Pickens is a getaway home to an old friend of mine, JC Hanks, a retired 747 driver. I asked the lineman if his Cessna 310 was in the hangar. He didn’t know, so we both went to the adjacent hangar to see.
“Nope, he’s not here,” said the young man. “But that there is his vehicle [pronounced VEE-hickle].”
I left a note on the windshield.
Our owner arrived and we were soon en route to New Orleans (KNEW) at Flight Level 410. Our plans for direct Greene County were waylaid by the instructions to join the SLIDD arrival, but that only added a minute or two. Jason greased us on at KNEW and we were in a cab in time for lunch.
I couldn’t resist taking Jason to Galatoire’s for dinner and introducing him to some friends of mine. It was a late night for an old first officer. The next morning I was shocked awake by a phone call just before 7 a.m. It was JC. He had arrived at KLQK about 30 minutes after we had departed. We chatted for almost an hour. This is just one more savory occurrence that can happen when you go flying. You’ve got to make yourself available. If you are not flying, these things just don’t happen.
The ultimate rust period in my own logbook occurred early on, probably the worst part of one’s flying career in which to have a prolonged layoff. As a medical student in New York City in the mid-1960s I had neither money nor time. Though I had a Private certificate, I had, maybe, 60 hours of flying experience. So, renting an airplane at Teterboro required celestial alignment of huge proportions. I had to have a Saturday or Sunday free. I had to have VFR conditions. I needed at least 25 dollars and I needed the courage or insanity, depending on how you look at it, to entertain the possibility of flying a Cessna 172 after several months of inactivity.
I remember the all-day ritual to accomplish the rust debridement. It began with a call to Flight Service Station; the current weather and forecast had to be unassailable VFR. If that obstacle was out of the way, I would try to round up an accomplice. Not every one of my classmates thought such a death-defying caper was in their best interest. Undeterred, I’d take the subway to Grand Central Station, take the shuttle to the west side, and take another subway to the Port Authority building. There I’d board a bus to New Jersey. An hour after the beginning of this trek, I’d come out of the Lincoln Tunnel and have my first personal assessment as to whether the forecast was correct. It wasn’t always.
Once deposited at the northwest corner of the airport, I had a short three-quarters of a mile walk to the FBO. “Are you current?” was the question I dreaded most. Once through the thicket of rental fees, insurance and preflight, I’d fire up and try to find my way to the active. Sometimes this simple task revealed the abyss of my ignorance. Sometimes I’d need help with the concept of a straight-out departure. Most times I would head down the Hudson River; that landmark I could find.
The hardest part was finding the airport on return. I knew that Teterboro was hard to find, especially in haze, especially as the sun began to set. My aggressiveness about heading for the airport was not prompted by fuel considerations; it was purely motivated by concerns that the rental period would be only one hour total. That was definitely a bad way to fly.
Now, these many years later, it had been six weeks since I’d been at the controls of the Cheyenne. Thanks to Jason, though, I got a leg in the Lear to Sanford, Florida, a grand total of 93 nautical miles. In my mind were my friend Rob’s words of wisdom. When I asked him — a pilot for Southwest with a very enviable seniority number — about his six-week hiatus, he reported that his first leg, from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale, was a perfect re-entry: “I had to get in the game quickly on a trip that short.”
Finally, as any airplane owner, renter, mechanic or lover knows, six weeks of idleness isn’t just bad for the pilot; it is bad for the airplane. Sure enough, as I brought the power up on a short trip to Key West, Florida, the Cheyenne swerved to the right, then to the left. The torque gauges told the story: The right engine was lagging the left as the power came up. By the time I got symmetrical power up, we were about to rotate. Good thing the runway at Tampa is wide and the training at SimCom for just such a nuisance is good.
Every good airplane deserves to fly. So do you and I. It is good for all of us.