Category Archives: Words On My Wings

Tales From the Cockpit

Undergraduate Pilot Training – The Competition

On 15 November, 1964, I climb out of my Corvair in front of a long, two-story barracks-style building at Reese AFB, Texas, that looks exactly like the other buildings lined up on either side of it. All of the Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) students live in these quarters, and room assignments group the incoming members of Class 66-D together. Some of my ROTC classmates undoubtedly have identical report dates, so I haul my A-4 bag up the stairs to the second floor looking for a familiar face. All I see are strangers arriving in cars, standing in open doorways, or … Continue reading

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Undergraduate Pilot Training – Arrival

In the spring of 1964 I graduated from college with a reserve commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Air Force and a report date of 15 November, 1964, to begin Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) and a four-year active-duty obligation. With a college buddy, I drove my ’55 Chevy Bel Air from Seattle to Dallas with the agreement to sell it to him for the return trip to his home in Washington. I bought a brand-new ’64 yellow Corvair and spent the summer and fall working in an office products supply warehouse filling orders for businesses and schools. … Continue reading

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SOB Trip Part 5

SOB trip concludes: You can guess what happens next, right? The temperature climbs to three degrees higher than the maximum I’d planned for. The charts don’t list each degree of change, so now it’s a matter of interpolating. Number-crunching completed, I consider the wind, which keeps shifting in speed and direction. I decide to choose the runway based on the existing wind when we taxi out. We won’t conflict with traffic because there is none. All the other jet pilots in the world know better than to land at Ilopango. By the time the passengers are on board and the … Continue reading

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SOB Trip Part 4

SOB Trip continues . . . Ilopango International Airport in San Salvador, El Salvador, sits on a bluff with deep ravines at both ends, volcanoes all around, beautiful but unfriendly terrain for landing a jet. Fortunately, the weather is clear. Unfortunately, I’m descending into a mountainous bowl and don’t see the airport until I’m almost on top of it. There’s no way to keep the runway in sight, and I’m concerned about whether there’s enough room within the confines of the bowl to descend safely. So I decide to follow the recommended approach procedure designed for landing in bad weather. … Continue reading

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SOB Trip Part 3

SOB Trip continues…… On checkout at 6 o’clock the next morning the desk clerk wants a credit card. Here we go again. I successfully arm-wrestle the guy for who is going to pay the bill, then endure another harrowing automobile trip on our way back to the airport. And sure enough, atmospheric conditions don’t allow loading more fuel. I make all the final preparations for landing in Costa Rica, taxi to General Aviation Terminal 2, shut down an engine and wait while a parade of uniformed officials looks inside to confirm I have no idea what. We finally take the … Continue reading

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SOB Trip Part 2

SOB Trip continues…… Less than twenty-four hours prior to D-Day I receive a group of forwarded emails from the passengers’ company representatives in Austin and Central America and a frantic phone call from a security officer. “Why haven’t you coordinated the landing at Ilopango International Airport in San Salvador?” Very calmly, which is surprising under the circumstances, I reply, “Because we aren’t landing there. We’re going to El Salvador International. ” “But ALL private airplanes land at Ilopango, and they don’t know ANYTHING about the flight!” “That’s strange, considering we landed at El Salvador the last time we went. And … Continue reading

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SOB Trip Part 1

I’m reluctant to answer the phone because I know. Something in my gut tells me there’s a trip coming up, and it’s going south of the border.  I don’t even bother to glance at the caller ID, and in fact close my eyes as if that will make the caller lose interest and go away. It doesn’t. “Joe’s Bar and Grill.” Laughter mocks my greeting. When the caller finally stops enjoying it so much, she says, her words drenched in fun, “You can’t fool me. Just try to guess where you’re going next month. I’ll wait as long as it … Continue reading

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Beginnings Part 3

Beginnings continues……… No problem, at least until my failure to adjust the pattern creates one. I’m struggling to get the airplane down. Why am I so high? He lets me thrash around in confusion and frustration until he says the magic words, “Go around.” Later he explained his reasoning and the learning objectives for that demonstration. We had practiced no-flap landings, but only when pre-planned. When faced with a sudden and unexpected configuration change, could I recognize the need to extend the pattern for more room? On a previous flight we had practiced slips, a maneuver designed to increase descent … Continue reading

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Beginnings Part 2

Beginnings continues…….. The advanced ROTC program required attendance at a two-week summer camp between my junior and senior years. As a pilot candidate, I had to pass a flight physical. I’m sitting in a chair getting an eye exam from an enlisted guy. He finishes up, and over his shoulder I see 20/20 marked for the right eye and 20/25 for the left. “Whoa,” I say. “Are you sure about that?” “Yessir. That’s how you test out.” I motion for him to come closer and whisper, “I need 20/20 in both eyes to remain in the pilot program. Could you … Continue reading

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Beginnings Part 1

I wish I could write that my love of aviation began at a very early age. Such a tale might begin with, “I had many toys, all of which were abandoned when I got my hands on a little red biplane. From that moment on, my fate was sealed.” The truth is far from that of a flier’s storybook. No hanging around the airport, sweeping floors for the chance to fly with a grizzled eighty-year-old barnstormer in a Stearman. No yearning to take to the skies every time I heard the throaty sound of a radial coughing to life or … Continue reading

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