The Author is David Reed, a commercial pilot for over 40 years. Over these four decades he has had many events occur, some interesting, some exciting, a few that were frightening and a lot of misadventures. Every story in this blog is true.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Things You Don't See Every Day

     Life is always full of surprises. I love that, keeps me on my toes, always interested in the next hour. When I was a young boy of about 12, I was out in my front yard playing one day. I heard a noise, looked up, and there I saw three World War II era TBM Avenger torpedo bombers in formation, maybe five hundred feet in the air, roaring right over my house! I ran in to my mom, talking a mile a minute and saying how we have to go to the airport. So we did! Mom was great that way. She always supported my flying interest.
     As a new private pilot and only 17 years old, I got checked out in the slightly larger Cessna 172, a four seat Cessna. Not much, but it was "big iron" to me! I was in the pattern after having been checked out, doing some touch and goes on a cloudy but quiet day. As I touched down on one landing I suddenly notice a Mooney, a fast little airplane, touching down on the same runway but coming right at me in the opposite direction! I quickly braked and veered off into the grass as he went sailing past me with his brakes locked up. Surprise!
     I remember the day I picked up a new Cessna 152 from the factory in Kansas. I was headed down to Tulsa in this brand new machine at around 1500' and decided what the heck, I'll do a roll. I'd seen pilots do it all the time in the movies so I figured how hard could it be? I cranked the control wheel all the way over to the right. As we became almost inverted the thing just quit, fell out on its back and suddenly I was pointed straight down at a field full of cows. AAHHH! I quickly pulled out, missing the cows by maybe a hundred feet. I continued to Tulsa swearing I'd never do that again. Years later, I did. Same result. 
     Droning along one Sunday morning in winter from New Bedford to Nantucket in my PBA Cessna 402C. A few passengers onboard, nothing out of the ordinary. Suddenly these two F-111 Air Force fighter-bombers flew past me, I mean one right in front of me and one right over top of me. Freakin close! I watched them curve around, then roll hard over and dive down to the runway at Nantucket. I asked the control tower in a fairly aggravated tone what the heck was that all about. "Oh, they come down from Pease AFB sometimes and simulate bombing the airport. They had you in sight." Oh big relief. Jeesh!
     One day I'm at my home in Sioux City Iowa working in the yard when I hear a jet close by. I look up and see a bright red MIG-15 fly overhead, maybe 1000' high or less. I mean, it's not every day you see a Russian fighter buzzing your neighborhood! I drove out to the airport and saw him parked on the National Guard ramp. Privately owned, bright red warbird. So cool.
     Landed in Boston in my PBA Cessna 402C on 33R. We turned off at the end and held short of the longer runway, 33L, as a United DC-10 thundered down the runway. He took forever to rotate, obviously loaded for a flight to LA or SFO. As he rotated in front of us a bright flame came out of hs right engine, huge tongue of flame. The passenger in the front seat and I watched him and he turns to me and says "That isn't normal, is it?" I was impressed by the fact that with only two engines working, this heavily loaded whale of an airplane was still climbing better than my 402C ever hoped to.
     Finally, I'm holding short of runway 27 in Duluth MN one afternoon. In front of us, two Canadian CF-18s takeoff down the runway, afterburners blazing. Shortly after, three Minnesota ANG F-16's line up and blast down the runway in hot pursuit. As the third one is lifting off we notice a little extra flame coming from his tailpipe. He zooms up and to the right into a downwind position, a long trail of flame engulfing the F-16's belly and stretching far behind it. Then the canopy pops off and a large cloud of brownish smoke comes out, as does the pilot in his seat, small parachute pulling big parachute out. Seat falls away as does canopy while the main chute blossoms open. The pilot floats down to the ground right in front of us on the airport service road. He said later that after he landed he looked around, saw no one, so he gathered up his chute and walked to the hangar. Came around the corner and the Sergeant said "Captain! Didn't you just leave?" and he replied "Yep. The plane's up in the woods. What should I do with this chute?" 
     I wonder what strange thing I'll see next...

Friday, March 10, 2017

A Night To Remember

     I was on call for an MTS trip. These are organ transplant flights and we are required to have a crew ready 24/7 for these. In years past, I was it, and was on call every single day. A day off required a special request. Today though we get regular days off. Me, I didn't care, I love flying MTS trips, but the wife wasn't too happy about it. 
     In the winter the airplane went in the shop for an avionics upgrade, including ADS-B and satellite weather (Nexrad). When it was done I got put on call and in no time I was called out just before sunset for a trip. The weather was terrible: lots of rain in St Louis, and two, count 'em, two lines of thunderstorms running in a long line from St Louis to our destination. We got all prepped and ready, the passengers showed up and as we taxied out I remarked to the First Officer, whom I've never flown with before, "You know how to work this Nexrad?" No, he had no idea. We launched and headed northwest, then paralleled the lines of weather with a beautiful sunset dead ahead and very impressive lightning on our left. We messed around with the Nexrad as we climbed to 20,000' and managed to eventually figure out how to get it working. It worked great, giving us a terrific display of the weather. Naturally our destination was right between these two big lines of weather. As we got closer I spotted a hole in the line nearest us, which was confirmed by ATC. I knew the bases of the clouds were around 6000' so we descended down to 4000' as we steered our way through the weather. Below the weather you could clearly see where all the rain showers were and had a good view of the lightning flashing to the ground all around. We passed a single engine Bonanza going the other way and wondered what was he doing out in this. Then a tremendous flash of white light and a gigantic bolt of lightning blasted down right in front of us! Aye carumba! We were actually able to fly a visual approach into the airport, and as we pulled on to the ramp it began pouring rain with some hail too. Not wanting to get drenched, we all sat in the airplane for a few minutes until it subsided somewhat. I told the coordinator don't be in a big rush to get back, better to let this weather pass by. She was all for that. So around three hours later the weather had moved off to the southeast and the moon was high in a clear sky. Another plane landed and taxied in, having just come from St Louis. I asked the pilot how was it and he said it was clear all the way. Well isn't that always my luck! The passengers showed up, we taxied out and flew home in a clear dark sky. That's when I discovered just how inexperienced the First Officer really was. Sigh, another day and night in the life of a commercial pilot. Never a dull moment. Think I'll get some training material together for that Nexrad. And maybe the FO too.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Caribbean Fun With The FBI

     Summer 1986. I'm flying charters and trying to make a living at it in Jacksonville FL. So far I'm having a hard time paying even one of my bills. One afternoon a friend of mine called and said there was a job posting on their bulletin board. It was for a flying job in the Cayman Islands, one of those dream jobs you hear about but they never turn into anything. But with bills piling up I thought what the heck and called the number. A woman answered, Mrs Marjorie Bodden. She said it was an air charter business and their only pilot, her son, had died in a plane crash last week. Did I have any turbine experience? "Oh sure, I got time in a Cheyenne," which was kinda true. I once flew in the right seat of a Cheyenne II but wasn't allowed to actually touch anything. "I can send you an airline ticket tomorrow, can you start right away?" I said I would need till the end of the week so she made me a reservation for Friday. After celebrating for about 30 seconds I started to think. First I called the DEA and asked if this place, Executive Air Services, was legit. "We don't discuss that information, sorry." So I tried the US Customs office in Miami. "Sorry, we don't discuss ongoing investigations," the man said. I explained my situation and said I just didn't want to get involved with a bunch of drug smugglers. He said he understood and appreciated my concerns. "I can tell you this. They're not currently under investigation." Good enough for me. I began packing my bags and the newest US Customs investigation began.
     As I got assimilated to the life of Riley in the Caribbean, sipping iced tea on the beach at sunset when not flying to exotic places, the FBI and US Customs approached Marjorie's husband, William (a bit of a degenerate), posing as drug dealers. Said they wanted to launder $40 million in drug money and would he fly this cash from Miami to the Cayman Island banks for them? That was very illegal because you are supposed to declare any amount over $10,000 when you leave the country. So naturally Mr William Bodden said yes when they offered him $1 million for his troubles. A few months go by, and then one day, about a year after I started, the trap was sprung. Why it took them a whole year is beyond me. On Miami Vice they could have done this in 48 minutes. But I digress. We load up and fly the Turbine Commander up to Tamiami Airport on yet another Bodden family shopping trip, or so I though. We landed, cleared customs, and then I took off again for Jacksonville to load up the rest of my belongings. Yep, I was going all in for this job. This little side trip caught them all by surprise. Later I saw surveillance photos of me loading my boxes into the airplane in Jacksonville, taken by local FBI agents. I flew back to Tamiami Airport the next day, filled out the required US Customs forms under the watchful, distrustful and glaring eyes of US Customs agents. Nothing suspicious here, US Customs agents are always distrustful and glaring. Put them in a convenience store and they'll make you feel like buying those Twinkies is a felony. Are you sure you want those, son? Later the Bodden clan pull up in a cab and everyone climbs aboard. I start one engine and suddenly we are surrounded by unmarked cars with blue flashing lights and agents pointing big guns at us. Being the simpleton that I am, my first thought was that I must have forgotten to fill out a customs form. I shut down the engine and climb out. A man walks up and says "I'm Agent Jones with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Do you work for these people?" Wide-eyed I reply "Not anymore!" to which he replied "Don't get smart with me, wise guy!" They handcuff everyone, hand behind their back, and take them to the FBI cars. They handcuff me with my hands in front and had me stand by the airplane. They had me turn on the interior lights so they could better photograph the briefcase full of cash. Later we all went downtown. I am no hardened criminal. I am sweating bullets and my only thoughts are of prison and the sex slave business within. I find myself in an interrogation room singing like a canary. I got answers for every question and then some. After a couple of hours of questioning they eventually said they knew I wasn't involved and I'm free to go. RELIEF!! We walked out of the room, laughing at something or other, and right there are the Bodden's, heading down to the lockup. Oh, that did not look good I thought. The next day I flew back to Grand Cayman to gather my things. I walked into the hangar and our mechanic, Sid Giddings, asked why I was there. "To get my things," I replied. "Doesn't the DEA pay for all that?" I explained that I did not work for the DEA or FBI and Sid says "Well, the entire Bodden family thinks you do." So when the next flight departed Grand Cayman, I was on it. 
     For the next year I got very nervous whenever someone knocked on my door, especially when the FBI came by to inform me that William Bodden had skipped bail and was on the loose. Today he'd be in his 90's so I'm not too worried about it anymore, but whenever the doorbell rings I notice that I always look first before opening it. You know, in case some cousin still holds a grudge and a shotgun.