From my Desk to the Sky: In Good Company

Thursday, November 19, 2015

I had the recent pleasure of delivering a Piper Archer II to a small airport north of Philadelphia. The trip was uneventful except for the usual re-routing I received when I approached the north side of the Philly Class B airspace. The fact that it was beautiful, clear weather and the airplane was equipped with a Garmin GNS430 GPS made for stress-free navigating in spite of the re-routing.

The plan was for the buyer to drive me to a nearby commercial airport for my return flight home once he had accepted the airplane and the transaction was closed. The closing went smoothly and according to plan; however, the buyer asked if I would mind having his friend drive me to the airport instead. The friend lived in New Jersey, just to the east of the airport I was departing from. The 40-minute drive was not far out of his way.

As much as I enjoy spending time with new customers, I was soon glad for the opportunity to get to know his friend as well. As is the case at thousands of smaller airports across the country, local pilots have their own sense of community. They engage in ‘hangar talk’ and enjoy the comradery of the small airport atmosphere. They help each other with small repairs and offer support during events like the pre-buy on this Archer. While the buyer took the time to inspect his new plane, this man and I had a few side bar conversations about my role at AirMart, about flying gliders (which he enjoyed) and other aviation-related topics. It was on that unplanned drive to the commercial airport, however, that I found out how interesting this gentleman really was.

I had gathered from earlier comments that he had served in the military, so I began the conversation by asking him what he did during his service. He responded with a smile, “I flew F-4s.” Enough said. The F-4 Phantom is one of my all-time favorite airplanes. They’re loud, fast, smoky, and just plain awesome. Anybody who flew one of these bad boys had to be cool. He flew the Phantom at the height of the Cold War (one of my historical interests). We talked about his time at Hahn Air Force Base in Germany. He also told me about the exchange program he participated in with the Navy. I was all ears as he explained in detail how his mission was to fly between Russian aircraft outfitted with cameras and US warships so intel photos couldn’t be taken. The big Russian planes were of course slower than the F-4s. He spoke of once incident where he had to lower flaps in order to keep a precise position in relation to the Russian which was in a 100-150 feet per minute descent toward the water. At the last moment, the Russian broke off sharply in an effort, he believes, to force his smaller fighter into the water. In his experience the Cold War wasn’t that cold at all.

"The F-4 Phantom is one of my all-time favorite airplanes. They're loud, fast, smoky, and just plain awesome."

Following active duty in the Air Force, he flew 727s for one of the smaller start-up airlines in the ‘80s. The Boeing 727 just happens to be one of my favorite airliners. Flying on one is basically what got me hooked on aviation, so any pilot I meet who has actually flown one is cool in my book. His 727 career eventually led him to FedEx. I asked if he flew MD-11s, one of the largest in the FedEx fleet. He said no, he preferred to stay on the ‘smaller airplanes’ (funny to consider the 727 ‘small’) because he valued his quality of life over making more money – something I completely respect and understand.

We talked a bit about avionics and how much they’ve changed over the years. He said he sometimes missed the Honeywell system he used to use in the 80s and 90s.  Ironically, many of the single engine airplanes I fly with AirMart are better equipped than the 727s he flew for years.  VOR, NDB and DME navigation is what he used up to the end of his career in the early 2000s. In the F-4s he said he sometimes had a single TACAN to navigate with. I really respect pilots who relied solely these systems and mastered the art of using them well. Sometimes we forget how good we have it in the GPS age.

Delivering airplanes to our customers is the biggest highlight of my job at AirMart. There is always something new to learn, new challenges to face, and plenty of decisions to make to ensure the safe outcome of every flight. To see the excitement of the new owner when I arrive is always rewarding. But meeting fellow pilots with great aviation stories to tell is also a highlight of this job. I look forward to making more friends like this one along the way.