Thursday, August 10, 2017


     The value and convenience of owning an instrument rating has been demonstrated to Ed and me on numerous occasions. My latest adventure is an example. When Daisy, Elsa, and Marilyn asked me to take them for a ride, I assumed it was just cocktail party chitchat. After all, Marilyn’s husband—he of little faith—had flatly said she couldn't go; he wasn't keen on raising the children by himself.
     Taking up the gauntlet for Marylyn, Daisy said, "Are you going to let him tell you what you can do?" and thus it evolved that I took off from Norwood with three passengers. If they were nervous, they didn't show it but chattered like a flock of migrating birds as they identified points of interest below. Forty‑five minutes later we landed at Nantucket.
     "I'm amazed!" said Daisy. "Simply amazed."
     "So am I," I said. "I never can quite believe it myself."
     Our husbands thought the town of Nantucket would be dead at this time of year, but it was far from it. Many stores and several of the best restaurants were still open. Wandering into one shop that happened to be closing that day, we noticed the manager was sipping something bubbly from a long‑stemmed glass. He was having a quiet little shop‑closing celebration—would we care to join him? He was introduced to all of us—the pilot, the co‑pilot (Marilyn, who wants to learn to fly and surprise Porter), the navigator (Daisy), and the cruise director (Elsa). Our host, using my camera, took pictures of us drinking his champagne, so our husbands could bear witness to the dull time we were having in Nantucket.
     The next morning I talked with the weather bureau and was told I should have no problem with the approaching front if I departed by 11:00. Taking off into a blue sky dotted with cottony white puffs, I headed for Hyannis with my passengers, intending to fly homeward along the coast. But I didn't like the look of the low hanging clouds and overcast which gradually pushed me down to 1000 feet.
     I did a let's‑get‑the‑hell‑out‑of‑here turn and flew west to see how things looked over New Bedford and Providence. Layers of clouds stretched to the north; drops of rain sprinkled on my windshield. Maybe I could fly VFR underneath the clouds or between them, but why fool around when I had a more comfortable alternative? Establishing myself on an airway so I could pinpoint my location, I called Providence radio and filed an instrument flight plan.
     When I reported that I had "four souls aboard," I had a momentary qualm but didn't have time to let it bother me. I was much too busy keeping my ship on an even keel, while I copied and repeated my clearance, to think about the responsibility I'd undertaken. Was I an instrument pilot or was the ticket in my wallet just a conversation piece?
     Marylyn asked two or three uneasy questions (Did I know what that lake was she saw through a break in the clouds? Where is the Cape Cod Canal?), but in general, my passengers seemed to be taking the flight in stride. Nearing Norwood, the visibility began to improve. I switched from the auxiliaries to the main tanks, whereupon Elsa and Daisy burst into gales of relieved laughter. They were watching the needles edge toward "empty" and thought we were running out of gas.
     The air below 2000 feet was rough as a cob, as Charlie would say, and with a strong crosswind from the right I had my hands full with the landing.
     "Beautiful!" Elsa said, as our wheels lightly touched the runway. Not so beautiful, our roll‑out. Occupied with keeping plenty of power on during my wind‑buffeted final, I neglected to give the Comanche enough nose‑up trim, so Plane Deelightful “porpoised" along for a few hundred feet before she settled down and behaved herself. Darn it, I did want to do everything perfectly!
     "Is that what you'd call a hot landing?" Marylyn asks.
     "You could say that," I reply. It was what you'd call a lousy landing, but why disillusion a potential fellow pilot?

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