Flying on Autopilot Part 2

Sarah flies her first passenger in a C-150

“Sarah, I told you this trip would be different.  No more plane crashes for this guy, especially since the FAA temporarily suspended my license,” said Frank.

“Frank, you know I’m a Private Pilot now so you don’t have to worry about whether you can fly or not.  I’ll let you have some stick time, so don’t worry, you’ve been good to me.  As far as a temporary suspension, I think you should lower your expectations.” said Sarah.

Sarah's Temporary Pilot License
Sarah’s Temporary Pilot License

“Yeah, I think I’m a little worried still; you just got your ticket last week and now we’re going to rent an airplane from Block Island and fly over water.  Our luck isn’t the best, you know?” Said Frank.

“Our luck, Frank, that’s all on you buddy.” Said Sarah.

Frank and Sarah were making their way on the Montauk-Block Island ferry to Oyster’s Marina and Resort, a 2-star dream vacation on Block Island.  Frank never let his Sarah down when it came to lavish vacations and adventure tours.  If Rhode Island was like the little brother in the Union, Block Island was its well-kept, penned-in backyard. 

Montauk-Block Island Ferry
Montauk-Block Island Ferry

Frank was perched top-side on the ferry.  He preferred to be up where he could watch over the rest of the boat, like the Captain he once was.  Airplane Captain, that was.  Frank boasted a Member’s Only jacket and a slick looking pair of Aviators.  He admired Sarah’s beauty below as he watched the wind blow through her hair.

Sarah was on top of the World.  She loved her hapless Frank more every day.  Despite his poor flying and trouble with various Federal agencies, his handsome looks made up for many shortcomings.  As they entered the harbor now, she thought to herself, this is really going to be something special.  I’ve got my Frank, her eye-candy, as she sometimes called him, and a new pilot’s license in my wallet.  Block Island State Airport, here we come.       

The ferry soon moored on the weather-beaten docks of Oyster’s Marina and Resort.  Being the first stop for Long Island’s finest tourists, Oyster’s staff waited with full excitement for the big spenders from the west.  As Sarah surveyed the accommodations, her smile faded and she turned slowly to spot Frank.  Her look said it all, you did it again, she thought.  As she gazed up at him, he spotted her with a big smile on his face and put his thumb up as if to say, uh huh, I promised you a good one.  Sarah muttered SMH, to herself, which was surely lost in the wind.

“Welcome friends!” said a young dock-hand.

Sarah didn’t wait for Frank to descend the white metal steps of the ferry’s port side.  She was angry.  She knew that by the looks of this place, Mr. Big Spender Frank would surely screw the rest up too.  The transportation he arranged, the restaurants he had reserved in advance, the plane they planned to rent from the FBO.  Oh geese, I bet he screwed that up too, thought Sarah.

“Hey Sarah, wait up!” Shouted Frank.

Sarah pressed on as if she arrived alone.  Maybe she could find some alternate accommodations and just tell Frank she’ll meet up tomorrow.  She isn’t feeling well, etc.  Well, heck, I guess I’ve come this far with the big lug, I may as well give him another chance.  He was handsome after all, Sarah thought.

“Frank, hurry, I’m right here waiting, honey, I can’t wait to see the inside.” Said Sarah.

Frank and Sarah soon found themselves stowing their simple wares in their even simpler cottage, as the staff called Room 13 of Oyster’s Marina and Resort.  One Queen bed, one dresser, one chair, one bathroom, one more time Sarah trusted Frank to book the accommodations.  When would she learn, she thought to herself.  She forced a smile and scrunched her forehead as Frank elegantly directed her across the threshold as if it was the Presidential Suite at a posh palace on the English countryside. 

“Honey, you can have the side next to the window.” Frank said.

“Ah, thank you, Frank.  Does that window open?” Asked Sarah.

“Oh, sure, honey, let me do it for you.” Said Frank.

Frank strowed two steps forward, which was all it took to reach the frosted plastic apportionment which more resembled a port hole than a window.  He jerked the sash with determination but the port hole wasn’t to be opened that day.  Frank turned awkwardly back towards Sarah and changed the subject rather quickly. 

“Hey Sarah, you know I heard they have the most amazing oysters here.  It is the Oyster’s Marina and Resort after all.  How about we forget about the room and go down to the lobby restaurant.  They’ve got some great reviews on Yelp.” Said Frank.

“Okay.” Muttered Sarah.

“I’m sorry folks, were all out of Oysters today.  You can try back tomorrow.” Said the Waitress.

It was now getting more difficult for Sarah to hide her discontent.  Frank was really just proving yet again that he couldn’t be trusted with the important things in their relationship.  Well, things should be better now that Sarah was the Pilot in Command.  He could screw up all the details of their lives as long as she was master of her aircraft. 

She was more than a little worried about Frank’s ability to not be a back-seat flyer.  He had to trust her.  He had to leave that part to her.  She had logged 350 hours after all, soloed after only 200.  Frank liked to deconstruct all her lessons and re-teach her after they left the FBO back in Jersey.  He knew some things and often corrected her Embry Riddle instructors’ mistakes.  Frank told Sarah that if he had not overseen her training the way he did, she may not have even soloed yet. 

For Sarah’s part, it didn’t matter how she got there, just that she had arrived.  Tomorrow would be the first time she took a passenger up, and what a joy that it would be her handsome man.  The 2500-foot strip at BID Airport was more than enough for the C-150 that Frank had called ahead to reserve for his Sarah Bear.  It was a beautiful, hot Summer day outside, 93 degrees and oddly not a breeze on the island.  Sarah almost forgot her tummy was rumbling now as she imagined the majestic day tomorrow would surely prove to be.

“Frank, honey, I’m starving.  Feed this girl, will you?”

Frank dutifully tended to his girl’s request and rented some beach cruisers from the hotel lobby. 

“Come on Hun, there’s a great Donut shop up the road, I’m told.”

Frank and Sarah ventured out and soon smelled the decadent flavors of Mike’s Island Donuts.  Their sign read ‘Mike’s Island Donuts, Their Greasy – But So are We’.  This forced a double-take between the hungry couple.  Sarah quickly interjected her concern for their poor grammar and Frank worried that since there were no cars in the parking lot, they must be out of sprinkles.  Sarah, again, shaking her head pressed forth. 

With that snack stop not quite quelling their appetites, they ventured further down the road and realized they came upon the Block Island State Airport and Olga’s Airport Diner.

“Oh my, this sure is perfect Hun.  We can get a fine meal and check out the airplane.” Said Frank.

The pair from New Jersey let their beach cruisers fall against the window ledge and quickly entered the humble establishment.  Frank’s girl was starving and he was going fix that, one way or another. 

“Welcome to Olga’s, smoking or non-smoking?  Inside or out?” Greeted the Hostess.

“Anything will do, we’re starving.” Said Sarah.

Frank gave Sarah the seat facing the tarmac.  He always preferred to sit facing the door, to protect her back, he always said.  So there it was, a meal was finally upon them.  Sarah perused the menu while Frank gazed upon the varied patrons of Olga’s Airport Diner.  Sarah began reading some choices for Frank as he all too often never knew what he wanted.  Aside from the dozens of chicken wings Frank’s been known to gobble up, he was all over the map, like his life of late.

“There’s the Piper Pita, the Centerline Dog, the PAPI Salad, the Hundred Dollar Tuna Melt, how about some Carburetor Chips and Dip Dip with a Cirrus Shake?” Said Sarah.

“I don’t know Hun, do they have any wings?”

“Welcome to Olga’s, my name’s Svetlana, are you ready to order?”

Frank and Sarah shared a happy glance and smiled at Svetlana. 

“Do you have any wings?” Asked Frank 

“Sir, I can bring you an order of Cantilever Wings, would you like 6 or 12?” Said Svetlana.

“Cantilever Wings, huh, I’ll have 12, please.” Added Frank.

“And for you Ma’am, what may I get for you today?”

“Hmm, I’ll have the Spin Burger, Medium, with a side of Waypoint Fries and a Lenticular Lemonade, please.” Said Sarah.

The food was oddly named but ultimately familiar to the vacationing pair. They both gobbled it down as if there was none in all of New Jersey.  Frank was chewing the chicken when the wooden door with the cow bell affixed to the inside of Olga’s Airport Diner suddenly swung wide opened.  Frank took note of two men dressed in similar fashion.  White golf shirts with an Avemco logo over the front left pocket.  They were in navy blue dress pants and seemed a little stiff for a hot sunny vacation spot like the island.  Avemco, he thought, I know that.

“Hey Hun, have you ever heard of Avemco?” Asked Frank.

“Sure Frank, that’s our aircraft insurance company.  Come to think of it, we’ve been getting several letters from them back home this past month.” Said Sarah.

“Ah hah, okay, did you happen to open any of those letter, Sarah?”

“Well, no Frank, they were all addressed to you, Captain Frank in bold type they read.”  Said Sarah.

Frank thought it best they finish their meal a little quicker and move over to the flight school in the next building.  The two Avemco fellows had sat two tables over from Frank and Sarah and all the while Frank heard them talking about this guy they were going finally catch up with.  Their conversation wasn’t fully audible, however Frank swore he heard mention of an aircraft accident and this will be the end, and something else about the new federally mandated aircraft rental background check system or FMABCS getting a hit.

“Okay, Svetlana, we’re all done, thank you very much, just a check please.” Said Frank.

“Frank, slow down, I still have half my lemonade left.”

“Okay, well, let’s take that to go, Sarah.  I think I just heard a C-150 taxiing out and I want to take a look with you.” Said Frank.

Cessna 150

Frank swiftly passed the table of odd fellows and paid their check.  Sarah poured her lemonade into the to go cup that Svetlana had provided and they were off just that quick.  Again, Sarah shaking her head at Franks erratic behavior.  They made their way towards the next building over and did in fact spot a C-150 departing the parking area for the short taxi to Runway 28 at BID.  They would require a back-taxi for Runway 28 as Frank recalled.  He always did his homework when it came to flight planning and checking NOTAMS or notices to airmen. 

“Uh, Frank, I sure hope that’s not the airplane you reserved for us.” Said Sarah.

“What, what’s wrong, Sarah?” Asked Frank.

“Well, aside from the cardboard in place of the passenger’s side window and the chipping paint and the fuel leaking from the bottom of the engine cowling, nothing, I suppose, she’s a beauty.” Said Sarah.

“Sarah, listen, you know that I know airplanes, right?” Asked Frank.

“Oh yea, Honey, you’re top notch when it comes to airplanes.”

“That’s right, now stop worrying about the plane.  I’m sure they’ll have it all fixed by tomorrow.  I mean, I told them who I was.  I said listen here now, I’ve got hundreds of hours of flight time, just no license at the moment.  It was a clerical error I said.  My partner will be the PIC for the rental.” Stated Frank.

“Frank, did you give them your name?” Asked Sarah.

“Of course I did, you wanted a nice plane, didn’t you?” Said Frank.

“Okay, Frank.  Haven’t you ever heard of the FMABCS?  They probably came up with a hit in the new federally mandated aircraft rental background check system database and now we’ll probably have some problems tomorrow.” Said Sarah.

“Nonsense.” Said Frank.

Frank and Sarah were now more aggravated with one another despite their full bellies.  They both determined to just leave and go back to their beautiful room at Oyster’s Marina and Resort and take a nap.  It had been an awful long day so far.  As they exited the ramp through the chain link security fence between the restaurant and the FBO, they noticed those two oddly dressed Avemco insurance fellows making their way between the two buildings as well.  Frank, again let his face hang lower than usual and exited quietly, almost letting the gate slam back into Sarah’s face.

“Jeez, Frank, what was that all about.” Asked Sarah.

“Didn’t you see those guys, the ones from the insurance company?  I’ve been meaning to give my statement regarding our accident last year and I just keep putting it off.  I know that James Tannis, the owner of the plane is at fault, I just can’t prove it yet.” Said Frank.

The two pedaled hurriedly away from the airport and back down the gently sloping access road towards ‘Mike’s Island Donuts, Their Greasy – But So are We’ and Oyster’s Marina and Resort.  They didn’t speak much as Sarah knew to give Frank his space when it came to the touchy subject of the suspension of his pilot’s license.  He was such a proud Captain of airplanes and industry alike. 

This plane crash really weighed heavily on him and even Sarah’s instructor, and Embry Riddle graduate said according to her description of the events, Frank has a very good case of getting his license back from the FAA after the matter is fully sorted.  He even pointed to Page 532 of Chapter 69 in Embry Riddle’s Accident Investigation Manual for the New Safety Minded Inspector, where it stated unequivocally that the maintenance of an aircraft is the responsibility of the owner or renting facility.  Sarah’s instructor was super smart and he said that Frank could rest his whole case on that fact alone.

The following day Frank and Sarah began with imitation Oyster Omelets and home fries in the lobby restaurant.  Frank requested a side of Pork Roll and got pretty angry when they claimed to have no idea what that was.  Despite the rocky start, the sun was blazing already at 0800 local time and the coffee was good. 

The hotel agreed to drop them off at the airport that morning due to Frank’s complaint about a noisy bicycle chain the day before.  Frank smirked as they pulled up to the Block Island State Airport and reminded Sarah that it was incredulous they would have rented him a bike like that.  Someone’s head should role because of that non-sense, he thought. 

Frank held the door to the FBO for his Sarah and they filed in a few minutes ahead of their scheduled rental period.  He had already told Sarah that he chose that FBO at that airport because no one in New Jersey or New York would rent them an airplane without a rigorous checkout period of at least 1 hour of flight and 1 hour of ground review.  Frank knew that to be utterly stupid and he was quite proud of happening upon this school on this island. 

At the FBO counter stood those fellows they saw the day before.  Same white shirts, same navy blue pants, same bureaucratic look to themselves.  This time they held clip boards in their hands and they seemed quite self-assured that morning.  Frank spotted them first and turned around before the door even shut behind them.  Sarah had a big smile on her face and said good morning to the lady behind the counter and incidentally to the two men in front of the rental counter too.  

“Good morning, Ma’am, what can we do for you today?” Asked the associate. 

“Yes, thank you, my name is Sarah and I have your C-150 scheduled for this morning for a few hours.”

The two men perked up and now and stepped forward a little closer to Sarah.  The associate wasn’t quite sure what to make of the pair of serious looking fellows. 

“Hello Sarah, my name is Theodore Burns and this is my partner Andrew Whitcock.  We’re from Avemco insurance company and we are wondering if you can tell us where Mr. Captain Frank is.” Said the taller of the two fellows.

Sarah turned and looked over her shoulder at Frank, only to realize there was no Frank to be found.  She turned back with a half a smile on her face now and said, “Well good morning, fellas.  Who did you say you’re looking for?”

“A Mr. Captain Frank, ma’am.  Yes, that’s the name.” Said Theodore Burns.

“I’m sorry, do you have a last name, perhaps?” Asked Sarah.

“Uh, yes ma’am, it’s a Mr. Captain Frank.  Mr. Frank, yes.” Said Mr. Burns.

“I’m sorry, I’ve never heard of him.” Said Sarah.

Meanwhile, Frank scurried around the front of the FBO back to Olga’s Airport Diner and ordered a bottle of Pellegrino and quickly flipped Svetlana a fiver for her service.  He accessed the ramp from their side door as they had just yesterday.  Frank ducked as he passed by the windows of the FBO and made his way towards that horrific looking C-150 they had seen yesterday.  When he got to the plane he quickly slid inside.  In fact they hadn’t fixed that passenger side cardboard insert yet.  Maybe it was in the works.

Sarah had completed a couple minutes of paperwork and proudly provided a copy of her temporary airman certificate as well as her Basic Med credentials.  This was her day, she had arrived.  She worked very hard with her Embry Riddle instructor and Frank alike to achieve this milestone in her life.  Her first passenger flight today, but where is that Frank, she thought.  The Avemco employees were dumbfounded.  They were sure they would finally catch up with a one Mr. Captain Frank that morning, however, apparently it was not meant to be.  Perhaps the federally mandated aircraft rental background check system or FMABCS had failed them.  This would be highly unlikely Mr. Theodore Burns said to his partner, Andrew Whitcock.  This isn’t like a government program such as that one, he said while shaking his head now.

Sarah saw a popcorn machine in the corner of the FBO.  She filled two large paper bags with the buttery goodness and proceeded out the ramp door to N138BS, that not so nice looking C-150.  As she rounded the corner of the terminal and spotted her aircraft, with its cardboard passenger window, she laughed out loud.  Looking into the front of the bird answered one question.  There’s my silly fool of a partner.  Oh my, he’s so crazy.  What do I see in him, she mused.

Frank smiled as Sarah walked around the aircraft and conducted a solid preflight check.  As she climbed into the small aircraft, all she could do was laugh at Frank.

“Oh my, I forgot to check the weather with all this excitement.” Said Sarah.

“Oh, no problem, let me check the weather App on my iPhone.  Okay, it shows Sunny and 95 degrees.” Added Frank.

“Hmm, okay, well that’s good, I guess. Check.”  Said Sarah.

Sarah taxied to Runway 10 that morning as the wind sock was limp, but aiming slightly down that direction.  With a smooth runup and after completing all of the checklist items, Sarah pressed the mic button and with a confident smile she said, “Block Island Traffic, Cessna N138 Bravo Sierra departing Runway 10.”

Sarah lined up and checked her compass with her directional gyro as she rolled forward along the runway.  “Boom!” She Said.

She pushed the throttle smoothly full forward and slid her feet down from the brake petals.  The aircraft, with its chipping paint began a sluggish roll down the runway.  The powerful C-150 was quickly at the halfway point of the runway as Frank found it necessary to continue to teach Sarah a few items that he forgot to mention in her first 350 hours of education.  He mentioned the use of the rudder petals, and there was the control deflection, although he stated that she didn’t need to worry about that today as there was no perceivable wind, and then there was the checking of the engine instruments such as the oil temperature and pressure and the RPM gauge.  The aircraft was now rolling past approximately ¾ of the runway length available as the airspeed indicated 35 knots. 

Frank suddenly blurted out a reminder about the trim setting.  Had that been set?  Yes, he acknowledged as he panned his head down to the trim wheel, it appeared to be in the take-off region.  All the while, Sarah had never felt more nervous for this first takeoff with a passenger on board.  She knew this plane type.  She had done this hundreds of times before.  Why was she so nervous? 

Frank mentioned the need to use a little right rudder after they lifted off the pavement.  Sarah felt uneasy as the end of the runway seemed to be quickly approaching, but not quick enough as the airspeed still only read 40 knots, well short of her rotation speed.  Sarah knew she was with a real pro; Frank had said as much just that morning at breakfast.  Yes, they were eating oyster omelets and Frank was talking about all the hours he had and that she would be fine for her first passenger carrying flight.

Sarah was now more uncertain than ever before during a takeoff.  She queried Frank about this seeming anomaly of a lack of airspeed and not enough runway remaining.  As she realized he was quiet all of sudden, she peered to her right and there he was, her champion, Captain Frank was stuffing his face with the buttery popcorn she gave him.  He had dropped several puffs and was picking them up from his lap and the not too filthy carpet between his legs.  She began shaking her head as she made one last check of the airspeed indicator and then in front of the cowling at the end of the runway now fast approaching.

She slammed on her brakes, and then changed her mind and pulled back on the yoke to lift above the runway end lights.  Her heels back on the floor again as she hoped the yoke would solve her problem.  “No, it’s no good, hold on Frank, brace yourself!” She hollered.

“Huh?” Frank Said.

The mighty Cessna 150 only left the asphalt as it careened off the end of the runway.  Sarah’s feet were smashing on the brakes now, yet they seemed to be doing nothing for them.  The tires were now sliding over top of grass and dirt and they quickly traversed the perimeter road and down into a small gully that served to stop the airplane abruptly.  Frank and Sarah’s bodies lunged forward with this sudden stop.  Frank hit his head on the instrument panel as he failed to secure his shoulder harness earlier.  It would have prevented him from collecting the popcorn he was apparently already dropping as Sarah taxied.

Meanwhile, several restaurant patrons, most of them pilots themselves as well as those two Avemco fellows had witnessed this overrun.  They were now running toward the downed aircraft to assist. First to arrive was a one Mr. Theodore Burns from the Avemco Aircraft Insurance Company out of Toledo, Ohio.  After surveying the situation and not feeling any undue danger, he approached the right side of the aircraft and was able to quickly extricate the man and move him away from the craft.  Sarah was able to unbuckle herself and after closing the mixture and turning off the ignition and master switch she abandoned ship and joined Frank and Mr. Burns on the side of the embankment. 

“Frank, Captain Frank!  Are you okay my darling?” she hollered.

Mr. Burns, still with his clipboard in hand looked once more at the document affixed. 

“Hello Captain Frank, are you okay?” Mr. Burns said.

Frank wearily gazed at Sarah and realizing she was okay, he said, “I knew this plane wasn’t safe.  I said it before.  I’ve got to talk to that lady behind the counter.”   


Flying on Autopilot

Frank scooped up a dozen Buffalo wings in a nonbiodegradable Styrofoam container and finally made his way out the door, still chatting on and awkwardly juggling with his phone. At times, his animated voice sounded incredulous as he spoke to his partner, Ned Stevens.

I’m Not That Guy

It was early one Saturday morning as Frank turned the corner on Doolittle Drive.  The sun was beaming through the windshield and glinting off his Ray-bans.  I looked like a pilot with those Ray-bans on, just like I felt like one, he thought.

     “Hey, Sarah, get your stuff together, we’re already running 20 minutes late,” said Frank, as he sped well north of the posted speed limit of 25 mph.  Sarah glanced at him with that usual frustration as Frank never made an appointment on time.

     “Frank, slow down before you get us both killed.  We’re not in the airplane after all.”

     “Okay, okay,” said Frank dismissively, with his typical aura of cockiness.  Frank already had his seat belt off as his Mercedes jetted around the turn into the parking lot of Wings Over Here Flight School.  An obvious play on words as the owner, James Tannis, not only loved flying but eating wings as well.  It showed on James, too.

     Frank and Sarah hurriedly entered the flight school and began checking out the aircraft they had rented that morning.  The Piper Saratoga, or PA32 was a beaut.  Since Frank always told Sarah that kids would just weigh them down, they never had any.  Frank could load that baby up with golf clubs and suitcases alike and fly real far too.  Today, however was a quick meeting with a client for a late breakfast at an airport up North about 75 miles.

     “Oh darn, I have to take this call.  Sarah, why don’t you start the preflight and I’ll be out in a few?” Said Frank.

     “I don’t know what I’m looking for, Frank”

     “Just give me a break, Hun, you get that and I’ll get this.” Hollered Frank as he went into the weather briefing room to take his business call.

     Sarah headed for the flight line while shaking her head.  The Dispatcher’s eyes would have been rolling already if she hadn’t been well familiar with Frank and Sarah from previous rentals.  In fact, the entire flight school knew about the fancy pair from the big city with the fancy car from the big lot.

     Sarah did in fact know a lot more than she gave herself credit for.  She had flown hundreds of hours with her husband in all types of aircraft and all types of weather.  Today, they were renting the Saratoga and that one was straightforward to preflight, she recalled. 

     She was making her way around the nose of the aircraft with the checklist when Frank shouted from the flight school.  “Hey Sarah, will Monday evening work for our meet with the Fergusons at the racquet club?”

     “Whatever you want, Frank, I’ve got nothing going on that day,” said Sarah.

     Sarah, again shaking her head and wondering what she sees in him continued with the preflight.  She checked the propeller for nicks and pulled the cowl plugs.  Okay she thought, back to where I started.  Preflight Complete, Check!

     Frank scooped up a dozen Buffalo wings in a nonbiodegradable Styrofoam container and finally made his way out the door, still chatting on and awkwardly juggling with his phone.  At times, his animated voice sounded incredulous as he spoke to his partner, Ned Stevens.

     Frank suddenly stopped short as he heard a prop gaining in intensity.  All at once, he dropped his phone and lunged back as he was almost hit by a high wing Cessna taxiing from its parking stand to the run-up area.  Shocked at the pilot’s obvious stupidity for not seeing him walking towards the flight line, he gestured an unkind missive to the passerby.  As he crouched to recover his phone, he was now mad as the iPhone 12 was shattered and seemingly unusable.  He wished his wife had given him those AirPods he asked for earlier in the year.  Maybe for his birthday, he’d get them.  He did preserve the box of wings, however and picked up one of the mild sauce-laden chicken legs with its scrumptious breading.

     ” Why does this always happen to me?” he mused.

     He saw Sarah positioned on the top on the wing like a model.  He was a big shot, living the dream life.  He made great money, flew a cool airplane, and had a hot wife.  What more could a guy want, he thought. As he stepped up onto the right wing, he realized how well he must have taught Sarah to preflight since she was already done with the task.

     She reported,” Preflight Complete, Captain.”

     Frank always liked being called this when they were in and around the airplanes.  Another muted smirk by Frank seemingly went unnoticed by Sarah.  Captain, yes, that will work, thought Frank, I am the Captain.

     Frank and Sarah stowed their gear and plugged in their Bose A20 headsets.  Within minutes, the engine was primed and Frank was cranking away on the starter to no avail.  Frank’s confidence in the airplane was ever present.  Sarah knew that for all Frank’s idiosyncrasies, he must have been good pilot.  After all, he never had an accident, Sarah thought, and then looked for some wood to wrap on twice.  Well now, everything is plastic or leather in here, she realized.

     A moment later Sarah spotted James Tannis hurrying towards the aircraft and waving his hands over his head.

     “Stop,” shouted James, the owner of the flight school.

     “Hey Frank, here comes old Jim Tannis, he’s saying stop, I think.” Said Sarah.

     Frank indeed stopped cranking away at the engine and quickly muttered a few words.

     “What did you say, Frank?” asked Sarah

     “I said this plane never starts right away; I’m going to give Jim some hell for this.  Open your door a little.”

     Sarah cracked the upper latch on the door and then unclasped the lower.  Jim was now standing directly behind the right wing and she motioned him up.  Her eyes enlarged as if saying it wasn’t me, Jim.

     “Frank, Frank, you over primed it.  You flooded the engine.  You can see fuel dripping from the engine cowl.  Here, let me show you how to do this again.” Said James Tannis.

     “I followed the checklist.  I did it right.” Shouted Frank

     “I know, I know, this plane…” Replied James Tannis.

     Jim held his patience as he knew Frank and Sarah put a lot of hours on his planes in general.  Did the benefits out way the costs, he was always wondering?  Maybe, thought Jim, just maybe.  I need a few more years and then I’ll sell all this and retire, thought Jim.  Cocktails and Wings, he envisioned, would be the name of his tropical oasis on the Yucatán coast of Mexico.

As Jim let out a contrived smile, he spotted the pre-start checklist on the floor wedged beneath the flap handle.  Jim passed along his starting hacks to Frank. Knowing Sarah, the smart one was paying attention, he felt assured that they would figure it out eventually before either burning up the starter or draining the battery dead.     

“Okay, thanks Jim, we’re running really late.” Said Frank.     

With the engine now racing at 1400 rpms, Frank released the parking brake and allowed the slick, metal girl to roll forward with a roar.  It was as if he was stepping on his partner’s toes on the dance floor.  Frank quickly envisioned himself on the flight deck of a Boeing 777 powering away from the gate in some foreign and exotic city half way across the World.  This was his element; it was his greatest achievement in life.  He was an aircraft Captain.  Beyond all the boardrooms, the balls, and bars, this was his “Gin Joint”     

“Okay, Sarah, run the checklist.” Commanded Frank.     

“Well, where did you put it?” She asked.

As they noisily taxied to the run-up area on the field, both Frank and Sarah noticed several people over by the picnic tables covering their ears and shaking their heads.  Frank said, “You know Sarah, someday those folks too will make it to where we are.”  Sarah gazed over at Frank and smiled adoringly, as if thinking, oh my God, you just don’t get it, do you, you’re such a child.  Despite the obvious shortcomings of her husband, Sarah loved the lifestyle.  She loved their Fall leaf viewing excursions to New England as well as their early morning breakfast runs out West.  No, I’ll keep Frank a while longer, she figured.     

During their run up, Frank raced the engine even more, moving many levers and dials, adjusting several gauges and buttons, and finally proclaiming, “we’re good, let’s get the show on the road.” All at once Sarah’s audio dropped out and she realized things were a bit quieter now. Maybe it was just her noise cancelling headset doing its job, she figured. After all, Frank bought the best money could buy.      

“Frank, how do you read me?” Asked Sarah, while tapping on her headset boom mic.     

Frank never let Sarah speak on the radios, mostly because he was the Captain.  She would need more formal training to be able to handle that part of their missions, he thought.      

“Wings Field, this is the Saratoga departing runway 20.” Broadcasted Frank.     

“Uh Saratoga, this is King Air 634RD on short final runway 20 at Wings, please hold”     

Fully unaware of the arriving aircraft, Frank rolled his baby onto Runway 20 as if in a hurry to get the show started.  The combination of power and brake application seemed to equal one another.  Each working as advertised.  With the directional gyro in alignment with the runway heading now, Frank was satisfied all was kosher.  He applied full power to the “Toga” and began his takeoff role.     

“Wings Traffic, King Air 634RD going around runway 20.”     

Frank was used to making big deals with big people all day long, Monday through Friday.  Today, this takeoff didn’t seem like a big deal, instead it was a carefully orchestrated dance between he and the Gods of science.  Like the roar of the Lycoming IO-540 engine, Frank’s inner roar was shouting to himself.  Yes, you got this, check that airspeed, hold that centerline, more right rudder, 80 Knots, etc.  Vroom, like that car commercial.  Frank wasn’t a passenger in this aircraft, Frank was a piece of the airplane itself.  The aircraft essentially moved on its axis around Captain Frank.     

Meanwhile, back at the picnic tables, the would-be pilots and spectators and plane spotters alike were cringing with fear as they witnessed the near collision. That big King Air and the powerful single engine which pulled onto the runway as if not even looking for any traffic nor monitoring the radio really shook them.  Their gasps were muted only by their hands subconsciously covering their mouths in fear for what would come of this tragic unfolding of events.  As if in chorus, they sank towards the tarmac with the uncertainty of how this one would turn out.     

James Tannis, too found himself mystified how he continues to rent his airplanes to Frank.  How could he be so seemingly successful in the business world yet so bad in the world of aviation.  How could he not be better than this as James knew he rented his airplanes to Frank for more than 200 hours in the last two or three years, alone.  James heard the emerging scuttle over the CTAF frequency broadcast on the flight school’s radio.  He too immediately cringed with fear and peered outside towards the runway.  Frank, it must be that Frank, he concluded.     

The Saratoga was now traveling faster than Frank typically drove down Doolittle Drive.  The airplane roared to life after he abruptly applied full power.  Sarah too, seem to forget all about Frank’s shortcomings.  This was why she stayed with him, she thought.  Well, maybe one of the few reasons.  Frank never saw that King Air climbing out above and ahead of them as he was meticulously scanning his engine gauges and flight instruments for their proper indications.  Hum, that’s strange, thought Frank, to himself.     

As the plane’s nose wheel broke its grip from the asphalt below and simultaneously drifted left of the centerline towards the runway edge lights, Frank smiled with pleasure.  At that moment, he forgot about everything else in his world.  As if entering a Zen moment like at the Yoga studio that one time, Frank now gazed skyward and said, “Hello Blue Skies, I’m Here!”     

Meanwhile, an older lady in her Aeronca Champ tail dragger was dancing back and forth on the parallel taxiway as she moved towards Runway 20 for a departure.  As she steered back to the left, towards the runway she saw the larger low wing Piper with its three-blade prop coming right at her and her prized possession.   More right rudder, she thought, as she was shaking her head in disbelief at the pilot of that Piper. They’ll rent airplanes to anyone these days, the retired United Airplanes Captain figured.  

Sarah was always amazed each time the plane broke ground and they once again defied gravity.  Was it the machine or the man, that amazed her more, she wondered?  Her nostrils suddenly flared with a new aroma.  She quickly remembered the half-eaten box of wings and looked down to find them.  Sure enough, they were strewn all over the floor between their seats and spilling into the map compartment just behind their center console.  That answers the first question she thought.  But that wasn’t what she was smelling.  That couldn’t be what she was smelling, unless those wings were burned.  There was no shortage of fresh air available in the cockpit as the plane stepped into the sky so what was this new aroma?  It smelled like something burning, yes it did.     

“Frank, Frank, look, what’s that all over the windshield?” Asked Sarah.     

“What’s that, honey?  I can’t hear you.”     

Sarah pulled Franks headset away from his right ear and shouted over the engine noise. “I said what’s all over the windshield?”     

“You mean windscreen, honey, don’t you?” Replied Frank.     

“Uh yea, whatever, Captain, but seriously what the heck is streaming onto the window?” Asked Sarah.     

Just as Frank realized what Sarah was talking about, the engine began to cough a little.  The engine began to sputter as if to say, nope, not me today, I’m not ready to go anywhere, not with you two anyhow.  Frank knew quickly he had a problem with the Saratoga.  It was oil streaming back onto the windscreen and a lot of it too.  Glancing forward along the pilot’s side of the long nose cowling of the PA32 Frank quickly found the source of the problem.  The oil compartment door was fully open and he could see the distinct yellow dipstick of the oil reservoir peeking out above the compartment’s opening.      

“Sarah, you left the oil dipstick unsecured!” Declared Frank.     

There it was.  This was Frank’s Reason for being.  He trained for this moment his entire life.  Wax on, wax off, or was it paint the fence, he wondered.  Just then, as if stepping off an airliner in the islands, sweat beaded on his forehead and his hands were now slippery on the yoke.  He found himself gripping ever tighter to that steering wheel in the sky.  Only, he was no longer in control.  His heart was pounding in unison with the sputters of the engine and at only 700 feet, this was not going to end well.     

“Tighten your seatbelt, Sarah!” Frank solemnly stated.  As if with full composure, he also told her to slide her seat aft and away from the hardness of the dashboard and all it’s useless instrumentation now.  Maybe this was rote recall of procedure or maybe at this very moment, Frank knew that he had failed his beautiful wife, Sarah.  He sought to shield her from this fine mess he’d gotten her in.  This would have never happened in the boardroom, he thought. 

Frank found himself subconsciously lowering the nose of the Saratoga to preserve his airspeed and as he did, he revealed a windscreen full of trees at the end of the runway.      It was clear now that in his carefully orchestrated dance between he and the Gods of science, perhaps she did not consent to being taken to the dance floor.  Had he overstepped his place that morning.  The airplane was seemingly blurting #metoo.  But, did Frank listen.  No, Frank never listened to anyone or anything but his ego.  It was never Frank’s fault.  Frank took no accountability when it came to his life and those consequences.      It was with this notion that Frank continued to try and control the situation by muscling his airplane toward an eventual seat on the crowded side of the dance floor. 

Every input he made was thwarted by the ultimately more in command Saratoga.  She was to remain in control that day, and not this over confident blow-hard from the big city who drives his fancy car from the big lot.  She would take her last dance in her own way today, saddled with stupid, yet soaring with a silence she angled towards the dirt and trees near the airport’s perimeter fence.     

“Brace yourself, honey, we’re going into the trees, cover your face.  I love you my darling, I’m so sorry.” Nervously shouted Frank.      But which girl was he speaking to?  Perhaps both of his girls.  Perhaps that was the problem all along.  There can be only one, he recalled from the famous line in The Highlanders.  Frank wrestled with the human urge to hold the nose up and clear those trees but his awareness of his speed bleeding ever closer to a stall kept that in check.  He was losing this boardroom battle which was undoubtedly a new sensation for him.  Unfamiliar territory is never comfortable, but this would down right hurt when all was said and done, he realized.      

With a face full of tree now, he spotted two rather large oaks that seemed to call on him like goal posts on the gridiron.  He recalled an article he read about a plane crashing through the middle of a couple of large trees like them which in turn absorbed much of the energy on contact.  He edged the plane slightly left in an effort to align his and Sarah’s fate.  Would this be a three-point play today or would they be lucky to just be alive after this event.     

As the slow dance tune began fading to its conclusion and the engine had quit, the airspeed was perilously holding above a stall and their altitude was diminishing faster than he could come up with a new line to woo his girl back onto the floor.  He resigned himself to their fate.     

“Hold on now, hold on now, this is it, Sarah, hold on, we’re going down.  I love You so much.  Dear God, please, if you see fit to give me another chance, I swear I won’t sue the flight school for this.” Blurted Frank.     

Well, God’s not dead, seemingly and neither was Frank nor Sarah.  The trees ripped off the wings and slowed the hulk of carefully crafted metal to rest about 80 yards beyond the oaks.  The Saratoga sat twisted at a 60-degree angle to the right and listing mostly on its left side.  Its dance partners groaned in pain and fear of their rather unknown fate.      

“Frank, Frank, are you ok?” Asked Sarah.      

“I’m okay, how about you?  I’m so sorry.” replied Frank.       

“We have to get out of here.  Are you able to move?” Said Sarah.      Sarah was able to unlatch the passenger door and she helped Frank remove his seatbelt.  Bumps and bruises seem to be the worst of their troubles as they had no problem squeezing through the door which seemed to beckon them to stay put.  They got a few more cuts on their legs and arms as they slid passed the exposed root of the right wing and its jagged spars.      

They quickly noticed the small fires burning behind the plane where the wings were ripped off by the mighty oaks and ignited the Avgas. 

“Care for some roasted acorns, Sarah?” Said Frank.     

“Umm, no thanks, I think I’ll hold out for some of those wings from the flight school.  You’re such a dummy!” Said Sarah.     

As Frank and Sarah limped arm in arm back towards the airport boundary, they found themselves shaking their heads in disbelief.     

“Maybe there were some things we could have done differently.” She told Frank.     

“What do you mean?  What did we do wrong?  I need to speak to Jim, now.” Replied Frank.

The End