When I was an active pilot, I owned (and had a love affair with) the most wonderful airplane- a supped up bush plane called the Aviate Husky A-1. It was a tandem two place/ stick and rudder airplane. The side doors would open up and down and I could fly; slowly meandering around the country side, air in my face and with the deep throated drone of the reliable Lycoming 180 horse power engine. My little Lexie became my “Husky Buddy” and she would love to fly with Dad; Ginger and I would fly into forested airstrips to attend Boy Scout camps in South Dakota and, on one occasion, we flew very close to the faces of Mount Rushmore.
My Dad was a WWII veteran of the Army Air Corp. For a time, he was actually the mechanic for President Roosevelt’s airplane, and he was in Casablanca when it was bombed. I stuck him in the back of my little airplane one time while he sang the his flight song: ”Over Hill, over dale, we will hit the dusty trail as those caissons keep rolling along…” and, of course, the closing line to the flight song “… ‘cuz nothing can stop the Army Air Corp- Not even Mable.”
It was on a solo flight back from my home in Wyoming that I was flying at about 12,000 feet- reveling in the memories that had been and were being created- that I dutifully checked the course, scanned the instruments, and was perfectly comfortable with the flight. The airplane was perfectly trimmed to fly “hands off”… the drone of the perfectly running engine, the serene smooth air… life was perfect as I drifted off to sleep. That’s right, I drifted off to SLEEP. My airplane did NOT have auto-pilot, but when perfectly trimmed, it could fly a long time without much assistance. Then it hit me. Out of nowhere, high above Laramie Wyoming where wind socks are chain links tied to a post, severe turbulence rocked my sleepy world. I was awakened to an airplane in an attitude of nearly inverted flight, and diving toward the downtown cow town. The adrenalin rushed through my veins as I grabbed the stick, pulled back the power, and gained control of my aircraft. This fabric covered airplane was not built for aerobatics but has cousins with the same airframe that are. So, lucky for me, the airplane was holding together. My five piece seat belt harness was doing more than “looking cool” as the straps kept me from doing a head stand on the ceiling of the airplane. I discovered again that “the fervent prayer of an earnest man availeth much.”
I only lost about a thousand feet (in about 5 seconds) before settling in for the final 20 minutes of my flight back to Fort Collins. I was wide awake and thankful that my drifting off hadn’t made me a memory of 334CB (call sign of my Husky).
Here is the life lesson: Sometimes we can be so comfortable with our current surroundings, and life is sailing along so smoothly (or routinely) that we can easily sleep walk through it, or be lulled into a false sense of security. We should always be diligent in the performance of the seemingly mundane duties of life, as they are they often represent the most important things, and can save us from startling wake up calls, even tragedies, if we simply pay attention and do our duty.