Flying The Not-So-Friendly Skies/Phantasy Friday

Quick Note! Southern Sizzle Romance’s one year blog anniversary is next month! In celebration, every day in August we’ll be blogging with individuals in an effort to answer questions and offer advice to writers in every stage of their careers. Agents, editors, authors and businesses with connections to the industry will all be participating! (Can’t spoil the surprise, but there are some impressive people representing!) Be sure to visit us as often as you can!

My husband had never flown. Hard to believe in this day and age. My younger brother had a private pilot’s license, and as kids we’d borrow Charlie Theologis’s two-seater Piper Cub and spend the entire day in the air and over the Barrier Islands. I’m talking back when Stennis Air Field was so small, if the air traffic controller got hungry, he’d leave the tower unattended to go get lunch. Came in more than once screaming warnings of our elevation, direction of approach and runway designation into the mic while craning my neck back and forth on the lookout for other air traffic on the way down.

But it took the inducement of a last minute catch-and-release trophy bull elk hunt in Colorado–one he had no time to drive to–to get hubby off the ground.

Flying via a private twin-engine, twelve-seater plane totally freed us of the hassle of airport security, so we were all cammied up, booted, knived and ammunitioned, set to crawl straight off the plane and hike up the mountain on arrival for the first hunt.  We got to the airport at 2:30 in the morning with a tentative departure forty minutes later. That didn’t work out.

We’d agreed to help some guys from Fox 25 shoot a promotional video for the ranch owner, and ended up with considerably more equipment than expected. That resulted in repacking the plane, and pulling some fuel off to compensate for extra weight. Not a problem; we’d stop in Houston to top off, then continue on.

We finally took off about four hours late. Since hubby hadn’t flown before I let him have the window, with me in the last seat behind him. He was excited as a kid on Christmas, absolutely entertaining. But from flying with my brother, I learned the habit of watching everything. Each engine had it’s own fuel gauge. The further we flew the more the port side gauge visibly slid from full to empty, while the starboard engine gauge barely budged. Just as I got nervous enough to mention it the pilot turned around and said we were stopping in Baton Rouge to have a mechanic “tweak” the port engine. Had to bite my tongue to keep from suggesting the way it was drinking fuel, wouldn’t they rather replace it?

We radioed in and got clearance to land. Started our descent. Zoomed back up and circled. Strange. We made another pass, this one right over the tower. Now the last time brother and I buzzed a tower, I think there was a heavy fine involved. Yet we made two more passes. I got a little suspicious when I noticed three people on the deck, two shading their eyes and one with binoculars, all staring at our undercarriage as we flew over. Pilot finally admitted to a little trouble with the landing gear, and he was going from hydraulic to manual.

All he needed was a little screeching monkey perched on his shoulder and he’d have passed for a demented organ grinder the way he was cranking away on the handle set into the side of his seat. We buzzed the tower again. Headed back skyward. He finally fessed up the lights weren’t all coming on to indicate the landing gear was locked in place for landing, and the tower was trying to verify if it was or wasn’t. Last thing you want is to have the landing gear collapse.

There are three little lights on the dash that light up when the nose, starboard and port wheels lock in place. The port light never came on whether dropped hydraulically or manually. Pilot said he felt they were safely locked, but couldn’t be sure. I suggested maybe one of the bulbs was simply burned out. Please try the tester. He did. All three of those buggers lit up like a Christmas tree. Scuttled the burned bulb theory. And Baton Rouge got a little sensitive right about then and refused to let us land. Guess nobody wanted all that FAA paperwork that accompanies a crash landing. They sent us on our way back to Gulfport.

Over Picayune a military jet that had been scrambled to do a visual intercepted us. Hubby, who’d been inordinately thrilled by all the buzzing of the tower, was so excited to see an F-14  up close he was smudging the window with his forehead. We had a potentially life-threatening problem but it didn’t seem to register with him. Our pilot dropped the landing gear and the jet floated up under us. The pilot in his flight mask and helmet was clearly visible through the jet’s canopy. “Check it out!” hubby said, grinning. “This is so cool! He’s right underneath us!” He craned his neck, totally disappointed, as the jet pilot slipped out of sight. “Aw, man. He’s gone.” His disappointment lasted until he caught sight of him out the other window. Orangutan arm extended, finger under someone in the other row of seats nose, he was straining his seat belt as he pointed out the window. “Wait! Look! There he is! Think he’ll see me if I wave?” ‘At that point the jet pilot informs us that while the landing gear looked secure, he couldn’t confirm a lock. Told us to proceed to Gulfport airport. Think I’d have been fine if he hadn’t crossed himself right before he pulled stick and rolled away.

Gulfport wasn’t any more thrilled with receiving us than Baton Rouge had been. Directed us to a runway on the farthest side of the airport. You know, the one with no witnesses. We’re all holding our breath, silent with the seriousness of the situation as we get clearance to land. The pilot’s final words to us before applying total concentration to the task at hand is, if worse comes to worst and the landing gear fails, for us to exit the plane as soon as it comes to a standstill.

As we come in red and blue lights are flashing all up and down both sides of the runway. Foam trucks are stationed at the halfway point and end of the runway. Police cars, firetrucks and ambulances with lights flashing form a grim waiting line. Even the freaking coroner was there! As we near touchdown a third foam truck begins racing down the tarmac alongside us. I can tell from hubby’s wriggling he’s about to burst out with something. He did all right.

“Woo-hoo! Check it out! We get to do a Hollywood landing!” I started praying right then. I’m ashamed, but it was something along the lines of “Please, God, don’t let my last earthly act be to reach out and smack the heel of my hand into the back of my husband’s head.”

The pilot set the starboard wheel down first. Then dropped the nose. Finally, when he’d bled off all the speed possible, he finessed the port wheel down.  She settled to earth like a bird. Turns out a new paint job had crystalized a sensor tab. It held up for touch and goes to pass inspection, but had broken during our takeoff.

We scrambled to make a commercial flight. I spent five full minutes yanking filled .45 caliber magazines and assorted knives out of my boots and pockets, cramming them into the duffel we now had to check. I dropped some loose .270 shells, but the lady at the desk was really nice and waited for me to chase their rolling selves down before tagging the luggage. (You can check a bag full of knives and bullets, but can’t have them on your person.)

It was miserable having to unlace hunting boots for airport security, put them back on and sprint for the next checkpoint only to do it all over again. Guess a cluster of disgruntled people in camouflage makes security particularly nervous. But hubby went from non-flyer to experienced. Not many people can say they ran low on fuel, endured faulty landing gear, and crash-landed a 12 seater Cessna, but still managed to reach their destination via a combination of 50 passenger Lear, 727 and 747 all in the same day.

Believe it or not, he later willingly boarded a plane with me for a conference in Atlanta!


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8 Responses

  1. What a great story. Glad your hubby enjoyed his day of flying so much. I don’t fly often, rarely in fact. The last time I flew I heard the creaking of the landing gear coming up on take off and felt panic rising until it dawned on me what it was. It was such a relief I said out loud, “Oh it’s the landing gear.” The complete stranger next to me smiled and said “Don’t fly often huh?” Flying is truly an adventure. As always a superbly well-told tale.

    • Thanks, Darlene! I can sympathize with people who don’t like to fly. I’m that way about heavy traffic. Five lanes each way of vehicles hurling themselves up and down California highways made me want to crawl onto the floorboard. And stay there!

      But, yep, life with hubby is always seen through fresh (?) eyes!

  2. WOMAN! That man of yours is a hoot. I guess it was good that he’d never flown before since he didn’t think anything odd/scary was going on- it may have been much worse if he’d tried to climb in your lap like a scared puppy! And I love that prayer- I’ve had that thought before too about my own husband!

  3. Laughing.. great story Runere…

  4. LOL, you have such great stories! Although I probably shouldn’t have read this before my first time flying in several years. I’m still cracking up about your husband’s response. LOL Great post!

  5. Late checking in but loved the story. RitaVF

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