Now I was flying with my left hand while my right hand held onto a jittery, frightened, muscular dog. Why didn’t Dick Karl ever write about this aspect of canine aviation? Rascal then tried to dive down onto the floor on my side, but as I jerked him back by the collar he buried his head in my lap, shivering uncontrollably.
I needed to get down on the ground as soon as possible. Rascal’s bumping around had reset the GPS. It now showed that I was 212 miles from Maple Grove on a heading of 133 degrees. I didn’t know a 172 could cover 212 miles in 10 minutes. I also had no idea where I was. I’ve flown over this area for years and thought I knew every square inch, but all the barren farm fields and woods looked the same. Nothing looked familiar, and this added to the stress level. Thanks to the severe clear skies, I could see Mount Brighton’s ski hill 20 miles east and the Lansing power plant’s three towers 30 miles west. Triangulating these landmarks, I finally found the field. Fortunately, nobody else was in the air, which allowed me to set up for a nice, calm four-mile final to the runway.
I let go of Rascal’s collar briefly to pull carburetor heat, reduce power to 1,700 rpm and then add 20 degrees of flaps. The faithful Skyhawk was set up on a smooth 500-feet-per-minute descent. I thought to myself: “Rascal should be on the ground safe and sound in three minutes.” He continued to quiver in my lap, thankfully out of the way of the controls. As I pulled back on the yoke to bring the nose up, it came right over Rascal’s head. I had visions of him bouncing up, knocking the yoke to the left and, with the airplane “low and slow,” he and I ending up as a couple of crispy critters in the corn stubble below. Then this story would be in Aftermath and everyone would wonder how I could have made such a series of dumb decisions.
He stayed down and the landing was uneventful, if not smooth. Once I shut the engine down he immediately exited the aircraft without waiting for disembarking instructions from the flight crew. Rascal’s flight time was 18 minutes — that’s an eternity in dog years.