Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Back in Indiana Part 1

Meeting Dick Caldwell one day at the Long Beach, CA airport was the beginning of another relocation for my career.  We exchanged pleasantries, and that was about all that happened.
Dick and a friend of his were there to pick up a new Hughes 269B helicopter and fly it back to Griffith, IN.  This would be in the northwest corner of the state, just south of   Gary, IN.   It was a long flight over some pretty desolate areas of the country and I was able to share a few ideas with him on what would be the best route to take.  Meanwhile I was waiting for another assignment from the company I worked for.  Several cities were in the works for purchasing helicopters for their police departments.  Getting government funding  sometimes takes forever.  On all the previous training programs, I was just winging the training and I tried to stay ahead a day or two without a written plan of action for training.  So with all this time on my hands, I decided to write a helicopter pilot training syllabus specifically for police departments.  This would include the selection of pilots, training and implementation of helicopter operations into each cities police department.  Later on, this became a feather in my hat.

It was late in the summer the day I got the phone call from Dick Caldwell and he was offering me a position with his company.  So shortly after, a plane ticket arrived and I was off to Chicago.  Dick picked me up at the airport and I spent a couple days checking out their operation.  The company was called G & N Aircraft.  They were a reputable aircraft engine rebuilder and service center.  They had recently made a bid to do the pilot training for the Gary, IN police department and also do the maintenance support.  A good friend of mine Arnold Heckendorn, who I had worked with at Comet Aviation in Kansas City, MO, was now a Hughes Helicopter sales representative and was living nearby, just outside of Chicago.  So he and Dick were encouraging me to come on board and do the training.  I must say, that looking at the Midwest landscapes again, really swayed my decision.  Also the company was owned by Paul Goldsmith a former Indy car driver and Ray Nichols who had been involved in NASCAR for many years.  These two men were still heading up the Chrysler program for NASCAR and they were active in racing in both Winston Cup and Busch NASCAR racing.  I had always had an interest in automobile racing and this would be a chance to be involved with something new. I returned to California to discuss the offer with my wife.  I would be doing the same kind of work, but in a different part of the country.  So, here I go again.  These relocation's were not just a suitcase and few extra things, I was moving a whole house full of furniture and all our belongings, every time.  I had an old player piano that we bought in Little Rock, AR that had more miles on it than my car.

We arrived back in Indiana in November and the first snow began to fall to the ground.  They always say, you  should never relocate in the winter months.  Now I know why.  Again, finding a place to live was next to impossible.  My wife, daughter(age 2) and I were living at the Holiday Inn and we were going on a couple weeks, with no hope of an apartment or house for rent.  I was checking the papers everyday and phoning every ad, only to find out that it was going to be more difficult than I thought. Meanwhile I am trying to get established with my new job and also keeping my family secure at the hotel.  One night I was asked to attend a company meeting over at the hanger.  This was usually done after working hours, so after dinner I drove over to the hangar at the Griffith airport.  During the course of the meeting a phone call from the Cessna Dealer at Valparaiso, IN  came in, asking if there were any pilots available to ferry several new airplanes to an airport over in Illinois.  It seems that earlier in the day, these aircraft had been flown from Wichita, KS on their way to the dealer just north of Chicago, but weather forced them to put down at Valparaiso.  The ferry pilots elected to leave the aircraft and return to the Cessna plant in Kansas.  There were about ten aircraft in all and I was asked to ferry one of the new airplanes over to a small airport north of Chicago.  Because I was not current in fixed wing aircraft (no recent flight time within the past 90 days) I respectfully asked that I not fly one of the airplanes.  This was okay and I decided to at least ride along with one of the pilots.  I
think in all there were seven pilots and ten aircraft, which meant a couple of guys would make two or

more trips.  These were all single engine Cessna airplanes, but different models.  This was an uncontrolled airport and no ground or air traffic reporting was available.  So it was everyone for themselves.  The first seven aircraft taxied out towards the runway and one of the airplanes ran off the taxiway and got stuck in the muddy grass.  Now everyone had to shut down and go back to help get this aircraft back onto the hard surface taxiway.  Dick Caldwell who was in charge  was pretty upset and decided that I would fly this aircraft over to Illinois.  Needless to say, I am a bit nervous about doing this, but it was a new job, I had only been there for a few days, so it was hard to bow out gracefully.  So here I am, sitting in an airplane I had never flown before or even checked out in a similar model.  It was late at night in the winter and our flight route would be over a cold and icy lake Michigan.  Not only was I not familiar with the area, I had no map.  I was told to just follow the aircraft ahead and they would lead me to the airport. After we got the aircraft back on solid ground,
I slid in to the left seat and quickly tried to figure out where everything was.  Most airplanes have the same basic controls, just a few things like radios, trim controls and other stuff scattered about the cockpit that one needs to know where they are before heading off into the blue, or should I say black.  It was close to midnight and really dark outside. Now we were ready again, but it was later now and I was anxious to get this over with.  Then I discovered, the fuel tanks were very low, the aircraft had not been refueled at Valparaiso.  Enough fuel to make it, but with no reserve in case I got lost or maybe have to make a go around at the destination airport.  I'm not liking this, but I had no choice and off we went.  I was in trail of several airplanes ahead of me. Fortunately, it was a clear night and no wind to speak of.  When we arrived at the airport I was  number four in the
landing pattern.  I extended downwind until it was my turn for the approach. This was a Cessna 182 Skylane with tricycle landing gear. So a pretty forgiving aircraft even with a bad landing.  When it was my turn for the approach, one of the airplanes that had landed before me, advised that the runway was covered with ice and snow.  Another thing to deal with, then on top of that, it was a short runway which meant minimum braking which does not work well with a slick runway. I lined up with the runway and kept the aircraft aligned by working the rudder pedals. When I touched down the airplane did slide around a bit, but I stayed off the brakes and when I rolled out, I had a few hundred feet of runway left.  I
had landed safely, but with both fuel gages reading empty. I then taxied to the ramp. I pulled out the mixture control and shut off  both magneto switches.   I let out a big sigh of relief and I said to myself, stick to helicopters Billy.  Now I'm finding out that I am working for people who live on the edge and push the envelope a little further than I am comfortable with.  More on back in Indiana in the next post...................

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