MY SCARIEST FLIGHT EVER
As a retired airline pilot with over 15,000 hours of flight time in everything from a Piper Cub to an A300 jumbo jet, I have experienced my share of in-flight emergencies, including 6 engine failures. I was always able to handle those emergencies in a calm, deliberate, effective manner due to the very thorough training I received, and I never experienced any fear during the process. I did however have one very scary flight experience, which I will describe below.
I was about 5 weeks into my new-hire training as an Eastern Airlines pilot. We were in class 8 hours a day in preparation for the day that we would be marched over to the Miami FAA office to sit for the FAA Flight Engineer written examination, the passing of which was a requirement prior to continuing to the much anticipated flight training. All of us in the class were under extreme stress as we eagerly studied our 6-inch thick reference manual after school. Most of us were convinced that there was no way we could ever successfully negotiate what was described to us as a very difficult examination.
The class that day was being taught by Col. Sam Osmer, the youngest Air Force officer to ever make full colonel in the Strategic Air Command which was led by a very strict, demanding disciplinarian, Gen. Curtis LeMay. Under study that day was the very complicated propeller system of the Allison 501-D13 engine, which was the engine utilized on the Lockheed Electra, the four engine plane we hoped to be flying in a few months. Col. Osmer was busy drawing a diagram on the blackboard.
I have never been an accomplished maker of paper airplanes. Each of my efforts typically resulted in a flight path that took the shortest path between my launching hand and the ground. I grabbed a piece of my notepaper and started construction of a paper aircraft of a design, which I had seen another utilize, but had never personally tried. I cannot explain the apparent failure of my neurons that allowed the next event to take place.
I took my finished paper aircraft in hand, and from the back of the classroom, launched it towards the front of the class. About a microsecond after the launch, I was wondering what caused me to do that and said out loud, “Oh no,” as my plane flew flawlessly on it’s path forward. As the instructor continued to draw his illustration, the plane struck the blackboard inches from his hand making a sound that resonated through the quiet classroom. The plane fluttered downward making a perfect landing on the chalk tray. The good Colonel, calmly put down his chalk, turned to the class and said, “Apparently you people have no interest in learning,” and walked out of the room. Everyone in the class, seemingly in unison, turned to me with a look that one would expect to receive had one just given Mother Theresa a wedgie!
Being the type who is always willing to answer for his actions, and knowing that I had probably just lost my brief career as a pilot for a major airline, I chased after the good colonel and found him in the parking lot about ready to get into his car. I confessed to my action, apologized and stated that I did not want the whole class to suffer because of my thoughtless deed. He put his hand on my shoulder, thanked me for my honesty and we returned to the class together and subsequently continued our investigation of the system under study.
Now that was one hell of a scary flight!