The next morning we arrive at the airport for a lesson with Silky Sullivan. Ed is going to do the flying, but we’ll get double our money’s worth because I’ll be in the back seat, taking notes.I tag along after the men while they examine the outside of the plane. There are two oil supplies to be checked, six gasoline tanks. Silky crouches under the wing and shows us how to drain gas from each tank to make sure there’s no water in it, I tie a knot in my tongue to make it behave. When Ed sprang his first Comanche on me, one of his chief selling points was the tidy way you drained the gasoline—from the inside, so “you don’t have to get gas all over your hands the way we did with the Tri-Pacer.” In the Skyknight, I can see, you would get gas not only on your hands but up your sleeves and—if the wind was blowing right—into your bra. Fellow pilots, I ask you: is this progress?
With the ground check completed, we board the Skyknight. I sit with my pencil poised and my ears open for Important Information.
“One thing you gotta watch in a hot airplane like this is your approach speed,” Silky begins.
In the back, a tongue comes untied. “A what airplane?”
“He just means it’s a high performance airplane,” Ed says. “The Comanche was a hot airplane, too, wasn’t it, Silky?”
“Sure, but this one’s bigger and heavier, so it’s even hotter. I remember once I’d gone down to Chatham in a Cessna 402. It was gusting up a storm, so I figured I needed a good 149 miles an hour on final. Well, before I knew what was happening, she stalled and dropped 200 feet—luckily I had enough altitude so I caught it and got her down all right. Here’s an old Air Force rule of thumb: take half your gust speed and add it to your normal approach speed. If it’s gusting 40, add 20.”
Feeling slightly ill, I write down Silky’s rule of thumb. Our instructor has a lot of rules like that, most of them based on experiences that graphically illustrate the wisdom of heeding—and remembering— his advice.Now he’s telling Ed something abut the gas . . . if you do thus and so you’ll dump your gas right overboard. . . you’d be sitting there and have the thing run out. And now something about vapor return. I don’t know what it is, but it’s giving me a headache.
“According to the book, you’re VMC is 90. If I were you I’d take off at 105, your safe single-engine speed. By the time you’re airborne, you’ll be all set if you lose an engine. I remember one time back in 1942 I was flying a mission in South Africa . . .”
On my notepad I underline the notation, “Take off at 105 mph., your safe single-engine speed.”
“And Ed, be careful not to push those throttles in too fast—if you overboost to 40 inches and the waste-gate closes, it can tear the engine right out.”
“And that’s $8000,” Ed says.
Thoroughly unnerved, I dropped my pencil. The engine has fallen out and he’s worrying about $8000.
The next time I tune in, we’re on our way back from Martha’s Vineyard. The men are discussing the altimeter, which isn’t working. This is the straw that breaks a long, brooding silence.
“Okay, that does it,” I say.
“What, dear?” Ed asks, turning down the radio.
“Never mind, I’ll tell you after we land.” No altimeter. The Comanche never lost an altimeter in her life, she knew better than to do a dumb thing like that. We’d be in a fine fix if this were instrument weather.
“If you were IFR and this happened,” Silky is saying, “you’d use the clock and your rate of descent. Descending at 1,000 feet per minute, you’d know in five minutes that you’d gone down 5,000 feet.”
“Oh, marvelous,” I mutter.
“Remember, always land and take off on the mains,” Silky continues. “Your electric fuel pumps won’t work on your auxiliaries. If you lose an engine and you’re on auxiliaries, go right to your mains and put your boost pumps on.”
I wait for Captain Kamikaze to shut off his engines before I inform him that I am through with flying. “I hope you enjoy your lousy airplane. I tried, I really did, but from now on you’re on your own.”
“Aw, come on, Barbara,” Silky said, “there’s nothing to get excited about. If you can fly the Comanche, you can fly this.”
|SILKY AND ED, WITH MOPPET LOOKING AS DUBIOUS AS HER MISTRESS|
I felt so sick that I took my temperature when I got home. It was 102, on its way up to 104.
Ten days later, recovered from the flu, I caledl Silky, apologized for my tantrum, and said I was
ready to try again.