuttle to Terminal.
	16:00 MST:	Depart Grand Junction-Walker Field (UAL6279/E120/Terminal/$135.35).
	17:04 MST:	Arrive in Denver (Gate B59) and switch planes.
	18:36 MST:	Depart Denver International (UAL338/B733/Gate B43/$135.35).
	21:27 CST:	Arrive in Dallas (Gate B30).

	17:40 CST:	Depart Dallas/Fort Worth International (DAL1453/B733/Gate E17/$504.64).
	19:28 MST:	Arrive in Salt Lake City (Gate C5) and switch planes.
	20:20 MST:	Depart Salt Lake City International (SKW3727/E120/Gate E24/$252.32).
	21:19 MST:	Arrive in Grand Junction (Terminal).
	21:45 MST:	Take taxi/shuttle to Holiday Inn.

10/30/2004: Flight delayed until late afternoon on 10/31/2004 due to weather.
	11:45 MST:	Take delivery of N885BJ from WestStar Aviation.
	12:00 MST:	Eat lunch at Denny's on field.
	13:00 MST:	Depart Grand Junction-Walker Field in N885BJ.
	16:45 CST:	Arrive at FirstAir in Addison.

Michael DeLong

User Feedback

Recommended Comments

There are no comments to display.

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Create New...