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Most Recent

Twisted Humor Stalks the Skies

January 26, 2015

I'll admit it, during the years that I was instructing, as much as I loved to fly and to teach flying there were times that I needed a break. The years that I was running the little country flight school in the late sixties and teaching eight to ten hours a day for weeks without a break, I sometimes longed for a change of pace. It was hard, unrelenting work.

But the schedule of the flight school dictated the hours that we flew and in summer we tried to take advantage of the long days. We harvested every hour that we could to help us stand against the long, dark winter that was to follow, and summer days when I could just relax were few.

So, sometimes just I did dumb things that amused me, just to break up the routine a bit. It was nothing that I could go on the road with, but those incidents served to give me chuckles and most of the time they gave them to the whole airport.

I recall one example of my misplaced humor when on a student's first lesson, for no reason at all I changed some aircraft nomenclature. I had probably walked five new students that day through the same lesson and had faithfully started their introduction to the airplane with a detailed walk around, examining and naming each important part of the machine and discussing its function. With this unfortunate student though, when I came to the elevators I suddenly decided they should be called 'flippers' and I somberly pronounced them so to my attentive pupil.

He had a good memory for all the parts that we covered on the preflight and for the next couple of weeks I got to hear him trying to convince other students that what they were calling elevators were actually flippers. He knew it for sure, because his instructor had told him so. It wasn't a day at the beach, but it seemed to entertain me at the time.

Then there was the night I was flying in the inky darkness with an advanced student in the Grumman Trainer. I had flown this area so often that even at night I could recognize my location by the lights on the ground and I noticed that we were coming up on the town of Weston and the Jackson's Mill Airport. I suddenly remembered reading about the unicom activated runway light system that had just been installed at that airport and I decided to try it out. Before I could do so though, another, much more evil thought occurred to me.

The radio was already tuned to the intercom frequency and in the Grumman the mike was located on the consol between the seats, right under my hand, as a matter of fact. I directed my student to start a slow left turn which would have us circling over the airport and proceeded to describe to him, the amazing invention that the FAA was testing at this very airport.

It was, I said, a voice activated runway light system which was designed to pick up a human voice coming from above. It was so sensitive it could pick up a voice from inside an airplane a thousand feet above, separate it from the noise of the airplane and use it to trigger the runway lights. Would he like to try it?

In the lights of the instrument panel he gave a nod and asked me how to do it. It was as simple I said, as just saying 'lights on' in a loud voice when overhead the runway. He seemed reluctant to do this at first, but after the first muttered command I urged him to say it louder, then louder still. On the fourth try he was screaming 'LIGHTS ON' at the top of his lungs and I could see the veins on his neck standing out. At that point I clicked the mike four time and the lights magically appeared out of the darkness and there was a runway beneath us where only darkness had existed a moment before. I glanced at my stunned student and heard him mutter an amazed 'Damn!'.

For about two weeks I let him tell everyone he ever knew about the new invention that he got to try out over at the Weston airport, and then I told him what I had done.

And then there were the solos. We had incorporated an addendum to the time honored tradition of cutting shirt tails after a first solo flight, by christening the surprised fledgling with a bucket of water. I remembered from my own solo, when they could have tarred and feathered me and ridden me down the runway on a rail and it wouldn't have diminished my happiness, so I wasn't worried about the impromptu bath upsetting the new birdmen and women.

But the word did get around among the students and the new solos became ever more cagy to avoid the soaking. One exited the airplane and ran to the middle of the hangar wall to have his shirttail cut, where he had a clear view in three directions and the hangar to his back. Barbara, my girlfriend and airport Girl Friday was in charge of the scissors and she duly sheared off the shirt, then took two steps back in order to avoid a soaking. Our mechanic Glenn, a smile stretching from ear to ear, then dumped the bucket of water on him from the hangar roof.

Another solo ran directly from the airplane into the office where a smiling Barbara congratulated him on his solo, then raised the garden hose she had been holding below the counter and thoroughly fireproofed the astonished young man.

I recognize that the halcyon days of our youth improve with the sepia tones of time. I can't quite remember the feel of the bone deep weariness that I must have felt at times, or the discouragement that must have overcome me at some places. But I have no difficulty at all reliving the laughter and the camaraderie that we shared at that magic time.

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