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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Silver wings

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

On a sad note, we have all watched in horror as a beautiful old P-51 dove into the ground at the Reno Air Races. The pilot died and unfortunately, all too many spectators with him. So far, the cause has not been determined but I suspect some sort of structural failure. Just as a race car driver loses control when the steering wheel becomes disconnected so too does a pilot lose control when the elevator control surfaces disconnect from the control stick. Those who race the World War II fighter planes are flirting with what the manufacturer set as "never exceed" airspeeds and bad things sometimes happen when you push the limits.

Personally I have never had any desire to attend the Air Races in Reno but neither have I gone to a NASCAR race or watched a professional golf match. Racing and golf are just not my thing, but more power to those who do enjoy the venue. I'd bet that all who attended the race in Reno last Friday were aware that disaster could happen and maybe that added to the excitement. Be assured that all sorts of precautions were made to keep the racing aircraft away from the spectators and emergency medical personnel were obviously in place in case the unthinkable happened.

After the accident happened the final two days of racing at Reno were canceled. Jimmy Leeward became the 17th pilot to die since the races began and this was the first time that any spectators were injured. I suspect that the races will never take place again. Life can be sad!

On a much brighter note, later this week, Ann and I will journey to Wichita Falls, Texas. We'll be attending Air Force Pilot Graduation Ceremonies for Sean Cappel.

Sean is the product of the McCook schools and his parents, Rich and Deb Cappel, run the McCook NAPA store. Sean asked me to pin on his pilot wings to celebrate this great milestone in his life. I'll be donating a personal pair of silver wings that started me on a very successful pilot career back in 1960.

Several years ago I taught Sean to fly right here at the McCook Air-patch USofA. Sean caught the flying bug bad and never looked back as he earned his private license, then a commercial and instrument rating followed by certification to instruct. Meanwhile he earned a college degree and landed a job as a flight instructor in the Omaha area. Traditionally flight instructors starve as they strive to accumulate flying time and Sean dreamed a better life. He applied to the South Dakota Air Guard for a coveted F-16 slot and was accepted. Then he earned an Air Force Commission through Officer Candidate School and on to the year long pilot training program at Sheppard Air Force Base.

During pilot training Sean flew the turboprop powered "new" T-6 and then the supersonic T-38. Next will be fighter lead-in training, accumulating more flying hours in the T-38, and finally transition into the F-16. I, along with his family cheering section, have been privileged to follow him every step of the way attending his commissioning at Montgomery AFB, Alabama and now in reaching the ultimate goal of earning his silver wings. Life is good.

Watching the young men and women that I have taught to fly is one of my great pleasures in life. Aviation is a diverse field and past students have gone in many directions. Several have become flight instructors, one a borate fire bomber, more than a few make their living as crop dusters, one is currently a sail plane instructor at the Air Force Academy and another four are currently military pilots. Many have gone into commercial aviation, corporate twins and jets and several now fly with the airlines. Probably the majority of my past students now fly private aircraft ranging from the most basic to the very sophisticated equipped with autopilots, GPS and the latest glass cockpit instrumentation. Life is good.

Yet this old guy is still involved hands-on in aviation in addition to my first love of teaching pilot students. Lately I've been privileged to fly as copilot (civilians call it SIC for Second in Command), in a Cessna Citation II. The Citation is a business jet, currently the object of much ridicule from President Obama. This from a president that rides around the country in Air Force One the ultimate business jet.

Business jets are really time machines for the companies that own them. In the corporate world, employees traveling on business trips aren't subjected to the hassle of TSA probing, feeling, pawing through their bags and requiring them to go barefooted -- that is unfortunately the lot of passengers traveling the airlines today. The corporate jet schedule is flexible; just take off to make it to your destination on time. When the business is finished, hop in the jet and back home you go.

To illustrate the time machine thought, recently we departed McCook and landed in North Platte, 12 minutes later. There we boarded our passengers and were in Rapid City, South Dakota, after just 42 minutes on the clock. It would have been quicker but we had a headwind. The trip by auto would have required at least six hours drive time. I'm not sure you can even get there from here on the airlines.

For a jet the rarified air at high altitude means lower fuel burn and more speed. It has been years since I had flown in those flight levels, but recently we cruised at 36,000 feet in perfect comfort. The sky up there is a more intense blue than on the ground and the few clouds were miles below us. That day the thin air outside was perfectly smooth. Radio chatter is less up high as we share the airspace with only the airliners and a few military aircraft. How else can we say that flight was pure pleasure? Life is good.

That is how I saw it.

Dick Trail


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Another P-51 lost a trim tab at Reno a few years ago, and had a 10G pullup, causing the pilot to lose consciousness, which he regained at 9000 ft, then landed safely. I suspect last Friday's accident may have been similar, except that the plane rolled inverted and plunged to the ground. Sad, and I'm afraid you may be right about future air races not happening. It's been an annual event since 1964.

I didn't realize your students had gone so many diverse ways. This one went from ag aviation to air taxi, then commercial freight hauling, commuter airlines, and now corporate aviation in bush Alaska. Some of the lessons (wheel landings in the 120 Cessna, county road landings, and formation flying) have served me very well.

Thanks, Jack

-- Posted by j_trail on Wed, Sep 21, 2011, at 12:10 AM


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Dick Trail
The Way I Saw It