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Bird Dogs

December 17, 2013

Any of us who have spent much time around general aviation airports have probably witnessed an arriving light airplane, where when the door opened the first person out was a dog.

Dogs are adaptable creatures and for those of us whose life is made complete by the constant presence of our four legged best friends, taking them along in an airplane doesn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary.

DudeDude, the Yellow Lab that had me before my present Lab Austin got me, came into my life when I was doing a lot of flying to destinations scattered all over the US. On his first flight, I just patted the wing walk and he leaped up and strolled into the cabin like he'd done it a hundred times before. He looked a little puzzled on takeoff when the scenery started slowing down and shrinking, but after contemplating this for a few seconds he curled up in the same comfortable ball that he used in the car and that was the end of it. For the next ten years he became as much a part of my flights as my charts. Twins, singles, high wing, low wing, one hour flight or two day journey, it all seemed to be the same to Dude. He was usually asleep by the time we reached altitude and his only movement was after an hour or two he would often get up, glance out the window as if checking up on my navigation, then swap ends and settle back to his nap.

In the ten years that his flying career lasted I estimated that he logged about a thousand hours and visited 30 states or so with me. And as you might imagine having a dog as a flight crew member created some interesting situations in the course of our travels.

On one flight we were in a Baron heading for Mississippi in the late afternoon, when a wall of angry clouds that was too large to get around ended our flight in Memphis. Obviously we needed a room for the night. Unfortunately, in looking for a place to stay I ran through all the motels that were near the airport and aircrew friendly by mentioning, 'oh, by the way, there isn't a problem if my dog is with me, is there?' Finally in desperation I found an expensive hotel downtown that did accept dogs for an expensive additional fee, so we took an expensive cab ride and repaired to the Hilton.

Dude and friendsDude was no stranger to hotels, but when we traveled by automobile our modus operandi was to park out of sight of the front desk and with Dude in the car I would secure our lodging and take the luggage to the room. When the coast was clear I would go out a back entrance, block the door open and sneak Dude down the hall and into my room, hoping all the while that we didn't run into a motel employee. But on the occasions where I had no choice but to pay the price, have him declared an official guest and enter through the front door, he somehow knew the difference. He then employed a special strut while passing the desk and sashaying down the hall to our room. It was a completely different walk than the sneaky lope he used when coming in the back way, and it stated in no uncertain terms that he was in with the in crowd and that he owned this carpet he was strutting on.

On another very expensive trip, I'd delivered an airplane to its new owner in Dallas and at the same time was also buying an airplane from a gentleman who lived in Austin. He had generously agreed to meet me in Dallas and drive me down to Austin to inspect the airplane and hopefully to buy it.

In Dallas, the airplane delivered, I arrived at the appointed place and time with the smiling Dude in tow. There I observed the shocked airplane owner peering at me from his new BMW 500 series, a look on his face appropriate for my arrival accompanied by an elephant but not I thought, for a dog. Had I forgotten to mention that I'd have Dude with me? I may have. I was so used to traveling with him that it never occurred to me speak of it.

I had the next hour and a half to contemplate the fact that, incredible as it seems, not everyone loves dogs. These and other black thoughts occurred to me as I sat in the back seat of a yellow taxi, the ever faithful Dude and I following the gleaming BMW to Austin while I listened to the ominous click of the cab's meter.

Another Dude powered adventure that stands out in my memory was the time we arrived in a river town that was having a Regatta. It was a fair sized community and it was obvious that this gala was the premier event of the year, and that lots of preparation had gone into making it perfect. Several blocks of the downtown had been blocked off to traffic and the carnival and attractions filled the streets. Since I had a day to kill before my appointment, Dude and I joined the strollers in checking out the displays. After a few minutes I felt a hand on my shoulder and I turned to gaze into the cool eyes of a large policeman. He looked us over for a few seconds, and then gravely informed me that dogs were not allowed to attend their regatta. I think it was Albert Einstein who said that the degree of civilization of a place could be judged by how they treated their animals or words to that effect, and I've never seen any reason to argue with that.

Dude and I sulkily retired to the outside of the street's barriers and reconnoitered. I noticed that the gendarme who had braced us seemed to be assigned to this far end of the festival, which left at least two blocks of attractions open at the other end. We circled around the celebration to the opposite end of no dog's land and I put on my sun glasses, which were a very dark shade, and shortened Dude's leash until it resembled the harness of a - well, of a Seeing Eye dog. We again entered the banned area, this time with us walking slowly, Dude by my side and me only moving my eyes behind the glasses and never my head. Parents pulled their children from our path and Dude, somehow sensing the importance of his role in what was occurring, looked just like what I was portraying him to be. We also apparently passed muster with the police on this side of the festival, for they gave us only the briefest glance as we passed them several times.

After about an hour of pleasant strolling we came face to face the same policeman who had banished us before. Apparently his patrol area had been revised and unfortunately in meeting us for the second time, he failed to see the humor in our subterfuge. He described to us in great detail the interior of the basement of their courthouse where we would be spending the next few days if we didn't convince him that we would disappear forever. I fortunately was successful in communicating how very done we both were with their Regatta and how in a few seconds we wouldn't even be a shadow upon their event. Mercifully, he said he would allow us to remove our unworthy selves from their event if we promised we wouldn't come back. We promised, and I'm proud to say that to this day we've never broken that promise.


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Steve Weaver Aircraft Sales - Route 3 Box 696 - Phillipi, West Virginia - Phone 304-457-4523 - Fax 304-457-4799 For a restorative vacation for both your body and your soul, consider a week on the banks of the unforgettable Tygart River, in the heart of West Virginia. Click for more.

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