THE DAY I FLEW (true story)
If I had had any idea that I would be expected to fly, I would never have agreed to going up with this wacky pilot. Now I found myself in a learn-as-you-go situation, while he just sat there, facing the side window as though he didn’t have a care in the world.
That morning I had been asked by a group I know if I’d like to accompany them on an outing hunting coyotes. As is often the case in this area of the Midwest, the coyotes had been breeding faster than their allowed habitat would provide food. Whenever this happened, they ended up coming in closer to lands used as grazing for sheep and cattle. Young lambs and calves were being found half eaten and it would have to stop. The local way of controlling this was a coyote hunt.
Many of the farmers maintained Greyhounds primarily for this purpose. The hounds were taken by pickup or jeep into the grazing lands. A local with his own airplane would go up and cruise around until seeing a coyote on the ground. At this time, he would ‘spot’ them by circling the animal in a tight circle with wing tip down steeply. When this maneuver was seen from the waiting area, the farmers would drive to the area, release their hounds and the frightened coyote would be chased until caught. Usually the hounds took a just revenge and slaughtered the coyote that had slaughtered the livestock.
This day I had been invited to fly along to help ‘spot’. The guy was a barnstormer sort who wasn’t the most cautious of pilots. But he was good and knew his machine. As we left the area of the first catch, he asked if I would like to fly. Of course! I told him I never had tried before, but he assured me the plane was foolproof. Couldn’t nose dive or roll over and there was nothing to it. With that advice, he simply said, ‘It’s all yours.’ Wow! Me just 14 and flying!
Oh, sure! When I suggested he take it back over, he wouldn’t even look at me and, as the plane began a slow drift to the left and downward, I grabbed the stick and decided it was time I tried something. Anything! Surprisingly, the plane did what I wanted it to! This wasn't so bad. I pulled back on the stick and the nose came up. I turned it to the right and it went sharply to the right and scared me silly. After it was straightened up and on a good course, I turned to him and asked where we should go next.
No answer! When I tapped his arm, he sort of tilted and fell over against the window on his side. Was he dead, unconscious, or just playing games with me? It wasn’t easy to determine what was wrong with him and, at the same time, fly the plane. But, finally, as I had it leveled out briefly, I reached over to feel his pulse. There was none! Oh, no! This couldn’t be happening. Playing around with this thing up in the air was one thing, especially with him as backup. But I now had no backup. The pilot was dead.
I could see the farmers parked below me and off to the right, but I didn’t know how to use his radio to talk to them. None of them was a pilot, anyway. Seeing a straight stretch of graveled road, I decided to give it a try. There was no traffic and no other site as free of unseen holes and bumps. Here we go! I pushed the stick forward and, as I closed with the ground, brought it back slightly and, amazingly, the next thing I knew, we were landed and coasting along. The plane finally drifted slowly to the left and gradually went over the edge of the road into the ditch. The soft soil caught the wheels and drug it to a stop and, miracle of miracles, it was still upright resting slightly on one wing tip.
As everyone drove up, I was climbing out. Couldn’t stand, because my legs were shaking so. But, I had flown that day.
A heart attack had finished it for the pilot, according to the county coroner. Lucky for me, the pilot had told me the truth. The plane was easy to fly and, though it wasn’t what I’d planned, that was the day I flew.
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