Baron - 4
Baron - 3
Baron - 2
Baron - 1
the Cassutt - 2
Up in WV
Rico - 2
on the Roof
February 21, 2013
from Part One
And so it was, in the aftermath of our rascally
accountant's financial exsanguination of our flourishing FBO, I
found myself without the company that I had nursed from a one
airplane flight school to a large FBO. Even worse than that, I
was without a job. My little world of all things aeronautical
had come to an end in the late winter of 1976 and I sadly
watched all the effort of the last eight years come crashing
down on our heads.
The banks came after us with a
vengeance. We were leveraged to the hilt and everything was
pledged, so the house, the bank account and the cars disappeared
along with the airplanes. The hangar was padlocked.
was a strange feeling at this juncture of my life, to be able to
pick up and carry nearly everything that I still owned. What, I
wondered, would to happen to me?
Fate always knows our
future and will sometimes lay new paths for us, even when we are
too blinded by the present to see them. The autumn before, while
at least on the surface, things still appeared normal at the
airport, one of Cessna's finest, the District Manager for our
area, came by to call on us. Although we were a Piper dealer, he
hoped, as all good DM's do, to convert us to the Cessna brand.
Had he known the financial struggle that was going on inside the
big green hangar I am sure he would have crossed us off his list
and even avoided over flight of our airport, but at this point
the entire struggle was invisible to everyone but our creditors.
After eating lunch on the Cessna tab and hearing his
pitch about becoming a Cessna dealer, the DM and I were sitting
in the airport restaurant, nursing our coffee and chatting. I
looked out through the big windows of the terminal, toward the
ramp and the shiny new Cessna demonstrator that sat sparkling in
the slanting fall sunshine. Suddenly I had a thought.
several months of increasingly desperate and ever more futile
efforts to get our cash flow under control, I was beginning to
see the financial writing on the wall, although I hadn't yet
realized whose handwriting it was. So, I asked him, how would a
person go about getting such a fine job as yours? He gave me a
funny look, but wrote a name and a phone number on a card and
gave it to me.
Several months later, now homeless,
carless, jobless and somewhat hopeless, I remembered the card
and searched through my few remaining belongings until I found
it. I called the number in Wichita and asked for the name
written on the card and was soon speaking with a pleasant
sounding man in Human Resources. Would they have a place for an
aviator with good people skills and an interesting if unusual
background in aviation, I asked? They might, he said, and he
would send me an application.
I was staying with a
friend who lived behind the National Guard Armory next to the
airport. His home was a house trailer so old that it had a pull
handle on the door instead of a knob, prompting our nickname of
'The Refrigerator' for it. It was by now late winter, a dreary
time in West Virginia, when even the view from the mansions of
the Coal Baron's that dotted the hills surrounding the town was
uninspiring. The trees, bare and gray swayed in a cold north
wind and dead grass covered fields that that looked as if they
would never be green again.
The view from The
Refrigerator was way worse than that. It was beyond bleak, and
as I stared through the grimy windows into the half melted slush
in the Armory parking lot I pondered my fall from grace, waited
on the application from Cessna and pouted.
application arrived one morning as I was watching freezing rain
coat nearby cars while a stray cat inventoried the contents of
an overflowing garbage can. I completed the form and got it back
in the mail the same day. Flying jobs in West Virginia were
scarce at this time, and I had a feeling that the Cessna job was
my best shot at getting back in the air any time soon.
week later I got the call from Wichita I had been hoping for.
They did have an opening for a multi engine demonstration pilot
and since I had lots of twin time they would like to talk with
me about the position. Could I, they asked, be in Pittsburgh the
following Tuesday to meet with Jim Creagh, the East Coast Zone
Manager? I quickly checked my calendar and confirmed the date to
be open, along with all the days before and all the days after,
and told them I would be there.
On the appointed day I
borrowed an airplane from a friend, flew to Pittsburgh and
landed at Allegheny Airport where I was scheduled to meet Jim at
the Holiday Inn across the street from the airport.
I pulled onto the transient ramp an airplane caught my eye.
Parked there, glowing in the weak winter light and making all
the other aircraft nearby look absolutely dowdy, was a spanking
new 421C. This was the latest version of the Golden Eagle and it
was new this year. I hadn't seen one yet except in photos, but
it was easily identified by the new wet wing which had shed the
iconic tip tanks, and the new hydraulic landing gear. For the
first time it sunk in, that if I got this job I would be flying
airplanes just like the one that was presently dominating the
ramp in front of me. Suddenly I went from just needing this job,
to also really, really wanting it. I crossed the street to the
Holiday Inn and my meeting.
If we are very lucky, we
meet perhaps a dozen times in our lives, people who will impact
us in a significant way and become and remain one of our inner
circle of friends. Fate had decreed that Jim Creagh would fill
such a role in my life, but on that cold February day I had no
way of knowing this. At that moment my only thought was to make
a good impression on this Cessna VIP and nail down the job that
I so desperately needed to turn my life around.
stood a lanky six foot two of Kansas affability and meeting him
was like running into someone you already knew. His necktie was
clip on, but his interest in me was real as he inquired about my
background and I told him the story of Leroy and how I came to
be looking for a job. He questioned me about my flying
experience and I showed him my logbook and we talked about
flying. He told me a bit about the job that he needed filled and
about why the zones needed Multi Engine Specialists.
the mid seventies Cessna was riding a huge wave of success,
along with the rest of the aviation industry. Airplanes were
being gobbled up by retail buyers who had what was referred to
in the sales school I later attended in Wichita, ''real or
imagined needs" for them, and the Investment Tax Credit
helped power the flocks of new aircraft that were pouring out of
Wichita like popcorn out of a popper.
distribution system involved seven zones or distribution points
across the country to manage the sales between the factory and
the dealers. Each zone had five to ten district managers, who
coordinated business between the Cessna dealerships, the zones
and ultimately the factory.
On Cessna's premise that
it's easier to teach a salesman to fly than it is to teach a
pilot to sell, most of the DM's were very low time pilots. In a
few cases, student pilots were hired with the proviso that the
newly minted District Managers get their Private License
straight away, using shiny new Cessna 172s to accomplish this.
This worked out well for the single engine line, but the low
time pilots obviously weren't ready to tool around in any
examples of the extensive twin engine line that Cessna was
producing. Twins, from the 337 Skymaster to the 421 Golden Eagle
and all the models in between, needed to be safely flown and
demonstrated. The Cessna Multi Engine Specialists were the
answer to this and they moved the twins around the country and
made them strut their stuff for the prospects that the dealers
and the DM's had identified.
After a lunch and a two
hour interview with Jim I found out to my complete delight that
I would begin working as a Multi Engine Specialist for the East
Coast Multi Engine Zone, located in Morristown, NJ. I had gotten
the job, and I would be based in Latrobe, PA, where one of the
Cessna Multi Engine dealers was located. I would cover the
southern half of the zone, which included everything from the
Mason Dixon Line north to New York City and as far west as the
Ohio border. I would be issued a spanking new Cessna 310R that
would serve as my personal transportation around the zone. At
this point I tried not to be obvious as I pinched myself to make
sure I wasn't dreaming, but I couldn't disguise my wall to wall
The next week found me in Morristown, getting
orientated to the nuts and bolts of my new job and learning
about Cessna, the Company. I found that the Cessna Multi Engine
Dealers functioned as a sort of sub distributorship for the
Single Engine Dealers in the Zone. In the North East Zone where
I would be based there were four ME Dealers and perhaps sixty or
eighty SE Dealers and Cessna Pilot Centers. When a dealer or CPC
acquired a prospect for one of the twins they would notify their
District Manager, who would then contact either me or the other
ME Specialist, depending on the area of the zone the dealer was
in, and give us information on the prospect and identify the
type of twin he was interested in. We would then jump into our
310, fly to the zone in Morristown and pick up the aircraft for
When I talk about this era in aviation to
people who are recent to the industry and have known only the
pitiful numbers of general aviation aircraft now being produced,
I have no doubt they think I'm lying my face off, but here I go.
The Cessna Zone Offices of the seventies were a
veritable sea of aircraft. Our stock of new airplanes covered
one whole section of the Morristown airport and we not only had
an example of every twin Cessna was producing, but we had
several color and equipment choices of each model. Interested in
a 421? We usually had a half dozen to choose from. There were
dozens of 414's, 402's, 340's, 310's, 337's and P337's tied down
on the ramp and from this herd we would choose the aircraft that
most nearly matched the described interest of the prospect. To
give you an idea of the numbers we were dealing with, I remember
a later Zone meeting where one of the subjects covered was that
we had misplaced a 421. Did anyone know where it was? No one
did. After a week of head scratching by all the DM's, It turned
out to be at a small field where it had been taken for a CPC
open house a month or so before then forgotten.
management style was what could charitably be described as
'relaxed'. He put total trust in each of his employees and
pretty much left them alone until and unless it was proven that
his trust had been misplaced, and this seldom happened.
almost all my twin engine experience was in Pipers and I had
never flown any Cessna twin, I had a lot of airplanes to get
acquainted with. Jim gave me manuals on each airplane and asked
me to get familiar with them. When I had done so and he had
confirmed it by quizzing me on several important points, he
handed me a box of keys and told me to go fly. I was rather
dumbfounded, but decided to start at the top and chose the keys
to a 421. I carefully preflighted the airplane, manual in hand,
taxied out and took off, still with the manual on my lap.
seems incredible looking back on it thirty odd years later, but
I checked myself out in the entire line of Cessna twins. My
thought at the time was that I was expected to do this without
busting an airplane or my butt, so I was determined to do it
that way. The last twin I self-checked out was a 340 located in
Canada and I had ridden the airlines up to fetch it. The weather
was abysmal and I was faced with a takeoff in zero zero
conditions. Because that was the assignment I was given, it
never occurred to me to refuse to leave and wait for better
conditions. Cessna had designed all their twins to fly pretty
much the same, with controls and gages having a standard
placement. This airplane, even though it was a model new to me,
was so similar to all the others I'd flown, that I remember the
flight presented no real problem.
Watching Jim manage
the Zone was a lesson in positive thinking having positive
results. We operated as a close unit, more like a family than a
corporate entity, and the whole operation ran smoothly as
everyone seemed to do their best not to let him down. His
confidence in the flying skills of those who worked for him
seemed to be justified, since not only did I and Ernie Ayer, the
other ME Specialist, never scratch the paint on a Cessna in
several thousand hours of flying, I don't remember any of the
single engine DM's ever having an accident.
The flying schedule for Ernie and I could be described as
extremely busy, bordering on brutal. Because of the excellent
saturation of the Cessna marketing system in our zone, each ME
dealer had twenty or so Single Engine dealer feeding him
prospects, so there were flights almost every day, five days and
sometimes six days a week. Some of our days started before dawn
and continued until well after dark, because many of these demos
involved not just around the patch flights, but trips to distant
destinations, to expose the prospect to the advantage of
business travel in a business aircraft. One such day stands out
in my memory and I recall putting in about eight hours of flying
in just horrible weather, which included six approaches to IFR
minimums. That evening I went sound asleep at the table of an
upscale restaurant while eating dinner with a friend in the town
where the flights ended. Fortunately I remained upright, not
face down in my plate, but not so fortunately, when I awoke I
found the dirty so and so had eaten my steak.
to "Cessna Days"