All went well, if you'll pardon the expression, and everything was almost back to normal when I felt the slightest little "pop" in my lower back. It was a spasm, a bad one, and I could barely move.
I gritted my teeth, offered up the pain for the poor souls in purgatory (it's a Catholic thing), climbed to 6,000 feet and finally made it to Columbus. There's an ILS to a nice, wide runway at this old military field and, when I got off the runway, I called Callie on unicom. A bunch of Rhoades guys met and hauled me out of the airplane, yelping, moaning and giggling all at the same time. Lots of Advil and some hours later, Jack Rhoades or Bud insisted on sending a pilot to fly me home and another airplane to bring him back. Good friends, good guys. I miss them.
Allowing a "civilian" to fly in a government rental airplane would mean another disciplinary action but this time nobody found out. And FAA's disciplinary actions for bad inspectors (like me) were something of a mystery. I took Mary along to an airshow in a rented airplane and got a letter of reprimand. About five years later I broke the rule again but with very different results:
Out punching holes in the clouds, "proficiency flying" in a Duchess on a cold Saturday morning in February (not my favorite month), I landed 30 miles north of Cincinnati at Lebanon-Warren County. Johnny Lane was suiting up to fly his T-Craft to Lunken for a multiflight check in that very Duchess. John, an old friend and mentor, had given me a multi rating years before in an Aztec ... another story. Then he was just shy of 80, a Flight Instructor and Mechanic of the Year, a Charles Taylor and Wright Brothers awardee, and an FAA examiner and safety counselor forever. The weather was supposed to get better but it was still something like 800 and 2, so when he asked if he could ride along, I said, "You bet." And if he needed a ride home after the check ride, I'd take him back to Lebanon in my car or the 180. This wasn't T-Craft weather and the worst that could happen was another letter in my file ... right?
About an hour after I got home the phone rang and it was John. The weather was clearing so I assumed they'd launched on the check ride and the guy blew it ...
"Short flight check, huh?"
"No, an accident," he said.
"What? You guys okay?"
Well, everybody except the Duchess was okay. John failed an engine early on the takeoff roll with a mixture control, but he neglected to pull the other mixture when the applicant didn't immediately close both throttles. The little twin took off into the boonies, wiping out the nosewheel in a ditch and shedding other bits and pieces along the way. I called my boss, who said I should "work" the accident. And late that afternoon, I drove John home, grateful that I'd been there to do the investigation with a minimum of angst. Everything was straight forward and John felt bad enough without some officious "expert" making it worse.
I'll never know if it was in innocence or an attempt to make points but a "cowboy" on the field came to my boss with the information that he saw me land and I had John in the airplane. He'd even heard us talking, he said, because I was "checking John out" in the Duchess on the way to Lunken. When the hammer fell I figured I'd just have to take my medicine, probably another and more serious letter of reprimand ... right?
Wrong. The rules had changed ... a lot, and I went home for six weeks. Expensive? You bet. Did I learn a lesson? Absolutely: Do what you know is the right thing ... and always remember to break one rule every day. I'm proud enough of my personnel file that I read selections at my retirement party. But then there were no FAA people in the crowd.