Clear, we line up and I apply power. At 40 inches of manifold, Scott taps my hand and I raise it straight up in the air to signal that he has the power. I should have given him the rudder, the elevator and the ailerons, too, but I didn't think to do so. We are soon oscillating down the runway with ever more dramatic and frightening heading changes until, at Scott's divine intervention, we lurch into the air. Holy shit.
I am stunned by this lack of airmanship. My handling of this beautifully restored glorious workhorse that built this country could only be described by one word: Appalling.
Dick Karl with Scott Edwards and Bobby Woodson
I can't even think, I am so chagrinned. Some passengers come forward to congratulate not me, but themselves, for surviving this amazing brush with instant death by immolation. Perhaps I should have picked a different airpane for my initial taildragger experience.
We zoom around barely 1,000 feet above the ground. This is Scott's home territory and he knows every inch and every farm by heart. We overfly Corky Carson's house and head for Salisbury (KRUQ), where the runway is long and the gas is cheap. With a dry mouth I anticipate my first and maybe last attempt at landing a DC-3. Scott wisely has us fly the full deal, downwind to base to final. Things look okay for most of it, too. All the while, he is almost cooing, "You're doing great, flaps 30, gear down, perfect." I am not fooled.
We touchdown on the centerline and then the dance begins almost immediately. Scott, now aware of the mass murderer sitting in the left seat, is quick to get on the rudder pedals and disaster is averted. We taxi for gas, shut down and I finally exhale. Unfortunately, two of the passengers are high-ranking FAA officials and it occurs to me that one of them might just ask for my license.
After taking on 400 gallons of gas, it becomes clear that there is sentiment that another takeoff and landing by me will be a good thing. Sadly, it isn't. I taxi down to the departure end of 20, lock the tailwheel by releasing a handle under the throttle quadrant that I can feel but never do see, line up and wiggle down the runway. There is no time to catch a glimpse of the airspeed indicator. This takeoff is marginally, just marginally, better. We head back for another landing and although it looks the same to me as the first landing, I hear Scott say, "Remember, we're a lot heavier than before."
Before I can fully comprehend this information, we've landed, bounced and landed again. Scott is soon busy on the yoke; whether he was pushing or pulling, I forget to ask.
To everyone's relief, including my own, I am released from any further possibility of destroying the airplane and Doug Commins is given the nod. Doug acts as if he was born in a DC-3. He later tells me that the rudder thing reminded him of the Yak. Sure, I think.
He flies us off with aplomb and lands the same way. I'll never speak to him again. Once again the difference between a professional and a hobbyist is clear. We're soon en route back to Charlotte; low. It is beautiful. This is flying, I think to myself. As I look around it appears that everyone else feels the same way, each looking out over verdant farmland from low altitude, lost in contemplation.
Bobby replaces Doug at the helm and we land effortlessly at Charlotte. We're cleared to taxi towards the museum and Randy points out a Lufthansa Airbus 340 taxiing the other way. I snap a picture of the new as seen over the cowl of the old. Without the DC-3 and its proof of concept, there would be no airlines. And then this: Bobby rapidly unsnaps his seat belt and rushes to the back of the airplane, flings open the door and jumps out.
What? We're on an active taxiway. We're heading right for an RJ joining the taxiway up ahead. We stop. Bobby reappears with a cut on the side of his face. The engines are shut down. It eventuates that the brakes have failed. We are off to the side of the taxiway. The left main has just missed a taxiway light and the tail wheel has stopped inches from another one. Bobby has jumped out and chocked the airplane to a stop. Scott seems cool with this. He later tells me that his 1,500 hours over 20 years has made him "comfortable" in the airplane. "You learn a lot about an airplane while flying it in the dark with a flashlight in your mouth," he says.
Soon we're hooked to a tug, the runway is shut down for a minute and we're towed right into the hangar, hydraulic fluid all over the right main. Smiles all around. Scott and Bobby remain calm despite all the excitement. Scott admits to getting type rated in this beast at age 19; he flew with a waiver until he was 23, allowed to haul freight but not passengers. We talk a little about my inability to fly. They are generous. "It'll want to switch ends on you, that's for sure. Sometimes I think it would just be easier to turn around and take off the other way. The fuselage blocks out the rudder so much." The trick? "Just point her where you want to go and if she doesn't, point harder."
When I ask about our airspeed just prior to Scott's life-saving heave on the yoke at Concord, he says, "Yeah, I got a glimpse at the airspeed indicator. We shoot for 84, but we were doin' about 65. She'll fly when she's light like that at 58."