Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I'm one of 6744

The Eastern Air Lines Pilot Memorial hangs on a wall in the North Terminal of the Atlanta Hartsfield - Jackson International Airport.  Inscribed on the two plaques are the names of the 6744 pilots that flew for Eastern Air Lines prior to March 3, 1989.  My name is inscribed on the first plaque, along with brother-in-law JD's, and The EG's, just to name a few. 

Part of the inscription on the small plaque in the middle reads:  "These plaques list the names of those departed who contributed so much to the Hartsfield International Airport through their participation as pilots with Eastern Air Lines."

Wait a minute, I'm still alive!

In years past, the memorial only listed the names of deceased pilots.  When a pilot died, his or her name was added to the plaque.  I often wondered if the names of the pilots from my era would ever make the wall.  After all it's been almost twenty-three years since the IAM Strike, and the memories of Eastern Airlines are fading fast.  I guess recently the Keepers of the Memorial decided it would be a good idea to just list all the pilots that had flown for Eastern, prior to the strike, and call it a day.  I'm OK with that. 

In Fate is the Hunter, Ernest K. Gann wrote that "Eastern Airlines pilots are singularly determined and clever.  They are not given to timidity. . ."   That was in the 1930's.  Based on my experience fifty years later, not that much had changed.  Sadly; we were not clever enough to prevent Frank Lorenzo's crew from taking things apart.  That is something I'm not OK with.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Jellystone Chockwerks

Greetings Brethren!

As most of you know, the chocks we use down at Jellystone Air Park are in need of a little TLC.  Yesterday, Brother Baker (along with his crew of worker elves) rectified that little problem.

Brother Baker and the belt sander.  He does like grinding stuff. . .

Joe was worried that Emma might get paint on her jeans.  As it turns out, he was the one that should have been paying attention to where the paint landed.

Young Colin Baker.  As you can see it runs in the family. . .

The drying rack.

After the first top coat.  Can you guess which set of chocks go with which airplane? 

That was it for the day---the worker elves were getting hungry!  We still have the final top coat and trim to go.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cooler than Cool

So what's cooler than a Great Lakes Biplane sitting in a hangar on a December afternoon?  How about flying a Hatz Biplane. . .

Clear skis, calm winds, and sixty degrees on the 13th of December---it just seemed like the right thing to do.

Brother Barbeau and I each bagged a landing. . .

Not too bad, all things considered. . .

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gold Medal Day

What I love the most about the "Information Age" is the effect it has had on airline reserve duty.  In the old days, if you were a commuter, more often than not, you were tied to the crash pad telephone.  That was a miserable existence.  Life got better with pagers---but you still had to find a telephone when the box started vibrating.  When cell phones became portable (smaller than a loaf of bread, for example) the reserve pilot was finally mobile.  Life was better, but there was still that feeling of isolation when you were on call.  Laptop computers and smart phones solved that problem.  Now life doesn't pass you by while you are sitting reserve!


Back in October, I was in New York, sitting a twelve hour short-call. The email chatter amongst the Brethren had rolled around to flour bombing.  Eddie Price started the thread when he wrote that he was entertaining the idea of a flour bombing contest down at Pond Branch Airfield.  He was wondering  about contest rules, target placement, etc.  He even included a few You Tube video links for good measure.  I was following along on my BlackBerry.  I had visions of five pound flour sacks crashing through the roof of the Pond Branch hangar!  I suggested he might want to check with his bride before he started chucking stuff out of his airplane. . .

Brother Baker was all over it!  He chimed in with a thesis worth of flour bombing research.  I'm still laughing at the amount of information he came up with.  He even addressed my thoughts on five pound flour sacks.  He wrote that the research suggested it was not the preferred method of delivery---citing one observation where "the five pound flour sack hitting the pool was particularly spectacular!"  The EG chimed in from the Left Coast.  He said he'd never dropped anything from an airplane, and advised us to "try not to hit anything!" 

Then Brother Hogan joined the discussion:  "We did the bomb drop out of Grumman Tigers back in college. Tried timing when the target went under the wing---highly dependant on seat position. The only thing that came close that day was one guy's glasses, when they flew off his face in the slipstream---but they were disqualified as they bounced, ricocheted would be a better word, off the horizontal stabilizer. They heard them hit the tail from the ground. Landed about 20' from the bulls eye.  The best part was when he looked in the rear seat to see if they went there; I shrugged nope! (Couldn't even yell "Nope" with the canopy open---too dang loud!)" 

Everybody knows where this is heading, right?

Six weeks later, Brothers Baker and Price have decided that December 3, 2011, should be the date of the First Annual PBA Flour Bomb Drop Championship & Cookout.

The journey:

Our good friend, Ben Zimmer has a new (to him) Cessna 150, and Brother Baker had promised to fly with him Saturday morning.  Ben keeps the airplane down at Lancaster, South Carolina.  To save a little time we decided to meet there after Ben's lesson.  Joe decided he wanted to fly the Hatz down to Lancaster, and was on his departure roll as I was driving in to Jellystone Air Park.  Young Emma Baker wanted to attend the Flour Bomb Drop, but no way was she riding in the Hatz when it was thirty-six degrees outside!  She decided she would ride down to Lancaster in the Luscombe with me.  Smart girl! 

Joe and Ben were in the pattern when we arrived, so Emma and I enjoyed the warmth of the terminal building until they were finished.  A short time later the Jellystone Squadron was winging it's way towards Pond Branch International---with yours truly in command of the Hatz. 

The flight down was spectacular!  Joe and Emma led the way in Four Three Bravo.  The fifty-eight nautical mile flight (chart measurements---no stinking GPS for the Jellystoners) took exactly one hour, block to block.  That's including a go around at PBA.  Who says airline guys can't fly without a FMS?  It was chilly; but not as bad as I thought it would be.  It could be I was just enjoying myself so much the cold temperature didn't bother me.  The snowmobile hood under the flying helmet had something to do with that, I'm sure.  Also, it helped that I was wearing thick socks!  According to the Guest Register, Hatz CB-1, N558, is the 16th different airplane to land at Pond Branch Airfield.

After exchanging greetings (and enjoying ice cold root beers) we learned it was just a three plane event.  Eddie said that Don Schmotzer was feeling under the weather, and could not attend.  That was disappointing.  Don is a great guy, and has a beautiful 1946 Taylorcraft BC-12D.  He and Eddie are both outstanding photographers, so with Don's absence, our total photo output was cut in half.  While we're on the subject; Emma's camera died shortly after our arrival, and mine was back in Rock Hill, "resting" on the seat of my truck.  (My trusty BlackBerry is only marginal at best.)

The set up:

Since Brother Baker conducted the research, he brought the bomb ingredients---twenty pounds of flour (we only used ten) cheap paper lunch bags, and zip ties. 

Joe and I quickly set about loading the ammo.  He poured the flour in the lunch bags, and I secured the zip ties.  Everyone was laughing!  Eddie, Joe, and I, at the thought of the mess that was about to happen (at any moment), and Emma, at the three old guys laughing like fools! 

 After it was all said and done, we had a dozen "Almost-One-Pounders." 

 Adjusting the bomb bay door on the Luscombe.

The Rules:

1.  Be safe!

2.  Each crew would have 4 runs.

3.  Bombing from tree top level.

4.  Have fun!

The Mission:

We decided to leave the Hatz out of the competition.  Paper bags full of flower and open cockpit biplanes just seemed like a bad idea. 

I went first, with Emma as Bombardier, in Four Three Bravo.  As per the rules, we bombed at tree top level---conservative, I know, but appropriate for a "borrowed" airplane.  All bombs left the airplane intact!  Two hit short of the target, and two hit long.  Our best was about thirty-five feet short.  I had a blast!


Tree top level. . .

Empty shell casings!

After lunch it was Eddie's turn.  As Pilot-Bombardier, he stored his ammo in a cardboard box on the First Officer's seat.  Airborne for sixteen minutes, with three short and one long, his best was five feet closer than Emma's and mine.  As you can see, when you own the place you can skip rule number thee! 

Finally it was the Zen Master's turn, with Emma (again) as bombardier.  He bombed from an intermediate level, and on the second pass they hit the bulls eye!  I guess Emma was just warming up earlier.  I mean, seriously!

The winning crew!

After the show:

The whole day was a blast!  Brother Baker made the comment that it was the most fun he'd ever had in an airplane.  I still haven't stopped smiling! 

Eddie and Sandy, we can't thank you enough for all of your hospitality!   Because of rule number four, we will be back!