Thursday, August 10, 2017


      All those hours of studying for my pilot’s license written exam muddled my brain. While I was checking out the plane yesterday, I couldn't get the oil cap off. I left the hood unfastened, intending to ask Bruce for help. Absorbed in my chart when he arrived, I forgot about the oil cap until the hood flew open as I took off. We weren't going fast enough to tear the hood from its hinges, but it was an embarrassing blunder.
     My cross‑country went without a hitch, but the gremlins were merely having a cat‑nap. I signed up for a Colt because I was required to put in another hour of practicing stalls before my flight test. I finished the pre‑flight check and was about to climb aboard when I dropped my pencil. Straightening up after retrieving it, I walked into the strut, clipped myself on the cheekbone, and knocked my glasses off. The blow did something to the frames because they wouldn't stay on my ears but kept sliding down my nose.
     As I was adjusting the seat, the handle broke off in my hand. I shoved hard against the back of the seat to make sure it would remain stationary. There's nothing more unsettling, I once learned, than a sudden slide backwards when you're about to take off.
     I was halfway to the practice area when I noticed I had company: a large flying insect with long, skinny black legs was bombing around the cabin and getting himself tangled in my hair. He settled on the glass next to my left elbow, I swung at him—bam!—and nearly jumped out of my skin when the window burst open.
     Later I asked Ed if there was a name for that little window next to the pilot.                        
     Shaken by all this unforeseen activity, I snapped the window shut and decided I wasn’t up to practicing stalls today; I’d just cruise around practicing not getting lost until my hour was up.
     On the way back to Norwood I tuned in the Unicom and asked Lenny if they were still using the north runway.
     "Affirmative—runway three five."
     I was about to switch off the radio when a ghostly voice came over the air. "BARBARA MALLEY!"
     "Oh, hi, Bruce," I said guiltily.
     Ed believes using the Unicom is good practice, but Bruce disapproves of these modern inventions and thinks a pilot should be able to figure out how to get down on the ground without any hand‑ holding. In fact, he doesn't have much use for radios in general. During a recent lesson he had boredly done his duty as an instructor and asked me to find my way back via the Boston Omni. When the receiver didn't work properly, he perked up and said as he turned the set off, "You see, you can never count on these things!"
     His voice was still mournful when I walked into the operations room. "One of my boys asking about runways," he said sadly.
     I can have a near collision with the windsock, neglect to check the weather, forget to fasten the hood, which flew open as we took off, and he doesn't turn a hair. Ask for a little information on the Unicom and it breaks his heart.

     Ed and I became aware of an interesting though inconvenient fact of life involving our hobby—the difficulty of finding two people married to each other who were both willing to risk flying with us. There was always a man here or a woman there who would say, "Just name the day," but invariably the husband or wife wanted no part of such recklessness.
     The Thaxters flew commercially when they took vacations, but Jayne was terrified and Blake was uneasy from the moment the plane left the ground until they had safely reached their destination. We were surprised, therefore, when they asked if they could hitch a ride with us to Vermont. They wanted to get a bird’s eye look at a piece of property they were interested in buying.
     "I'll believe it when I see it," I said to Ed. "At the last minute Jayne'll think of some excuse not to go, what do you bet?"
     When the alarm clock woke us early the next morning, I went to the window to see what kind of day we had. The sky was clear, but horrors—the wind was blowing up a gale. If there was one thing that scared me half to death, it was being in a small plane at the mercy of a big wind. I remembered vividly the gusty day shortly after my first solo when I thought I'd never get the Colt and me down with both of us intact.
     "We don't have to go if you're nervous," Ed said. "We'll call the Thaxters and tell them we've decided it's too windy."
     "Don't you think it's too windy?"
     "Naw, I can handle it all right. I've seen worse. I'm game to go ahead if you and the Thaxters are."
     My only hope was that Jayne would back down, but she was too busy trying not to think of what lay ahead of her to notice a minor factor like a hurricane. Blake picked us up at 7:30, reporting that his wife was still in bed with the covers pulled over her head. Never had Jayne seemed so sensible. I wanted to say, "Tell her to move over" but didn't want to ruin my image as that fearless female pilot from Cohasset. We collected my friend, who said she had taken three tranquilizers for her nerves, and drove to Norwood.
     The flight to Rutland was nowhere near as choppy as I expected, but the landing was tricky. The airport was situated in a valley surrounded by mountains; a fair‑ sized hill rose almost directly in front of our runway. While Blake and I gnawed our knuckles, morbidly fascinated by the way the wind kept tipping us toward the hill, Ed skillfully circumvented it and skimmed onto the pavement with a gentle tap. Jayne missed out on the excitement, being a strict believer in keeping her eyes closed during takeoffs and landings. She announced that she'd rather fly with Ed than on a commercial airline any time. Now there was a girl, as Ed would say, who was playing her cards j‑u‑u‑s‑t right.

     The flight test required for my pilot’s license should have been a cinch, but my state of nerves was such that I could scarcely add two and two. “You may not get checkitis,” my manual stated.  “If this is the case, you’re one of the chosen few. The examiner probably has had it himself and will always make allowances.”
     I kept my examiner busy making allowances from beginning to end, starting with an error in my weight and balance computations and ending with a short field takeoff, which he said, after he’d caught his breath, was more like a soft field takeoff.
     “Next time wait till you’ve hit sixty miles an hour, then lift off,” he told me.
     “You mean you want me to do another one now?”
     “No, no,” he said, “I’m sure you’ll remember all right.”
     While I was doing the pre-flight check, I hoped the examiner wouldn’t ask any questions about what goes on under the cowling because the way an engine functions had always been a mystery to me. Ed tried to explain about pistons and cylinders and spark plugs, but the whole idea of it made me anxious, especially the way the gas exploded when you pushed the starter.
     Mr. Fahey asked what I’d do if I saw a crack in the exhaust stack. I had no idea what part of the engine was known as the exhaust stack, but sure I wouldn’t be happy to see a crack in it anywhere, I said I would look for a mechanic. Mr. Fahey seemed satisfied with my answer and we proceeded to the next phase of the test:  proving I could fly without getting lost.
     I managed to find Providence and return to Norwood without disgracing myself or my instructor. One thing Mr. Fahey seemed to approve of was my landings—after they were accomplished, that is. He’d shift in his seat during my approaches—“Don’t get too far to the right, Mrs. Malley, that’s it, a little more to the left, there’s quite a crosswind today but you’re handling it very nicely”—and then sit back with a “Good, good!”as wheels touched asphalt with a soft thud.
     Coming in for my final landing, I touched down on runway 17 and was informed by the patient gentleman at my side that I was now a private pilot.

     It was an especially beautiful day for flying. I was in the best of spirits as I drove to Norwood Airport and contemplated the sky, blue and clear at last. Because of the daily haze and overcast, I hadn't attempted to fly since passing my flight test. How long ago was that? Two weeks? Thirteen days to be exact. I wasn’t superstitious, so that didn’t worry me. Two hours later my plane and I were upside down in a bramble patch.
     I took off from Norwood with two projects in mind. Younger son Timmy was working at the Ocean View Hotel on Martha's Vineyard, and I’d promised to bring him his scuba diving suit, making my first landing on Oak Bluff’s grass runway. Secondly, having heard from my high- school friend Taffy that she would soon be arriving on the Cape for the summer, I planned to try a couple of practice landings at Cape Cod Airport, also a grass field. I wanted to be sure I could land smoothly, rather than bounce three or four times with Taffy looking on.
     At the Oak Bluffs Airport I came in low over the golf course, landed on the rough, short‑ clipped grass, and braked to a stop with plenty of room to spare. I left Tim's gear in the office and returned to my plane.
     "Going back to Norwood?" the attendant asked.
     I explained about my old school chum and my plan to land at an airport handy to Brewster.
     "How about Sky Meadow?" he said, looking over my shoulder at the chart. "It's nearer than Cape Cod Airport and it's paved."
     "Kind of short, though. Only 1500 feet."
     "You'd have no problem in the Colt. Just come in low and make a short‑ field landing, like the one you did here. Let's look at the back of the chart and make sure there aren't any telephone wires or other hazards."
     Under the "remarks" column, it said that Sky Meadow was attended from May to November. The chart went to press too late to correct this advisory. The owner had closed the airport on March first, due to its high accident rate.
     Finding Sky Meadow was difficult. Cruising back and forth I was about to give up when I saw the strip. It looked more like somebody's driveway than an airport. At either end were two painted symbols that resembled airplanes, but as I flew closer they turned into large white X's.
     On the back of the Civil Air Regulations was an illustration of a traffic pattern at a hypothetical airport. The picture wasn't much bigger than a postage stamp, so the printing was miniscule, but I fully understood the information it conveyed about segmented circles, right- and left‑ hand approaches, etc. One of the printed runways was marked with a tiny x at both ends, and the explanation, "Runway closed."
     I failed to make the connection between those xs and the huge painted white ones. "X marks the spot," I thought, descending and making a short-field landing. Nearing the end of the pavement, I saw that there might be a slight overrun. I spared the brake linings, as trained, and allowed the slowing plane to roll onto the grass beyond the strip. Only then did I see the ditch. I yanked on the brake, but it was too late. The nose-wheel dropped over the edge, and the Colt ponderously upended.
     There flashed through my mind no kaleidoscopic review of my life from the day I almost tipped over my sister's bassinet, trying to get a look at what was making that funny noise, to the present moment. All I saw was my instructor's face when he heard the news. He looked depressed. The Colt was on its back, sinking into a briar patch as sedately as a dowager on a feather mattress. Aside from the hum of the radio, all was silent.
     I might as well tell them what happened, I decided.
     "Hyannis Tower, this is Colt 5785 Zulu." I congratulated myself on the steadiness of my voice, but my heroics were wasted. The aerial was buried in several inches of sand and brush.
     It occurred to me that I shouldn't dawdle. Suppose the plane caught fire. I unfastened my seat-belt and looked around for the exit. Upside down, everything had a different appearance. There wasn’t any handle on the door next to me. Think, Barbara! The handle was on the opposite door, in the same place I’d find it when the plane was right side up.
     "Are you all right?" a man called from the edge of the ditch as I clambered up the slope.
     Yes, except for my fractured pride I was fine.
     "Would you like to use a phone? The house is just across the street."
     I called Norwood and asked for my instructor. I would have preferred to confess to him, but since he was out with a student, I said to the dispatcher, "Lenny, I've goofed rather badly."
     Lenny said he was glad I wasn’t hurt. "We'll send someone after you."
     Then I called Ed. I am fortunate to be married to a man who is sympathetic about things like dented fenders and overturned airplanes. By this time a crowd had gathered. Two men driving by had stopped at the next corner, stared at each other and said, "Did you see what I just saw?"
     One of them introduced himself and said he knew Ed's dad. Great. When my father‑in‑law got wind of this, he'd have ten thousand conniptions. How did you convince a person you were a capable pilot when he had this wide screen mental image of you and your airplane wrong side up in a ditch?
     When Norwood's instructor arrived, I said with a wry smile, "Are you ready for me to fly you back to Norwood?"
     "Sure," he said. "I'm tired. I could use a rest."
     In spite of what I’d done to one of Wiggins's beautiful Colts, he was prepared to trust me. No questions asked, no recriminations, just, "Let's go; you're the pilot."
     Facing Bruce was a tough one. When I saw him coming down the path with a student, I wanted to disappear. "Barbara Malley," Bruce said. I felt awful. He’d been on vacation, and for two weeks I’d been looking forward to hearing him say, "I hear you got your license. Well done!"
     "Barbara, that airport was closed."
     I trotted out my extenuating circumstances, but no matter what I said, I could tell he thought anyone who landed at a closed airport wasn't very smart. I could talk forever about what the young man at Oak Bluffs Airport said and the inaccuracy of the fine print in the Civil Air Regulations, but he knew what I knew: the ultimate responsibility for the safe conduct of a plane was with the pilot.
     Bruce brightened when he saw the Colt in the hangar and found it in good shape except for a crumpled wing tank.
     "This isn't bad at all," he said. "This little tear in the wing doesn't amount to much, and look at the propeller—it's hardly even bent."
     "The plane was almost stopped, Bruce. Another few feet and I'd have had it made."
     "Do you know what they told me yesterday? I walk in there and they say, `Mrs. Malley has demolished the plane. It's a total loss.' `All right, that does it,' I said. `I'm going to retire and take up chicken farming.'"
     Next I had to report to the head of the FAA.
     "Come in, Mrs. Malley," said Mr. Hyde. "There are a few questions I'd like to ask you about this report."
     We went over it step by step, and then Mr. Hyde said, "I've been wondering about the matter—"
     "I know. Those x's. I didn't say anything about that in my report because I couldn't stand to put it down in black and white that I’d been so stupid. I knew I'd be asked about it."
     It wasn't any easier explaining in person. I tried my Philadelphia lawyer best, but my case sounded feeble to my own ears.
     The arbiter of my fate pushed my report aside. "As I see it, Mrs. Malley, you made a mistake. However, I see no reason to suspend your license or have you take a special flight test. We all make mistakes now and then, and I'm sure you won't make this one again."       
      Everyone else at Norwood Airport treated me with equal consideration—in fact they went out of their way to be encouraging. One of my buddies was Roy Waite, an "Early Bird" who first soloed in 1912 and was a celebrity in his day. The walls of Wiggins's sanctum sanctorum were covered with pictures and newspaper clippings describing Roy's pioneering exploits in the aviation field.
     "We didn't have much idea how to fly the things," he told me one day, "so we'd just hop aboard and take a chance. They didn't go very fast, but we always had to keep an eye out for a field to land on in case the motor quit, which it often did."

      Roy doesn't fly anymore, but he likes to sit on the hill overlooking the runways and watch planes taking off and landing. He had shown a friendly interest in my progress, and when he heard about my accident, took me aside for a pep talk.


     "Now I'm thankful you weren't hurt and I realize how terrible you feel about damaging the plane, but aside from that, I'm glad it happened. Yes, I am. We all need an experience like that to teach us that we can't be too cautious or take the smallest chance in this business. I'm glad it happened so early in the game—I know you'll be a better, more experienced pilot than ever."
     I devoutly hoped he was right.

     It was eight days later when Ed and I flew to Martha’s Vineyard for the weekend.  Everything was in order as we descended toward the field—gear down, full flaps, airspeed okay. Then something inexplicable happened. A gust of wind, or a downdraft, or a gremlin, caused the plane to plummet instead of continuing its glide.
     The exclamation “Throttle” leapt to my lips, but Ed was already pushing it in with a calm forward motion that should have produced the sound of power. Instead, the motor failed to catch and we continued to fall. Our wheels hit the overhang of a sand trap between the field and the golf course and sheared off.  We crashed and spun 180 degrees..
     The force of the spin threw Ed against the windshield, breaking his dark glasses and giving him a deep gash over his right eye. The metal flap on his seat-belt hadn’t held, nor had mine. As the plane jarred to a stop, Ed saw me flying through the door.
     Moppet, who had been taking a nap in my lap, was also flung out. As I hit the ground I could see her taking off as if fifteen tigers were after her.
     "Are you all right?" Ed was standing on the wing of the plane, blood streaming down his face but obviously alive.
     “Yes, I’m all right,” I said. “My God, are you all right?”
     “It’s okay, it’s just a cut, but the plane—my beautiful plane—goddammit, that’s the end of the flying, that’s the end of the airplanes!”
     I climbed stiffly to my feet and found I could walk except that my shorts kept falling down; the zipper was broken. Ed’s face still dripped.
     “It’s nothing,” Ed said. “But oh, my poor airplane, my beautiful airplane! What happened! What did I do wrong?”
     People were swarming around us, arguing over who would drive us to the hospital.
     “All I need is a safety pin,” I said, holding onto my shorts and wandering off to look for Moppet. She didn’t answer my calls.
     “Here’s the truck, come on, you two,” the greens keeper said. Someone had given Ed a handkerchief to hold against his head; it was already bright red. “You’re going to need a few stitches, fella.”
     “My dog has run off,” I said.
     “We’ll find your dog; you go along with your husband.”
     From his cot in the hospital’s emergency room, Ed gave me my orders. “Call the house, call the insurance company—here’s Bill Gail’s card, if he isn’t home call the Washington office—call the hotel and tell Timmy to come get us.”
     “You lie still,” the nurse said, sponging off his face and giving him some gauze pads to staunch the blood. “Press hard.”
     I went to make the phone calls. When I came back, Dr. Rappaport conferred with me. “I don’t suppose he’ll listen to you, either. He’s quite a manager, that husband of yours—told me how and where to put the stitches, took his own x-rays, developed them, analyzed them—rather used to doing things his way, I should imagine.”
     Timmy arrived with Moppet. “Someone at the airport found her and called me.”
     One of Norwood's instructors flew over in a Comanche, and Timmy drove us to Martha's Vineyard Airport. Moppet and I hopped into the backseat—that is, I hopped in with Moppet under my arm; given a choice, she might have preferred to take the ferry—and Ed flew us back to Norwood.  Kathie asked later if Moppet was nervous. "She had her hands over her eyes the whole way," Ed said.  
     Our accident was reported on radio and TV, so there was no way of keeping the news from our parents. Now they’d really be convinced we should give up flying and switch to a more sensible diversion like Parcheesi.

     Bruce gave me a lesson in a rented Comanche. I admitted I was having a delayed case of the jitters. He suggested we break out of the pattern and fly around for a while so I'd get the feel of the controls again.
     However, it was one thing to feel relaxed with Charles Lindberg the Second sitting next to me. The real test would come when he climbed out of our new Comanche–-Ed decided on a Twin, bigger and faster than the wrecked one—and said, "Okay, Pilot, she's all yours."

     I celebrated my 42nd birthday by soloing for the first time since the "event," as Bruce was calling it.  Ed took movies of my takeoff and approach, ran out of film seconds before the Colt touched down. Posterity would never know what a splendid crosswind landing was executed, nor how much the pilot was shaking. For some reason, most of my nervousness was concentrated in my left leg: the closer I came to the ground, the more it became afflicted with a separate and private terror all its own. The result was a one-legged St. Vitus's Dance that made me wonder how I was managing to control the left rudder. 
     Two weeks later, I soloed in the new Twin Comanche. Brought Moppet with me for moral support. "Thanks a bunch," said Moppet. 
September 28, 1963
     "Be careful of my Comanche," Ed said sternly as I set out for the airport with my mother.
     "Our Comanche," I said.   
     My passenger didn't seem at all uneasy, which was more than I could say for me. I felt as nervous as I did the day of my first piano recital at age six. Flying over Cohasset, I pointed out familiar landmarks—the golf club, the yacht club, Minot's light, Sandy Cove, our house.                        Descending a few hundred feet and going into slow flight so we could see better, I jumped when the gear warning blared. This bird‑brained gadget is obsessed with the idea that every time a person slows down, she must be coming in for a landing. Until you became accustomed to its ways, its hysterical scream (translation: "For God's sake, don't forget to put your gear down or we'll all be killed!") is enough to shock you into a tailspin.      
     "What was that?" Mother asked interestedly. "Some sort of signal?"
     My heart thumping, I quieted the mechanism by pushing the throttle in a notch and explained somewhat incoherently that the sound was a warning—well, not a warning, exactly, nothing to get excited about, it's just a ‑ uh ‑ reminder so if we happened to be coming in for a landing instead of just slowing down—I hadn't meant to pull the throttle out quite that far, you see—well, the horn goes off to remind you that your gear is still up."
     "I see, dear," Mom said. "Someone pushes a button and the sound comes over the radio."
     "No, it has nothing to do with the radio, Mom. It goes on automatically."
     "Automatically!" she breathed, more impressed than she would have been had someone merely pushed a button. "Isn't that amazing!"     As I made my approach to the Norwood’s active runway, my passenger continued to chat and ask questions. I was too busy to tell her I was too busy to talk. "Gas, undercarriage, mixture, prop," I said to myself, rehearsing my gump check as I slowed the plane. "Gas on full main tank, fuel pump on; undercarriage—light, handle; mixture, full right; prop, full low pitch. Watch your altitude. . ."
      "How long does it take you and Ed to get to Martha's Vineyard?" Mom was inquiring.
     "Gump," I muttered. "Unhh—about half an hour."
     "And then does someone meet you or do you take the scooter?"
     "Someone meets us," I said, trying to locate the plane ahead of me, which had become invisible against a background of housetops. "You won't catch me on that scooter again.”
     My turn from base to final was hairpin shaped, but I still was not lined up with the runway. Moreover, I was on the high side. I considered going around again and making a more traditional looking pattern, but I was afraid a sudden burst of power would startle my mother.
     "What time is Ed going to meet you, Babs?"
     Giving the rudder a kick, I jockeyed the plane to the left as if it were a balky horse and got myself lined up in the general direction of the stable. Runway. Darn that Bruce, if I knew him, he was out there somewhere watching my every move. He was probably disowning me this very minute. "Mercy!" I could hear him saying. "That can't be one of my boys."
     "I think he said 4:30," I said.
     Still too high, but I had plenty of runway ahead of me; what did it matter if we landed in the middle? It’d save taxiing.
     "It's only 3:30 now," Mother said. "I'll wait with you until Ed gets here. I enjoy watching the planes taking off and it's so lovely and cool here. Gracious, wasn't it hot in Cohasset!"
     I raised my hand to the lever over my head and gave it a twist. Ah, that was better, we were slowing to 90 miles an hour.
     "Are you waving to someone, dear?"
     "No, Mom, I was adjusting the trim. I'm afraid my approach was pretty terrible." I worked the rudders to keep the nose straight as we skimmed toward the pavement, “but at least the landing is going to be a good one."
     "Why, I think you're doing beautifully, darling."
     Zip‑zip, left wheel, right wheel—a perfect crosswind landing. And where was my eagle-eyed instructor now? Looking the other way, no doubt.
     "Thank you, dear, that was just lovely!" Mother said.
     "I'd give you about a seventy-five on that one," Bruce commented later.
     Oh well, my mom appreciated my talents even if no one else did. It was the same way at the piano recital when I was six.
      Ted invited me for a ride in his Super Cub. Even let me sit in the front (it had tandem seats) and fly it myself. Once I got the hang of the stick control, I felt like my friend, Early Bird Roy Waite, who had little to rely on but needle, ball, airspeed, and the seat of his pants.
     "Hey, Mom, how would you like to try a spin?"
     "No, thank you."
     "Aw, come on, it's exciting. Think of how impressed your friends will be. It's like a roller coaster, only better."
     "No, no, and no," I said.
     "Just a little one. You don't want Dad to think he has more nerve than you, do you?"
     "What do I hang onto?"
     "Atta girl! Stay with the controls and follow through when she begins to spin."
     "I think I'll just hang onto my seat."
     Ted stalled the Cub and rolled into a steep bank. The plane's nose pointed directly at the earth, the horizon disappeared. Why had I agreed to this madness?  When Ted finally pulled out of the spin, he said that was just an itty‑bitty one; next time he'd show me some real spins, the way he did with Dad. My eyes haven't yet returned to their sockets and he's talking about real spins.
     I stopped at the office to make an appointment with Bruce.  The next day at 1:30 was the only time he had available.
     "Well . . . I have a hairdo appointment in Boston."
     My instructor made it clear that anyone who would sit cooped up in a beauty parlor when she could be flying in a plane like Ted's Super Cub must be out of her mind. "What's wrong with your hair, it looks fine!"
     "Okay, okay, I'll be there." Miss June squeezed me in between customers, so I arrived in Norwood on time, breathless but beauteous.
     Bruce's greeting: "Now, isn't this a better way to spend your time than having your hair done?"
     "It so happens," I said "that I had my hair done."
     "Oh‑oh," said Bruce.
     Someday I’ll walk in there wearing one of those beanies with a propeller on top and a rotating beacon—that'll  get his attention.
     Bruce enjoyed the lesson as much as I did. Some of my first takeoffs would have to be seen to be believed. The Cub had a will of her own—let up for an instant and she put her head down and made for the woods. I finally began to catch onto her wayward personality, coaxing the wheels down on the snow covered runway, brooking no nonsense from the rudders. Stick forward, tail up for the takeoff, watch her nose—don't let her drift to the left—easy on the right rudder or you'll have too much of a good thing. Now I could feel her flapping her wings impatiently; back with the stick, and up she went.
     "That's the way!" I heard Bruce shout over the roar of the engine. "Now you've got it!"
     For weeks Ed had been saying he was going to take advantage of the long holiday weekend and visit his father in the Keys. Solo, he said. Without me.
     How did I react to being left behind with the housework, the laundry, and the snow shoveling? I told Ed it was a great idea; it would be good for him to spend a couple of days relaxing with his folks.      “No, I won't be lonesome, I'll get along just as I do when you’re away on business.”
     He next announced that I was to go with him. He could live without me during the day when he was busy fishing with his father, "but what am I gonna do at night?" He'd even steal a couple of extra days so we could have almost a week. It hardly seemed like a good time for an argument.
     I flew the first leg to Wilmington, North Carolina. It was getting dark when we arrived, and I dislike flying at night, but since I wasn’t speaking to Ed, I couldn't protest against continuing. I wasn’t speaking to him because he was critical of my landing. I told him (before I stopped speaking) that if he'd kept his hands off the wheel we'd have bounced only once instead of three times.
     As we flew on through the darkening sky I began worrying about how, in an emergency, we would find a safe place to land among the winking lights on the black-carpeted earth. There were numerous airports along our route, but few with lighted runways, and how could you spot one in a hurry? Suddenly Ed grabbed the flashlight and exclaimed, "What the devil's wrong here!"       
     "Wh‑what do you mean, what's wrong!"
     As Ed jerked at the throttles, the red rays from his flashlight gleamed on the nose of our plane, suffusing it with a glow that looked like a fire under the hood. Oh, great.
     "I don't know," he said, directing the beam toward our altimeter. "For a minute I thought we were losing power, but I guess we were just in a climb."
     "Automatic rough," they called it. This condition affected a smoothly running engine only at night, changing the sound waves en route to the pilot's ear from a purr to a sputter. I informed my husband that four more hours of automatic rough would make me an automatic ex-pilot, and would he kindly land at the next airport.
     Charleston was ten minutes ahead of us, a very long ten minutes during which I was either casting suspicious looks at our airspeed or gazing morbidly at the unpromising vista beneath us: sparkling cities surrounded by black voids.
     As we neared Charlestown, Ed was told by a regretful voice, "Sorry, sir, our lights are not operating at the present time; we're in the midst of installing lights on the other runways."      
     How far to the next airport? Seventy miles? I was contemplating a nervous breakdown when the man spoke up again. He had just learned runway lights would be available.
     Ed made a perfect landing, but I decided to overlook it. He probably wasn't being intentionally disagreeable. This morning he flew down to the Keys to go fishing with his father, will be back tomorrow night. I have forgiven both him and the Comanche for being so difficult.
Fort Lauderdale
circa winter 1963
     Ed had to take a day from our vacation to jet back to Boston on business, so I decided to fly to Gainesville for a visit with my brother and his family. After we had lunch together, Dick, Dixie, and the little Dickenses drove me back to the airport.
     Noting that the skies had changed from broken clouds to overcast, I stopped in at Flight Service to check the weather between Gainesville and Fort Lauderdale. Locally we had a ceiling of 1000 feet with scattered rain showers, but in the direction I would be heading, I could count on improved visibility and rapid clearing.
     Should I stay at 1000 feet or on the ground? The Flight Service Specialists were helpful, but they wouldn't give advice.
     I waved goodbye to my brother and his family and took off. I had flown only a short distance when buckets of rain began splashing against my windshield. It was hard to see where I was going with a bucket of rain in the way. I regretted not being able to welcome Ed back from Boston, but decided to return to Gainesville. The young men at Flight Service congratulated me for not being too proud to change my mind.
     "Some pilots think that once they've left the ground, they're committed to go on, come hell or high water. They'd rather die than turn back—and sometimes they do."
     I took a cab to the nearest motel. I would have felt lonesome and sorry for myself if I hadn't had Moppet to keep me company. It rained all night and all morning. By 2:00 p.m. I was stir-crazy despite Moppet's efforts to divert me with finger-biting, sandal-chewing, and staring contests. One could take just so much of sitting in a motel room, staring at a poodle. So I called Ed, to whom I cheerfully had said a few hours earlier, "Oh well, c'est la vie, I'll probably be able to fly out this afternoon," and I said, "How come you haven't called me to see what's happening, I might have to spend the rest of the week here, boo‑hoo, why don't you get on a jet and come rescue me?"
     Two boo‑hoos later Ed promised to come as soon as he could climb out of his swimming trunks and into a taxi. He left the house at 6:00, caught a flight that took him from Fort Lauderdale to Miami to Tampa to Gainesville, landed at 10 minutes past midnight. "Could have walked faster," he said grumpily.
     We got up at 5:30, took off an hour later, were in instrument weather for five minutes, then beautiful VFR skies the rest of the flight.
    "Now if you had your instrument rating. . . " Ed said.
     Our next flight was more adventurous.  We were on our way home from Florida, flying via the instruments through a layer of stratus clouds over-hanging the tobacco fields of North Carolina. We had seen little of the ground since our departure two and a half hours earlier. Ed was in continuous contact with the Air Route Traffic Control Center, but I wondered if the fellows down there had a clue as to what it was like up here. Rain had turned to sleet that was clattering with a relentless din against the windshield; beads of ice lined our wings; the bumps were getting bumpier.  Moppet left my lap and crawled under the seat.
     As we continued on into worsening weather, the Comanche lurched and rolled like a ship in a typhoon. Streaks of lightning flashed all around us.
     "Honey, I don't like this," I said, wishing I could join Moppet. Did she remember when we were both thrown out of the plane?  "Let's turn around."
     "I don't like it either," Ed said "but we can't deviate from our flight plan without getting a clearance."
     "Well, for Pete's sake, get a clearance, then!"
At that moment my eyes fell on the airspeed indicator. It had gone out of its mind, the needle racing around the dial so fast it looked like a miniature propeller. I couldn't have been more stunned if our automatic pilot had started singing Someone's Rocking My Dreamboat.
     My vocal cords inoperable, I could only point at the whirling needle. Ed, attempting to raise the Center, grimly nodded his awareness, his hand already reaching for the pitot heat. Quickly scanning the rest of the panel, we found some reassurance in the normal appearance of of all the other instruments.
     "Washington Center, this is Comanche seven zero five zero Yankee, requesting permission to descend to four thousand feet."
     And now my heart stopped again as one of our engines coughed and stuttered . . . carburetor icing!  Ed applied carburetor heat; for a minute the oxygen starved engine continued to run raggedly, then falteringly took hold. Meanwhile, the airspeed indicator had stopped spinning and was back on the job.
     "Do I understand you wish to descend to four thousand feet?" a voice inquired languidly
     "Good Lord, yes!" I said.
     "Affirmative," Ed said calmly.
     "Stand by, five zero Yankee."
     We "stood by" while all hell broke loose. An avalanche of sleet battered us from every direction. The ice bordering our wings had thickened, the added load reducing our airspeed to 110 knots. Forked bolts of lightning illuminated the gloom beyond our wingtips, followed by ear‑ and nerve-shattering salvos of thunder.
     Even more terrifying was the turbulence that had seized our 3600-pound Twin Comanche and was shaking it as a ferret would a rabbit. I had been doing enough reading on meteorology lately to have some knowledge of the destructive force of mature cumulonimbus cells that sometimes lurked in stratus clouds.
     Wondering how long the plane would hold together, I leaned back in my seat, half resigned to our fate. The Comanche plowed on through the storm, her remaining engine still sputtering erratically. Lightning flared again, this time so close we could see its jagged outlines through our frost‑ coated windshield.
     "Ed, it's getting worse!" I came to life and sat upright. "To heck with the rules, let's get out of here!"
     "Washington Center, this is five zero Yankee. How about that clearance, I've got thunder and lightning and everything else up here."
     Permission granted at last (had we been waiting an hour or was it only sixty seconds?), we began our descent. As we broke through the overcast, never did tobacco fields look more beautiful.
     We landed at nearby Salisbury, waited an hour for the local thunderstorms to move eastward, took off into blue skies and VFR weather. Pretty tame, we agreed. We liked it that way.                                                                                                                  

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