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Forty-Seven Years In Aviation: A Memoir; Chapter 16: Books, Helicopters, and Gliders

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[AVweb's reprint of Dick's memoir began with the Introduction.]

Skywritings

When I returned to the Ohio State University in June 1969 after 18 months of Air Force active duty in Korea, I joined a group of flight instructors that provided classroom instruction for general-aviation pilots preparing to take FAA written examinations. The program was sponsored by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and provided courses all over the U.S. for private-pilot candidates, pilots preparing for the Instrument rating, and commercial pilots working toward the ultimate aviation credential, the Airline Transport pilot certificate. On nearly every weekend, there would be several of these three-day courses taking place in different parts of the country, and in the early 1970s -- when general aviation was experiencing rapid growth -- it was not uncommon to see classes of 100-plus students. (The ATP courses averaged 15-20 students.) Learning to fly on instruments was a challenge and provided a lot of satisfaction for me during my Air Force flight training; I had done well under the hood, which resulted in my recognition at graduation as the outstanding instrument pilot in Class 56-I. During the years that followed, I acquired a solid foundation of practical IFR experience and knowledge as well as the ability to share it with others in classroom settings, assets that prepared me well for joining the weekend group as an instructor in the preparatory course for instrument-pilot wannabes. The weekend courses were conducted as a team effort with two instructors sharing the load. By the time we finished a class on Sunday afternoon, we had presented all the material our students would encounter on the FAA written exam and we advised these folks that although they were now well-prepared to take the test, there was much more to be learned: instrument procedures and techniques and the flying skills that could only be developed by actual flight experience. We simply didn't have the time to enlarge upon this part of instrument training. After just a few of these weekend sessions, I noticed there were always students lingering after class to inquire where they might get the additional information we didn't have time to present. These constant requests led me to think there might be a book that would help solve the problem, so I outlined my thoughts, wrote a chapter or two and sent the manuscript to a senior editor at the Macmillan Publishing Company in New York; within a short time (and with a gracious referral from Bob Buck, retired TWA captain and a prolific aviation writer), I had a contract for my first book, titled Instrument Flying.

Cover, first edition of Instrument Flying

I burned a lot of midnight oil the following year pounding away on a portable typewriter at home and on OSU trips, almost all of which involved more than a few hours of waiting time (corporate and charter pilots will know what I'm talking about) that I could put to good use on the book project. Instrument Flying hit the streets in 1972 and was well-received by the general-aviation community, in part because it helped resolve the problem of providing the practical information we hadn't time to cover in the instrument-written classes. Instrument Flying went through four editions and remained in print for almost 40 years. One book led to another, and when all was said and done I had written 14 aviation books (including eight books for young readers about "firsts" in aviation) and edited a group of six more that spoke solely to problems of flight safety. In 1978 I founded and served as the editor of The Pilot's Audio Update, a monthly tape-cassette (later produced on CD) subscription service for pilots that was published continuously for 33 years. 1970 to 1980 was a busy decade: I was teaching a regular classroom course (sometimes two in the same quarter), working in weekend courses all over the country, and flying for the university's Air Transportation Service and the Air Force Reserve. The corporate airplane hand-me-downs had all but evaporated by this time, but in the summer of '72 an automobile dealer in Columbus gifted the university with a Beech D-50, also known as the Twin Bonanza or The T-Bone.

Beech D-50 Twin Bonanza (exemplar)]
Photo courtesy of Art Harrison

This big, husky, light twin flew like a much larger airplane ... it even sounded bigger, thanks to the exhaust augmenters. The D-50 was a cabin-class twin sans air-stair entry door (that feature was added in later models), and to the best of my knowledge it was also the only light twin with three seats up front. The Twin Bonanza begat the Beech Queen Air and the King Air series, perhaps the most popular turboprop airplanes in the world.

Beech Twin Bonanza front seat (exemplar)
Photo courtesy of Art Harrison

None of my fellow ATS pilots expressed a burning desire to fly the T-Bone, so N754B became "my airplane" by default; I flew it for about 50 hours until it was sold at year's end -- and I enjoyed every minute I spent in the airplane.

N11OSU "The Flying Classroom"

The rest of my civilian flight time in 1972 was in Piper Aztecs, DC-3s and a smattering of other light airplanes. One of the Diesel-3s (just one of many nicknames, including Douglas Racer, Gooney Bird, Dizzy Three, and the Grand Old Lady) was an ex-American Airlines airplane built in the late 1930s with 40,000-plus hours of flight time when it was donated to Ohio State. Rechristened N11OSU and repainted in school colors, it was the university's "flying classroom," fitted with 28 airline seats, a movie projector in the rear and a screen at the forward end of the cabin. We flew students and faculty on field trips that were enhanced by visual presentations during their flights to and from various points of interest. The OSU athletic department was a major source of business for the Air Transportation Service; 11OSU transported nearly all the varsity teams except football (too many players and too much equipment) to games at all the Big Ten schools and occasional non-conference venues. As you can see, the airplane was a little worse for wear from a cosmetic standpoint, having spent a lot of time out in the wind and weather because of hangar-space restrictions. But 11OSU served Ohio State well until it was sold in 1974. Our other DC-3 (no photo available) was formerly owned by the Kroger Company in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was donated to OSU when the grocery giant decided to transport their VIPs in turbine-powered airplanes. 77OSU was everything a corporate transport should be: luxurious seating for 14 passengers, mahogany cabinets and sideboards topped with living-room quality light fixtures, leather headliners and picture windows on each side, to name just a few of its accoutrements. It had oversized prop spinners, enclosed wheel wells and several power and aerodynamic enhancements that added more than a few knots to its cruise speed. For all practical purposes 77OSU became the university president's airplane -- a "royal barge" to be sure -- but our then-sitting president, Dr. Novice Fawcett, deserved it. Two weeks after I returned from Korea it was the airplane in which I earned my ATP certificate and DC-3 type rating. 77OSU appears in my log books on many occasions until it was sold in 1972. The Veterans Administration benefits derived from 18 months on active duty included a generous fund for educational assistance, the most significant result of which was the master's degree in journalism I earned from Ohio State in 1971. After finishing the master's program there was enough money remaining to add rotary-wing ratings to my Commercial pilot and Flight Instructor certificates. The Bell 47G (H-13 in Army-speak), the bubble-nosed helicopter made famous by the TV series M*A*S*H, was the vehicle of choice due to the aviation department's recent acquisition of two surplus Army aircraft for training purposes.

Igor Sikorsky flying his VS-300, 1941

The Bell 47G was not far removed in technology -- or appearance, for that matter -- from Igor Sikorsky's VS-300, vintage 1941. Note Igor's fedora ... crash helmets had not yet been invented.

Bell 47G (exemplar)

My choice of flight instructors was also a no-brainer: Courtney Chapman, one of my faculty mates in the Department of Aviation, was flying Bell 47s as a member of the Ohio Army National Guard unit located on the OSU airport and was also a civilian CFI with a rotary-wing rating. Early in my training I learned a lesson never to be forgotten: While flying relatively straight and level between maneuvers one day, I turned around and looked behind, whereupon Court grabbed my helmet, turned my head to the front and said in mock seriousness, "Don't ever look behind you in a Bell 47!" The point -- lightly taken -- was his concern for a student seeing all that mechanical movement going on just a few feet behind him ... the sort of thing you never see when flying a fixed-wing aircraft. One of the hoops a helicopter trainee must jump through is landing the aircraft on a slope -- i.e., one skid a time, gently -- so we built a small mound in the airport infield to accommodate that exercise. As the grass grew, the mound became less visible. On one solo practice flight, I was moving very slowly about five feet off the ground trying to spot the mound. Flying a helicopter is an exercise in coordination carried to a very high level: both hands, both feet plus a twist-grip throttle on the collective pitch control are in near-constant motion to make the machine do your bidding. On this occasion, with my attention devoted almost entirely outside, I realized I was flying without thinking about moving the controls -- they had become extensions of my thought processes; it was truly an epiphany and from that point on, my helicopter flying improved significantly, to the point where I managed to convince the FAA examiners that I was qualified as a rotary-wing commercial pilot and flight instructor. In 1938 Leighton Collins (father of Richard Collins, well-known aviation writer -- it runs in the family) started a unique aviation publication titled Air Facts The Magazine for Pilots. About the size of the original Reader's Digest, this monthly magazine was filled with useful, interesting information for general-aviation pilots and remained in publication until 1973. I became acquainted with the inimitable Mr. Collins and wrote a regular column and many stories for Air Facts over the next several years.

Air Facts cover, July 1973

The July 1973 issue of Air Facts featured the OSU Department of Aviation and was an in-depth coverage of our faculty and their activities. Of note was the department's unique approach to aviation education: OSU students could pursue degrees in several of the university's colleges with a specialization in aviation; many of them became pilots, others applied their aviation knowledge to other areas such as business, engineering, etc. August 1974 was a beehive of flying activity at the OSU airport. Several of our faculty (myself included) spent a lot of time that month examining the piloting skills and knowledge of a large group of non-commercial aviators who had volunteered for an FAA-sponsored experiment. The scope of piloting experience in this group ran the gamut from very little to quite a lot. Our objective was to determine if there was a reasonable and dependable way to judge whether a pilot was capable of flying safely. I flew as an observer in a wide variety of airplanes that included most of the Cessna, Beech and Piper singles. As unofficial examiners, we asked our guinea pigs to complete a comprehensive set of flying tasks to arrive at a determination of pilot suitability, for lack of a better description. At the end of the project, I had flown with 50 pilots, 14 of which I considered unsafe for flight without further training. One poor soul performed so poorly I suggested he have someone fly him home ... which he did. If you haven't guessed by now, this was the FAA-sponsored research project that became the Biennial Flight Review a year or so later, since then changed to simply "Flight Review." (Did the FAA think "biennial" was more than the general aviation pilot community could fathom?) It was intended to assure that general-aviation pilots would be prohibited from carrying passengers unless they got an instructor's OK on their performance at least every two years. The teeth in this regulation were not very sharp, but today's FAR 61.56 is much better than no oversight at all. In 1974 things quieted down somewhat, at least for the several days I spent in September at the Black Forest Gliderport in Colorado Springs on assignment for Air Facts magazine. I had never been in a sailplane (the non-powered-flight people will take great umbrage if you call their aircraft "gliders") and the near-silence I experienced while learning the rudiments of powerless flight was astonishing.

Schweizer 2-33 sailplane (exemplar)

I was treated to several instructional flights in the Schweizer 2-33 two-place trainer, followed by my first solo venture into this totally fascinating, very quiet environment with nothing but wind noise in my ears. After my instructor climbed out of the back seat and walked away, I heard someone talking softly ... it wasn't until another sailplane passed directly overhead that I realized the conversation was coming from an instructor talking his student through a landing ... that is quiet flying with a capital Q.

Schweizer 1-26 sailplane (exemplar)

The next event in my short course was a flight in the Schweizer 1-26 single-seat sailplane that featured the smallest cockpit I have ever experienced; it was more like "putting on" the airplane instead of climbing into it but the close quarters made it easy to become one with the machine. The specs suggest the 1-26 can accommodate a 255-pound pilot, but a person that big would need a shoehorn. Flying the 1-26 was nothing short of delightful. I cast off from the tow plane at 9000 feet MSL (Colorado Springs is about 6000 feet MSL), climbed three or four thousand feet and sailed back and forth in the updraft from the Front Range Mountains for the better part of an hour. The 1-26 can produce a glide ratio of 23:1 (more than double that of most powered airplanes when the engine quits) but that is still far short of the 50:1-plus gliding performance of competition sailplanes whose high-aspect ratio wings and very light weight generate fantastic soaring numbers. The Black Forest experience was so intriguing and challenging I arranged for more training (thanks again, VA) at a facility closer to home and eventually added Glider ratings to my Commercial and Flight Instructor certificates. Unfortunately, the topography and weather of central Ohio does not generate good conditions for sailplane pilots; many of the flights in this area are "sled rides" -- i.e., get an aero tow to a nominal altitude of 2000 feet AGL, release the tow line and glide back to a landing. But there's another way to get sailplanes airborne: Launch them with a winch. To see what this unusual procedure was all about, I traveled to a grass strip in northern Ohio where sailplanes were pulled into the air by a winch.

Winch tow rig

This requires a pilot technique completely different from an aero tow. The sailplane is hooked to a steel cable perhaps 3000 feet long; when power is applied to the tow rig, the cable is wound up rapidly on a drum (out of sight on the far side of the machine in the picture), pulling the sailplane toward the launcher. Flying speed is reached quickly and the pilot must maintain enough back pressure on the stick to keep the cable taut; this results in a short, steep ride until the sailplane is directly over the tow rig at 1000-1500 feet AGL, at which point the pilot pulls the red knob in the cockpit and, hopefully, sails away. I didn't plan to participate in six different military reserve units on my way to Air Force retirement; it just worked out that way. Long story shortened considerably, I spent only a year flying as a warrant officer with the Ohio Army National Guard in 1970-1971, having resigned my Air Force majority. When I left the Army Guard unit because of conflicts with my primary job at the Ohio State University, I applied to the AF Reserve for reinstatement to my former rank. (By that time I had close to 15 years of creditable service toward retirement ... the decision to continue as a reservist took about a millisecond of thought.) Those of you who can imagine the time and red tape required to grant such a request won't be surprised by the two-and-a-half years of administrative procedure that resulted; the Air Force eventually took me back at my former rank, but not with my original date of rank ... I may have been the oldest major in the AF at that time. In June 1974, with gold leaves on my uniform once again, I paid a visit to the Ohio Air National Guard unit at Lockbourne AFB in Columbus, the group with which I had spent 18 months in Korea, hoping I would be able to resume my former staff position. But alas, all the flying slots were filled, so I went down the street (literally) to the Air Force Reserve unit at Lockbourne and found a new military home. I signed on as a pilot in the 356th Tactical Airlift Squadron that was equipped with the Fairchild C-123K, an aircraft with an intriguing history that I will relate in the next chapter of this memoir. [Concludes with Chapter 17.]

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More articles, stories and fiction about the joy of aviation are found in AVweb's Skywritings section.

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