Truth, Fiction or Just Strange: Could This be the Mother of All Hangar Flying Stories?

10:07 PM

Flogging, verb; writing with reckless abandon
def; A portmanteau word; compound of flog and blogging; the opposite of Blogging in Formation; when a Formation Blogger goes crazy writing articles that are completely ridiculous, they Flog in Bormation.

Slipping the Spirit of St. Louis
on short final back to a landing
on the National Mall
Editor's note: This is my contribution to this month's "Blogging in Formation" series. The topic was "Truth is Stranger Than Fiction" - Av8rdan

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

Not long ago, in a land not far away, a pilot - O.K., it was me - spent 27 hours living the most incredible aviation fantasy imaginable. This was just one day in the life of an Average Joe GA pilot, but it remains the most talked about AUL (Aviation Urban Legend) ever at Airplanista HQ.

Nobody has ever been able to verify the authenticity of this tale, although many beers have been hoisted skyward at hanger flying sessions as debate exploded. With heated exchanges, pilots have discussed whether "Av8rdan's Excellent Adventure" really happened at all. Some say they were there on the ramp during certain parts of this insane escapade, but for some reason, nobody has ever found photos to corroborate this wild fable.

To help YOU decide if this narrative is true, Airplanista is presenting the story here in its entirety for your dissection. Maybe it really happened, or maybe it's a cock-and-bull fabrication, a falsehood, or a straight up falsity. Could it be a fib, fiction, misrepresentation, prevarication, tale, untruth, stretch, or myth? Also, it might be a distortion, exaggeration, fallacy, figment, fraud, white lie or stinking pile of hogwash. You be the judge...enjoy!

This day started out like so many others, a Dawn Patrol flight planned in my Piper Cherokee 235. Flying solo just to get a bit of time alone with Katy, I departed Eugene's Mahlon Sweet Field and enjoyed a smooth flight in crisp air into Portland International, KPDX. As I was tying down, a stranger approached wearing a flight suit, yes, the kind military pilots usually fly.
It turned out that this was my lucky day. The stranger pointed to a TF-51 Mustang gleaming in the sun, and mumbled something about the "SOB" passenger that didn't show for his $2,500 ride. "Hey, I'm going to go up anyway," he said, "why don't you come with me? I'll comp you the ride if you write some B.S. about me on that blog of yours." With the pilot in the back seat, the 'Stang roared off runway 28R, and we were barely out of 3,000 for 10,500 when the pilot turned the airplane over to me. "Do with her what you want, I'm going to take a nap." And sure enough, the pilot fell fast asleep, leaving me to wonder how fast a Mustang could really fly.
After what seemed like just seconds flying westbound to the Oregon coast, I was straight and level over Astoria, screaming over the ocean at 380 KIAS. Flying as if the plane was mine, I all but ripped the wings off doing every known aerobatic maneuver a 'Stang can do, before returning to KPDX with a grin wide enough to fly a C-5 Galaxy through. The landing was routine, but upon stepping down to the ramp, the day grew even stranger.

No sooner than my feet hit the ground, a young man wearing the uniform of a firefighter came running up, and speaking fast, he was clearly in emergency mode. "You're the pilot they call Av8rdan, right" he asked, a bit breathless. When I answered in the affirmative, he grabbed my flight bag with one arm, and motioned for me to follow as he sped off across the ramp towards a Gulfstream G650 that was spooled up and ready to depart. When I asked what was going on, he just said "they" will explain everything on the plane.

Intrigued - and always up for a ride in a beautiful bizjet - I followed him up the air stair, and we were off. It seemed the jet was in the air even before I could get my seat belt fastened.

Across the aisle sat two men, both also wearing firefighter's uniforms, only these guys had a LOT of stripes on their upper arm. "We hear you can fly well," one man asked, "and we need you in SoCal on the Rock Mountain fire. We have a DC-10 air attack ship ready for you, and over three million people in the L.A. basin are depending on your skills as an aviator. The fire has gotten away from our ground crews, and the Santa Ana winds have pushed the head of the fire into Bailey Canyon. Between the heat, the humidity and the 65 miles-per-hour winds, the fire has erupted like a tornado and has taken aim at downtown L.A. If we don't get this thing stopped and it gets into the basin, there is enough fuel for it to burn a wide path right to the ocean. Our only hope is you, Av8rdan, we need you to stop the fire. You can do that, right?"
The fact that I had never flown a DC-10 - and certainly not one equipped to fight wildfires - meant nothing to them. In no time I was strapped into the left seat of the wide body bomber, climbing out towards a mammoth column of smoke. Intuitively, I pushed the tanker to max cruise of 587 miles per hour, and aimed her at the tip of the canyon. As I put the tanker into a steep dive, I could see the head of the fire was indeed out of the canyon and headed for millions of people. The window to evacuate anyone had closed, this was no time to screw up. Without concern for Vne, I pushed the yoke forward, 599 mph...610...625, 650...diving straight for the fire! One pass, that's all I'd get. The tanker creaked and moaned as I punched out of 650 mph for 700, oh my GOD, now this possible...800 MPH indicated airspeed! Surely the wings were about to come off!
As I rocketed toward the blaze, my hand trembled on the large red handle that would release 12,000 gallons of fire retardant. The windshield filled with smoke, and air on the flight deck was becoming unbreathable. Skimming along the tops of the trees in near 0/0 visibility, I came upon the fire and let her rip, all 12,000 gallons, one drop. It was a direct bullsye, stopping the fire so that ground crews could contain it and prevent encroachment into the basin. Over the radio, I was called a hero, but to me, it was just one kick-ass ride in a big jet, spraying the ground bright orange.

The word of my so-called "heroism" spread, well, like a wildfire on social networking sites, and as I walked through LAX to catch a plane back home, my mobile phone began exploding with calls, texts, emails and tweets. Most were congratulations, but one call stood out from the rest, because the "incoming" said it was from...The White House!
The President himself explained that a first-class seat was waiting for me on a nonstop into Washington Dulles International Airport, and I would be awarded some sort of medal at a big media breakfast the next morning. And who am I to turn down the POTUS?
Next thing I knew, I was fat and happy at FL410, resting comfortably in the first-class cabin of a 777. "Flying does not get any better than this," I thought as we left the flyover states in the dust and was coming up on the Eastern seaboard. I remember thinking that "yes, life was good." Until it wasn't...
The look on the face of the Flight Attendant was one of sheer terror. She was trembling as she tried speaking into the PA system's mic. "Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a problem. Our Captain has choked to death on a pretzel, and in trying to revive him, the First Officer suffered a heart attack. Please, do not be alarmed, but I need to ask if there are any other pilots on board? I have checked with our company manifest and it doesn't show any more airline pilots aboard. Please...PLEASE...anyone...can ANYONE fly this plane!"
Looking around, I saw panic, but did not see any volunteers, so again, I had to jump into action. "I'm a pilot, I can land this plane!" I shouted, and the airplane erupted in cheers as I strode forward and entered the flight deck. The flight crew had been, um, removed, and I alone was left to figure out how to land a 777. All I could think about was "airspeed, airspeed, airspeed!"
I confirmed to the Purser that the largest thing I had ever flown was a Pilatus PC-12 (and that flight was only .1 in my logbook), and I could see fear in his eyes. "But look," I said, "an airplane is an airplane, they all fly the same. I can DO this!"
Now getting down to business, I strapped in the left seat and began sorting things out. A quick scan of the instruments showed we were straight and level, with autopilot on. All good so far. The radios seemed to work, the audio panel was similar in theory to my Cherokee 235, so I dialed up 121.5, slapped on a headset, and went to work. After declaring an emergency, Center brought in the airline's company reps via conference call, and in minutes, I had what I needed, the power setting for a descent and a final approach speed. I could figure out the flap and gear handles myself. Yes, maybe I COULD do this.
After clearing airspace from NYC to maybe Florida, Center gave me vectors into KIAD, and while maneuvering, I powered back, brought nose trim up, and it slowed just like my Cherokee. The weather was VFR - a bit of luck perhaps - so I punched off the A/P, and began some slow "S" turns just to get a feel for the 777. "Hey," I mumbled to nobody, "this is just a big Cherokee. Feeling confident now, I shouted, "Hell yes, I CAN do this...
Without much work, and following the same course instructions I was used to getting as an IFR-rated pilot, I trimmed for 200 knots and began a descent using only power settings. "Just like any GA airplane I have ever flown," I thought. I continued down, and slowed to 136 knots, the final approach speed. And damned if I was going to let ANY of those knots deteriorate coming over the fence. With eyes welded to the airspeed indicator, and my sweaty right hand making small power adjustments, I was amazed how easy it was to nail a perfect, stabilized approach in an airplane with a maximum landing weight of 445,000 lbs.
The landing was a greaser, I really just drove it to the runway, and over the numbers, held it off in a flare to a no-drama arrival, just like I had done with Katy a million times. I easily stopped the airliner off the runway and the media went into full-on "Special Report" mode the minute I stepped from the stairs. A crush of reporters was unbelievable, but I ran their gauntlet because I had been summoned to the meeting with the President himself.
After making it safely to the Oval Office and being thanked for my service, I was rewarded for my airmanship with an offer to "fly anything I wanted" in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. It had already been an amazing flying day, but, again, how could I say no to the President?
Of course, I chose the Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis.

Crews soon pulled Lindy's airplane down from the rafters of the NASM, and it was taken outside onto the grass of the National Mall. With the Wright Whirlwind J-5C coaxed back to life, I climbed in and began a really frightening takeoff roll. I now knew what it was like for Lindy to fly this airplane without ANY forward visibility, and while hanging out the window, managed to get her in the air after threading the needle between a terrified family enjoying a picnic, and a flock of geese meandering across the mall.

Out over Chesapeake Bay, I dropped down to just 10' AGL to skim the wave tops and get a sense of what Lindy experienced on his historic 1927 flight. What was a completely surreal flight soon ended, and I realized this day of excellent adventures was coming to a close.

I soon found myself on a red-eye back to KPDX where Av8rdan's Excellent Adventure started earlier in this insane day. I had flown aerobatics in a TF-51, and had saved millions with a surgical strike on a killer wildfire...all before greasing a Triple Seven back to Dulles. Flying low and slow in Lindbergh's NYP was just a bonus after many hours of flying big, fast, heavy airplanes.

I sat back in first-class, closed my eyes, and smiled. It had been one helluva day, and man, did I have a story to tell the next time I found myself shooting the bull in Camp Bacon at Oshkosh. I didn't care if anyone believed it...I wasn't even sure if it was true myself.

This "Blogging in Formation" article leads off another exciting week where six bloggers will lay down their best stuff on one topic. This round's schedule is as follows:
Saturday, August 3: Dan Pimentel (Airplanista)

Sunday, August 4: Andrew Hartley (Smart Flight Training)

Monday, August 5: Brent Owens (IFlyBlog)

Tuesday, August 6: Karlene Petitt (Flight to Success)

Wednesday, August 7: Eric Auxier (Adventures of Cap'n Aux)

Thursday, August 8: Ron Rapp (House of Rapp)

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