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Thread: Pilot profile: KCD

  1. #1
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    Default Pilot profile: KCD

    Several Months ago, I was asked by Dan, a moderator at this forum, to write a piece synopsizing my flying experience. For the life of me, I couldn’t think of much that would distinguish my experiences from the myriad others who are pilots and frequent FlightSim.com. So I thought about it, pondered the problem, pigeon holed it a bunch of times and finally forgot about it.

    Forgot about it, that is, until I read the account of Neil Wright (Aputech to most of us). He wrote passionately about his early experiences in the cold and blustery wilderness of Alaska, a place many of us have only flown in the sim. About how he learned in an environment that didn’t bother with rules because flying was a way of life; everybody did it.

    “There,” said I, “now that’s an interesting story, and you couldn’t get away with that today, anywhere.” The crux of what Neil was saying was that the rules we must obey today were, at one time, not there to encumber our flying. His tale was enough to stimulate memories of my student pilot days over fifty years ago. Because of the time and the location, there may be something of interest, so here goes.

    When I was about twenty-two, fresh off of active duty and recently graduated from college, I managed to land a decent job in Marathon, Florida. That would have been 1960, and in 1960, the Florida Keys were not much more than a hot and humid wilderness attached to the southern part of the United States. Marathon might appropriately been considered the world’s northern most Banana Republic, if that title had not already been claimed by New Orleans. If it could be carried in a boat, it could be smuggled into the Keys, and most likely was.

    I signed up for flying lessons from a guy who operated out of a wood and tarpaper shack mid-way down the field. $100.00 to solo (an event that generally took about ten to twelve hours, says the operator/instructor). He had an old Champ and a Cessna 170 tail dragger. KMTH in those days was very, very basic, but it was long (5,000’) and wide, hard to mess up on. It was unlighted and would remain so the entire time I flew out of there.

    He loaded me into the Champ and off we went. After take-off, he handed the stick over to me, and if there was ever any doubt, it was totally gone from that moment forward. At ten hours, he announced that I was ready to solo. I was not. KMTH is long and wide, but it is only one strip and it is fraught with cross winds. I had not had much in the way of cross wind experience and I knew I would auger the little Champ into a deep hole if I allowed him to talk me into going around alone.

    I didn’t go; instead, I bought my own airplane, N99462, a good-looking 1946 Ercoupe 415-C.

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    My fabulous Erco Ercoupe 415C, N99462

    I walked away from the mid-field instructor who wanted me to solo too early and went to the far end of the field and Marathon Aviation. There I found an instructor who would teach me in my own plane for peanuts, although while he was teaching me the ins and outs of my new Ercoupe, he had me in a Piper Cherokee 140, a Stinson Stationwagon, a Cessna 150, and a couple of other interesting airplanes I’d have to dig out of the log book if I could lay my hands on it. I learned to fly a lot of different planes there, met a group of people that became great friends and generally had a wonderful experience at the end of the field. I never went back to the middle again. When I soloed (in my own plane) at thirteen hours, I was confident and able. So able, in fact, that by the end of the week the other planes I had flown and been checked out on were now on the ticket as having been soloed.

    One of the fellows I met at Marathon Aviation was Ken Agnew, who later went on to become an official at KMTH, but that was long after I had left the keys. Ken also had an Ercoupe like mine, and he taught me the fine art of landing on an unlighted field at night with no landing light on the aircraft; it was like flying into a black hole. Here is what he said: “Fly the downwind at 800’ until the Food Fair Super Market disappears under the left wing tip. Turn onto base and descend at 500’ per minute until you reach 400’. Turn left onto final, pull back to 1500 turns and trim for 45 knots, that’s all there is to it.” It was a lesson I practiced and used over and over again. When my sister flew to Florida for my wedding, I picked her up in the Ercoupe at KMIA and flew her to KMTH. She never knew she was on the ground until she heard the rumble of the undercarriage on the tarmac.

    My future wife and I, along with Ken and Nancy Agnew, regularly flew the Ercoupes to Key West for dinner, then back into the black hole of KMTH. The fact that as a Student Pilot we were not authorized to carry passengers didn’t make any difference, everyone did it. Like Aputech, I spent several years on a student ticket, the maximum allowed, in fact. There’s no record of the passengers flown as a student in the logbook, but there were many who flew with me in those days. My day of judgment, the end of the line for the student ticket, brought me to the airfield in suburban Maryland on a cold January day, snow all over the place, to take the PPL flight test. The instructor who gave me the test took one look at the endorsements attached on a sheet to my student ticket and looked at me with a raised eyebrow. The flight test lasted over an hour and a half, forty minutes under the hood; he really wanted to find a way to screw the kid with all those endorsements and all those student years, but he couldn’t. We got back to the field and he admitted that he had tried every trick he could think of to cause me to falter.

    I used to sneak an hour of two for the logbook during the week at KMTH, usually on my future wife’s day off. She would go to the beach, I would go to the plane, but invariably, the plane would end up parked by the side of the road (that’s right, I put it down on the road and parked it like a car) and I’d be on the beach with her.

    When I bought the plane, it was delivered without the radio that was supposed to be in it. The radio was both very old and out-dated, no longer in general use, but it was supposed to be in the plane and I intended to see that it was. So, I flew down the keys to Summerland Key, where the prior owner owned and operated a motel. I landed at the gravel strip there, taxied up to Route 1 and parked in front of the motel. In about fifteen minutes I had collected the radio and was back in the air bound for Marathon. The radio never got reinstalled in N99462, because I bought a crystal controlled Skycrafters VHF Superphone with three crystals. What frequencies they were, I cannot recollect, but that radio served me well everywhere I flew all along the Atlantic coast. I never added any more crystals. Radios were nice, but not required, and my Skycrafters made it possible for me to land at those fields where radios were required.

    When I started writing this, I figured a paragraph or two and that would be it. But, once you start bringing all those early days back, the planes, the people, the incidents, what we should have done, and what we shouldn’t, the flood gate just swing wide. I could go on for hours, tell story after story. What I’ve tried to express is that, like Neil, I learned in a different place and time. Things, ALL THINGS, were easier then. What would I do if I were twenty and starting from scratch? Hard to say, I sort of enjoyed the outlaw things we did and the way we did them. Furthermore, I don’t know if I could relegate myself to the countless regulations that today’s pilots must.

    To me, it’s not about hours, although I have plenty, it’s about how you fly and how much you enjoy the ride. I like to think I flew well and I know I certainly enjoyed the ride. Would I fly again if I could? You bet, but those days are behind me by the count of open-heart surgery and a heart attack. I fly my Ercoupe, and a bunch of other planes I enjoy, anywhere I want, the way I want in FS9.

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    Solo recreation, downwind at KMTH; field is off left wing,
    Route #1 is to the left of the field, no Food Fair in FS9.

    N99462’s photograph from the day I bought her sits proudly on my desk to this day. She still flies and wears a pretty new blue and white paint job, but to me she’ll never change.

    Thanks for visiting; I hope you enjoyed this brief peek into my flying past.

    KCD
    Last edited by KCD; 10-20-2013 at 09:35 AM.

  2. #2
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    Thanks for sharing this -- a good read. The old days were, indeed, different, and I miss much about them (though not everything).

    Larry N.

    As Skylab would say:
    Remember: Aviation is NOT an exact Science!

  3. #3
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    Thanks for stopping by, Larry. I agree there are elements of flying in times past that while they seemed truly amazing, cutting edge, at the time, are now considered downright medieval and would not (could not) be tolerated. We didn't worry about too much traffic back then, there wasn't much; today, even flying the "iron beam" I'd want flight following. Anyway, glad you enjoyed the read.

  4. #4
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    I agree, that was a great read and I thoroughly enjoyed it and wanted to be sure to tell you. What you wrote really speaks to the love you had for flying and N9942. What a wonderful experience and story. I can't imagine flying to the beach in your own plane and parking in the parking lot. But I also can't imagine having a Green and White JetRanger hover up alone side, doors open, guns drawn and telling you to alter course or be disabled like aputech did. Everyone has memorable moments from their aviation experience and it's nice to hear them.

    All of us at FlightSim.Com are glad you wrote more than just a few paragraphs, and went on to recall, share and tell us your story.

    This is your thread KCD so if you come up with others feel free to add them.

    Thank you
    Dan

  5. #5
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    Wow, KCD, that was really (pardon me for using this term, but it so fits) neat! Your way of relating your experiences had me feeling as if I could see them--heck, I did see them. I feel honored (and a little embarrassed ) that my name came up. Thank you, Sir.
    But yes, you are so right that back "then" we didn't have all the rules and regulations we're saddled with now. Shoot, back then, flying was really fun! I really got a kick out of how you could just set your ercoupe down by the side of the road, see your girlfriend, or taxi N99462 up Route 1, park her at the motel, get your radio (was it LORAN?) and zip on back! Wow! That is so cool!
    I can't thank you enough for sharing such a wonderful chapter of your life with us. Man! You really had a ball didn't you?

    APUtech

    p.s. the general feeling I got while reading your account was, 'Wheeeeeeeeeeee!'

  6. #6
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    Not only do you have an interesting background as a pilot, but you're a skilled writer as well. I really enjoyed reading about this and feel like I missed out by not being able to fly back in those earlier days without so many rules.

    This is interesting enough that I'd like to promote it to a full article rather than just a forum post, if you're willing. We'd also be interested in hearing more about flying in those days, I bet you've got some stories of specific flights that would make good reading.

  7. #7
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    Dan,
    Thank you so much for your kind words; I appreciate them. I'm sorry it took me so long to get around to writing it for you.

    Aputech,
    'Wheeeeeeeeeeee!' doesn't begin to do it all justice, but thanks for all your kind and wonderful thoughts. Those days were way so different, there is no way that you can convey the sense of flying in those early days. Just think, if our memories are what they are, what would happen if a real aviation pioneer, straight out of the very early days, say an Ernest Gann, sat down to write a piece for the forum. We learned and flew in a special time, my friend, and I wouldn't change it for the world.

    Nels,
    I appreciate your comments, my friend, but I'm just a guy who learned to fly in a unique part of the country at a time when there were far fewer rules to govern what we did. Yes, there are stories... Trying to beat the Border Patrol at their own game, Air force jets along side (that's a good one), Passing through controlled space beneath the radar, and many more. They are all vivid memories that I have for years considered just that, memories of a time past when flying an airplane was a joy. If you wanted to fly at 2,500', you flew at 2,500', but if you wanted to fly at 500' upside down and your plane was capable of that, you did it. I'll give some thought to your (and Dan's request for more stories, but I'm a bit of a turtle when it comes to this stuff. Anyway, thanks for all your kind words.

  8. #8
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    Let me suggest that if you have more stories you wish to share, and if you don't want to make an article as Nels asked, that you could start a thread in the Real Aviation General Discussion section where many of us might tag on experiences of earlier days when the FAA (and society) were friendlier to general aviation and resrtictions of all kinds (including litigation) were far fewer.

    Certainly Ernie Gann and Richard Bach, to name only two, have written complete books about earlier times (Fate Is The Hunter and Nothing By Chance, for example).

    There are a few things I've posted about in the past that might be appropriate in such a thread, and I know many others here have similar stories.

    Larry N.

    As Skylab would say:
    Remember: Aviation is NOT an exact Science!

  9. #9
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    I loved the story. I am still studying in more stricter days now, and have flown to Marathon. Beautiful place to fly to.
    Thanks for posting!
    Alex

  10. #10
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    Thanks, Alex. I have no idea what Marathon looks like today; I haven't been there in about fifteen years and there were many changes from the early 60's then. The tar paper shack had been replaced by a real terminal building and there were taxie ways and lights, can you imagine? How time flies... far faster than you or I can. Thanks again for your thoughts.

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