I Learned About Flying From That: Rascal’s Ride

It was a picture-perfect early February day in Michigan — clear blue sky, calm wind, 30 degrees Fahrenheit. It was even better because there was no snow on the grass strip. But a storm was forecast to bring 12 inches of snow the next day. That much snow would shut down my flying for days or weeks. I had 90 minutes of free time and full use of my friend Doug's Cessna 172 Skyhawk. I thought I'd better make a short hop and enjoy this good weather.

As I started the car, I remembered my sunglasses were in the garage. I got out of the car, leaving the door open, and retrieved the glasses. By the time I came back my daughter’s dog, Rascal, a calm, intelligent, 60-pound blue heeler, was in the passenger seat ready for a car ride. Well, I thought, I’d only be up for a little while and he could rest in the car.

Maple Grove Airport is a beautiful grass strip among farm fields and woods, so while I preflighted the airplane, I let Rascal out of the car to run around and attend to dog business. While I was checking the oil, Rascal jumped into the cockpit and assumed his normal place in the “car’s” passenger seat, ears erect, looking out the windshield with anticipation. He looked quite happy. Dick Karl often writes about flying with his golden retriever, so why not take Rascal for a short ride?

Rascal sensed that something was different with this car ride when I yelled “clear prop!” and the propeller blades started to move. His ears went from “up” to “half mast.” As I back-taxied to the active, I pulled the yoke all the way back to take weight off the nose gear. Rascal did not approve of the copilot yoke coming right into his seat. The ears were fully down now. I reasoned that it would be much more enjoyable for him once we were in straight-and-level flight.

Oh, how wrong I was. Rascal quickly discovered that he had no love of aviation and did not like his seat tipping, bouncing or tilting. His eyes were wide with fear, and he had no place to go but the back seat. I worried about weight and balance problems with 60 pounds of dog jumping back and forth. I also worried about the possibility of Rascal urinating out of fear on Doug’s immaculate seats. Both of these worries paled in comparison to what came next: Rascal wanted out now. He became a berserk missile, leaping from back to front, over and over, and trying to get onto my lap, hitting the instruments with his head and then trying to dive onto the floor. Thinking of what he would do to the rudders made me grab him by the collar just in time. This did nothing to increase Rascal’s love of flying, but it did make me feel safer.

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.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Get the latest FLYING stories delivered directly to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter