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Chapter 49

Not Ever Again

Hangar flying always brings out the best and worst of anyone who flies. This is about some of my worst - and best stunts. I attribute several of them to youth, most to being mentally challenged and not thinking about consequences.

I flew a Champ that was used for dusting in Dawson County. That one almost got me in trouble. My mother was in the hospital, I was bored and found this guy who rented a Champ pretty cheap. I called, made a deal and went to the "airport" out on the Lubbock highway. The "airport" consisted of a small office, a T-Hangar and the runway was the turn row at the end of a cotton field. If you have been to Lamesa, you must have driven past this place many times on your right as you go in to town. He had an old Stearman and the Champ. He wanted the money for an hour in advance but didn't ask to see my ticket or physical. I thought he would want to check me out but as soon as I paid him eight bucks, he picked up three quarts of oil and we headed out to the hangar. I was ready to ask him for my money back when I saw the airplane. It looked more like a cartoon than a clean little Champ. The spray rig was attached to the wing struts and the hopper was still in the back, empty of course. Without even checking the dip stick he poured all three quarts in the engine and said, "There it is. The Hobbs doesn't work so you will have to time it with your watch." I must have been starved for entertainment because I got in, cranked up and spent a longer time than usual running the engine up. It wasn't burning any oil, I had looked at the belly which I don't think had ever been washed. I taxied down the runway, avoiding the wash out he had told me about, turned and took off. Dawson County is where I first learned to fly when I was thirteen, almost fourteen the summer of 1947. I had a lot of fun looking over a lot of countryside that brought back some memories. I had about fifteen minutes left and decided a couple of touch and go landings would use it up. I made a wheel landing, back in with the power and fifty feet in the air, the airplane started shaking itself to pieces. When I retarded the throttle the vibration let up. With just enough power to maintain altitude I limped back around to the end of the active, slipped it and landed without bruising anything. I taxied up to the office where the owner was standing and shut the engine down. As I was crawling out, he walked to the front of the airplane and grabbed the prop. As I watched, he twisted the prop to display a crack that ran from the hub out to the tip! Didn't take long to find the reason for the vibration. He said, "That was some pretty slick flying." I almost hit him. I think he knew the prop was cracked. From that day forward, I have always given a wooden prop a good twist as part of the walk around. As I read this tale, I am thankful to Frank Hogg and the Good Lord. Frank for teaching me to stay in control and that you can land an airplane anywhere you can fit the wings.

This next story shows just how dumb a teen ager can be. I moved to Weatherford, Texas in April 1948 and was hired at the local airport as a line boy. Soon after school started in the fall, a CAP Squadron was formed and I was one of the first to sign up as a cadet. They held a competition to pick the Cadet Commandant and I was chosen. A lot of kids from the high school also joined and we had about fifty cadets. We also had a large number of senior members and nearly all of them owned airplanes. This meant a lot of flying time and without blowing my horn too much, I added a lot of dual instruction in different types of Piper Cub J3aircraft. Bud Tull owned a surplus PT-19, Doc Swancy owned a Tri-Pacer. There were several Luscombes, Cubs, even a surplus PT-22 and I managed some time in all of them. Soon, we were able to obtain our own L-4 which is what the Air Force called the J-3 Piper Cub. Brand new with only fifty hours total. A fellow cadet and I drew the assignment of keeping the airplane ready for search missions should one arise. Not much to that task, wash it once a week, make sure it was full of gas and oil and with current charts. My buddy Wayne picked me up in his grandmother's Model A Coupe about daylight one Saturday morning. It was time to pull maintenance on the L-4 and we had some other plans after we had washed the plane and checked the gas and oil. The wash rack was located downhill from the hangar and it was an easy chore to roll the little plane down there and rinse it off. Never walk when you can ride I have heard some place and I convinced Wayne to give me a prop and we could taxi back to the hangar. First pull and the engine fired right up. Wayne hopped in the back seat and I eased the throttle up to check the mags. Everything was fine there so I taxied up to the edge of the runway. I was about to really pull a boner. I headed the nose down the runway and pushed the throttle to the fire wall. You have to remember, I had a lot of time in a Cub and even had a few hours in this one, all dual of course. The tail came up, I eased back on the stick and was about three feet in the air when the engine quit. Wayne had reached around, turned the mag switch to "OFF" and had a death grip on it. I landed, we had a pretty heated argument but he would not prop the airplane again. Furthermore, if I persisted, he would leave me half way down the runway to push it back to the hangar! It was a long trip and we barely made it before two senior members arrived to fly the airplane. They wanted to know why the engine was hot and I came up with the excuse that we had started it to blow the water off after we washed it. That got me a good butt chewing because cadets were not supposed to start the airplane without a senior member present. If they had known what I had really done, they would have kicked me out of the CAP. We eventually obtained a LINK TRAINER and there weren't any restrictions on it's use. If they crash, no one gets hurt or killed.

In 1970, I was still using the GI Bill to work on my Commercial and Multi-Engine ratings. This gave me cheap access to a nice Cessna 182, N764MS with a full instrument panel. Max Booker, Bob Holmes and I decided to take a weekend trip to Sugar Lake to join our friend Shorty Alford for some fishing just on the other side of the Mexican Border. I didn't log this flight in my book because what I was doing was slightly illegal. You see, I was not supposed to haul passengers while flying on Government time. (I sure hope the statute of limitations has run out.) I picked up the airplane at dawn on Saturday, flew to the ranch to pick up Max and Bob then headed for May-hee-co. We opted for a pit stop in San Antonio and while I was checking weather in the FAA Field Office, Max pulled out a Texaco Road Map instead of a sectional or WACs chart. That brought some looks from the guys in the FAA. We were acting pretty goofy anyway.

Summer weather in Texas makes for a bumpy ride down low and I climbed up to a cooler altitude. Our destination was Laredo, Texas where we would refuel and make arrangements to fly in to Mexico. Weather at Laredo was forecast as 2500 feet and broken clouds. I kept climbing to get above a solid cloud cover, what we refer to as "VFR on top." We were at 9000 feet and just barely skimming the tops of cumulus clouds that obscured Mother Earth. Not to worry, I had a solid station ID and the needles centered. We arrived over Laredo VOR and it was still solid overcast. I called the Air Force Base, told them the situation and asked the operator to keep me informed of other air craft as I let down. The operator also told me Laredo was 2500, broken. Max was in the rear seat and as we started down through the cloud cover, I noticed he stuck his head up between the seats. I was concentrating on the gauges, flying over the VOR, make a 180 and fly back over it so I would know where we were. The second time over the station, Max suddenly said, "What's wrong with that needle? It stays centered for a few minutes and then it swings all over the place!" I didn't have time to explain how a VOR works and sure didn't need my concentration broken. We could barely see the prop. Sure enough, at 2500 feet we broke out of the clouds with Laredo Airport in view. I called for a full stop and as we landed, a FOLLOW ME truck appeared with a sign that said, S&H Green Stamps. Ahead of him was another truck that advertised DOUBLE S&H GREEN STAMPS. We needed a lot of gas so we followed that truck.

In the office and after paying a huge gas bill, I asked the manager about Mexico. I told him we were flying a rental and he asked if we had a letter from the owner granting us permission to enter Mexico. Of course we didn't but he said he would write one for us. I looked around to see Max and Bob shaking their heads but they could have saved the effort. We politely declined the offer, had a sandwich in the coffee shop and made plans to fly to McAllen, Texas along the Rio Grande. That was a fun sightseeing trip, flying low along the river we could see where illegal immigrants had been crossing and even thought we saw a couple darting in to the brush on the Texas side.

We flew in to Mexico just far enough to get a look at the airport where we would have landed and saw a sight that made us glad we had changed our plans. A Cessna twin was upended on the runway and goats were climbing all over it. On to McAllen, landed and were taxiing to the Cessna Dealership when ground control ordered all aircraft to hold their position. Seems a smuggler had landed, been spotted and was racing around the airport in a stolen plane trying to find a place to bail out and run. Security caught up with him about a hundred yards from our position and we saw the capture.

We made arrangements for fuel, a tie down and rent car. We went to Mexico for steaks and then back to a Holiday Inn for the night. On the way back to the motel, we passed a shed where they were sorting onions. This is where they throw away better produce than you find in some stores. Max or Bob one suggested we stop and take a bunch of the free onions home with us. We gathered up almost a hundred pounds and headed for the motel. Next morning early, we loaded the onions in the baggage compartment of the Cessna and headed for Fort Worth via Llano and a close look at our deer camp from the air. The onions reeked to high heaven by this time and I was ready to get rid of them. The odor was in our clothes! When we landed at the ranch, Max and Bob took them away but not the smell. I had some explaining to do when I returned the airplane. Have you picked out all the violations yet?

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