Thursday, March 6, 2014

Adventure on the runway

From today's mail bag:

"We met in Jacksonville, Ill., at IJX [Jacksonville, Ill, a non-towered airport], I'm guessing, in 1995. I was a reporter for the Jacksonville Journal-Courier who assigned himself to interview you when I learned that you were retracing Cal Rodgers' flight of the Vin Fiz for a book you were working on.

"(Here I must confess that I have not read Flight of the Gin Fizz, but I have ordered it.)

"I interviewed you at the airport and wrote what I thought was a pretty good story.

"A few years before I met you, I covered a story about a guy flying the Vin Fiz route in an ultralight powered by a VW engine. I met him when he made a forced landing in Sangamon County, somewhere between New Berlin and Alexander. I found him in a farm field and we talked. I knew a bit about VW engines and we discussed what had grounded him, burnt exhaust valve on No. 3 cylinder, I think. He told me about Rodgers and his trip. I decided to follow him.

"He got back in the air and flew to Nebo, in Pike County, and landed in the same field that Rodgers used. The community, maybe 500 souls, had rallied for a celebration that included naming a road the Vin Fiz Highway. I smile every time I pass it and see that sign.

"While covering this story, I met a guy who had run to the field where Rodgers landed. It was a bit soft and Cal asked the locals to give his ship a push on takeoff. The old guy I interviewed was one who answered the call. That made the story, of course.

"My father started flying in the '20s. He was the test pilot for Powell Crosley Jr's Crosley Moonbeam. When I was young, he took me on Saturdays to Brooks Field, in Marshall, Mich., where he taught guys to fly. 

"So, in 1994, six years after being divorced and with a bit of extra money, I started flying at IJX.

"When I met you, I had soloed, and had maybe 15 hours in a Piper (PA-38) Traumahawk.

"After the interview, I climbed into 2512L and taxied to 13. Winds calm. Started my takeoff roll —  after announcing on Unicom 2512 Lima departing One-Three JACK-sonvile — and holy shit, a high-wing Cessna is speeding down the runway straight at me from Three-One.

"I pulled the throttle and braked. Watched the Cessna leave the runway at least 2,000 feet from me. Saluted the pilot on his way as I realized this guy was flying but not talking. 

"It was a great day."

Glen Carbon, IL

That runway incident is in Flight of the Gin Fizz. It went to show that on rare occasions, being a deaf pilot can lead to "interesting" situations, as aviators like to say in their understated, testosterone-fueled way.

Both Wiest and I had done the proper thing. I had asked the airport clerk which was the preferred runway to use when there was no wind, and he had told me 31. But Wiest had chosen the opposite, Runway 13, for it was more convenient to his flight. As was sensible, he had announced his departure on the radio to warn anyone who might be thinking of taking off from the opposite end. As was sensible, as a deaf pilot I had checked the no-wind runway and was using it. But I did not announce my departure, for my deaf speech precludes being easily understood.

But, unlike most airports, IJX's Runway 13-31 has a marked crown right in the center, high enough so that pilots on one threshold cannot see to the other end. I began my departure first and was well above Wiest, maybe 300 feet, when he finally saw my airplane and stood on his brakes.

Whew. But it indeed was a great day.

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