Fly Holiday Inns

Fly Holiday Inns

How I survived the foolishness of youth I don’t know. Truly someone was looking out for me, perhaps the higher power we hope is there, the one we pray to when thankful or in times of need.  There is also the chance it is just luck working in my favor. I may never know; we may never know… especially if it all just goes dark one day and surely it will. I have been grateful though for the help from whoever or whatever for a very long time.

How I got the flying job with Holiday Inns went like this: I was standing in the reception area of Arkansas Aviation at the Little Rock Airport when the phone rang. The secretary working behind the counter answered it, then looking over at me asked if I would take the call; she went on to say, “it’s someone looking for a pilot.” I picked up the extension and the man on the other end asked me if I was an instructor and did I have a multi-engine and instrument rating. And, if so, would I be interested in doing a test flight for him. He had an airplane that had just had both engines replaced and it needed to be test hopped. “And by the way,” he asked, “Have you ever flown an Aero Commander?” I, of course, had never flown one and I (of course) said, “Yes I had.” It’s what you do when you are young and stupid and want to fly an airplane you have never flown before. He asked me to show up down at the Benton, Arkansas airport the next morning and we would fly the thing together. Benton was about a thirty minute drive south, in the direction of Hot Springs.

On arrival at the Benton airport the next morning I asked to see the Aircraft Flight Manual and I reviewed a few things I needed to know. Especially if I am to maneuver the aircraft into the air and get it safely back on the ground again. Using the checklist I completed a preflight making myself aware of where everything was located; the necessities, the usual suspects as in throttles, ignition switches, fuel valves, major engine and flight instruments, flight controls, flaps, etc.

aeroCommander560A

What about those flaps?

I really love the looks of this airplane so I’m of course anxious to climb into the seat and fire it up. I hadn’t flown a cabin class multi-engine aircraft before, so it was a thrill to enter from ground level through the cabin door on the left side located just under the wing. The man in charge of this operation followed me in and I asked him to lock the cabin door in behind us. It was a necessary decision on my part as I had no idea how exactly to do it. I’m sure I would have figured it out, aircraft doors can be complicated and it might have proved embarrassing if I should fumble thru the procedure.

The stupid pilot, me, climbs into the left seat and the other stupid guy climbs into the right. He is only stupid for one simple reason, the mistake of letting me have a go at it without questioning more of my background. I’d figured out where all of the important switches were located during my flight manual review, and then followed it up using the aircraft preflight checklist; all the while thinking… this is kindergarten stuff.

Me and my humble co-pilot managed, working together with the checklist, to get the engines started; although even today I am not sure he was a pilot. He did own the maintenance operation that had installed the new engines, so I assumed he knew more about the aircraft than I did.

Benton, Arkansas had a small airport; I believe it was then known as Watts Field and has since closed. There was no control tower so on our own we made our way out to the end of the runway. Once there, making use of the aircraft published checklists, we did our standard engine run ups and mag checks. The runway length was a tad shy of 4000 feet, a little less than a mile long. It was a cool morning and the wind was calm.

Before taxiing out onto the runway, the “Before Takeoff Checklist” goes something like this:

1  Parking Brake – SET,
2  Fuel Quantity – CHECK,
3  Throttles – IDLE,
4  Propellers – HIGH RPM,
5  Mixture – FULL RICH,
6  Elevator Trim – SET for takeoff,
7 Flaps – set 10 degrees… It is here that communications somehow breakdown. The flaps didn’t get set to the takeoff position, which is a “must have” in most airplanes including this one, and even more so on a short runway. The final nine items on the list are accomplished which end with:

15  Fuel Boost Pumps – ON,
16  Transponder – ON.

We believe the checklist has been completed and we lineup for take-off in a southerly direction on runway 17.

The takeoff procedure goes like this:

1  Smoothly Apply Full Throttle,
2  Release Brakes,
3  Accelerate to V1 speed 85 MPH,
4  Pitch – 10 degrees Nose up,
5  V2 speed 95 MPH (flying speed) at positive rate of climb raise Landing Gear.

Well, here’s the problem: at our 95 MPH of indicated airspeed we are not anywhere near flying just yet. Seems we may be in need of some flaps for added lift. Problem is, the flaps are not extended. We are accelerating of course as we approach the end of the runway but not yet flying. It was at about this time the flap position indicator caught my eye… it was pegged at zero, as in Nada. Just as the end of the runway is disappearing under the nose I slip the flap handle down to 10 degrees and we suddenly leap off the end of the runway into the air. Feeling we weren’t quite there yet, a comfortable flying speed, I eased the nose over to pick it up a little, while at the same time raising the landing gear to lessen the drag and clean us up some.

I didn’t exactly need it at the time, but I should have been wearing a diaper. This was a close call. We can call it a learning experience on many fronts, beginning with not being honest and second, being careless in judgment. I could have been more inquisitive about the someone else I am flying with along with asking about who owned the airplane and why there were new engines to begin with. These are the experiences one picks up in the early stages of a flying career. You learn from it, or you die early having not taken the lesson seriously.

Not too many years distant from this event, in my early stages of an airline career, it would be common practice to be doing no-flap takeoffs out of necessity. For example, when departing a high altitude airport on a hot summer day, even with a runway over two miles long sometimes, to reach flying speed, the zero flap take-off was the ticket to accommodate the weight we were carrying. For added safety, the jet aircraft we were using had an unusual aircraft feature, a system designed specifically for the purpose of carrying extra weight. Our ONA (Overseas National Airways) Douglas DC-9 had JATO (Jet Assisted Take-Off) bottles (four of them), mounted at the fuselage wing root, standing in reserve in case of an engine failure. Those were very scary takeoffs; hurling down the runway at a hundred an eighty miles an hour hoping the tires wouldn’t come apart… some did.

The Job Offer

I don’t recall the exact sequence of events following the no-flap takeoff that nearly sealed my fate as a commercial pilot, not to mention just plain remaining alive and still breathing. We flew the airplane around for a while doing some air work and returned to the airport for a few takeoffs and landings; this time using the correct flap settings where appropriate.

Following the test flight came a surprise question. I was asked if I would be interested in a job flying this aircraft for Charles Bland, the Vice-President of the construction division of Holiday Inns of America, based in Memphis. Whoa, had I known this bit of information in advance, I feel certain I wouldn’t have been so cavalier about taking on the test flight the way that I did.

Sign me up, or some form of reply in that vein was made, and I agreed to fly around the following week with a gentleman familiar with their type of operations. The job was offered and I took it. For the next year I flew upwards of 100 to 120 hours a month to destinations all over the US, the Caribbean and Mexico. It was a great job working for a fine bunch of people and it provided me with great confidence in my abilities, not to mention the experienced gained flying single pilot IFR. In other words, I became a really good instrument pilot and it would serve me well in my future as an airline pilot.

A Sad Day in our History

I’m sorry to say my most memorable flight with Holiday Inns, and it was near the end of my time there, occurred on the evening of April 4th, 1968. During a return flight to Memphis, our having begun what became a very long day in St Louis, then flying to Oklahoma City and Baton Rouge, and on our last leg home as we approached Memphis, I got a call from Air Traffic Control at Memphis Center announcing that a few minutes ago Martin Luther King had been shot. The police were expecting riots in the streets and the question to us was… “Did we want to continue to Memphis?”

We did continue, landing just a few hours after the shooting incident. I was to witness first hand a sad day in the history of our country.

Back to whoever or whatever has been looking after me.. I don’t believe anyone actually has the answer… and I wish I knew. People think they know for various reasons, perhaps because mother said it was so or, it is deeply rooted in their faith. Believing what mommy said was not a problem I owned. Being grateful though for the help from whoever or whatever is me; I do own that, both then and now.

Church Taxi Services

Church Taxi Services

One of my mother’s greatest frustrations had to have been my wanton need to attend the Catholic Church with my Dad. It was obvious to me it made her unhappy. What could I do to change that? I gave it absolutely no thought what so ever. Instead, it may have placed me on a road to mischievousness and perhaps blessed me with a prankster persona and the need to thwart authority. I was never allowed talking back or to voice an opinion. So I learned to love practical jokes and some might say unfortunately, it continues to this day. Most of my relatives have had to suffer some sort of foolishness on my part. They liked me enough but if I weren’t so invested in these devious habits I think they would probably like me better. I’ve heard it said being a prankster is all about control – which may have an element of truth in it. I do like having control; it is my handicap to wallow in.

The McPeaks

I was about twelve when mother found a neighbor family that attended the same denomination she had grown up with. She was determined that I be educated in a better place than what she thought the Catholic Church provided. The McPeak family lived a couple of blocks away; they drove a four door Nash that I believe was blue. It was arranged they would stop and pick me up on Sunday mornings to attend church with them. My mother didn’t come along. This was, I believe, some sort of covert act against the wishes of my dad and his very catholic family. I liked the McPeaks but I wasn’t too happy with having to go to their church with or without mother. I suspect I was a pawn in her standoff with dad concerning my religious upbringing. He was after all the dutiful catholic son of Polish immigrants. The rules of the road, I learned much later, required when marrying a Catholic you agree to raise your children in the Catholic faith. However, somewhere along the way that rule fell by the wayside as did I.

It was a white cinder block building where the Church services were held. It was located in a nearby neighborhood up near Van Born Road and Beech Daly. I’m guessing the building itself was never meant to be a church. In its former life it must have been the home of a commercial enterprise of some sort. it could have been a former distillery; possibly from back in the days of Al Capone and prohibition… it smelled that good. It was hard to ignore the essence of alcohol and or turpentine that emanated from somewhere in a back room.

The Gathering

The congregation would gather in the main room. It was the larger of what was available and had been temporarily populated with wooden folding chairs. There were no windows but there were a few curtains hanging along the walls. They obviously covered something; some signature of what went on there in a previous life. After appropriate greetings were made the service would begin with the singing of a song from the hymnals. The song books having been placed earlier on the folding chairs by younger family members. Page numbers for the services songs were posted on a board up in the front near the preachy place. The Lectern.

After a brief bout with singing announcements were made concerning members of the church. Which sometimes, to my amazement, included a prayer for our dear Sister Hart. Whom, it was reported, had taken ill and couldn’t be with us today. We would then gather in our bible study groups, either behind curtains arranged up front or in separate little rooms. These could have been former storage closets from the bygone era. Keep in mind these events all occurred a very long time ago. And considering my advanced age now, I may have forgotten a few details. But, I cannot recall my Mother, our dear Sister Hart, ever attending the little church, either with or without me.

Cancel the Taxi

This taxi arrangement, with the McPeaks picking me up, went on for several weeks.  It was the same period of time when Mom found it convenient to be ill in bed. It seemed way too convenient for my liking; In fact she remained sick in her bed for a very long time. It was so much so the congregation would from time to time, come to the house and pray over her. I was not comfortable with the visitations… it involved a lot of moaning and groaning. But it was hilarious to see them coming and the ensuing mad scramble for Mom to get herself into bed. Then afterwards, getting up and going back to whatever it was she was doing.

The McPeaks Sunday Church Taxi Services came to a screeching halt soon after their car accident. I am happy to report it was only the Mister that was injured seriously. He survived with a few broken bones but the car was a total loss and shortly thereafter the family disappeared from the neighborhood. I was delighted about losing their services, but of course it didn’t all end there.

50 Cents

My Cousin Danny, my former roommate on 32nd Street, who was a year younger than me would occasionally come and spend weekends at my Uncle LuLa’s house where we lived. One Saturday evening, not long after the McPeaks unfortunate accident, my mother suggested we could walk ourselves to church the next morning. It’s hard to say no when it is insisted we go or else. We were each given 50 cents to put in the collection basket when passed around. When attending the Catholic Church with my Dad, or Uncle Lula, I was always fascinated with the wicker baskets they used that were lined with green felt on the bottom. They had long handles on them and they had ushers extend them into the pews where you then placed your offering. I remember being mesmerized by the heaps of quarters and half dollars in the basket and was at times tempted to reach in and pull a couple of them out, but I never did because I could never have gotten away with it. It would have been too obvious and for certain would have been caught. It would be hard to answer to a double sin for stealing from the church. Most people put in cash but some didn’t. Others I suppose didn’t want anyone seeing their donations, so they placed instead a sealed envelope in the basket. I would guess some of the envelopes were empty. It’s just the way I think.

The next morning the appointed hour came so Dan and I headed off toward our destiny with the church. The fifty cents we were each given for the donation basket, we decided on the way, might be better spent at the candy store on the way back; we were going to share our good fortune with the store owner… a very Christian thing to do wouldn’t you think? If we only kept half – we could both have twenty-five cents to spend. The market on the way home happened to have great candy in both selection and supply.

We arrived at church and after assembling in the main room we waited to sing a song before we were to head for Bible study up behind the curtains. The song leader would say “Please turn to page number such and such in your hymnal” and that number would be whatever was on the little board up at the front. He would then take out of his pocket a little round silver device, like a miniature harmonica, and blow lightly into it and after humming back the sound to himself he would say… “let us begin.” Singing was what I enjoyed most about the church service and after the sermon the passing around of little trays filled with little glasses of grape juice and crackers. Sadly, we weren’t allowed to partake in this ceremony, we were outsiders, we hadn’t been baptized.

After the introductory song and a prayer we were instructed to assemble in our bible study areas.

The Misdeed

Soon after gathering in our classroom I necessarily needed to excuse myself to use the bathroom and off I went. During my return, as I passed by the song board at the front, I don’t know what made me do it… but I did it. The individual numbers that were placed on the board for the service were the type you slide in and out easily… so I did just that, I rearranged a few of the numbers. Seems like a harmless thing to do… wouldn’t you think? I did not mention to Cousin Dan what I had done and about midway through our study I began feeling a little bit guilty, but not a lot guilty. Church does that to you; there are a lot of “thou shalt not” rules hanging about. At what age the “Thou Shalt Not” became a call to arms for me I can’t say? It was for sure a motivator throughout my young life; as in… “Oh yeah, watch this!” I feel certain the malady has been diagnosed many times over and there are probably many that share the illness locked up somewhere behind bars. Fortunately, I so far have escaped…. don’t anyone inform the Queen.

The look on the song leader’s face wasn’t what I expected. After reassembling in the main room for the continuing services he arose from his seat and made his way to the front center aisle. He stood there alone and asked us to sing along with him referring to the next page number on the board. There was the usual rustling of pages as everyone searched their hymnals. Then followed a hum from the little silver gizmo. And while looking for the words of the song he expected would be there on the anointed page, there came a slight harrumph, a clearing sound echoing from his throat. He turned to look again and then again at the numbered board and returned his gaze to the hymnal. At this point I had much difficulty containing myself as I recall detecting a slight bulging of eyes in his disbelief. His attention shifted from his hymnal back to the board a number of times. “Oh Shit” I heard him murmur; I’m pretty sure that is what I heard but, if he didn’t say it, it was for sure what he was thinking.

Needless to say this event took place so many years ago I can’t recall exactly how the situation was rectified. But, I am sure, it was to the satisfaction of all. As for myself, and for many of my pranks, I recall thinking… “Thou shalt not ever do that again.”

As for sharing our good fortune with the candy store owner, even while harboring the slightest hint of guilt… we thought it was sweet. A very UN-famous person once said “Thou shalt not linger long in guilt; it is hard on your arteries!”

Confessions of a Green Hornet

Confessions of a Green Hornet

As a youngster like most boys my age I was a big fan of baseball. During the summers I recall late at night listening to the Detroit Tigers games on the radio in my bedroom well after I should have been asleep. Van Patrick and Dizzy Trout called the plays; it was WKMH-1310 on the dial.

In the early summer of 1953 I was twelve and small for my age. It seemed to me everyone was bigger than I was. Some days I would spend hours bouncing an old taped up remnant of a baseball against the metal cover of our coal bin located on the driveway side of the front porch. I would practice fielding the ball further back in the neighbors drive. Whenever we had a pickup neighborhood game I would likely be near the end of the players chosen by team captains. The method for choosing was a hand over hand progression to the end of a bat and the last captain to gain a grip chose first. It was standard practice. I didn’t have a bat of my own so had to use the other kids who of course being bigger had big bats. I never got the hang of hitting with a big bat. I couldn’t drag the bat through the hitting area over the plate without some help from my right hand. Which when doing so would throw the bat either above or below the baseball. Kind of a loopy swing; it would take me a few more years learning to swing the bat smoothly through the hitting area.

There was an ad placed in the Dearborn weekly newspaper that I was then delivering about little league tryouts on the following Saturday afternoon. I decided I would go give it a try but I was the only one from my neighborhood that was interested in going. So at the appointed time I climbed on my bike and headed for the little League baseball fields then located on Outer Drive and Michigan Avenues.

There were several hundred or so kids that showed up for tryouts and when asked had to decide on a preferred position. I of course chose the infield because about all I could do was field a bouncing ball off of the coal-bin door. We were divided into groups of teams and set to scrimmage one another. Our opposing team had a pitcher that could scare the paint off of a wall just by staring at it. This pitcher, let’s call him Mike because I think that was his name, had wide set eyes with a squint so narrow you thought his eyes were closed. He also had a very wide mouth that sported a perpetual frown that appeared to stretch from ear to ear. Not only was there his frown to deal with he was actually foaming out of the corners of his mouth apparently from chewing on a huge wad of bubble-gum. This kid, mind you not a big kid, could throw the ball faster than anyone I had ever seen. His windup involved nearly facing the centerfielder then a quick turn toward the plate and while looking out of the corner of his squinty left eye, he hurled the ball at his catcher. I wasn’t looking forward to stepping into the batter’s box and, neither was anyone else.

I walked. Yup, four balls and Mike the zipper walked me. I’m guessing I was so short he couldn’t find the strike zone and I got lucky because I for sure could not have hit the ball even with a small bat. As it turns out I didn’t get selected for any of the teams. I was disappointed surely… but I also learned I wasn’t ready for prime time.

The rest of the season I played pickup baseball with kids in the neighborhood. And later that summer my new neighbor, Harold the rookie cop (my newest Harold) moved in next door. I trashed his new car in his backyard with my bike one day and he taught me how to throw a curveball; I basically got a reward for my careless behavior. We played balls and strikes almost daily for the remainder of the summer, till daylight shortened and the sun went down in the fall. I’d developed a new weapon and a pretty strong arm for a little guy if I say so myself.

1953 was the summer that 18 year old rookie Al Kaline broke into the Tiger lineup where he was to remain for the next 22 years. Like most twelve year old baseball fans I collected baseball cards that came wrapped in bubblegum packets. I was never able to get all of the Detroit players but I had most of them. One in particular stands out today… his name was Ray Herbert. He was a pitcher born and raised in the Detroit area and was signed by the Tigers after graduating from Catholic Central High School. After a brief period with their farm club, the AAA Toledo Mud Hens, he was called up to Detroit to play in the major league in the early 1950’s. I was a fan initially because Ray was born on December 15th, same as my birthday, but he was 11 years my senior. Ray was a young fastball pitcher with good control.

After being snubbed in my little league baseball debut in 1953, 1954 brought on a new opportunity that unfortunately I still regret today. I could throw a mean curve ball and had a little zip on the ball for my size; although it was nothing like the wiz I had faced the previous summer; that wild eyed Mike with the awesome fastball.

A school friend, Adam Johnson and I would on occasion ride our bike (we only had one and we took turns pedaling each other riding on the handlebars) down to a local baseball diamond located near Oxford and Westlake Streets. Taking along our gloves and a baseball it was our intention to throw a few balls and strikes to each other using the fenced backstop at the park. Or, if lucky enough, maybe get involved in a pickup game. Unfortunately there was a live game occupying the diamond when we arrived. So, being creative, we set up shop on the other side of the backstop and began throwing to each other. Adam was a natural born catcher and a good all-around athlete and obviously he was much bigger than I was at the time. I seem to dwell on how small I was only because it was a factor, and when small “is you” it matters a lot.

After a couple of rounds I was throwing again to Adam, and while he’s in the customary squat of being the catcher, an older gentleman who had been watching us sidles over to him and asks “how old are you kid?” Adam told him he was twelve. The man then asks if we had ever heard of the Green Hornets Little League baseball team and would we be interested trying out? Adam replied “Naw, I don’t think so” or something to that effect. Then, unexpectedly, the man looks over at me and says… “How about you kid?” I don’t recall the exact words of my reply except it came out as a “Yes, and where do I sign up?” He asked about my name and could I come to the ball field at Outer Drive and Michigan Avenue on Saturday morning; which of course was the scene of last year’s humiliating experience with Mike and his foaming grin; the same kid that threw the hot potatoes at us.

It turned out to be a most fun summer. I became a Green Hornet and me and the curve ball did OK. I also got to play third base when I wasn’t pitching. I still wasn’t a very good hitter although I managed to make the All-Star Team as a third baseman and played in the game held at Ford Field in mid-summer. The problem was… I learned to late I was too old and shouldn’t have been playing in the league. I had turned thirteen the previous December which was a few months too early. There were thirteen year olds playing but their birthdays came later than mine. I’m guessing that because I was smaller than most of the kids on the team no one ever asked about my actual birth date. I became aware of the problem midway through the season but was afraid to say anything… to fess up, which would have been the right thing to do. And, I was having so much fun playing and believed they were depending on me. We made it deep into the state playoffs and it would have been a tragedy had we won and then have to forfeit the title because of me. It is one of my biggest regrets that I didn’t have the courage to come clean.

Oddly, my parents never attended any of the games that season, or any season for that matter, but my Uncle Louis, my roommate, made it to the All Star game and took a picture of me playing third base. Even under the circumstances I am very proud of that picture mainly because he took it. It wasn’t unusual for parents not to attend games. My Dad worked the afternoon shift and my mother didn’t drive; soccer Moms weren’t yet in vogue.

I became a huge Al Kaline fan that same season and went to several Tigers games at Briggs Stadium. I would take the bus down Michigan Avenue by myself; it is something parents would never let their kids do today. Life has changed in so many ways. I would arrive at the stadium early enough to watch batting practice and warm ups. It was then I learned about the fungo bat, a bat specially designed by baseball coaches for practice. The small diameter allows coaches to easily hit pop-ups to catchers and infielders. What I found fascinating about watching warm-ups was the lackadaisical approach the players took. All of their actions were seemingly in slow motion as if continually posing. Nonchalant might be a better word and Al Kaline was the best doing that.

Last summer I paid a visit to Ray Herbert, the former Detroit Tigers pitcher, the one I was fond of as a kid and who also shares my birthdate. Ray is married to my cousin Patsy and they now live in Central Michigan. Pat is the same cousin that babysat with me when I was first adopted by the Hart family who then lived on 32nd Street in Detroit. Patsy Bronikowski and her family lived up the street in the next block. Her little brother Leo was near my age and became a big part of my life with the extended Hart family while growing up (see Cousin Leo).

After my visit with Cousin Pat and Ray Herbert, as I was set to leave, Ray asked if I would like a little souvenir to take home, and with that he handed me an autographed baseball and the signature on it read… “Al Kaline.” What a great way to say good bye.

Flying Skills

Flying Skills

I don’t recall at exactly what age I began flying all by myself; but I recall being very young. It may have had some influence on my choice of career; I’m not sure, flying did after all become my occupation of choice. I am referring to a series of dreams of course, but it seemed like a very real world I was flying in at the time. It always began with a hover; I would then lift my arms rising above ground level and go from there. I enjoyably went pretty much everywhere I wanted.

I suspect there is much more to my dreams of flying as a child than just being dreams of happenstance. Making conscious choices of dreams has never been an option one ever has, though I did find dreams of flying when they came around a lucid exhilarating experience.

It has been said; “If you have dreams about flying, you’re expressing a desire to be free, to be unencumbered, to find release from a situation. They represent your “rising above,” whether it’s a person, a situation, or a conflict. It might indicate that you’ve found a solution to a problem or a new perspective on how to handle things.

Flying gives you a sense of power and dreams about flying are indicative of that. It can mean that you’re about to get freedom from something. Perhaps your troubles, perhaps a bad relationship, perhaps a job or a life crisis. People also dream about flying when they discover and connect with their spiritual side and feel a release from the day-to-day of the world.”

I’m not qualified to anoint or dispute these speculations on why one might have these dreams. I had them as a child and it continued well into adulthood. My latest recall of them; I was in my forties and flirting with the notions of Shirley MacLaine and her out of body experiences. I recall one year in Los Angeles attending one of her seminars on the subject. It had to be in the mid-eighties, sometime after she wrote her book “Out on a Limb.” Meditating and the harboring of crystals of any sort were the fad of the eighties at least in southern California at the time.

Getting back to my flying around all by myself (without the benefit of a dream); my first solo flight occurred in October of 1964. The vehicle was the real deal, an airplane, a Cessna 150 to be exact; its registration Number was N5837E. I paid a visit recently to my student pilot logbook of so many years ago and relived my first experience with solo flight. It occurred on an October day at the Steele, Missouri Airport, a short distance from the Blytheville Air Force Base which was located in northeast Arkansas near the Mississippi River. I was twenty-three years old.

My courageous flight instructor was one Gino J. Cortesi, his certificate number was CFI 1243234. Gino was a tail gunner on a B-52G Bomber Crew based at Blytheville AFB, and taught flying at the Aero Club located on base. I purposely didn’t mention to him that I had lots of flying experience while asleep out of fear he wouldn’t take my curiosity about real flying seriously. I was very serious after all about the reality of flight.

My seriousness was motivated primarily by my reading of a book I had checked out of the base library. The Title of the book was “Fate is the Hunter”, written in 1961 by Ernest K. Gann.

Credit is given to Wikipedia for the following information concerning the book and its author:

“Fate is the Hunter” is a 1961 memoir by aviation writer Ernest K. Gann. It describes his years working as a pilot from the 1930s to 1950s, starting at American Airlines in Douglas DC-2s and DC-3s when civilian air transport was in its infancy, moving onto wartime flying in C-54s, C-87s, and Lockheed Lodestars, and finally at Matson Navigation’s short-lived upstart airline and various post-World War II “nonscheduled” airlines in Douglas DC-4s.

Roger Bilstein, in a history of flight, says that of books that discuss airline operations from the pilot’s point of view, “few works of this genre equal E. K. Gann’s ‘Fate is the Hunter,’ which strikingly evokes the atmosphere of air transport flying during the 1930s.”

According to the log book entry by Gino, my first flight instructor, my flight training began in earnest on October 21st, 1964 with an hour and thirty minute orientation flight in the local area surrounding the air base which included southeast Missouri. On the following day, October 22nd, my second day of flight training Gino entered into my logbook eight take-offs and landings and 25 minutes of flying under the hood which meant keeping the airplane right side up flying only by instruments. Total flight time on the second flight was 2 hours.

My third flight training session occurred 5 days later and involved doing five takeoffs and landings at the Steele, Missouri Municipal Airport. After the fifth landing Gino instructed me to taxi off of the active runway and taxi back to the takeoff end; after arriving there he says “set the parking brake because I am getting out here.” I wondered at first if I had scared him somehow? What Gino did next should have been a crime in my book: After setting the brake Gino hops out of the airplane and says “it’s all yours… take it around on your own this time!” It happened so fast I didn’t have time to begin a self-doubting ritual, the re-examination of my capabilities to do this airplane thing on my own. I knew I could do it in my dreams but this is a totally different animal; something to be said for Gino J. Cortesi, Tail Gunner-Flight Instructor, invoking the element of surprise.

Obviously I made it around safely. I had a grand total of slightly less than four hours of dual flight instruction when I was turned loose to do it on my own. There are no words I can think of now that expresses fully the feeling of piloting an airplane solo for the first time in your life. It is a once in a lifetime experiences you can never forget. If one has issues of self-doubt about life’s challenges, they are quickly erased as you sit in the cockpit of the airplane all alone, high above ground, and the only thing that is going to get you safely back on the ground is you. It is and will always be the thrill of a lifetime for me, never to be forgotten.

I’m certain my instructional time with Gino, although seemingly low, isn’t a record by any means. I did after all live and breathe airplanes as a kid growing up. It becomes part of your dna so to speak; especially after building and flying so many model airplanes, it was in my bloodstream. I already understood many of the fundamentals. All I needed was for someone to release me of my landlocked straight jacket. Also, keep in mind, I was piloting in my dreams well before model airplanes ever entered the picture.

Ernest K. Gann, the author and former pilot at American Airlines, deserves a lot of credit for pushing me over the top with his written word. It was another of those fork-in-the-road moments; do I go left or do I go right? I pursued the dream and really that’s all it was at the time. I had a huge hurdle looking me in the face and yet another in a series of painful life decisions.

I unknowingly followed in the footsteps of my biological father, who had (unknown to me)abandoned me and my birth mother when I was an infant, I too found myself in a marriage that wasn’t going to work. The end result of children having children; I regret the pain it caused all that were involved. It was complicated with plenty of blame on both sides. Had we not gone our separate ways I feel certain one of us wouldn’t have survived and the other of us might well be in prison for having committed a crime of passion.

Thanks be to Ernie Gann for having written so convincingly of the atmosphere of air transport flying from a pilot’s point of view, as if in a personal note addressed only to me, he says “Kid, this is your want in life, get on with it.”

Wake Up Now

Wake Up Now

It happens. You never forget it but it happens. It happens more than you can imagine and it isn’t a forgettable experience. After more than sixty years the memory is still fresh in my mind. Terry Lipski, briefly a boyhood friend, disappeared one day.

Terry arrived in our neighborhood – I’m guessing sometime between our 5th and 6th grade years? He was well mannered and never failed to tell my mother how nice she looked. My mother loved that about him. He was sincere about his compliments; he just had that way about him. Terry had moved in with his Aunt who lived on Annapolis, a couple of blocks over; right across the street from another friend Tony Hernandez. The house became a mystery because we, as Terry’s friends, weren’t allowed to come inside. That mystery was never solved except that after Terry disappeared, the Aunt’s house was made a mystery all the more.

I can’t recall the city that Terry said he was from, it was somewhere up in Northern Michigan and he said he had to move to our neighborhood to live with his Aunt. We never asked why he had done so because it didn’t matter. He was fun to have as a friend because he was so nice to be around. The only thing that bothered me about Terry was my mother continuously suggesting that I should be more like him. Terry, for his age, had a deep voice and spoke very loudly. You always knew when he was around because he commanded the space wherever he was. Then, without explanation, he quietly disappeared.

It was several months later that I learned what happened to Terry. I believe it was on a weekend morning when I was downstairs in our basement that my mother came with the news. “Ronnie” she said, “I have something I need to tell you.” She went on… “Your friend Terry, I just learned, has committed suicide.” Well, I cried of course for a very long time about my friend.

I assumed he had shot himself and whether it truly was suicide or not I will probably never know? As an adult, and a parent now, I don’t know how else you are to tell an eleven or twelve year old that his friend has just committed suicide. We as parents aren’t taught how to do that. The fact that it still troubles me at this late age should say something about how these types of events affect us for the rest of our lives. Though many generations have passed, the hurt never goes completely away.

There are similar events, increasingly and continuously, going on around us that we have a tendency to want to ignore. Because, I think, they are too painful to think about. No one wants to deal with them. The events I am referring to are children killing children. When finding a parent’s, or guardian’s unsecured weapon; a child’s guilt can only be their inherent curiosity. It is the parent’s carelessness where-in the guilt lies. I think it is time, we as a nation did something about it.

Another memory comes to mind; as a young adult I had a favorite Uncle that committed suicide with a gun. He was a World War II veteran and had earned a purple heart having suffered the loss of an eye in battle. I’m sure he was a victim of what we now know today as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I have a horrific vision of my cousin, his daughter, having found him. I think how terrible that memory must be for her to have to live with. Our Veterans today are killing themselves at an alarming rate, at last count, as many as 22 a day and it needs to be fixed… NOW!

Statistics show, by the end of 2015, about 265 children picked up a firearm and shot someone by accident. Their families, and their victim’s families, will never be able to forget what happened to their loved ones. The pain and the memory of the event will forever be unforgettable.

He was a kind soul that Terry. I have spent time looking for records of Terry’s life to no avail. It is almost like he never existed and that should be a crime as well. At eleven years old, where did he get a gun and who did it belong to?

Wake Up Now Nation, it is time we did something about our children and gun safety.

I’ll leave you with my paraphrase of a poem
by a favorite poet – Philip Larkin:

They’ll screw you up,  your Mum and Dad
They’ll leave their guns,  know not where
They don’t mean to,  but they do
Then cry a stream,  when you’re not there.

The Cuckoo Bird

The Cuckoo Bird

The Cuckoo is a very silly bird and I find the specie particularly interesting, especially its behavior with its offspring. Cuckoos don’t bother building their own nests – they merely lay their eggs in the other birds’ nests. It can get more complicated from there.

Philip Larkin, an eminent writer in postwar England, was a national favorite poet who was commonly referred to as “England’s other Poet Laureate” until his death in 1985.

I find this poem by Philip Larkin to be extremely enlightening regarding the travails of parenting of which most of us suffer. It is in us all to screw up our kids unless we are very, very careful or just lucky. And even then chances are, you won’t escape doing so.

From “This Be The Verse,” By Philip Larkin (1922-1985)

“They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had, and add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn, By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern, And half at one anothers throats.
Man hands on misery to man. It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can, And don’t have any kids yourself.”

Escape and Survive

Escaping and surviving, survive and escape, are obviously synonymous. Escapes can come in many forms during a lifetime; surviving infancy for example, only then comes your childhood, the teenage years, becoming a young adult, and on to mid-life when finally, if you have survived all of these you try and survive being old.

We survive infancy because good parents are duty bound to look after our every need. Some are good at it and some not so, but they are solely responsible for our graduating from infancy into childhood. With fear placed at your doorstep or at the foot of your bed or perhaps under it, childhood can be both a very frightening and exciting endeavor. Consider our exposure to some of the classic Fairy Tales when young. For example; do you remember being read, “Fe Fi, Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman, be he alive or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread?” And who can ever forget poor Hansel and Gretel.

Fear does instill in us an instinct for survival in so many ways so perhaps it isn’t all bad. Parents don’t always escape their childhood without their own set of scars and more often than not pass them along to their offspring. My previous series of survival and escape stories were about the mix of an environment clashing with our nature that is all to do with our DNA; our inescapable biological make up. If you don’t know from where you came you could be in for some surprises. This was certainly true for me, not learning until I was 45 years old that I had been adopted and placed into someone else’s nest. Keep in mind the cuckoo bird metaphor enlisted here is meant as an endearment to another species quest for survival.

… from the start; The Primal Wound

Being born unwanted can ruin your day but it doesn’t have to ruin your life. I was not born out of wedlock but my potential future existence provoked the union for certain. It happens. My parents’ marriage dissolved soon after my birth. My mother, unloved and unsupported, was forced to make a decision not easy to make, to soldier on or find another nest and place me in it.

Enter the story of the Cuckoo Bird: Much like a cuckoo bird laying its egg in someone else’s nest, giving a child away to adoption can have a major effect on the unwanted newborn, inflicting on it what is suspected to be “The Primal Wound.”

The blessing of “The Primal Wound” as explored by Nancy Verrier in her book by the same name, can be doubly troubling. The book suggests a “primal wound” occurs when a mother and child are separated by adoption shortly after childbirth. A mother and child have a vital connected relationship, according to the books author, which is physical, psychological and physiological. The effects of disrupting such bonds is the focus of her book; making a study of adoption on the adoptee. A central theme is the assertion that all adoptees, even those adopted at birth, will retain memories of the separation from their birth mothers, and that regardless of the way the adoption is presented and handled by adoptive parents, these memories will have profound effects on the emotional and psychological well-being of the child and adult adoptee well into adulthood.

I was placed on the doorstep of the Hart families nest at 5217 32nd Street in West Detroit in early 1942. Even with the help of a few surviving relatives I haven’t put together exactly how and when I arrived there; the place where so many of my first memories accumulated. My experience there, as it relates to my sense of self, who I am now and who I thought I was then, of course changed. Learning, forty-five years late that I’d arrived from a different Mum than was led to believe, a cuckoo bird had dropped me off, I understood better the emotional turmoil I experienced during this period. My childhood then suddenly made more sense.

The Cuckoo…  as cartoon figure

The depicted character in the Roadrunner cartoon series are a related species. Cuckoos are medium-sized birds that vary in size, it can be either the male or the female that is larger. One of the most important distinguishing features of the family are the feet, which have two inner toes pointing forward and the two outer backward. The common cuckoo is slender. Almost all species have long tails which are used for steering in terrestrial species and as a rudder during flight in the arboreal species. It is no wonder the Roadrunner was able to escape Mr. Wiley Coyote so effortlessly.

 

 

The Flying Circus

The Flying Circus

Egos run rampant in most airline cockpits, no matter what airline. It came with the territory. While attending a recurrent training period, which all Captains are required to accomplish each six months, a psychologist addressed a group of us in an auditorium one day. There were about two hundred pilots in the session and it was being done under the guise of CRM (Crew Resource Management). How to work as a team to solve problems without exerting your Captains authority as the rule; extracting the best of fellow crew members and how best to manage egos in close quarters (a tall order under any circumstance)?

The Psychologist posed this question to the group; “Those of you in the room that are first born in your family please raise your hand.” I was shocked when we all looked around the auditorium to see that most of our hands were raised. It was more than ninety percent of us that were firstborn. Our speaker reflected; this should tell you a lot about what is going on in your cockpits. It answered a lot for me.

Some Characters I have known

A circus is known for its variety of characters; a show with feats of skill, some animal acts and always a few clowns. The Ringmaster keeps the show moving; that would be a chief pilot’s job. It might have a menagerie, a display of exotic creatures, a few musicians and jugglers of course. Then there are the daredevils, shot from canons perhaps. Yes, we had all of those in our pilot groups at one time or another; entertainers all… for certain.

Flash Gordon

There was Flash Gordon; I don’t recall his first name because we called him Flash. While flying he liked to say “watch this” while he flew an approach with his feet on opposite rudder pedals. His right foot on the left pedal and his left foot on the right. He called it his polish landing maneuver. Flash was fired from the airline early in his career.

The Sleeper

Another Captain I used to fly with had some serious problems with staying awake. He was observed to be sound asleep for the better half of any flight I ever flew with him. He was also known to have slept through ground training sessions and when asked a question by the instructor would always have the correct answer. He was amazing. I remember one flight, after I made the landing, I needed to wake him up because the nose-wheel steering control was on his side of the cockpit and we needed to steer the aircraft off the runway. This was during the era when you could still smoke in the cockpit and it was his custom to keep a cigarette continually lit so that when it burned down to his finger-tips it would wake him up. He often complained about having a sinus condition that didn’t allow him to sleep while lying down, so he got used to sleeping when sitting up straight. Captain “Sleeping Straight Up” I have to admit, was a really good pilot even when asleep.

Captain Paranoid

Then there was Captain Paranoid; any conversation occurring within the cockpit that was sensitive in nature to our airlines management or the FAA (our federal aviation authorities), he would place his hand over the cockpit voice recorder microphone located at the top of the overhead panel; a significant stretch. Or, he would pull the recorder circuit breaker so it wouldn’t record the conversation. He was fixated on that mic for most of the time he occupied his cockpit seat. It was nut-so. After this particular airline went out of business the Captain just quietly disappeared, he could have gone to work for the CIA?

Shamu meets Captain Aerobat

At Overseas National Airways, (ONA) I flew frequently with a Captain that was a former Air Force fighter pilot; a retired colonel, that used to fly the F-100, and probably had logged more time flying upside down than I had right side up. I referred to him as Captain Aerobat and he told some really good stories; he always threatened he was going to roll the transport category airplane during flight. He preferred doing a snap roll, he would say, and he would then describe how he was going to accomplish it. I thought the airline might frown on that.

An unusually exotic passenger: During 1969 we were contracted to fly Shamu the Killer Whale (Orca) from Seattle to San Diego to her new residence at SeaWorld. The aircraft was one of our DC-9 freighters with one large cargo door located at the front of the fuselage. Shamu, by whale standards, was provided a first class seat. She arrived at the aircraft suspended in a sling attached to the sides of a huge half cylinder. The cylinder contained seawater that was being pumped up, through a series of hoses, connected to spray units on top that would keep her moist though out the flight. Shamu would not require a seat belt for this trip, I hoped.

The flight from Seattle to San Diego went without incident I am pleased to report. After the whale was unloaded, we were to position the aircraft back to Sacramento for its next cargo flight at McClellan AFB. During the preflight briefing Captain Aerobat says to me… “It’s about time we do this snap roll – what do you think?” “Geez Captain, I don’t think it’s a great idea,” I recall thinking or saying? We lined up on the runway and poured the coal to it. The aircraft was very light, empty as a matter of fact as we weren’t going far, so the DC-9 just leaped off the runway. Once off the ground, at about 500 feet, Captain Aerobat honked the aircraft into a 90 degree bank left turn and pulled back hard. It was exactly what you do if you are about to execute a snap roll. The “g” forces were so great I could feel the blood draining from my head and thought I might pass out. The aircraft’s wing shuddered slightly and the Captain relieved some of the back pressure and rolled the aircraft back to wings level. He then looks over at me and says… “Scared the shit out of you didn’t I?” It turns out he was kidding with me all along. I don’t believe he ever accomplished his snap roll in a transport category aircraft, but he really wanted too.

Captain Hunk

Captain Hunk, as you might expect, was a chick magnet of the first order. No matter where he went or when he went there, girls always showed up and at times in numbers. He had a winsome personality and wasn’t what you would consider classically handsome, in that Cary Grant sort of way, he just had -it, whatever -it was?

On one trip in particular we arrived at our hotel late one evening, approaching midnight, after a grueling transcontinental cargo trip; with an airplane full of boxes. The clerk behind the desk is surly and not pleasant as he tells us the hotel bar is closed. Captain Hunk and myself, turning around, grabbed our bags and headed for the hotels elevator. At which point the Hunk whispers to me… “God, I’m as horny as a goat.” We push the button for the elevator to come fetch us. The doors open, we climb in and the doors begin to close behind us. Suddenly, there is a ding ding ding and the doors begin to open again. Standing there in the doorway is a looker, and I mean a looker, she stepped in and pushes the button for her floor. The elevator begins its climb and we wait… she is getting off first. The elevator stops and the doors open. Mind you, not a word has been spoken between them. At which point they both step out of the elevator, and Captain Hunk and the Looker proceed down the hallway together. All it took was for him to look horny as they exchanged glances; it isn’t a language most people speak.

Captain Checkmate

When flying the North Atlantic back in the day when we occasionally still had navigators on board as cockpit crew, because not all of our aircraft were equipped with the new Litton Inertial Navigation Systems. There was plenty of time between navigation fixes that we had time to pass a magnetic chessboard back and forth, as the navigator passed us heading changes while waiting to report our positions via HF radio, to our company and Air Traffic Control at Gander or Shanwick; about every ten degrees of longitude or fifty minutes.

Captain Checkmate was an avid chess player and a very aggressive one at that. I had been playing chess from a very young age so felt competent when playing the Captain. Not many co-pilots enjoyed flying with him because of his gruff nature. I didn’t mind and got along with him because he allowed the distraction while flying the airplane. Having a good chess match that lasted the entire trip took away the boring elements of flying the North Atlantic; especially at night. Captain Checkmate had a problem… he dabbled in the stock market. Confucius say “A pilot and his money are soon parted.”

The difference in our ages was considerable, he was near retirement age and I wasn’t. I was able to continue after our airline went out of business and he wasn’t. With huge swings in the stock market he found himself short as he approached the end of an aviation career that spanned many decades. He took a huge gamble and lost. Captain Checkmate was offered an opportunity to haul a load of drugs out of South America and got caught and went to prison. I found him and continued to play chess with him by mail for a period until he no longer answered my moves. He had died in prison, end of story… Checkmate!

And then, in a circus, there are the clowns; you need clowns for a good flying circus. You need pilot clown friends, that paint your car pink while you are away on your honeymoon, then place it back in the airline employee parking lot to await the return with your bride. The kicker, after finally finding their car, the newly married pilot and his bride are stopped by the police as they exit the parking lot. It appears the car had been under surveillance because of its unusual appearance. Or, could it have been the stuffed parrot hanging from the rear view mirror; maybe it was their names emblazoned on the rear bumper?

Also, the kind of clown friends that while flying over the Rockies, in the middle of the night while you doze a bit, they run the fuel gauges to zero then pull the circuit breaker to lock the pointers on empty then lean back, as if asleep, while reaching up to press the fire warning test switch. The kind of sound that results, both from the warning bells and the dozing pilot are not pleasant to see or hear. But, what is the purpose of being a clown if not to stir up a few emotions?

Early Inspirations

Early Inspirations:

A Series of three

1948

“Defiants Enroute to Dunkirk”

Appreciating a work of art with an aviation theme, by way of an inspiration for both art and aviation itself, can’t go without comment. I can recall coming across this image when I was very young. The emotions provoked by the work of this artist probably had a great effect on my choices concerning my career as both artist and aviator. Much like my reading the work of Ernest K. Gann when I was a young adult specifically, “Fate is the Hunter.” Ernie had also written “The High and The Mighty” which became a popular movie starring John Wayne in the early 1950’s.

My appreciation below of the Frank Wootton painting is more of a critique on why, from my perspective, as an artist and an aviator it is such a fine work of art… in my humble opinion.

defiantsEnroute500x“Defiants Enroute to Dunkirk”

Painting by Frank Wootton

Art Appreciation by Ron Hart:

“in-spire” verb: 1. To fill with noble or reverent emotion; exalt. 2. To stimulate to creativity or action. 3. To elicit or create in another.

One cannot ask more of a work of art and its artist than to have the ability to incorporate the word definition of “inspired” onto a two dimensioned flat surface. It’s the definition taken from a standard dictionary.

For me personally, a painting executed during the early stages of World War II by artist Frank Wootton fits this definition handsomely. The painting’s title, “Defiants Enroute to Dunkirk,” says little about the power of this work. You would need to be at the scene in that moment to fully understand its relevance. This is after all I believe the duty of an artist.

It has taken me a lifetime of flying experience and years of pursuing an art education to just qualify myself to reflect. What is it about this work of art, that I encountered at an early age, that continues to fill me with noble and/or reverent emotion? It was the vehicle that propelled me into my life’s work, as an aviator and artist. Thank you, Frank Wootton.

The painting is certainly qualified as aviation art, but it is not about airplanes. It is about the toil of man, a historical moment in time on more than one front. But its secret, and the not so obvious power of the painting, is in its composition.

As I see the elements of composition reflected in this painting, I can’t help but comment on some basics. When judging this work of art, what comes to mind are the Greek standard terms: idealization, refinement, and simplicity, accordingly all marks of beauty. These terms also reflect nicely on fine art standards: beauty for the sake of beauty … dictated by; one light source, the cushioning of values, repose, and its universal subject matter. He brought into focus the opposites in technology, two horse power pulling man through the earth with his primitive plow, while in the distance above several thousand horsepower pulling men through the skies. The artist has managed to marry two eras, with the never ending struggles of man. Yes, definitely original.


1998

“Fifty Years a Lady”

Craig Kodera has participated in the lure of aviation from boyhood, to private pilot, to Strategic Air Command pilot, to airline pilot. Aviation-the catalyst in shrinking our world-is also the career field of a relatively small number and it has become a truism that aviators compose a close-knit, though extended, family. Yet, it still comes as a bit of a serendipitous surprise that Ron Hart and Craig Kodera shared the same American Airlines’ cockpits. This said, it can’t be too much of a surprise that Craig’s uncle flew with the Doolittle Raiders.

This is the “stuff ‘ that makes aviation the unique joy that it is. It is undeniably thrilling to “…slip the surly bonds of earth,” but it is equally stimulating to witness the extraordinary influence and impact that aviators make upon one another and each one of us in turn. This is the human element that adds so greatly to our love of flying.
-Ann L. Cooper, aviation author (1934-)

FiftyYears_500x“Fifty Years a Lady” (1986)

Painting by Craig Kodera

It was a gift. It has been on my studio wall for the better part of twenty years-as my secret inspiration. The painting “Fifty Years A Lady” measures eighteen by twenty-eight inches. I say painting, but what I mean is that I have a print, a limited edition print of an American Airlines DC-3. The airplane is sitting right squarely in the middle of the canvas, portrait style, a tough task for any artist but this artist carries it off well because of the painting’s solid structure. Squint your eyes only slightly and you can clearly detect a cool quadrant in the lower left. The quadrant is surrounded by a warm L shape (the horizontal bands of alternating light and dark clouds) with creative use of soft edges-wonderfully done. Squint your eyes one more time and notice that the subject disappears. This is called, “the motif being transparent to its structure,” or rather the motif is part of the structure. It is a technique first used by the artist Rembrandt. We know his name well.

The atmosphere created for this subject is perfect. American Airlines introduced the first “sleeper” category aircraft in the early days of air travel. The painting’s subject aircraft is back-lit with a low angle light source (a rising or setting sun… your choice) that creates a subtle high­ light on the top of the forward fuselage; the light continues catching the left wing tip. I can almost hear the passengers snoring and I’m still watching for a little reading light to become visible in one of the cabin windows. Because of the paintings great composition and the technique of the artist, this piece of art sings for me. It has been singing to me ever so softly from the wall in my studio while I pursue the task of trying to be an artist.

I mentioned earlier that the print was a gift. It was a gift from my co-pilot of many years ago. That co-pilot’s name was Craig Kodera. Craig was a friend and also the well-known aviation artist who created, “Fifty Years A Lady.” With his gift, he kept me in touch with my roots and I want to thank him for sharing with me a fine piece of his art.

CraigKodera_300xCraig Kodera


2001

Paul Rendel’s “MORNING IN THE ROCKIES”

A few years ago, shortly after I completed a painting with an aviation theme, I asked a friend of mine for a critique of the work. His response was to send me a book titled Aviation: “A History through Art.” Along with the book, he suggested I should get in touch with the ASAA. I asked, the AS… what? I had no clue.

My friend and critic, a fellow aviator and artist that I’ve known for some years was none other than Craig Kodera, the renowned aviation artist I used to fly with.

The book, (printed in 1992) is the first compilation of aviation art by the American Society of Aviation Artists, introduced me to a large cross section of artists that paint almost entirely aviation themes; most of their names were unfamiliar to me. When I first scanned the book, there was one painting that caught my eye, and I remembered spending some time over it. My first fascination about the work was from a pilot’s point of view. “Precarious” is the word that came to mind as I studied this work of art by Paul Rendel, which is aptly titled “Morning in the Rockies.” Critical, delicate, slippery, on thin ice, hanging on a thread, trembling in the balance, all these words and phrases contribute to my feeling about this painting. I believe I picked the right word!

morningInRockiesScan_500x

“Morning in the Rockies”

by Paul Rendel

As a pilot, I have difficulty imagining being in the cockpit of the subject glider and having a warm and fuzzy feeling. First, I know how high he is and second, I know how cold he must be. If the pilot has a warm and fuzzy feeling, it is more than likely from a lack of oxygen. I also know something about the fragility of the aircraft, so I needn’t even mention the thought of turbulence to raise the hair on the back of my neck. Taking all of this into account, it is my humble opinion the artist Paul Rendel has managed to include all of the grueling suspense and wonder that makes aviation in itself so intriguing for those of us that love to fly and love to paint airplanes.

Now about the painting; this is the most important part. Wow! A true serenade of opposing forces, alternating warms against cools, parallels holding diagonals, full light to full dark and all contribute to give the painting its depth. It holds together well. Every force expertly interlaced to bring the viewers eye back to the subject. One can’t ask for more in a piece of art. Well done!

Did I mention that Paul Rendel, besides being a first rate aviation artist, is a first rate glider pilot? He is that. Let me explain. When I solicited Paul for his approval for my doing this appreciation on his painting, it was discovered that my former boss (chief pilot), Bill Holbrook, also taught Paul about flying gliders. It was just before I began my airline career many years ago… a lifetime. It is a small world after all and of special note, Paul and I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, we are nearly the same age, and I refuse to admit at this point who is the oldest.

Artist Aviator

Artist Aviator

“Once upon a time,” there was this little boy who had no idea what life had in store for him. Actually, there are a lot of little boys and girls arriving in the world with the same affliction. Most of us are afloat in the same boat;  we are “not of the Manor Born.”

There was one classmate of mine, beginning with my 4th grade at Edsel B. Ford Elementary through Roosevelt High School in the suburbs of Detroit, that had a mysterious influence on me for a very long period of my life. His name was David Bedell. He was quiet and kept very much to himself and had a gift for drawing pictures. He also didn’t do homework. In both regards he became my idol even though he wasn’t aware.

One of our early grade school teachers recognized his ability and asked him to draw a sailing ship on the blackboard in chalk. The picture he copied from a book onto the board was truly magical to me. I may have already possessed an artistic curiosity, which might be more to do with my yet to be discovered genetic string. But it was my witnessing his talent that stayed with me for most of my life. I wanted to be able to do what he did… that was the hook that stayed with me for so long. I of course was fond of his drawings of aircraft in combat, which he so willingly provided.

I often wondered what may have happened to my classmate after High School; was he an artist somewhere living the good life? Over the years I recall looking for his name in art publications, nada. I wasn’t to find out for another fifty years, when David suddenly surfaced for the first time at our High School Reunion.

In the intervening years Life Happened. What follows is a featured article taken from “The Artists Magazine” in August of 2002.

"Westbound, Direct Tucumcari"“Westbound Direct Tucumcari”

“Taking Flight”

By Loraine Crouch, associate editor for The Artists Magazine, August 2002

When Ron Hart retired from flying after 32 years, he discovered the perfect subject for his paintings­ airplanes. He combined his two great loves-flying and painting. Although he’s been an artist all his life, and a pilot nearly as long Hart never thought about painting planes until a few years ago. “When I was flying every day, I never had an interest in doing aviation art,” he says. But just before he retired, Hart painted a picture of an old Jenny (Jenny is the nickname for the earliest mass-produced American biplane) and entered it in the Pastel Society of America’s annual exhibition at the National Arts Club of New York. When he won an award, Hart felt he was on to something.

“I had no idea what was going on in aviation art,” says Hart. “It’s as if I’ve uncovered a manhole that’s leading me to all sorts of exciting tunnels. And I’m painting one of my greatest loves.” Each day, the Bend, Oregon, artist gets up and starts painting in his studio by 5 a.m. Although he has an archive of airplane photographs and engineering drawings of planes, as well as several model airplanes he uses for reference, Hart relies on his years in the air when it comes to painting the sky. “I’ve flown to just about every place in the world. I’ve experienced clouds firsthand,” he says. “I know about the light and moisture. I paint from my head.”

Working in pastels and more recently oils, Hart enjoys creating realistic planes among the abstract shapes of clouds as in Westbound Direct Tucumcari (above) and Oh Jenny Jenny (below). “I’m always playing,” he says of his process. He’s even started fixing old pastel paintings and then adding oils on top. But no matter what he’s working on, he begins with a detailed drawing. With pastel, he relies on an acrylic and pumice under painting to get the dark values in place. For example, in Westbound Direct Tucumcari he used gray, phthalo blue and ultramarine for his acrylic under painting and then added layers of pastel, working dark to light. Though he admits pastels have some limitations, particularly in terms of the number of layers you can add, Hart loves their spontaneity. “Painting with pastels you can be so expressive, so fast,” he says. “When I was flying, I didn’t have a lot of time to paint. Pastels helped me learn how to move color around the paper quickly.”

With a few years of formal training under his belt, Hart worked at art throughout his aviation career. And flying gave him the opportunity to spend time in the world’s best museums. Although he learned invaluable lessons from the masterworks he studied, Hart credits his many artist friends and mentors with continually helping him improve his work and push it to the next level. “Without these guys, I don’t know where I’d be,” he says. “I don’t care how much formal art education you have, unless someone is teaching you how to do art rather than about art, you’re not going to get anywhere.”

"Oh Jenny, Jenny"“Oh Jenny Jenny”

My former Classmate David Bedell, I found out, attended classes right out of high school at the Detroit Institute of Art, the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. Also known as, The Art School of the Society of Arts and Crafts. His attendance at the art school came to a screeching halt in 1961 when his dad was killed and he had to drop out of school to help support his family. He got a job as an illustrator with an advertising art studio on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit.

David said he grew restless and bored with the work and went back to school and earned a couple of degrees from Wayne State University in English (BA and MA). He was in the PhD program at WSU and had won a Rumble Doctoral Fellowship. A colleague got a position at the University of Michigan-Dearborn as Chair of the Writing Program for Engineers. She urged David to apply at UMD for the position as writing instructor. He did and taught writing, literature and technical communications there for many years.

Taken from a “rate your professor” website:

Bedell is a hilarious guy. If you are interested in science, technologies, or outdoorsy things you will have a lot to talk about with him. Super easy grader, and…  almost NO HOMEWORK!

I rest my case.

An Exotic Airline

An Exotic Airline

ONA 932

My wife Christine reflected recently about how much fun it was to fly for Overseas National Airways. After working for other major airlines, both before and after ONA, and how exotic it was to travel all over the world; to the extent that she would have paid to work for them. I had to agree with her.

There are many stories that float around the airline industry. Some you believe and some you don’t. Many are too preposterous to even imagine happening let alone finding oneself in the middle of the action. How is it on later reflection you can still wonder… did this really happen; even though you were there as witness.

This is about an all-night freight operation, in a jet aircraft, flying around boxes in the form of military cargo. The aircraft in question is a DC-9 -32 series and the scene begins in the east bay of San Francisco, at a military airport known as the Alameda Naval Air Station. The flight schedule for this trip was from Alameda to Navy Dallas with two stops in between. We were to arrive is the Dallas area at daybreak.

The cockpit of our DC-9 was configured to carry 2 couriers, when necessary, to accompany military cargo that was deemed sensitive or in some cases dangerous. Those two seats were directly behind the copilot, below the circuit breaker panels, and were very cramped and uncomfortable. There was also a jumpseat that folded down between the two pilot seats, the Captain on the left and the copilot on the right. I would be the co-pilot.

The loading of freight on the aircraft was nearly completed and we were within a few minutes of departure when we received a request for permission to have a jumpseat rider in the cockpit go along with us. The jumpseater would continue with the aircraft past Navy Dallas and on to the Naval Air Station at Jacksonville, Florida. The Captain approved the request. It was customary in that era (the late nineteen sixties and early seventies) to allow other airline crew members to ride in our jumpseats for a variety of reasons.

The other airline crew member that showed up at our door was a flight attendant that worked for a competitor of ours and was based in the Bay Area as were we, and… she was a looker. She was deadheading to Jacksonville to meet up with her boyfriend and his boat, as best I can recall. She settled into the jumpseat and we departed for Lemoore NAS, a Naval Air Station in the central San Joaquin valley, about midway between the Bay and San Diego our next stop. After a few hours of the freight exchange we were again on our way to the North Island Naval Air Station at San Diego.

It can be very boring sitting around freight operations in the middle of the night, waiting for an offload and the upload, so we always carried a deck of cards with us to help pass the time… to entertain ourselves in a game of hearts or whatever. What you didn’t want to do that late was take a nap. It’s tougher having to wake up and be fully alert again.

After our stop in San Diego we were on our way again heading east for the morning sun toward Navy Dallas. After leveling off at cruise altitude, settling in for the final few hours it would take to get there, someone jokingly suggested a game of poker in the cockpit. We had nothing else to do so why not? The game evolved into a game of strip poker (we didn’t carry poker chips) and we all three participated. This is the part of the story that I still have trouble thinking really happened. Over El Paso, Texas (ELP) at 35,000 feet, we were all buck naked in the cockpit. It was about this time that our air traffic controller, at Fort Worth Center, crackled to life on the radio… “Overseas 932, you are cleared to descend to 24,000 feet, they are landing south at Navy Dallas!” Can you just imagine the mad scramble to re-suit ourselves, while we pilots were straddling the control columns? It was, if I may say so, very awkward. I can only imagine how the accident report might have read.

ONA was indeed a fun airline to work for in an era when flying was both exotic and fun, both as a pilot and passenger. Passengers weren’t treated then as cows, herd them in and herd them out. There are many other stories of course but this one should have a place of its own somewhere in an airline pilots flying Hall of Shame. If there were such a place, I would be happy to be in it.

Fleming International

Fleming International

on a “shoestring” cargo flight operations

“Inadequate Maintenance and Inspection” read the summary of the NTSB aircraft accident report. A Lockheed Electra(L-188) crashed shortly after takeoff from Lambert Field in St. Louis, Missouri on July 6th, 1977. The aircraft was operated by Fleming International Airways, it was on a return leg to Detroit’s Willow Run Airport (KYIP). The Captain, Co-pilot and Flight Engineer died in the accident. It was the airline I signed up to work for after my great escape from Saudi Arabia in late 1977.

The specific aircraft N280F was one of a fleet of cargo aircraft that I had flown, during my previous employment at Overseas National Airways, only a few years earlier. My former Chief Pilot at ONA hired me; I would be based at Ypsilanti, (KYIP) Detroit’s Willow Run Airport. Unfortunately, as it turned out, I could only remain grateful for a short while.

The Namesake

Robert P. Fleming, the namesake of Fleming International, I never knew personally but his resume speaks for itself. An Airline Captain at age 23, the specific airline unknown; has held almost every job title (that I know of) in the industry from grunt to CEO, but more CEO than grunt for sure. His latest occupation of record is with Ariana Afghan Airlines, from March 2013 to July of 2015 in Kabul, as CEO. It would be easy to categorize him occupationally as a fixer or organizer rather than long term operator. Within his resume it is obvious he is proud of his cost cutting abilities and accomplishments, perhaps a hired gun more or less. When an airline is in trouble financially men of his ilk are called on to provide the special needs required; a turn-around specialist. Labor contracts, generally the result of labor unions, are sometimes the first to go.

Hired by Swiss Trust in 1987 to resurrect the fortunes of Trans International Airlines, once a major air carrier in the United States, he (according to his resume) “Personally negotiated new wage and work rules beneficial to both employees and company, resulting in having the Teamsters Union dismissed as the collective bargaining agent for the employees.” Bob left TIA in June of 1989 when the identity of true owners was determined by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) to be Syrian Nationals (non U.S. citizens). Non-citizens are forbidden to hold controlling ownership in United States Air Carriers. TIA ceased operations in late 1990.

This information is not to be a knock on Fleming International Airways in particular, but rather a statement of how I experienced that segment of small airline cargo operations in general. They all suffer the same flight operations model with an inherent hazard affecting safety of flight. It concerns how one is paid for flying the airplane. It sounds reasonable that being paid by the hour or miles flown for wages would be a natural choice. What is often not part of the transaction is a contract. So pushing a few limits, related to safety of flight, in order to get paid becomes a matter of a pilots personal economic situation. When you are flying boxes around, instead of people, the concern about hurting someone that purchased a ticket to ride isn’t usually in the equation. Some Operators take advantage of this little known fact. Aircraft maintenance in other words can take a backseat and often does.

A pilot without a contract can be instructed by his employer to fly an airplane he deems unsafe to fly. Make no mistake, it is the pilot in command (usually designated the Captain of the airplane) that is responsible and has final authority by law, but an employer can say fly it or I will find someone else that will. If a pilot doesn’t have an enforceable employment contract, stipulating he has a right not to fly an unsafe aircraft, he is at the mercy of his employer. If you are the passenger instead of a box… you are also at the mercy of the airlines administration and not necessarily the owner. An owner can’t always know what the chief pilot asks of his pilots. Personally, I wouldn’t want to fly on an airline where pilots don’t have a voice concerning their aircraft’s airworthiness. If the rent is due or baby needs a new pair of shoes sometimes safety is compromised… advantage airline.

Training

Our pilot groups’ ground training took place at what is commonly known, even today, as corrosion corner at the Miami Airport. We stayed at the Travelers, a popular hotel for airline crews located across the street from the airport. Our instructor, Roy Harrison (also from ONA days), was our former Electra chief flight engineer when I worked there. He was very knowledgeable about the aircraft… especially when it came to its propeller. Hydraulically, it was as complicated as any other component on the aircraft, including the engine. Its operation was not to be misunderstood if you had any intention of survival.

Flight training took place in the middle of the Everglades out west of Miami International Airport alongside the Tamiami Trail (HWY 41). Sitting on 25 thousand acres of alligator habitat is a 10,500 foot long runway with swamp as far as you can see. Thankfully it had runway lights even though it was daylight. The cargo version of the Lockheed Electra had no bathroom facilities… at least for what I needed that day. We were doing touch and go’s, landing and taking off again without stopping. After touching down and during rollout it involved placing the four throttles at idle while retracting the flaps from landing configuration to their position for flight again and adjusting the Elevator trim settings. It was a monkey motion of hands flying about the vast cockpit of the L-188. There were four or five of us doing the transition training that day so it was time consuming. After finishing my portion of training a sudden desire overwhelmed me that I suspect was from having eaten a bad fish the night before. There wasn’t a building in sight that might house the facility I needed at the moment. I explained this very definitively to the check captain Lee Dee as in… “you need me to get out of here as bad as I need to get out of here!” Bringing the airplane to a stop the number two engine was shut down and the cargo door opened and I climbed down the ladder provided me. I headed for the only thing insight that would be of any assistance… “The Runway Light.” While I straddle the light doing my business I notice the ladder has been retracted, the cargo door is closing and the number two engine is beginning to rotate back to life. So, I’m thinking… WTF? It’s always the economics that drives most of the decision making process when it comes to operating large aircraft and rightfully so. It is expensive to have four engines running while some guy is out doing his business sitting astraddle a runway light. Lee’s thinking was we can finish this up while Ron is out trying to find something to wipe himself with.

Line Flying

It was time to go to work. We were to position an aircraft back to Detroit’s Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti. Captain Dee was the pilot in Command and I would fly the aircraft from the left seat. It was considered what is called a line check. Captain Dee signed the log book accepting the aircraft, he was the pilot responsible, I would be the pretend Captain; a pretty normal circumstance but one fraught with uncertainty. It was noted in the aircraft logbook there had been a number of false engine fire warnings with engine number three on recent flights. These sorts of maladies don’t go unnoticed. But, they are also sometimes hard to duplicate once back on the ground. Such was the case… “unable to duplicate” was the maintenance sign off.

We departed Miami northbound near midnight and while climbing through twenty thousand feet or so, of course, the number three engine fire warning goes off. It is hard not to notice. While I begin a shallow turn back toward Miami our seasoned flight engineer, I believe it was Jack Howell (also from our ONA days) silences the bell. I look at Captain Dee and he is looking at me and while in the middle of this looky loo that is going on… Jack says, in his not to unfamiliar Oklahoma drawl… “do either of you guys think we should be doing something about this?” I’m guessing if we hadn’t been pre-conditioned with the logbook entry that “doing something about this” would have already taken place. We shut the engine down and the fire warning light went out, but I do not remember who told Jack to do it. That was almost forty years ago. We returned to Miami and something was changed in the fire detection loop and we went on to Detroit early the next morning.

The Helicopter ride

A few weeks later we were consigned to haul a load of freight to New Jerseys Teterboro Airport by one of the forwarders operating at Willow Run. It was a day trip which then was highly unusual. The additional unusual was, due to some financial difficulties by way of non-payment for previous services, we were alerted to the fact we would have no ground support available at the New Jersey Airport; as in no refueling and use of a start cart. We could get away with carrying enough fuel for the return but we needed a start cart… or so we thought. The solution was, on arrival, we could leave the number four engine running while the freight was unloaded and use the bleed air off of the engine (in place of a start cart) to crank up again for the return flight to Detroit.

Off we went and midway through the flight our flight engineer, Bill Sieg, yet another ace former ONA flight engineer, mentioned that one of our former ONA pilots, Bill Gregory, was flying a helicopter for someone based at Teterboro. We all agreed we should call Bill to say hello when we landed. Now parked in the transit area at Teterboro, after setting the parking brake and shutting down numbers one, two and three engines, we called Bill. Bill answers and says “I will be right there.” It wasn’t long before Bill arrives with his Bell Helicopter… he had flown them in Viet Nam I believe? How about a little ride out around the Statue of Liberty he offers? Well… I’m thinking, who do we leave behind with the engine running? It could have been one of those Captains decisions I could have regretted but I decided we would all go for the Helicopter ride. It could have been a once in a lifetime opportunity and as it turns out, it was, I was never to ride in a helicopter again. Good decision and only good luck on my part.

HO-JO Debriefing

Which way you Heading?

My wife Chris reminded me recently, while I was recalling some of the events during my season of flying with Fleming (early 1978), of the lengthy debriefings we crews had at the Howard Johnson Hotel in Ypsilanti before heading for the airport to fly. She remembered the inbound crew would bring a laundry list of items that were wrong with the aircraft we were to depart with and our debriefing of the information usually took the better part of thirty minutes. Chris and I were newlyweds at the time and she showed some concern. She would stay with me at the hotel when not flying and commuted to JFK where she was still a flight attendant employed with ONA. We especially looked forward to Ho-Jo’s fried clam night… it was an all you could eat Wednesday night special.

This next trip would be my last with Fleming but I didn’t know it at the time. Our trip was to be from Willow Run to Los Angeles with a good number of flying hours involved (there and back), which meant a nicer payday. Money was the ultimate motivator… flying jobs were scarce then. The Airline Deregulation act of 1978 was on the horizon, and would change all of that for me. Our exchange of aircraft discrepancy’s before leaving Ho-Jo’s included an item that involved the aircrafts compass system. The directional gyro didn’t appear to be slaved to the Flux Valve; a remote magnetic sensor that provided updates to the cockpit instruments that let you in on the direction of the aircraft with references to magnetic north. A highly desirable pulse of information for an airplane; wouldn’t you think?

We were seasoned veterans so we made our decision… go for the money. It would involve our resetting the directional gyro every few minutes to the standby; often referred to as the whiskey compass that was mounted on the center-post of the windshield. This instrument had a few drawbacks; but we learned how to fly, some of us in our Cessna 150’s by doing just that, which was resetting the DG every few minutes to the whiskey compass reference. It was irksome but doable.

The weather was forecast to be good on the west coast and we would be landing in morning daylight so off we headed into the night. Watch out Hollywood here we come. It was winter in the Midwest, cloud covered with a snowstorm dealing its wrath on the Rocky Mountains; nothing really unusual about the weather for that time of year. The autopilot, if it was installed, wasn’t working. Most of our aircraft didn’t have them and if they did they were unreliable. Hand flying a large aircraft at altitude can be a handful, literally. A ping pong ball floating in the ocean would be a decent analogy; bobbing here and there on the whims of an ocean of air. Crossing the Rockies and dealing with the compass issue I wasn’t looking forward to. Hand flying for six or seven hours with two pilots taking turns can and did become tiresome. It was time to put the flight engineer to work. Most of ours could fly the airplane; some were licensed pilots and Jack Howell was one of them. Tom Huff, who we referred to as Smutley (for all the reasons you might guess), was the co-pilot and had more experience in the airplane than I did. I had a good crew or we wouldn’t have just gone for the money.

“Where you going Fleming?” came through on the radio from the air traffic controller. We had been given a radar vector and apparently our heading didn’t jive with his needs. Small wonder that. We decided we had more of a problem than we suspected. Landing somewhere in the middle of the night might be problematic if we had no dependable heading reference. I asked ATC what our ground track looked like and we reset the DG to that, our new heading source. We explained our situation to them and our need to continue west to better weather; if they didn’t mind supplying us with ground track? We really had no other alternative, continuing west to visual flight conditions was our best option.

We three managed the night and welcomed the sun coming up behind us as we slipped over into the desert southwest. Fortunately our engines and radios stayed on par with our needs and we could visually confirm our headings… now referenced to section lines on the ground and our standby compass; more reliable now in smooth air. We realigned our gyros to the runway heading visible ahead and landed at Los Angeles in the early morning without incident. After touching down we taxied the aircraft to the freight ramp near the approach end of runway 25 Right and searched for some bed rest and a compass mechanic.

I don’t remember much about the return to Willow Run other than the realization it was time to find a new flying job. Rosenbaum Aviation operated DC-8’s out of Willow Run and had just acquired a wet lease agreement (providing aircraft and crew) with ALM Antillean Airlines operating out of JFK to Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire in the Dutch Antilles. I was offered and took the job as a co-pilot; I had jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. Fortunately, that job didn’t last more than a month. Another crew had slid the airplane off a snow covered runway in Buffalo and I chose not to join in on the Rosie cargo operation at Willow Run. Theirs were a scary bunch of pilots that had been doing it way too long.

The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 was a miracle out of nowhere for those of us in search of gainful flying jobs. It allowed for small intrastate airlines to now fly outside of their states boundaries. In other words interstate. Some airlines expanded and needed experienced pilots. For the next twenty-three years I would be employed by an airline that had a pilot contract. I would now not have to fly an airplane I thought was unsafe just to pay the rent.

My Great Escape

My Great Escape

leaving the” Wind, Sand and Stars” behind

I was sitting in the airliner cockpit when the armed security policeman stuck his head inside the door. He looked us all over carefully, nodded and then backed his way out of the cramped quarters. It was only then that I could exhale, he hadn’t recognized me. The aircraft was a stretched DC-8 belonging to Overseas National Airways (ONA), one of the many airlines contracted each year to fly Hajj pilgrims visiting Mecca, from (and back to) their native countries. How I came to be there, sitting in the jump seat behind the Captain, is the story of my Great Escape.

My dream job had ended in the mid 1970’s along with my marriage. I decided, by way of encouragement from a dear friend, to finish my art education by attending the Academy of Art College in San Francisco. But, my formal education in the art world came to a screeching halt in early 1977. I should have seen the head-on collision coming. My GI Bill and unemployment benefits had dried up. I had alimony and child support obligations to uphold; all without hope of making a wage in my alter ego’s fantasy world. Fortunately, I had more than one fantasy… be it Airline Pilot or Artist; one, left brain driven and the other right. I came to the fork in the road and as Yogi Berra instructed us to do; I took it. I needed a paycheck. Dreams don’t have a time stamp on them so I set the right brained idea aside.

The ad in the help wanted section of the San Francisco Chronicle read; Airline Pilots Wanted, Career Opportunity with fast growing international flag carrier. Call Ahmed.

I needed a job and had international flying experience. I myself spent seven years previously employed with Overseas National Airways, prior to being furloughed in 1976. I called Ahmed and was hired on the spot to fly the Boeing 707 for Saudia, the national airline, the flag carrier of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I would be based in Jeddah on the eastern shore of the Red Sea.

The meager belongings from my studio apartment on Stockton Street in San Francisco were packed up and stored and promised to be shipped to Jeddah, once I arrived there. I then flew to Kansas City where I was trained by Trans World Airlines (TWA) to fly the Boeing 707. The training was good but uneventful; I was looking forward to having a paying job once again.

I arrived in Jeddah in the spring of 1977, an eight hour flight from London. The trips I flew in the 707 were mostly to Europe; London, Paris, and occasionally to Rome, Italy. Cairo was big on the schedule as well. There were day trips to Amman, Damascus, Baghdad, Riyadh, Khartoum, Sanaa in Yemen, and to the east as far as Karachi and Bombay. I did them all.

As you might expect it was a hot summer in the desert. My household effects shipment hadn’t arrived and our promised accommodations didn’t materialize. It wasn’t a deceit on the airlines part as much as it was a factor of their growing pains and inability to construct the housing needed in a timely manner; not to mention the difficulty in my acclimating to the culture. It wasn’t unusual to fly a scheduled trip to Rome for example and return to the airport the next morning to find members of the Royal Family had acquired the airplane for their personal use. We would then fly them to Morocco, Paris or wherever they desired; a fine way to run a scheduled airline. The saving grace… the royal family members were always generous with tipping… it was called baksheesh.

I soon realized there wasn’t a desired future for me in Saudi Arabia and began communicating with fellow pilot friends back in the United States. It wasn’t long before I learned of a cargo airline starting up in Miami using Lockheed Electra’s, a popular four engine turboprop well suited for the purpose. I had been an Electra Captain at ONA and was rated in the aircraft and was offered the job. But, the kicker was, I needed to get there soon. I had signed an employment contract with Saudia but they hadn’t delivered on their housing promise and the prospect of getting it anytime soon wasn’t looking good. So I wasn’t feeling any guilt and the planning for My Great Escape began in earnest.

An escape was necessary because, upon arrival in the Kingdom, your passport is confiscated until leaving for your next trip. Getting my passport back could be problematic if I wanted to leave on my schedule and not theirs. It was fortunate for me to need to leave during the season of the Hajj. There were many international carriers contracted to fly Hajj pilgrims in and out of Saudi Arabia. The remnants of my former airline ONA, was one of the carriers contracted for the 1977 Hajj. They had a few airplanes and crew still operating across North Africa.

The Hajj

theHajj_5x2The gathering during Hajj is considered the largest annual gathering of people in the world. An annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey. The numbers of people making the pilgrimage each year has grown substantially, especially since the advent of air travel. For example in 1920 there were slightly over 58,000 making the journey mostly arriving by steamship. In 2013 there were over 3 million. In recent years, because of the numbers of deaths due to stampedes, the number allowed on the pilgrimage has been reduced to nearer 2 million. Even with the restrictions in place in 2015 there were 769 deaths attributed to the Hajji stampedes. They’re working on it.

The Plan

I was able to locate and make contact with old friends, the ONA crews I used to work with that were still employed working the Hajj and now laying over in Jeddah. They were operating trips to and from Dakar, the capital of Senegal located on the west coast of Africa. One crew was leaving again the next morning and I asked if I could ride in their cockpit jump seat to Dakar. I needed to be placed on the manifest as an ONA crew member and they agreed to do it. Fortunately, I still possessed my old ONA ID card and had it with me in Jeddah. I also borrowed a pair of ONA uniform epaulettes to change into once on board the aircraft. On a fairly regular basis there would be ferry flights positioning back to New York’s Kennedy Airport, the airlines home base. I was going try and make that connection once I got to Dakar.

Getting past immigration in Jeddah while purloining my passport could possibly get tricky. The plan was to suit up in my Saudia pilot uniform and go through customs and immigration, picking up my passport and proceed as usual to a ramp shuttle bus just like I was heading for Saudia’s flight operations. However, I would remain on the shuttle and get off at the ONA airplane parked further out on the ramp. The tricky part would be when the loading agent presented the passenger count to the cockpit and got a glimpse of me in the jump seat. He may, and hopefully wouldn’t, recognize me as a Saudia pilot and create a little foo-faa there in the cockpit. A foo-faa in Saudi isn’t a pretty sight; it could involve gnashing of teeth and very sharp blades being tossed about. The last hurdle of the three, as I saw it, would be the final check by the security police. That would be the guy with the gun.

A good bit of luck is involved here; I am happy to report all went as planned and off into the sunset I rode to live happily ever after back to the culture of which I was born. All of the faces in the picture below, as far as I know, are alive and well and still smiling. It is a picture of me (on the far right) with an ONA cabin crew dressed in their Hajj adapted work uniforms, taken some weeks before my escape. The smart looking blonde girl standing to the right of me is Christine whom I married the following year. We took our vows standing in Harrah’s parking lot, on the California side; at State line South Lake Tahoe. We have been together now for 38 years. On the right is another picture of Christine(circa 1976) in her everyday ONA Flight Attendant uniform. I was, and still remain, a lucky man… wouldn’t you say?

jeddahCrew_1

Homework… not for me!

Homework… not for me!

infinite fantasies from childhood

It started early, my Daydreaming. The artwork of NC Wyeth and Maxfield Parrish, both early 20th Century illustrators of the Classics by Robert Louis Stevenson and “Poems of Childhood” by Eugene Field put me in another world, a world that even at my ripe old age today; I haven’t as yet left behind. I can still look at one of their paintings and go there.

My earliest art training took the form of forging signatures and school grades on my report cards. This began sometime during the fifth and sixth grades during my early education out in the Township. I didn’t like doing homework and so I didn’t. And, I got away with it most of the time.

The reason I got away with it; my parents weren’t engaged and they trusted me. I don’t recall ever being asked if I had finished my homework and, if I was asked, I’m sure I probably said I finished it at school. I lived in my fantasy world and they lived in theirs. It happens. To them I was the perfect child and to me, I was never meant to be an academic.

I didn’t have a moral authority looking over my shoulder; a religious dogmatist that would influence my waywardness back to the straight and narrow, to that of being a proper and good student. Religion in our house was a battle of wits; my dad the good catholic and my mother (the not so good protestant) that never attended church herself. She did though enjoy the social life that the good catholic provided her. Friday and Saturday nights down at the corner bar dancing away the night or going to the movie theater now and again. As a child, raised in a strict religious environment, she was never allowed to socialize outside of the church. No movies and for sure… no dancing. All were considered habits of the devil. She left home when she was sixteen for the big city and never looked back.

As for me and my protestant education, my mother learned there were neighbors that attended the very denomination that she was raised in and then abandoned. Why would she send me with them to attend this Church? Had she learned that I wasn’t doing homework and forging her signature on my report cards… probably not? She meant well, I’m sure, but I hated the experience then, and it certainly had a negative effect concerning how I feel today about the intent of the world’s many religions… too many. I don’t question anyone’s faith, I consider it personal. What I do question is ones blind faith to them.

I consider myself spiritual in a day-dreamy sort of way. The daydream never goes away for anyone with a creative bent, it is the stimulus. My many nights aloft when crossing the north Atlantic, with me in my perch, the captains seat as witness to the infinity surrounding the stars that go on forever in the night sky. How can you not think there is something greater out there? This is where my faith lies and I pray toward the stars and hope something or someone is listening.

Caught

When I was in the sixth grade my mother became ill and took to her bed for extended periods; she was in her mid-thirties. People, from the church she didn’t attend, would come and pray over their sister Hart. It was a very somber event each time they came. Even then I still wasn’t doing my homework. One day Mr. Fisher, my infamous sixth grade teacher, called me out into the hallway (which he liked to do with me on a regular basis, it was he that accused me of having my father build my science project, a model airplane with fully functioning flight controls). He asked me why I hadn’t done my homework. I told him the truth; I had to do the ironing because my mother was sick in bed. Well, I learned, telling the truth is not always the right thing to do. I hadn’t thought it far enough ahead. Mr. Fisher said he was going to call my mother to verify my story. It was then I began to cry and told him that I had lied. It wasn’t true that I had lied of course, because the truth was, I didn’t want him to call my mother and I wouldn’t have done my homework anyhow, ironing or not. And, who wants their mother finding out they don’t do homework.

I wonder if Robert Louis Stevenson, Eugene Field, NC Wyeth or Maxfield Parrish, all creators of my infinite fantasies did their homework. Or, did they ever forge their mother’s signature on their report cards. Who would know… they were really good artists?

The Bad Boys of Winter

The Bad Boys of Winter

where are all the fun kids now?

So many kids, so much fun and where have they all gone and where are they now? I find it amazing to have such a vivid recall of their faces and those events of so many years ago. I am thankful that I can  have and share these memories. Please, everyone, do not tell the police or the Queen of England where I live.

Bobby Molson lived on the corner of Stanford and Banner. I lived just a couple of houses down the street. Ron Kryzaniak also lived on the same street at the corner of Telegraph Road. Bobby was a year older so we can blame him for not keeping us in line with the then accepted behavioral rules and practices for 12 year olds. Sharon Blackstone lived on the corner across from Bobby and tried keeping us out of trouble without much luck. There were the Findlay’s (Gari and sisters), the LaForge’s (Rosemary and Artie), the Lovette’s (Karen and Marlene), the Davis boys (Dickie and Bill) who lived on Colgate the next street over. Larry Winton lived on the corner of Lehigh and Banner. I went to church with Larry for a very short while… it was painful and didn’t help me much; that’s another story entirely.

Michigan is on the western edge of the Eastern Time Zone so summers for us meant long daylight hours. Our days of summer were mostly spent playing, going to (and coming from) our sporting activities; swimming at Seashore Pools, pickup baseball, basketball or football games. Some days I took the bus from Lehigh and Telegraph, changing at Michigan and Monroe by the Cunningham’s Drug Store, and then riding it all the way down Michigan Avenue to Briggs Stadium to watch the Detroit Tigers play; all for $1.25 which included a ticket to sit in the Bleachers. “Bleachers”… according to the Dickson Baseball Dictionary were named after wooden benches in the outfield that were “bleached by the sun.” The open seating areas, as early as 1877, were also called the “bleaching boards.” It’s a… just so you know.

Daylight hours were a different story during the winter months. We bad boys had a lot of fun in our neighborhood in the vicinity of Stanford and Banner streets in the Township where I lived. I have lost track of most of the kids from that era… the early to mid-1950’s. When I was ten I moved from the west side of Detroit(where I was notably a good boy) out to Dearborn Township where I attended the Edsel B. Ford Elementary School located at the corner of Penney and Gulley roads. My new neighborhood provided a whole new set of friends that proved to be an entertaining lot and it’s where I joined, and became one of, the bad boys of winter.

The seasons didn’t hinder our ability to find trouble; it was just easier in the winter because it became dark so much earlier. One of our winter atrocities was throwing snowballs at cars and running “for all get out” when chased for doing so. We had hiding places prearranged which were usually in someone’s backyard. There were no alleys in our neighborhood so we had to escape when necessary to the next street over by jumping the fences. Our most fun in the winter was riding car bumpers (hopping cars) on the snow and ice covered streets. To hitch a ride we would hide behind a car (or tree) in the vicinity of a street corner where a car would slow or stop for traffic. As the car came to a halt or slowed enough we would fall in behind and grab onto the bumper as it pulled away. Sometimes we could ride for nearly a block before we were discovered or just got tired of hanging on. This activity I’m sure played havoc with the bottoms of our rubber goulashes, but fortunately we outgrew them each year so parents weren’t the wiser. Our first warning that we had been discovered was when a cars brake lights suddenly came on… sometimes shortly after our grabbing onto the bumper. Sliding along with your rear end ever so close to the ground at increasing speeds… was for us, a very, very big thrill.

Doorbell ringing was our next featured venue. We crafted it into a fine art and we learned which buttons to push and which not; all from experience of course. You had to be able to quickly get far enough away and still be able to see the door and porch lights come on. Why we thought this was funny is still a mystery to me. Ringing the same doorbell two or three times in a row was really a riot and risky… it provoked the use of words by our victims we had no knowledge even existed. We weren’t aware that in other parts of the world doorbell ringing was a severely punishable crime. Had we known of course I feel quite certain we would still have done it. It was way too much fun and the Queen of England wasn’t known for her sense of humor I’m guessing.

From a Law written in the UK from about 1847:

Every person who willfully and wantonly disturbs any inhabitant, by pulling or ringing any door bell, or knocking at any door or who willfully and unlawfully extinguishes the light of any lamp:  

Penalty on persons committing any of the offences herein named:

Every person who in any street, to the obstruction, annoyance, or danger of the residents or passengers, commits any of the following offences, shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding for each offence, or, in the discretion of the justice before whom he is convicted, may be committed to prison, there to remain for a period not exceeding fourteen days.

Our next activity to share might be a bit off color; we bad boys called it “Window Peeping.” What provoked our doing it is something a psychologist might have fun trying to unwrap even today. I have no idea what it was we wanted to see but we wanted to see it just the same. It was probably just a curiosity at how other people were living their lives. At our ages life was still very much a mystery… it was after all, a time before reality TV. I don’t know how many people we may have scared or if we scared anyone? We certainly didn’t come upon anything worth seeing. Bathroom windows were way too high off the ground to see anything going on in there. There was a lot of knitting and people reading books and magazines. Can you imagine how exciting it can be to watch someone reading a book or knitting? Surprisingly, just watching TV hadn’t caught on and not everyone had television sets anyhow. Those were the days.

At about twelve we were just of an age when boys discover wrestling with girls could be fun. You just had to pick the right girl. Marlene Lovette was much bigger than I and could just sit on me if she got me down. Her younger sister Karen on the other hand was just right, although she was a very tough wrestle; lots of grass stained knees back then. It didn’t hurt that Karen was also cute as hell.

Where have they gone?

It’s funny how kids and their families would disappear from the neighborhood seemingly overnight. Arlene Rhea, a cute freckle faced Irish girl, lived on the corner of Stanford and Bailey just across the street from Karen and Marlene, and then one day, she just wasn’t there anymore. There are many others I can vividly recall even after all these years; Mary Christian lived across from the school, Terry Lipsky lived with his Aunt across from Tony Hernandez on Annapolis. There was little Mike that lived at Pat’s Trailer Park, also on Annapolis at the corner of Telegraph. Mikey had so many brothers and sisters and they all lived in a little trailer at the Park, and I was never able to figure out where they all slept. They also just one day disappeared.

I visited my old Detroit neighborhood some years ago. The house at 5217 32nd Street, where I lived for nearly ten years before moving to the Township, was no longer there. In fact, there weren’t any houses nearby. Everything as I knew it had disappeared. The Bar across the street, where I used to sit at a table drinking my orange soda while eating pretzels, and listening to the Mills Brothers sing Harbor Lights on the Jukebox, was gone too. The corner grocery store, where we bought cookies out of a box on the floor by the pound, vanished. The Polish bakery on McGraw that dipped cupcakes into chocolate and served them upside down, demolished. However, the sewer line that was connected to our kitchen sink, where Dad caught us emptying our glasses of milk, surprisingly was still there. I guess if the sewer lines are still intact it may not be hopeless for the neighborhood to return one day. Everyone needs a sewer.

The Andersen Family

The Andersen Family

taking Telegraph Road east

Elizabeth “Bette” Andersen (my birth Mother) was born on April 1st, 1921 in Independence, Missouri.

Bette’s father Harvey Andersen was the son of Danish immigrants that arrived in this country in the late 1880’s. They settled in the region east of Kansas City (Jackson County), Missouri. Her mother, Elizabeth Giles, was the daughter of Harvey Giles and Emma May Luke. Grandfather Harvey Giles emigrated from Wales in 1884, her grandmother Emma was from Wapello County, Iowa.

The listed occupations of head of household, according to various censuses, were listed as coal miners. Missouri was the first state west of the Mississippi to produce coal commercially, in 1840. By 1881, coal mining had become a major industry in the state, with Missouri coal largely fueling coal-fired locomotives. Once the demand for the high-sulfur coal declined in the mid 1920’s, the family (seeking reliable work) migrated eastward toward the manufacturing industries of Detroit.

Coming together

U.S. Route 24 (US 24), by act of congress, was one of the original designated United States Highways of 1926. It originally ran 1540 miles from Pontiac, Michigan in the east, to Kansas City, Missouri in the west. Independence is an eastern suburb of Kansas City. Our 33rd President, Harry S. Truman, is buried on a hill overlooking US Highway 24 near his Presidential library there.

Until recently I had no idea that my birth mother, Bette Andersen, was born in Independence, Missouri which is near the western terminus of US 24 (Telegraph Road as it was known to us in Michigan). She was laid to rest in 1989 at the very other end of Highway 24 in Farmington Hills, Michigan. During our lifetimes we both unknowingly lived just a few miles apart but within a block of the very same highway. There is something to be said about being born at one end of a major US Highway and your final resting place, it turns out, is located at the other extremity of the very same highway. Yes, there is something to be said about that, I just don’t know what it is that should be said?

At about the same time as the new highway system was put in place (in 1926) a fellow known as Eddie Anderson Stinson Jr., with the help of the area business community incorporated the Stinson Aircraft Company in southwest Detroit. He built what was then called the SM-1 Detroiter at a place called Romulus Field; which later became Wayne-Major Airport and then much later, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport as it is known today.

Late in her teen years Bette, as she was known, was employed by the Stinson Aircraft Company. During this period, in early 1940, she became acquainted with one Harold W. Kuhn. I have no idea how they met but I do know they met and it was probably an intimate sort of meeting. I was born nine months later in Wayne, Michigan. Theirs was a brief relationship, married in July of 1940 and parting a few days before Pearl Harbor in 1941. The intervening period is still somewhat of a mystery to me and there are no records of my whereabouts or care until I show up on the family Hart’s doorstep at 5217 32nd Street in Detroit. At which place my infant driver’s license identity morphed from Ronald Arthur Kuhn to Ronald Arthur Hart.

The Stinson Aircraft Company hasn’t quite left the picture for me… not just yet anyhow.

The burden of children having children is generally heaped upon the young mother to be. Bette, for example, without support either financially or emotionally is left alone to deal with the absence of responsibility by the fathering entity. The father, more often than not, manages to escape. I can’t imagine what it must be like as a young girl to be in a situation where for nine months all you have is hope but knowing full well it isn’t going to be as you dreamed or wished. As for myself, I wish I’d known a father that could have taught me about the responsibilities concerning the fathering of children. I too was a party to children having children in my young life and was responsible for abandoning a young girl left with the sad burden of being unloved. I am not proud of this period in my life and so not in a position to point fingers. My birth father Harold and I, in our younger years, not only looked alike but acted alike in so many ways.

Eddie Anderson Stinson

Eddie Anderson Stinson learned how to fly at the Wright Flying School in Dayton, Ohio in 1911. He died in an airplane accident in 1932 at the Jackson Park Golf Course in Chicago; he was demonstrating one of his Detroiter models that he had flown from Wayne, Michigan. He was 38 years old. He didn’t get to enjoy the success of his company which went on to build over 5000 Stinson aircraft and contributed in large part to the US World War II effort; then later to the general aviation market when many of the pilots trained during the war returned home and wanted to continue flying privately.

A second cousin also named Harold, one of those pilots from the war, came to Detroit, Michigan and purchased one of the new Stinson Aircraft and took me for my first airplane ride. I was of course hooked on becoming a pilot. American Airlines was one of the first Stinson Aircraft customers that put in service several of their models during the 1930’s that included the famous Stinson Tri-Motor. The stories finale shows me retiring, after thirty-two years as an airline pilot, from American Airlines.

Telegraph Road, US 24, the highway that brought the Andersen family to these woods is still there in Dearborn Heights and thriving. I don’t know whether Eddie “Anderson” Stinson was in some way related to my Andersen family roots (or not), but I haven’t yet investigated that possibility. Keeping in mind, we are all in some ways… related.

5217 32nd Street

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