(March 2012) Weighing five pounds fewer than I had three days before we began training in the steamy heat of south Florida, I finally breathed a huge sigh of relief. Bill Conrad had just told me I’d passed the type rating and multi-ATP check ride in the Lockheed 18 Lodestar. As we took the runway at Pompano, he put his huge left arm around my sweat-soaked, T-shirted shoulders (which, today, politically correct persons would probably call “inappropriate”) and with a big grin said, ”You’re a good little pilot. Just take me back to Lauderdale.”
Of course, I should have known better. One of Bill’s mantras was that every time you take off in a multiengine airplane for the rest of your flying life you’re going to lose one of the engines. You don’t know which one will fail or just where it will happen, but you’d better be thinking and planning because it will happen.
But all I was thinking about was, thank God, it was finally over and I’d be buying everybody a round of salty dogs at the cabana bar that night. This single-pilot-certificated Lockheed with its two R-1820 Wright engines (also used on some DC-3s) could be a handful, but I was OK with it — heck, we hadn’t made a takeoff or landing with both motors running in the last three days. So, basking in glory and foolishly relaxed, I came up with 42 inches of MP, accelerated normally, checked everything in the green and let the tail start to fly. Holding it on the mains until V1/V2, I rotated and pulled the gear up when we had a positive rate of climb and had run out of usable runway. The gear was still in transit when the left engine abruptly quit and I snapped out of my self-congratulatory euphoria: “Check mixtures, props, throttles (fly the airplane between each step) and pitch for Vxse; identify (keep flying the airplane); verify ... feather (be sure you get the correct button); check for feather; check for fire; review emergency checklist ... fly the airplane!
And then I yelled, since we didn’t use headsets, “You miserable son of a bitch!”
It was the best lesson he could have taught me, and I’ve never forgotten it. Well, OK, I needed — and got — a refresher some years later with Bob McSwiggan in a loaded DC-3 coming off of LaGrange, Georgia. I’d forgotten the massive amount of rudder required when an engine (again the left one) on a Goon suddenly fails at low speed, so I instinctively cranked in right aileron along with full right rudder to counter the left roll and yaw. Not only won’t that work, but the adverse aileron yaw and additional drag also make a bad situation infinitely worse; it’s the difference between flying and not flying because you’re going nowhere but down and in a deadly cross-controlled configuration.
Bill Conrad, Hector Villamar and Bob McSwiggan — all icons — taught me everything I know about big, round-engine airplanes, supplemented over the years by some first-class freight dogs like Don Shewmaker, Dick Zerbe and Kevin Uppstrom. Bill, an early Pan Am pilot, had an operation called Airline Training Inc. in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and achieved some fame with aircraft modifications like the Conrad 9800 Twin Beech conversion. He and Hector are gone, but Bob, who did FAA contract DC-3 training for years at Griffin, Georgia, and operated a Part 135 freight operation, is still actively flying out of Clayton County (Tara) Airport just south of Atlanta. I don’t know about Hector and the feds, but Bill Conrad and Bob McSwiggan occupy a special place in my heart — fine pilots, good friends and always gloriously embroiled in fierce battles with FAA bureaucrats.