1957 – 58 Flying In South Dakota
While I’m at it I’ll mention a few things about flying in South Dakota. I got my license in a Piper J-3 Cub. I had soloed in nine hours after making thee of the best landings ever. After the third landing my instructor told me to make it a full stop. I taxied off the active runway and and he told me to stop in front of the terminal.
As soon as I stopped he started getting out of the plane and I asked, “Where are you going?” He replied with, “You’re ready to go, you’re ready to solo.” I responded with a very loud, “No I’m not! Please get back in.” He said, “No, get going you’re ready.”
I taxied to the end of the active runway pointed the plane down the runway, applied the power and off I went. It’s amazing what goes through your mind when you are up in the air, for the first time, by yourself with no possible way of receiving any help from anyone in the world. Except God.
In started praying and I wondered why. I had just made three beautiful landings, why was I praying now. As I turned downwind I could see my instructor standing down there, a thousand feet below me. It might as well have been a million miles.
As I turned final in my decent I am lining up with the runway and it seems everything is fine. As I got closer and lower I started making the one mistake you are taught not to make. I started squeezing the stick.
A J-3 Cub has a stick rather than a wheel and the first lesson in flying is, hold the stick lightly between your figers. If you start to squeeze the stick your own muscles will not allow you to move the staick.
Thed lower I got the more I squeezed. I didn’t know I was sqeezing the stick, but I was. It made it impossible to move the aircraft in any direction, right, left, up or down.
I literally hit the runway on one wheel, bounced up, then hit on the other wheel and started to go toward the side of the runway after a few bounces. I immediately applied the power so as to not go off the side of the runway and my problem was solved. I didn’t go off the side of the runway, but I was back in the air.
Now there’s a lot of praying going on. There’s a lot of going over the check list going on too.
As I turned downwind I could see my instructor pacing back and forth trying to make gestures with his hands and arms trying to help me. There is no such thing as help when you’re in the air alone. I lined up with the runway again and made the worse landing in my life. The one before wasn’t the worse because I didn’t land. This time, my second attempt I at least came to a stop.
As I taxied to my instructor I was shaking all over and he tried to calm me down. He did so by climbing back into the aircraft and said, “Let’s go do it again.” We did and I soloed again two days later after a couple of more hours of logged time.
Once you do gain the confidence and know what you are doing, it all seems like that first day didn’t happen.
I started flying a Luscombe, a Tri-Pacer and a Super Cub. With the solo done the next step is a cross country and logging a total of forty hours. After the forty hours you are eligible to take the flying test to earn your Private Pilot’s license.
During the training you are taught how to erc over form stalls to the left, to the right and straight ahead. You are taught various flying maneuvers.
The fun of flying is doing the maneuvers at various G forces and speeds. I would take up balloons and release them from the window and then try a bust them with my propeller pretending the balloon was an enemy fighter.
I would take potato’s and dive bomb on the many ponds around Rapid City. I mean way out about ten or twenty miles.
I joined the flying club at Ellsworth AFB where I was stationed and that’s where I started flying the Super Cub. The Super Cub is a three seat aircraft with the pilot in front and and a side by side seat in the back.
A buddy of mine had started bugging me abouit taking him up for a ride. I eventually said I would, this was after I had already logged about a hundred hors so I was proficient.
I took him and another guy from my team up one day and as we were flying around he started hitting me in the back as he yelled,”Do something to scare me!” After him doing that a few times I said OK.
When ever I would take anyone up I would always explain what they were going to heat, see and feel. An example is when landing on a dirt runway there is a lot of noise because the fuselage on those canvas aircraft are like a big drum.
Anyway I told my buddies I would show them one positive G and a one negative G. They nodded with big smiles.
I leveled off at about 5000 feet and gestured I was starting. With that I nosed over into a not so shallow dive and as soon a I reached the maximum speed allowed I pulled the stick back and went into a climb.
At the bottom of the dive as I went into a climb you can feel your cheeks starting to pull down on your face. That’s one positive G. As the plane loses speed in the climb I rounded the top to go into another shallow dive. At the top of the rounding off I took a pack of cigarettes and held them at shoulder hight. As I topped off the climb I let the cigarettes go and if done properly the cigarettes will stay still, in the air. That’s one negative G.
All the way down I could hear them screaming with joy. As I puklled up into a climb and rounded it off I heard the same happy screams. When I leveled off my buddy started hitting me in the back yelling, “That didn’t scare us, try and scare us!”
So I went through the same routine, I dove to show them the one G and I could hear the joyous screams. They were still screaming as I kept climbing. I didn’t round it off at the top of the climb. I kept going up. The screams stopped because I was just going slower in the climb. The plane finally stalled and I kicked in Left rudder and right stick which is a maneuver that flips you upside down and then you enter a spin. I did about two or three spins and there was not one peep from the back.
I leveled off and looked back at them and they were litterally hugging each other and my buddy yelled out, “Get us back on the ground you bastard.” I guess I finally scared them.
I got a couple of scares on my own. As I was flying east of Rapid City suddenly dark black smoke started flying outr from under the engine cowling. The old adage, where there’s smoke there’s fire hits your brain real fast. These planes were made of a canvas covering that was tightened by applying more and more dope to the skin.
One match could turn the aircraft into a skeleton in just a few seconds. I immediately shut everything down and started a rapid descent looking for a place to land IMMEDIATELY!
On the way down I noticed oil splats on the windshield and again my mind starts running at a million miles a second. I conclude oil on a hot engine creates a lot of smoke, but possibly no fire. With that conclusion you calm down a bit and make your landing.
I landed in a field close to a farm house and was greeted like Lindburg by the man and his wife. I called the base and they sent a mechanius out and he fixed the oil line that had busted. On a day I was going to fly to Sioux Falls which was close to the eastern border of South Dakota.
On that morning I ate some pancakes and on the way to the base the pancakes hadn’t settled right in my stomach. I decided I would chug a Seven Up when I got to the hanger. That would force a big burp and I would be on my way. When I got to the base the soda machine was out of everything except orange soda. I decided to chug that and off I went.
As I kept flying my stomach got worse and worse. I really got sick and started throwing up out the window and I was really sick. I decided to cut my trip short and headed north to Pierre which is about at the half way mark.
As I approached Pierre, the winds were blowing at close to sixty miles an hour, a speed no one in a light aircraft likes to contend with even when you’re not sick. Luckily the wind was blowing directly down the runway
As I was trying to land I actually had to apply power because the landing speed is a lot less than sixty. At the point just before touch down I was actually moving backwards and had to apply power to counter act the wind. Once down, just turning off the runway takes abit of piloting.
I went to the pilot’s lounge sicker than a dog and fell asleep on a couch. I slept the entire afternoon and night throwing my guts up two or three times. I had called the base to let them know what was up and they were relieved to know. The next morning I woke up fit as a fiddle and took off for the base and returned with no problems.