Thursday, August 12, 2010

Back in Indiana Part 3

Things were finally beginning to look up.  I found a place to live in Hammond, Indiana.  This was about a 30 minute drive to the airport in Griffith.  The duplex apartment was new, but very small.  The people that owned the apartment lived in the unit upstairs.  Nice people and they were very supportive when things were not going well.  It was nearing Christmas and we were now dealing with arctic like weather every day.  I was okay with this, but when I wasn't flying the helicopter, my new duties were to drive the snow plow and clear the runway.  The selection process finally got underway for the Gary, Indiana police pilot's.  They went through a very elaborate testing process and interviewed each candidate.  I made a couple of appearances before several groups of police officers outlining the training program before the final selection of six pilots would be announced.  This all seemed to be pretty straight forward, but then I found out that it was all done for show.  The selection of the police pilots had already been decided many months before.  Talk about your rotten politics, this was a classic example of how things get done in a corrupt city government.  Still things were dragging along with this program and all we could do, was wait it out.  G & N Aircraft was awarded the contract for training the police pilots.  This in part was due to the fact we had a Police Pilot Training Syllabus.  The one I wrote in my spare time back in California.  So in a way, I was helping the program.
As time went on there were more delays with getting the federal and state governments to sign off on the funding for the helicopter program for Gary, IN.  Meanwhile I was keeping busy and we were beginning to see the end of the worst winter I can every remember.
Even though I had lived in the Midwest and had grown up in a four season environment, I had lost my resistance to this kind of cold weather.  About the only heat I could expect out of the helicopter, was when we were flying in the direction of the sun.  The helicopter had a small heater, but it also collected fumes from the engine exhaust and the air in the cabin would get pretty toxic at times.  Another thing that cropped up during all of this, was my wife was having some really major physical problems.  Both her hip joints were failing badly.  We knew she had some issues, but she never complained and did very well for the most part.  But now she was practically unable to walk and be mobile enough to do just every day normal things.  My daughters third birthday was nearing and we were not sure what direction we would take next.  I decided to send my wife to California to see an orthopedic surgeon we knew of,  to get an opinion of what if anything could be done.
It was now the early part of April 1970 and it was decided that she would need to have both hip joints replaced.  Then the news came from Gary, Indiana police department that the state would not support their funding for helicopters and the entire program was to be cancelled.  I wasn't sure how this would effect my continued employment, now that these changes had entered the picture.  Things were not looking too good.  A few days later Jimmy Doyle taxied one of our customers aircraft to the fueling area at the airport.  As he continued down the taxiway, the aircraft veered off to one side and both props made contact with the pavement, this also caused sudden stoppage to both engines.  Both the props and engines had just been overhauled by our shop and now this would have to be done over again. Dick Caldwell fired Jimmy on the spot.  Just days before, the FAA had sighted him for a violation for going below the decision height while making an instrument approach to the Valparaiso airport in some extremely poor weather conditions.
I really felt sorry for Jimmy, he had the worst luck.  My luck wasn't much better.

One afternoon I received a phone call out of the blue from my old boss, Fred McLane.  I had worked for him on my first job in Little Rock, Arkansas.  He was now with a company called McCulloch Aircraft which was located in El Segundo, CA.  They were building a new aircraft called the J-2 Gyroplane which had not been certificated yet.  Fred and I had a nice conversation and then he asked if I was interested in coming to California and heading up their factory training program.  It was all I could do to contain myself.  I told Fred, I didn't care what they were building or what he wanted me to fly, please, please send me an airplane ticket.  I would be on the next plane headed for the west coast.  The meeting went very well and I accepted the position.  This was going to resolve my problems with getting my wife to California where she would get the much needed surgery.  Also, I figured it would get the company I was working for off the hook, in as much as they no longer needed me for the police pilot training program that went bust.  The next day I went to work and gave my resignation.  To my surprise they begged me to stay.  I was offered several nice things and Paul Goldsmith the owner of the company offered to send my wife to Mayo Clinic.  We decided to rethink my earlier decision but elected to go with the offer in California.  A couple weeks later I had arranged for a moving van, and the old piano was going to get a few more extra miles.  So once more we were headed west in the old yellow chevy ragtop.  Back to California and another new job with McCulloch Aircraft.  More on this in the next post.....................

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