Throughout a career spanning 47 years and nearly 12,000 flight hours as a pilot, I have been a diligent maintainer of flight logs and, with very few exceptions, my logbooks contain entries for every flight. Nearly all these flights were pleasant experiences, a few were somewhat less than enjoyable -- but taken together they are the events that made my life as a pilot highly memorable.
My objective is to share my recollections of the aircraft, the people and the places I consider significant. I use the word "aircraft" because my experience went well beyond "airplanes" -- most of the flights were in fixed-wing airplanes, but there were other types of flying machines involved: helicopters, floatplanes and flying boats, gliders, turboprops, turbojets, STOL airplanes and so on. Especially during my years as a military pilot, I never had the pleasure of flying a new (as in brand-new design) aircraft; but most of those old, sometimes war-weary hand-me-down flying machines whose names and numbers populate the pages of my logbooks were destined to become classics -- they are aircraft that still command respect from the aviation community. Most of them were powered by one or more round engines, flew at airspeeds that were never very impressive, carried loads dwarfed by those of today's airplanes and featured onboard systems and instrumentation that were aeronautical dinosaurs. But to me those old aircraft looked good, sounded good, and flew good.
The people I encountered during those 47 years were every bit as important as the machines I flew. Airplanes of the same make and model are for the most part identical and their performance predictable, but the personalities of aviation people are as varied as those in any other segment of the population. Some people stand out because of their exceptional skills in teaching, others are more than willing to share their aviation experiences and some are memorable for their personal qualities and mutual interests that have resulted in long-lasting friendships. This story would not be complete without recounting experiences I shared with some of these individuals.
So much for the aircraft and the people. With regard to the places recorded in my pilot logs, it has been my pleasure to fly in virtually every state in the union; although my logbooks are not replete with records of global wanderings, a là my contemporaries in the civilian airlines or military air transport organizations, there have been a number of noteworthy flights -- military and civilian -- outside the U.S. and they will be included in this memoir.
When you get beyond this introduction and into the first chapter, you'll find I didn't get serious about aviation until I entered the Air Force flight training program as a 22-year old second lieutenant in 1955. Do the math (add 47 years of flying to 1955) and it appears I quit flying in 2002 at the age of 69. Years earlier, given the exuberance, good health and an unreal projection of my immortality, I fully intended to become the oldest active pilot in the country, if not the world. That goal was denied in 2000 by the discovery of a fluttering heart valve, the sound of which was "swish swish" instead of "thump thump." Nothing serious, no medications or restrictions on my activities, but the renewal of even a third-class medical certificate had become such a hassle I said to myself, "Self, I've done nearly everything I wanted to do with aircraft (and a few things I didn't want to do) and I don't need to fly any more, so let's call this off" -- which I did in the summer of 2002. I continue to participate vicariously in aviation as an author, a consultant and expert witness in lawsuits that involve pilots, and as the founder/editor of -- and major contributor to -- the Pilot's Audio Update.
"Vicarious participation" also applies to the occasional search through my logbooks looking for the details of a particular flight and almost always coming across entries that refresh memories of significant events. I hope you will enjoy reading about these adventures as much as I enjoyed creating them.
Please note: Some of the illustrations in this memoir show signs of age and amateur photography -- that's because they may be 50+ years old or were photographed by rank amateurs using low-cost cameras or both. Nevertheless, at the risk of straining readers' eyeballs, I have included some pictures of questionable quality to better illustrate the way things were.
I am grateful to my classmates who had the presence of mind to save images recounting their experiences in flight training and who permitted me to use them in this memoir.
Thanks also to several of my compatriots whose memories were sharper than mine in certain areas.
Richard L. Taylor
Dublin, Ohio, 2011
[Continued with Chapter 1.]
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