The airplane may not know it's dark, but the pilot does, and the accident record shows it. AVweb's Thomas P. Turner helps reduce the risk of night flight.
Click here to read.
Already the northern hemisphere daylight hours are becoming noticeably shorter. Restricting flight to daylight hours significantly reduces the utility
of airplanes as summer wanes and the cooler, darker months return. What can we do to fly safely at night?
Countering the argument that "The airplane doesn't know if it's light or dark," the record clearly shows a greater number of aircraft accidents at night. The AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Nall Report of general aviation accident statistics shows the increased hazard of flying at night. According to the 2007 edition
of the report, "... only 19.2 percent of daytime accidents resulted in fatalities, but over one-third (34.6 percent) of all night accidents were fatal ... At night, nearly half of the accidents in VMC
conditions were fatal ... compared to nearly three-fourths of night IMC accidents." There's a lot of added risk to flying in the dark. How can we minimize that risk?
Bad Is Worse At Night
At night, what might otherwise be inconveniences can become life-threatening emergencies. If confession is good for the soul, then my spirit will get a double-dose of medicine this month. Both
experiences I am about to relate occurred at night, very early in my flying career, and in retrospect were incredibly stupid.
Stupid Pilot Trick #1
My mechanic had just signed off the annual on my 1946 Cessna 120. I had hoped to get the entire inspection on this simple airplane done in a day, but as a backup, I had arranged to stay at a friend's
home if we didn't finish up. (I was a roughly two-hour flight from home.) I'd even given myself a deadline: If the airplane wasn't buttoned up and ready to go by 4 p.m., I'd call my friend and have
him pick me up.
The inspector had found a little surface corrosion on an aileron fitting, and I had a little trouble reinstalling it (under the mechanic's supervision) after sandblasting and painting. That ate into
my "launch" time, and it was about 4:45 p.m. before everything was closed up signed off. Thinking I could still beat the darkest night home (it was October), and with verified reports of very clear
VMC for hundreds of miles around, I cast off my earlier plan, threw my overnight bag behind the antique Cessna's seat and turned on the master switch ... but didn't have the power to crank the
I rationalized that I must've shorted the battery when I removed it to clean the battery box during annual, so I did what any good taildragger pilot would do: I got my mechanic to sit in the copilot's
seat while I hand-propped the little Continental engine, then jumped in and bid him farewell. A few minutes after 5 p.m. (more than an hour after my "no-go" time), I took off and headed west. Already
the first auto and house lights were glowing in the autumn dusk.
My battery seemed to charge all right, but an hour and a half later I was over very dark prairie east of Wichita when all my lights failed. I was alone, in the dark, with only a flashlight to show the
way. I passed just south of a well-lighted runway, knowing my home 'drome sported 24-hour runway lighting. I already had the intense gas flame of a refinery near my destination in sight, so navigating
in the clear, dark skies was easy. Only when I lined up with my home runway did I realize I didn't have a landing light, and in a three-point landing stance I would loose sight of anything straight
ahead. Somehow my wheels kissed the pavement; I taxied clear and shut down. Only when I climbed out and stood on the tarmac did it occur to me how incredibly stupid most of my decisions had been that
night, and how much my choices sounded like the write-up from a fatal NTSB report.
Stupid Pilot Trick #2
A year or so later I was tasked to fly a Beech Baron from its base in northern Kansas down to Wichita. I hitched a ride up with a coworker in a Piper Warrior and, after inspecting the Baron and its
logbooks, waved him homeward. We'd had stronger-than-expected headwinds on the way up, delaying my departure just enough so it would get dark before I got back home. I fired up the piston twin and
took off, VFR, southward -- the first time I'd every flown that particular Baron.
About half an hour out of Wichita, I noticed a ground fog developing. ATIS at Wichita Mid-Continent reported IFR conditions but well above minimums, so I called Center and picked up an IFR clearance
in the air (ah, the Midwest). About the time I was on a vector to intercept the localizer for the ILS, as it was getting dark enough, I turned on the instrument panel lights. Nothing happened. It's
hard to check panel lights for operation in daylight, but what I later learned was a faulty rheostat prevented them from coming on when I needed them. I'd not gone out of my way to shade the
instruments and check that panel lights worked before I took off, knowing I'd be flying at night. What followed was the classic "flashlight in the mouth" approach set-up and landing, at least until I
was low enough on the approach that the runway lights shone through the fog.
There are a lot of "I should've done this" or "I should not have done that" in both these stories, lessons I've absorbed and integrated since that time. I'm sure in reading my confessions you've
thought of some of the same things. But re-living these two potential disasters, and reviewing dozens of nighttime NTSB reports, I've come up with some techniques for minimizing the risk for night
Night Safety Do's And Don'ts
- Fly at night without a thorough weather and NOTAMs briefing -- no exceptions. Beware of reports of marginal VFR, converging temperature/dewpoint spreads, temperature inversions or
reports of winds blowing off large bodies of water: all can lead to rapidly deteriorating ceilings or visibilities you can't detect visually before you're in them.
- Make a night flight right after airplane maintenance or an annual inspection. A post-maintenance flight should be a day, VMC shakedown. Mechanics are people too, and sometimes leave controls,
switches, and even more critical items out of "normal" position.
- Make the first time you fly a specific airplane a night flight. Until you fly it yourself, you don't know what works ... and what doesn't. You also want to be familiar with what's "normal" for
that airplane, because abnormalities will be less obvious at night.
- Fly at night in an airplane you've not flown recently. Don't night-fly until you feel very comfortable flying that specific airplane.
- Fly at night if you have any unexplained -- and uncorrected -- electrical glitches.
- Fly past a good airport when you have a problem at dusk or in full darkness.
- Fly to the limit of the airplane's fueled range at night. There's a good reason the FARs require greater fuel reserves at night. Landing and refueling options are reduced after hours, and you may
need to fly farther to make it to an alternate airport.
- Fly after a full day of work unless you get some real rest before departure. You need to know you won't be too fatigued at the end of your night flight.
- Plan risk avoidance, and stick with your plan. It did me no good to have a plan to stay overnight if my annual wasn't finished by a certain time, and to have even brought along an overnight
bag, if I didn't have the discipline to stick with my plan when my "no-go" time passed.
- Plan a night-VFR trip as if you were planning for IFR, including routes, minimum altitudes for each flight segment, alternate airports and added fuel reserves.
- Use your checklists, even when you are comfortable in the airplane. Complacency can be worse than unfamiliarity, and complacency can kill -- especially at night.
- Actively monitor electrical load and alternator/generator output throughout the flight. Divert and land at the nearest suitable airport if an electrical problem arises.
- Crosscheck vacuum gauges and other instruments frequently, and land quickly if a failure occurs.
- Plan your fuel burn and check that fuel remaining is as expected at waypoints along your flight. Recompute "fuel remaining" at the destination regularly. Divert and land at the nearest suitable
airport if fuel reserves drop below legal -- and safe -- limits.
- Perform a "blind cockpit check" before takeoff. In Air Force flight screening, we weren't allowed to solo before we could sit in the cockpit and immediately touch any indicator or control on
command -- while blindfolded. Develop this level of comfort with the airplane before you fly it at night.
- Practice your emergency checklists. You need to be ready to flawlessly accomplish the engine troubleshooting, maximum glide and off-airport landing checklists should for any reason power be
interrupted in flight.
- Cancel any night flight when you are not completely confident the airplane -- and you -- are airworthy.
Nighttime Engine Failures
There's an old saw about engine failures at night: If the engine quits, turn on the landing light. If you don't like what you see, turn off the landing light.
Many pilots feel night, single-engine flight is too risky. Others say the engine doesn't know it's dark outside, and it's not more likely to quit. That's true, but it's also true that most multiengine
airplanes have better electrical and other system redundancy than most single-engine airplanes.
If engine reliability itself is what worries you, however, you can avoid the greatest likelihood of engine failure by practicing good fuel management. My research of NTSB reports shows that well over
three-fourths of all nighttime engine failures result from either fuel starvation (running out of fuel in the tank feeding the engine and not switching to another tank with fuel in it before hitting
the ground) or fuel exhaustion (truly "running out of gas").
Whether you're flying a single-engine airplane or a twin, to avoid the most likely engine failure:
- Take off with sufficient fuel to make your destination plus a very comfortable reserve.
- Lean the mixture to obtain the expected fuel flow at your selected cruise-power setting.
- Monitor the fuel burn in flight by as many means as possible (fuel burn x time; fuel gauges; trim feel as fuel burns from one tank to another; fuel totalizer if installed) and consider landing at
a nearby airport if your fuel state becomes ambiguous because of conflicting indications. Remember, "book" fuel flow is a prediction; "actual" fuel burn is what's really important.
- Follow a strict, written schedule for fuel management (switching from one fuel tank to another in cruise).
- Observe all fuel-systems limitations that apply to the aircraft. Know how much fuel you can't use, and be sure to arrive at destination (or your alternate) with enough fuel in a tank that's
approved for use during landing.
- Visually check for fuel streaming back from loose or leaky fuel caps -- periodically shine your flashlight outside to check. Pilots of high-wing airplanes can look for fuel droplets or mist off
the wing's trailing edge behind the fuel caps and around fuel-strainer drains.
- Switch tanks near a lighted airport just in case a plugged fuel vent or other hazard prevents "good" fuel from reaching your engine.
- Recheck your estimated time of arrival (ETA) regularly to account for unexpected headwinds, and recalculate fuel requirements as the ETA changes. Don't hesitate to land early if you're eating into
your preplanned fuel reserve.
Other than fuel mismanagement, engines rarely quit without at least some warning. Monitor engine indications (oil temperature and pressure, fuel-flow rates or pressure, cylinder-head and exhaust-gas
temperatures, ammeter or voltage meter) in flight and record the indications over a series of daylight trips. You'll likely find that all indications are quite steady and predictable from flight to
flight. Record "normal" indications and frequently compare those to what you actually observe on later flights. You might even use a grease pencil to mark the "normal" needle position for each
instrument in your airplane. You'll not only be able to tell your oil pressure is "in the green," but, more accurately, it's precisely what is "normal" for that engine.
Night Risk Management
There's a lot more to know about night flight, including a good section in the Airplane Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8030-3A), Chapter 10. Using that knowledge safely hinges on your ability to manage the risks of night flying.
Fly safe, and have fun!
Thomas P. Turner's Leading Edge columns are collected here.
Ready for a more-stable job, Carl Moesly gets an offer from one of the richest men in America. And then Carl wraps up his Pilot's History with Chapter 12.
Click here for the full story.
Jeanne and I did some boating and relaxed as a family. I wrote a letter to Arthur Vining Davis letting him know I was free from any contracts and, if
he cared to speak to me regarding employment, I was readily available. I soon received a phone call to come to his office.
If I came to work for him, he would see to it I would never be sorry for having done so. He also had a problem with his pilots, who were not getting along together in the cockpit. Maybe I could work
out the problem. Pete was interested in flying helicopters and took care of the chopper work. They used the chopper to look at properties in the Miami area. His duties also consisted of flying Mr.
Davis to the Boca Raton Club, which he owned, about 50 miles north of his home in South Miami, for his bi-weekly haircut with his favorite barber. When he purchased the club and adjoining land, it was
the costliest real-estate transaction in Florida history. For his personal use, he had two executive DC-3s, two Aero Commanders, a PBY, and two helicopters.
I realized going to work for Mr. Davis was going to be a great change from the nitty-gritty work of commercial aviation, to becoming a personal pilot. I would miss the ever-changing activity and
growth of technology in the aviation field, and I would be totally dependent on the good will of my employer. Would this be another dead-end experience? I did not think so. If I had to work for a
single person, I could not think of anyone that I respected any more than this man. I remembered him telling me how he and Charles Martin Hall, fresh out of college, teamed up to develop a means to
extract aluminum from bauxite. Charles was the scientist and he was the teammate and organizer. In Pittsburgh, where they set up their reduction plant, they worked the vats 24 hours a day and, after a
few months, extracted a piece of metal the size of the end of his thumb. As their success multiplied, one man would watch the vats at night while the other sold pots and pans made of aluminum from
door to door, to skeptical housewives. This man had enough prestige in the world to be visited by the Queen of England and entertained on his yacht for a period of time while in the Bahamas Islands.
Besides the occasional business trips in DC-3s, I would fly him to the Bahamas for a few days at the Rock Sound Club to relax. He usually took a lot of guests including his nurse and doctor. He would
also take his attorneys, interior decorator and their wives. The first time I flew him to the island, he signaled me to get into his car with him. The driver took us several miles over a primitive
road to his cottage on the beach. It was located on a circular bay with a half-mile of white-sand beach to the right and another half-mile of sand beach to the left. In addition, there was a break in
limestone cliffs where the Atlantic Ocean joined the crystal waters of the bay. The cottage was beautifully furnished with paintings and crystal, ready for occupants. A native couple had separate
quarters and was taking good care of the place. He took a lot of pride in showing me around his place. With a sad look on his face, he turned to me and said, "I have never stayed here. They think it
is better for me to stay at the club with my guests." That was sad. I knew what I would have done.
A few days later, with swim fins, goggles and a spear gun, I went swimming with one of the attorneys not too far from the cottage. Returning to the lodge, Mr. Davis was delighted to see the lobsters
and the selection of fish we brought to the club's kitchen. One nice thing about spear fishing there: You could pick out the type and size of fish or lobster you wanted for dinner. Better yet was the
help to clean and cook them! The club was a congenial place to be. When Queen Elizabeth visited the Bahamas, the government asked Mr. Davis' permission to use his yacht to take her around the islands.
Being 167 feet long and drawing 17 feet of water, it was "fit for a Queen." During her stay at the club, many dignitaries came to pay their respects to her.
Not only did he own the club, but also the water works, the electric power company, the golf course, the cotton Bay Club, the airport and half the island. These developments were put in at a
tremendous cost, under primitive conditions, on this hard, coral-rock island. In later years, he was to sell a lot of this to a group of investors headed up by Juan Tripp, who was also head of Pan
American Airways. Mr. Tripp was supposed to update the airport for jet aircraft and bring in direct Pan Am flights from New York. I had the job of flying Mr. Tripp and his operation manager to the
islands from Florida. I thought it a little strange he did not have his own executive Pan Am plane. Davis also owned a bank in Nassau. I flew him there for a director's meeting and, during the trip,
he confided to me they wanted to change the banking rules from American to English. He was not going to allow that to happen. He knew a lot about banking, having been married to Mr. Mellon's daughter,
and being a director in the Mellon Bank. His trial attorney, who had worked for him many years, told me Mr. Davis probably had one of the best executive minds in the U.S.
On a return flight from a board meeting of Alcoa, he was the lone passenger and seemingly wanted to talk, so I asked if things had gone well for him. He shook his head. "You know, U.S. Steel's labor
contract comes up before Alcoa's, and they set a precedent for us. Their chairman had called me and said labor was pressing hard for benefits. I told him not to sign anything until you know exactly
what it's going to cost. He called me back later and said, 'I signed it and it's going to cost a lot more than I thought.' " Davis was banging his head in his fist to emphasize: "I told him not
to sign until he knew the cost!" I thought about how much power must reside in this man if he can advise the head of U.S. Steel what he should do. I quietly asked, "What percentage does labor play in
the cost of producing a pound of aluminum?" He gave me a very searching look, "I don't know, but by damn, tomorrow I will know!"
Isle of Pines
Davis owned the southern third of the Isle of Pines [Isla de Pinos, renamed Isla de la Juventud in the 1970s], about 284,000 acres, located off the south coast of Cuba. It was a beautiful, tropical
island with coral reefs and forests on the southern coast. The island was about 38 miles in diameter, with the southern section divided from the northern part with a fresh-water swamp. There were no
roads connecting the two sections. The northern part was beautiful, rolling country with low hills of marble in some areas. Tropical palm trees were prevalent, especially the unique bottle palms.
Davis also owned some gorgeous, black-sand beaches from early volcanic activity on the island not far from the town of Nueva Gerona on the north coast. In addition, he owned the airport in the north
section, with paved runways and a very small terminal. We had a delightful, Cuban-style house on the airport property that we could park our plane along side, unload our baggage, prop up our feet in
the breezeway and -- with a Cuba libre in our sweaty hand -- let the trade wind blow! There were a few workers on the payroll looking after the properties that would join us and bring us up on the
current news. We heard about the revolutionists in the hills of mainland Cuba that wanted to unseat Batista. The leader's name was Fidel Castro.
Usually I flew there in the six-passenger Aero Commander. It was a delightful plane to fly, fairly fast, and had a fuel range good enough to fly from Miami and return without refueling. J.J. looked
after some of the property holdings for Mr. Davis and needed to go down often. Besides, he liked the fishing and so did I. On the southern coast, we had a grass landing-strip right along the
coastline, with a bay on one end of the runway. There we kept an island-built skiff of 20 feet and a 10-hp outboard engine. It was used for travel and fishing by the natives as well as ourselves.
Two workmen kept the weeds cut on the primitive airstrip with hand scythes until we brought them a small, gasoline, push mower. They were more cheerful about mowing after that. There was a small
village of a dozen thatched huts with elevated wooden floors populated by people who migrated in the year 1900 from Grand Cayman Island. They had light-tan skin with a soft, old-English speech. I
loved listening to them talk in their soft, calypso-style voices and their choice of words.
They cooked on iron charcoal stoves and sold fish, lobster and excellent charcoal to the northern part of the island for cash and, in turn, bought rice, beans and flour. When Hollywood wanted to film
"The Sharkfighters," they used this site and had the natives on film with Victor Mature on a marvelous stretch of white-sand beach in a
tropical setting. I would usually bring down items from the U.S., such as clothing, dishes, etc., to distribute here. My friends in Florida got into the act of gathering surplus items for me to take
to the Isle of Pines. I would enjoy seeing the locals in familiar clothes. When Jeanne came down and we spent the night in our own thatched hut with J.J. and his wife, every native lined up at our
front door to walk through the house, to greet the wives, shake hands and walk out the back door. The children were so well-behaved and so happy with a gift of the smallest toy. Their big smiles have
long been remembered.
Jeanne's father came down with me one day to fish. I rigged a mangrove pole with a clothespin in the outboard skiff to make his bait skip on the surface and he caught a seven-foot sailfish within 100
yards of the shoreline! It made our day. When returning to the north part of the island, we would usually find a gift of wild honey in old rum bottles under the wing of our plane.
It was Davis' intention to build a new small terminal building on the airport near Nueva Gerona and turn it all over to the Cuban government in return for permission to build a tourist hotel on the
beach. As the political events evolved, that never happened. Meanwhile, we had made friends with a wealthy Cuban that was close to President Batista. He had an 8000-acre ranch, 6000 head of Brahma
crossbreed cattle, and a lovely home on a hill overlooking the ranch. When staying there, I experienced first-hand how the old cattle barons in Texas must have lived.
This island was taken over by the U.S. after the Spanish-American war at the turn of the century. To reward the veterans of the war, the U.S. let them homestead the island. Of course, most of them
soon sold out. Fred's grandfather kept his land, built a lovely, old-style home and planted orange and grapefruit groves. Fred became the owner of about 2000 acres and stayed with it. In later years,
the island had been traded back to Cuba for Guantanamo Bay, which the U.S. now owns and uses as a military base. Most Americans left the island when that happened. But Fred's family stayed. Fred and
his wife, with their two boys, were real pioneers and one of the few American families. They had a home in Miami but appeared to prefer the lifestyle in the Isle of Pines. I brought my son, age 14 at
the time, to the island to ride horseback in this beautiful country.
Castro was gaining a following. The local Cuban people here did not like Batista and were sympathetic to the young Fidel. Even the men on our payroll thought things would improve with Castro in
control. One thing of local influence was Batista's prison for political prisoners. I paid it a visit to see what it was like. I found a round, cement building with iron bars around the outer wall,
making cages for the prisoners with the armed guards in the center of the building, protected by another circular area with iron bars. Some of the prisoners worked in pits on the small hills near the
prison, cutting marble for building material. Some prisoners used their time to carve various small articles, which they were permitted to sell to visitors. They had over 3000 inmates in a prison
built for 1500. They were all rooting for Castro to defeat Batista. I saw no sign of physical abuse, but I got cold prickles on my neck when I saw freedom restricted with iron bars, cement walls and
There was never anything hectic about working for Mr. Davis. If he wanted me to fly somewhere, it would be his voice saying, "Captain, would it be convenient to fly me to such and such place next
Friday?" That was a lot different behavior than some people I had been associated with in the past.
One day I called a friend at the FAA to give me a flight check in the PBY. He was happy to get out of the office. This was the amphibian Mr. Davis had in case he wanted to fly to an island in the
Caribbean that did not have an airport and would have to land on the water. He never did fly in it.
This day with the inspector I got a good workout on Lake Okeechobee. The interior was dressed out with settee/berths, a nine-cubic-foot refrigerator, our own power plant and galley. We could lower two
14-foot, outboard, fiberglass boats, one from each wing. I found my takeoff run, without the boats, to be 35 seconds. With the boats, it was 55 seconds. Just a small bit of information a pilot should
know. When the inspector gave me an Airline Transport rating for a PBY on land or sea, he said I was probably one of 10 people in the world to hold that rating.
We kept the airplanes belonging to Mr. Davis near a company he owned by the name of Riddle Airlines, later to be known as Airlift International. It was strictly a cargo carrier. He never stopped there
for a visit that I know of, but he stood by his aircraft with me and talked about them. One time it was, "I just lost seven million dollars with them," and looked at me with a "What are you going to
do about it?" I did not know what could be done without upgrading everything, including aircraft, and developing new customers and routes, an expensive proposition. He had indicated he was tired of
putting money into the company. Perhaps I should have put my neck in a noose, but I was a little weary of fighting against the odds.
Escape from Isle of Pines
Castro was working his way towards Havana and the Cuban population seemed to be supporting him. On New Year's Day, 1959, we heard Batista had fled Cuba at midnight. A few hours later, Mr. Davis'
assistant in Miami received a message: "The fish are biting; please send down a big car." The first part referred to Castro and the call was for help for our wealthy Cuban friend. The "big car"
referred to the DC-3, not an Aero Commander. A pilot and I took off for Cuba with Mr. Davis' OK to use his personal aircraft. We had to file a flight plan to Cuba, via Key West, but I requested they
hold up notifying Cuba of our flight plan. They must have understood the reason. We did not know who was in power or who controlled the Cuban Air Force. We did know no one would be friendly to a
Yankee plane with two American pilots, and I certainly did not want to see the plane confiscated.
I picked a course across a sparsely populated area of Cuba to the Isle of Pines, made no radio calls, bypassed the airport, buzzed our friend's ranch and landed on a cleared field I had previously
inspected. Very quickly, a caravan of cars started arriving and hurriedly the people got on board the plane. Our friend's entire family, some servants and a stranger filled up the plane. As soon as
they were all strapped in, we took off staying low. Our autopilot was inoperative and the plane had to be hand-flown. Fortunately there was cloud cover and I suggested the pilot hide in it. Shortly,
things were not going right. My duplicate set of instruments showed we were in a descending turn with an ever-increasing bank and rate of turn. Looking at the pilot's artificial horizon, it was
inoperative and showing him an incorrect picture. His eyes were locked on the instrument, ignoring everything else. I suggested I take over, and I brought it up right and on course. I remembered all
the times I had been called to take his place when the weather was bad; when we had been flying through any weather, he always put it on autopilot. This time he could not. He was very good at making
smooth landings and that was it.
Our Cuban friend and I talked about what was happening in Cuba, but he did not know much more than I did. He thanked me profusely for coming to get him and his family. He reached in his pocked, pulled
out a few bills and said, "Yesterday I had a beautiful home and millions. Today, I have $150." He made it known Castro would like to capture him. He thanked me once again for the lives of him and his
family. I told him it was Mr. Davis he should thank. Immigration gave them special status, with the assistance from Mr. Davis' office and J.J.
Quick Trips Back
Fred had his senses tuned to the Castro movement for a long time, and with his association with the locals, he had known Castro was no small threat. He had been wise to persuade his family to return
to the U.S. while he had stayed behind to protect his ranch and cattle. On my subsequent trips to the islands, he told us Castro's troops were demanding cattle to feed their troops and giving him
worthless script for payment at a later date. He would see his beef for sale at the local meat market a few days later. He was a man that could become angry quickly at any form of injustice. I became
worried he might begin a battle he could not win and offered him safe passage to the U.S. I heard later he did leave Cuba and I assume had to give up his possessions on the island that he had worked
so hard to perfect.
Mr. Davis' attorneys set up a meeting for him with Castro in Havana, I presume to discuss what would happen to his possessions in Cuba and the proposed terminal and airport he was planning to put up
for use by the Cuban people. While he and the attorneys were meeting with Castro, I was requested to talk to Castro's Chief of Naval Affairs about our continued access to Isle of Pines. I was guided
to the Naval Office near the harbor that was occupied with soldiers in fatigues fully armed and behaving like anything but trained soldiers or navy personnel. The chief was surrounded by troops in a
crowded room while he sat at a battered desk with his boots propped on it. There was no indication that he knew anything about naval affairs or cared what happened on the island. At least I was not
told I couldn't fly down to the island.
Everyone looked glum flying back to Miami. Castro must have been bad news. There was optimism in the U.S. media that Castro would have friendly relations with the U.S., but the ex-patriots in Cuba
knew better. There was no doubt he was on the Communist side and his venomous talk against the U.S. was well known. I never understood why the U.S. withdrew support from Batista, letting Castro gain
I continued to fly to the Isle of Pines in the Aero Commander to check on the property, do some fishing and get the tempo of the people. One day I was approached by a squad of Castro's armed soldiers
at the airport. They wanted to commandeer the aircraft for a flight. Knowing I had to get a handle on this problem, I asked who was going to fly it. The leader pointed at me and I shook my head,
feeling pretty sure they would not shoot an American at this stage of the revolution. I asked what they wanted to do, perhaps I could help. An American that ran a fish camp with a couple of boats on
the island was trying to escape with the boats and they wanted to apprehend him. I said, "Sure, let's go look for him. Load up. But first, unload your weapons, because we don't wish to shoot down the
airplane we are in." No problem. I knew Captain Barothy and I had no intention of helping them to capture him. They had orders to look for him, but did not know where to look. I thought about what
escape routes he might take and we flew everywhere but over those routes. We stayed at the wrong altitudes for smooth air or for searching. I made tight, vertical turns and a few subtle, extra
movements of the controls, and I found some bumpy air in clouds to help shake up the soldiers. Soon, a couple of the soldiers turned pale and then green with airsickness. They soon asked, but I
hesitated until they begged, to get on firm ground. My mission was accomplished. Much later I heard Barothy and his boats were in Belize.
Another time I flew to the airstrip on the South coast only to find logs piled across it. After landing on the airport at the north side of the island, the guards approached me to say troops had been
firing at an unknown plane where I had crossed the island. We looked but found no bullet holes. Not being able to land on the South coast, in conjunction with the increasing number of Castro troops on
the island, and not wishing to have holes shot in the aircraft or have it confiscated, I decided to stop going into Cuba unless I had a compelling reason to do so.
A Change of Life
After a quiet period, I was requested to come to Mr. Davis' office, which occupied an entire floor of the First National Bank Building, with his corner office overlooking Biscayne Bay. He introduced
me to Mr. Kendall, president of American Marc, a company listed on the American Stock Exchange. Mr. Davis also owned the majority of the stock. The company was engaged in the manufacture of small
diesel engines to drive generators and irrigations pumps. In addition, they were trying to develop a 10-horsepower, diesel, outboard motor. Mr. Kendall wanted the company to enter the small-boat
business by opening a large manufacturing plant in California. Davis, being a booster of Florida, said there should be a plant in Florida. Kendall mentioned they did not have anyone to head it up.
That is when Davis brought me into the act with the words, "My doctors are restricting my flying, and perhaps you can help Mr. Kendall." Mr. Kendall then told me he wanted me to build 6000 fiberglass
boats within the first year and distribute them east of the Mississippi River. I asked how much of a staff could he supply me. "None, but we will supply the designs, molds and handle the sales force
from the West Coast." "How about the manufacturing plant?" Mr. Davis spoke up, "I'll put up a plant here."
From that day forward, I was totally immerged in building boats. Flying to Pittsburgh, New York or the Bahamas became infrequent for Mr. Davis. My conversations with him were not less valued, but
seldom occurred as his office force took greater command of his affairs. In particular, I remember inviting him to "his" boat plant to watch the extraction of the fiberglass hull from the mold and his
pleased expression of delight. I continued to build the rag-tag boat designs as demanded by the California home office, knowing very well they would not be suitable for the abuse of salt water
conditions. The whole company, including the diesel-outboard development program, was a losing affair. The new plant, one of the largest fiberglass plants in the area, was up and operating when I was
asked to close it down.
As Mr. Davis' illness took hold of him, the company personnel managing his vast affairs sold American Marc to an investor, who, in turn, broke it up into segments. I managed to purchase the physical
assets in Miami by out-bidding several hopeful people. This included raw materials, tools, molds and 80 boats, finished and unfinished. I was not about to give up on this career.
It was now 1961, and after spending more than 20 years in the air, I was about to embark on a new route that would take me to the sea. I was locked into building boats with my body, soul and a small
checkbook. I had a lot of knowledge of the aircraft industry and skills that could be transferred to the boating industry. I applied these to the design of the boats I built under the name of SeaCraft.
But even after all the time that has passed, I will never forget the man that brought forth aluminum that is used in every aircraft that flies.
[Carl Moesly's story concludes with Chapter 12.]
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