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.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

War Stories

Many things happen on my trips that are interesting aside from flying. One thing I notice is that when two or more pilots are together in a bar, they always talk about flying. Nothing but flying. I try to avoid that. Sure, I'll talk about flying, but I try to steer the conversation in other directions too.
I was on a trip to Florida recently. We flew the boss down to Daytona Beach, and my copilot Rachel and I checked into a hotel by the shore. These trips are fun because we get to spend some time away from the ravages of winter in St Louis, down in the warmth of the sunshine state. The hotel is actually part of a marina, so the bar is outside in a park-like setting with expensive yachts parked in their docks nearby. We both love boats, so this is a perfect location for an after dinner drink. After a couple of Bourbon & Ginger Ale's (my personal favorite), I excused myself and head to the rest room. Afterward I came back and here was some guy sitting next to Rachel at the bar, obviously hitting on her. Now Rachel is happily married and has absolutely no interest in this guy, but she’s too polite to tell him to get lost.
I sit down next to her and she says “Oh, this is my friend, David. Dave, this is Mike. He was just telling me about his experiences in the Gulf War.”
Hmm. Trying to impress her with his lame war stories. What a jerk. Normally I’d just say “Yea, great. Good bye Mike,” but I played along. I just nodded and smiled.
Rachel asks “Dave, you were in the Gulf War , weren’t you?” 
“Yes, yes I was.”
Mike says, “Oh yea? What branch?”
“Navy,” I replied. So far I’m half right. Yes, I was in the Navy. Yes, I was in the Gulf once. Just not during the Gulf War. But hey, as long as we’re telling stories.
“Navy!” Mike snorts. “I was in the Army. We were in battle, not sleeping on a cruise ship in the water.”
Oh, he’s so asking for it.
Rachel looks at me. I look at her, then back at him and say “Well, I did see some action once.”
Rachel says “Really? Tell us about it.”
“It was the night before Stormin' Norman crossed the Iraqi border. I was on an amphibious ship, an LSD, the USS Portland. We were always tasked with carrying the SEAL team, along with some Marines. Our job tonight was to put the SEAL team ashore so they could raise a ruckus and make the Iraqis think we were actually invading from the sea.” This was true. I had been on the USS Portland, LSD-37. We did carry the SEAL team. And the SEAL team did go ashore the night before we invaded to make a ruckus.
“So that night, just after sunset, we put the SEAL team in a Mike boat (a type of landing craft), and headed for shore. Two Bos’n mates ran the boat, Bill and Stanley. James the Gunners Mate manned the .50 caliber machine gun, and I manned the radio. We motor up to this deserted beach and drop the ramp. Just then all hell broke loose. A tremendous amount of automatic weapons fire started coming at us from the tree line up by the road. Yikes! We must have stumbled upon an entire Iraqi battalion or something! The SEAL team ran off the boat and spread out in the sand, returning fire. The .50 caliber starts blasting away not two feet from me. BAM!BAM!BAM!BAM!BAM!
Then the Bos’n mate who was running the boat, Bill, he falls into the water, having been nicked by a bullet. I thought “oh crap! We need him to get back to the ship!” So I jumped into the waist-deep water and started helping the guy climb back aboard. I'm pushing and shoving and hit my side on something on the boat and thought “Ow! Damn it! Oh, that’s gonna hurt!” I clamber back aboard myself and notice the 50 caliber is no longer firing. I look around and there’s the Gunners Mate James helping Stanley raise the ramp back up.
Bullets are still pinging off the steel all around us. I jumped up and grabbed the machine gun, even though I’d never actually fired one before. I grabbed the handles with both hands, point it towards the trees and squeezed the trigger.”
Both Rachel and Mike are hanging on my every word. “The gun starts firing. Every round is a tracer round, and each round fired makes your whole body jerk from the recoil and it's firing nonstop. Let me tell you, that thing is hard to control! Tracer rounds are flying everywhere, and I’m trying to point them towards the trees, but it’s jumping around so much the tracers are arching all over the place. I'm hanging on to the gun handles for dear life, so the trigger is staying firmly depressed. Bill throws the boat into reverse and we back quickly off the beach, turn and start motoring back to the ship, me shooting back at the trees as best I can, trying to help the SEALs get to cover.
A minute later James runs back to me and the gun. “Jesus Christ! What the hell happened to you?” he yells, looking down at my shirt.
I looked down and here is my shirt, soaked in blood! It’s all over my pants, too. Turns out, I didn’t hit something on the side of the boat climbing in, I’d actually been shot with an AK47 round. We called the ship on the radio, saying we'd been hit and they were saying back, "Put pressure on it! Put pressure on it!" Back on board they threw a bandage on us, then flew Bill and I to the carrier where he got a band aid and I got surgery. Luckily it didn’t hit anything important and the next day I was flying home, after my one night in the War.”
Now recently I’d had an operation and it had left a scar on my side that looked just like a bullet wound. I hiked up my shirt and pointed to the scar. “Wow!” Rachel said. “Jeesh,” Mike replied.
Well, Mike couldn’t beat that story so he said he had to get going or something and left. We watched him walking away and Rachel turned to me and asked “So, did that really happen?”
“Nah,” I laughed. “I made the whole thing up. Not bad, huh?”
She laughed. “Well, you sure shut him up! Great story!" Cheers!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Perfect Day

Every once in a long while you have a day where everything goes exactly as planned. As rare as they are, I enjoy them the most. Recently I had a day like that.

I was scheduled for a corporate trip on Friday. Leave at 0600 and fly two people to Kansas City International for an all day meeting at the Hilton. I got to bed early the night before and as a result I awoke feeling good. Took a shower, put on my best corporate outfit. For corporate trips we dress in business attire with shirt and tie. Stopped at QT for some croissants and fruit, then headed to the airport, arriving about 15 minutes early. I'd already filed the flight plans the night before and printed out the trip sheet as well, so all I needed to do was check the aircraft log and file a Baldwin Safety Report. That's an online risk assessment that identifies hazardous flights. This flight though was a solid low risk, so no special actions were needed. 

I gave the line service guys the fuel request- top the outboards and 30 gallons in each inboard fuel tank. This would give us plenty of fuel with good reserves. While they did that, I pre-flighted the airplane. Everything was looking good so I entered the flight plan in the FMS (Flight Management System), then shut everything off and went back inside. My copilot today was Rachel, my favorite copilot to fly with. Competent and fun, I was looking forward to it. She was a little late arriving so I went ahead and made the coffee and set up the croissants and fruit in a nice basket. Rachel showed up so we took the catering out to the airplane and reviewed the plan for the trip. 

Our first passenger showed up early, a guy I haven't met before. We talked a little bit and then I left him to his work. A little after 6AM our second passenger showed up and so we all headed out to the airplane. Once on board with the door closed I started up the engines and did the after-start checklist while Rachel got the ATIS and clearance. We both finished at the same time and were quickly taxiing down the taxiway to runway 26L. This would be her leg to fly, so I gave her the controls to taxi and I finished the taxi checklist. It was dark outside, cold, windy and overcast. After a quick run up at the end of the runway, we got cleared for takeoff. "80 knots", then "V1, rotate". We climbed quickly and were cleared on course by departure control in short order. As we leveled off at 20,000' we were facing some pretty strong winds- 115 mph directly on the nose. We asked for and descended down to 14,000'. As we came up on 16,000' Rachel suggested stopping there, as it was on top of the clouds still. "Nah," I replied. "Let's just go on down to 14." So we did where we ended up in the clouds in bumpy air. Kansas City had been reporting overcast at 12,000', so I asked for 12,000' hoping we'd end up just underneath. We did, not as bumpy, and the winds were only 50 mph here. "I should have listened to you and stopped at sixteen!" I said to her. "It was smooth there." 

We got vectored over downtown Kansas City. The air smoothed out and we did a visual approach to runway 1L. Rachel landed right in the touchdown zone, on the centerline, and it was so smooth you could hardly tell we'd landed. Nice! She taxied us to the parking area and while she shut it down I got up and went back to open the door. I escorted our passengers inside and away they went to their meeting. We finished up with the airplane, went inside and got a crew car. The girl behind the counter had heard me mention we were going to the Corner Cafe for breakfast, so she had a map already marked for us. Nice!

Now normally on these corporate trips we would get a call right about now and find ourselves cris-crossing the state, flying multiple legs to deliver more people to more towns. Each one a last minute change, we'd be lucky if we got time to grab a sub sandwich somewhere for lunch, subsisting on chips and M&M's from the on-board stock. So far though, that wasn't happening. We didn't dare mention it for fear of jinxing it. We went to the Corner Cafe for breakfast, which is where we went when Rachel flew her first trip with this company. Dejavu! As usual, the food was terrific. They have the best pancakes I've ever eaten. We took our time and made the whole meal last over an hour. Finally we headed back to the airport and Signature Aviation. 

Back at Signature Aviation we climbed into a couple of lounge chairs and took a nap. Rachel has a 13 month old baby who is in that stage where nobody gets a good night sleep, ever. So she gets her sleep when she can, and this was a perfect time. No other crews making noise, just quiet bliss. I'm still waiting to get that call for the inevitable short-notice trip, but it never came. At lunch time we grabbed the crew car again and headed over to Freddie's. We both like their burgers and fries, so we had a nice lunch there. We drove back to Signature and as I pulled in my phone rang. It was Tim. "Your passengers are on their way." I asked how he knew this and he said they had just called him, and he's standing inside Signature, waving at us. Well this was strange! Why did they send Tim and George in the jet? They were to pick up four other people from the same business, and we'd take our two in the KingAir. Why we didn't just bring all six back with us was a mystery to us all. The passengers arrived, everyone boarded and we headed back to St Louis, a quick forty minutes away. The air was clear, sunny and smooth. We landed right after the jet, I made a pretty smooth touchdown, everyone left and we were done. Everything about that trip had gone exactly according to plan, which is a very rare thing indeed. I was even home in time for dinner! It's rare but sometimes everything just goes your way. Which means the next trip will be a disaster....