The Fellowship of Pilots is a Beautiful Thing10:24 PM
As I tried my luck with United Airlines flying commercial to Oshkosh last weekend, I got as far as ORD in Chicago when my luck ran out. The last plane of the night – a Mesa Airlines quick-hopper up to KATW – had been delayed a few hours, and the full flight, made up of mostly aviators trying to get to Airventure, was getting restless after two gate changes. But when the Gate Agent announced our flight had been canceled, we 60 or so Oshkosh-bound customers were at that point screwed.
When they made the announcement that we were not flying to ATW tonight on any airline, and with no car rentals left anywhere in Wisconsin, our options were running out fast. We all were herded to Customer Service and began waiting for the bad news. We were not getting to Oshkosh in time for the opening day on Monday. I was standing next to a tall gentleman and while not trying to listen in to his conversation, his phone and my ear were maybe 24" part. I heard him arrange to have a van come all the way from the Oshkosh area and get him. When he hung up, I quickly apologized for accidentally overhearing his conversation, but told him if he had any room in the van, I'm in for as much cash as he needed if he could get me to Oshkosh that night. He had five seats left, and I jumped on one. Problem solved.
A tired looking but capable Cessna 206 loaded 200 pounds over gross is lumbering along up a remote canyon in the Amazon. Low clouds obscure the steep cliffs just off the wingtips, and without GPS or even a working VOR station, navigation is out the windscreen. Inside the plane are boxes of bibles, medicine, food, trading trinkets and even a few live chickens. Flying the plane, Voetmann slows the plane to near stall as he descends around a blind corner, dancing with the Devil as he must stay fast enough to remain airborne, but slow enough to make the approach that lay ahead. As he and the 206 rounds the turn, a short muddy "strip" cut literally by machete out of the jungle is seen, and he sticks the plane on where the numbers would be if this kind of remote strip HAD numbers. He stands on the brakes, the live chickens freak out, and as the prop stops, the native people emerge from the trees to welcome him. After offloading his cargo and refueling from barrels of avgas that had to be trekked into the strip on the back of animals or in some sort of wagon, he points the prop out of the canyon and performs a dramatic max performance takeoff to clear tall trees that mark the "perimeter" of this "airport".