That’s a Blog

Yesterday’s blog was a bit on the heavy side with the language. It was thick with terms from the aviation industry. I was concerned enough to post a warning at the beginning of the blog to caution those not conversant in aviation expressions. I also mentioned I would return to a lighter style of writing today.

When I gave the blog to my wife to proof before hitting the publish button, she read the warning and I noticed her eyes roll to the back of her head. “What?” It is my standard question whenever I witness the eyes-rolling routine.

“You really should include this warning on about half of all your blogs,” she answered. “At least all those you have written about flying.  You know, the ones about aviation where you talk about blah, blah, blah, blah, …airplanes.” She bordered on being blasphemous. I could not believe she was talking about airplanes like that!

The scene from Casablanca raced through my head.  You know, the one where the police chief shuts down Rick’s Café for gambling and then says, “Thank you!” when given his winnings.  Shocked, I tell you, shocked!  I could not believe she would say something like that about my blog—a blog about flying.

“The blog is about flying, writing, and publishing,” I answered, somewhat defensively. “And life in general. As such, flying has its own language. I agree, though, it might be confusing to the writers, photographers, and publishers who don’t know the language.  All my flying buddies and students will understand everything in the blog perfectly.”

She gave me that look. There was only one thing to say.

“That’s a blog.”

Ever since I started the blog, our running joke is that she has to watch what she says, lest it ends up as blog fodder. I must admit, she has provided me with a wonderful list of ideas, most of which has been easy to write.

She looked at me with the same expression Gracie gives me when l am about to shoot her in the face with the water bottle in trying to keep her from biting me. Whenever Gracie is bad and she knows she is being bad, I pick up the water bottle and she’ll look at me through slanted and narrowed eye slits. When I threatened to use her comments in my blog, Ardis gave me the same “Gracie look.”

Her eyes narrowed and I think I even saw her ears lay back.


© 2011 J. Clark

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A Near Miss of Potentially Grave Proportions

Editorial note—this blog is more appropriate for seasoned aviators rather than the casual reader.  My apologies; I promise to return to a more relaxed writing style tomorrow.


This morning, a Lufthansa Airbus 340 with 286 passengers onboard almost collided with an Egypt Air Boeing 777. The event was the result of a runway incursion of incredible magnitude. It frightened many people in the know, including other airline pilots and air traffic controllers at JFK International Airport in New York.

A controller became so rattled he lost his phraseology and called for the departing aircraft to, “Cancel takeoff! Cancel takeoff plans,” rather than the more appropriate, “Takeoff clearance canceled.” After the frantic calls from the controller, the Lufthansa Flight 411 crew rejected their takeoff.

Apparently, the EgyptAir crew missed the turn onto taxiway Bravo, a taxiway that paralleled runway 22R.  On 22R, the Lufthansa Airbus 340 had already begun its takeoff roll.  When EgyptAir 986 crossed the hold short line leading onto the intersection of taxiway Juliet and runway 22R, either they realized their error and stopped, or possibly, they heard one of the ground controllers over the frequency crying out, “No! Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa!”

At the same time, the one controller yelled out to no aircraft in particular, to cancel takeoff plans and evidently, the Lufthansa crew realized they were the aircraft in extremis.  They aborted the takeoff of their heavy airliner and were able to stop the airplane, luckily a considerable distance from the Boeing.

After getting the aircraft under control on the runway, they taxied clear of the runway at taxiway Hotel and waited for Port Authority technicians to check the aircraft for overheated brakes.  After the technicians declared the brakes safe, Flight 411 taxied back to the terminal for a short time and later departed for Munich.

The FAA is looking into the matter and will more than likely issue a pilot deviation to the EgyptAir pilots.  They were responsible for the event when they taxied their aircraft within 250 feet of an active runway.

Had the Lufthansa crew missed the radio transmission and not aborted their takeoff, the accident would have been very reminiscent of the crash between KLM 4805 and Pan Am 1736. On March 27, 1977, the two Boeing 747s collided in the fog while trying to depart the island of Tenerife.

On that day, 583 people lost their lives as the result of a breakdown in communications and the arrogance of the KLM captain.


© 2011 J. Clark

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Queen of the Skydivers

Georgia Ann Thompson was a very slight girl born in Oxford, NC on April 8, 1893. At birth, she weighed only three pounds and the nickname “Tiny” would stick to her for life. She was a different kind of young girl; she was the youngest of her siblings, married at the age of 12, gave birth to her daughter at the age of 13, and her husband abandoned her a short time later.

She went to work in the mills working for less than a dollar a day to make her own way through the world and take care of her baby girl. One day, at the age of 15, she took some time off and went to a fair that was travelling through North Carolina. While there, she witnessed Charles Broadwick parachute from a hot air balloon—an event which would change her life forever.

The idea of parachuting completely consumed Tiny. Travelling with Broadwick’s World Famous Aeronauts, Tiny became Broadwick’s adopted daughter. She also became an authority on parachutes and skydiving.

Today, in 1913, Tiny Broadwick became the first woman to parachute from an airplane. The craft, piloted by famed aviator Glenn Martin, flew over Griffith Park in Los Angeles at 1000 feet above the ground when Tiny jumped. In addition to being the first woman to jump from a plane, she was also the first to parachute to a water landing.

Although Tiny was only four feet tall, she was a tigress when it came to jumping out of airplanes. She seemed to have no fear. In fact, there were several accidents, bruises, and broken bones through her career. Still, she remained undaunted when it came to her chosen profession.

In 1914, she demonstrated a parachute to the US Army. When the static line tangled with the tail of the aircraft, Tiny made her next jump after she cut the static line off her parachute and manually deployed the canopy. As a result, she also became the first person to ever free-fall from an aircraft.

Tiny retired from jumping in 1922 and by accounts, had more than 1100 jumps to her credit. She remained a powerful influence in the aviation field throughout her life.

Once, during the war when she was talking with the paratroopers at the jump school at Fort Benning, one of the paratroopers asked if she had a reserve parachute. Her response? A comment about keeping an extra parachute somewhere in the garage back home.

As she aged, she never grew any taller than four feet one. She had a grandmotherly persona about her that helped stump the panelists on the television show, I’ve Got a Secret.

She spent her latter years attending aviation conventions and visiting family until her death in 1978 in California.


© 2011 J. Clark

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In Search of Perfection–Drat!

OK, this weekend was a rough one regarding writing and publishing the blog. I literally wrote the blog at the last moment while Ardis drove home late at night from her granddaughter’s baptism. Additionally, I was tired because I did not sleep well over Saturday night while we were away.

I take pride in writing and flying. I always want to do the best I can when it comes to either endeavor. So I posted yesterday’s blog toward the end of the day and it was a blog about writing. I made it perfect, because as I said, I take pride in the writing.

Then, when I woke this morning, there it was.

The email from my most ardent proofreader, Holly, who said, “Oops! Proofread before posting!”

Ahhh, drat! He found a mistake I made on a post that should never have had a mistake in it.

When he sent me the email, I looked over the blog, reread it, and still did not see it. I was about to fire him off an email basically asking, “What are you talking about?”

Then I saw it.

One mistake.

A two-letter word omitted from a critical place. It was not a great mistake, but it was one I missed, and in my mind, unforgivable. Life can be rough when you are a writer–and a perfectionist.

The mistake served to illustrate exactly what I was talking about in the blog. And Holly was the one who caught me.

I hate working tired. It is a poor excuse, but it is the truth. When you are tired and working hard and fast, the probability of making mistakes increases. It also becomes critical when trying to figure out where the mistake happened.

When I got the email this morning, I looked over yesterday’s blog. Carefully. Still, I did not see the mistake.

It was there, however, just waiting for someone to find it.

As any publisher will tell you, it is almost impossible to catch all the mistakes before publishing. All you can do is your best.

And trust me, this is no excuse for my lapse yesterday. It is a fact that we are human and we will make mistakes. Especially when we are tired, or worse, fatigued.

I am just thankful I was writing yesterday, and not flying… It can be really bad to make a mistake as a pilot.


© 2011 J. Clark

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Arranging Words

What is the deal about arranging words? What could possibly be so important about the way an author puts words on to paper? Can it really make a difference? After all, as long as you transmit the message correctly, that is what the most important thing is about writing. Right?

Is punctuation that necessary? Is there truly a right place and a wrong place to insert commas properly? And periods? And what about question marks? Must we really capitalize some words, and not others?

What about those other, weird, punctuation marks? You know, things like colons and semi-colons, parentheses and quotation marks. Unfortunately, there are a lot of rules for using those different markings in your writing.

You have to pay attention to those rules. If you do not, people reading your work will not be able to make heads or tails out of your writing. (There’s another question and fodder for another blog–who came up with those sayings, like “heads or tails.”)

Paying attention to the rules of writing is very important for all writers. If you are a freelance magazine writer, disregarding all those rules of writing tends to make magazine editors disregard you as a serious writer.

If you are a budding novelist, if you have a tendency to ignore the rules, agents, editors, and publishers tend to ignore both you and your work. More than likely, you will begin collecting a number of rejection letters–which someone wrote carefully in accordance to the rules. 

Other types of authors who cannot afford to break the rules of writing are the authors of resumes and cover letters. Nothing screams, “I am not worth hiring!” more loudly than a cover letter written by a job applicant who does not know the difference between “to,” “too,” “two,” or the numeral “2.” Oh yes, there is also the difference between effect and affect, further and farther, and more. 

Writing and arranging words goes a long way beyond merely putting pen to paper, clacking on a typewriter, or lighting off the word processor. It is about choosing words carefully to begin with, using skill and discipline to arrange and edit, and then carefully re-writing your work.

With due diligence, anyone can write a great resume and cover letter for the perfect job or sell enough magazine articles to make a living.

Who knows? Maybe you can even write The Great American Novel.


© 2011 J. Clark

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Happy Birthday Southwest!

Today is Southwest Airlines’ 40th birthday. The airline traces its first lineage all the way back to the 1967 incorporation of Air Southwest Co., by Herb Kelleher and Rollin King. However, the name change and first flight of Southwest Airlines happened 40 years ago today.

In the beginning, the intent was to serve only Texas. In this way, Kelleher and King believed the company could avoid federal regulation. In those formative years, Trans-Texas, Braniff, and Continental tried to put Southwest out of business. Southwest won legal action that lasted more than three years.

After the court fight and name change, Southwest based in Dallas and began offering service between the Texas cities of Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston. They only had three jets at the time. Later they would acquire another, but would have to sell it to cover payroll during the financial troubles suffered in the early days.

One aspect in which the airline is very successful is in promotion of the corporate culture. Everyone working for the company seems to be very pleased and happy to be part of the Southwest family. The company emphasizes teamwork and communication, as well as a whimsical attitude when dealing with the public.

Pilots’ public announcements have included gems like, “Remember, all of Southwest’s flights are non-smoking, but if you insist, we’ll let you sit outside on the wing.” Cabin announcements are just as funny and fun. On other airlines, people seem to ignore the safety brief, but on a Southwest jet, the cabin crews competitively present their best entertaining briefs to make the passengers stop, take notice, and become more educated in the safety features of the Boeing 737.

Another thing about Southwest is the amazing foresight of Kelleher and the other leaders of the company. This includes the purchase of fuel, airplanes, and the company’s expansion.

As the airline developed, the company went from covering Texas, to serving the southwest region, to their present route structure, which includes more of a national reach. Over the recent years, Southwest has acquired other airlines in their quest for a larger market. These other companies included Muse Air, Morris Air, ATA Airlines, and Air Tran Airways.

One mark of a great company is the lines it has developed at Wall Street. When looking at the lines for Southwest and comparing them to all the other carriers, none can hold a candle to the record of Southwest.

Here’s to another great 40 years!


© 2011 J. Clark

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“Like a Sack of Potatoes”

When Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic Ocean in May of 1927, he ignited the imaginations of many. One enthralled by the idea of being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic was Amy Phipps Guest. Amy Phipps was the wife of Frederick Edward Guest, a British politician who served as the Chief Whip of the Coalition Liberal Party from 1917 to 1921 under Prime Minister David Lloyd George. After a little more research, Guest decided the risk was too much for her to fly as a passenger across the Atlantic Ocean.

Instead, she proposed to sponsor the project if they could find a suitable girl with “the right image.” This led to the famous call from Captain Hilton H. Railey to Amelia Earhart. “Would you like to fly the Atlantic?”

Pilot Wilmer Stultz and copilot Louis Gordon, who would also serve as the mechanic for the flight, made room in the craft for Earhart. At first, Earhart was going to accompany the men merely as a passenger. Earhart took on the responsibility of maintaining the flight log.

Stultz, Gordon, and Earhart would fly the Atlantic in a Fokker F.VIIbb/3m nicknamed, Friendship. The three-engined transport aircraft was one of the first airliners serving both America and Europe.  The airplane was crewed by two and had enough room for eight passengers. Friendship had an overall length of 47 feet and 11 inches with a wingspan of 71 feet, 2 inches.  The Fokker’s empty weight was just over 6700 pounds and her typical land version gross weight tipped the scales at 11,500.  For this trip, Friendship was equipped with overly large floats for operating off the ocean.

Amelia Earhart in South Hampton June 18, 1928 / Wikipedia

Friendship and her crew took off from Trepassey Harbor in Newfoundland on June 17, 1928.  Over the Atlantic Ocean, the flight operated for the most part in instrument conditions.  Because she had no training flying instruments, Earhart did not fly on this trip.  Twenty hours and 40 minutes after takeoff, Stultz landed the Fokker near Burry Port in Wales.

In England, when asked how much she flew, Earhart said, “Stultz did all the flying—had to.  I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes.”

While she did not have the opportunity to fly across the Atlantic in 1928, everyone has to wonder about the burr it surely must have put under her saddle.  After her comment about being “like a sack of potatoes,” Earhart also said, “Maybe someday I’ll try it alone.”

When Earhart, Stultz, and Gordon returned to the United States, New York City treated the trio to a ticker-tape parade.  They were also guests of President Calvin Coolidge at a party in Washington at the White House.

Indeed, just under four years later on May 20, 1932, Earhart, then 34, did exactly what she said she might try.  In a single engine Lockheed Vega, she struck out for Paris.  After flying just shy of 15 hours by four minutes, she landed in a pasture north of Derry, Northern Ireland.

Earhart would win the Distinguished Flying Cross for this flight.


© 2011 J. Clark

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Wow! Thanks!

I was surprised this week, when I found my blog had attained the distinction of acquiring more readers than I could possibly have imagined. From all over the world! And all this since I started the blog last August. For this, I want to say thank you to all of you who have taken the time to read what I have written, and for some, to have taken a moment to make a comment or send a private message.

 As I come closer to the end of the first year of my “grand experiment,” I am pleased that I made promises to myself and kept them. When I started the blog, it was to make myself write. As with pilots, baseball and football players, pianists, surgeons, and others involved in any endeavor, to stay on top of your game requires practicing. Many times, life came in between my research & writing tools and me.

This is just another way of saying I lost my discipline.

So last August, when I sat next to Ardis as she (we) watched the movie, Julie & Julia, I started thinking. I found myself feeling guilty for not writing the way I should have been writing all along. I got to thinking about dying–not that I am going to do that anytime soon, but no one can tell–without accomplishing everything I wanted to finish before it was my time. One of the things that kept coming back was my writing.

I learned a long time ago that it is easy to write if you are in practice. If you are not, however, it takes a long time first, to get started, secondly to write well, and third, to finish.

That was my first intent of the blog—to write. What happened beyond keeping myself in the writing game were the surprises I did not expect.

For one, when I wrote about my Cuban grandfathers, I was surprised to find that one of my readers turned out to be a long lost cousin living in Switzerland. She wrote me a couple of weeks later and by way of the magic of the Internet, exchanged photos and stories about our lives.

Another surprise is the number of pilots reading the blog who let me know they learned a lot from what I explained about flying. One in particular is Dave, from Australia (MidLifePilot’s Flying Blog). As he read my blog, I read his as he wrote about the trials and tribulations of learning to fly. It was a very fine opportunity to remember how much fun and sometimes how difficult learning to fly is from the perspective of a beginner. Thank you, Dave, for the insight.

There is also the satisfaction of knowing I have helped many writers take those first important steps in their own writing careers. Additionally, I have enjoyed dealing with other professional writers and journalists through this electronic forum. Each new contact with essayists, both old and new, has proved to be a wonderful experience.

There are pilots and writers from all over the world who have taken a moment to write or comment. From Russia, the Caribbean, the Pacific Rim, and South America. The more who write and comment, the more I appreciate this blue marble sitting out and spinning around in space.

The Internet truly has made this a small world.


© 2011 J. Clark

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The Blue Angels First Performance

On this day in 1946 at NAS Jacksonville, LCDR Butch Voris pushed the throttle forward on his blue and gold Grumman F-6 Hellcat to start his takeoff roll.  The other pilots on his team, in their individual Hellcats, also pushed throttles forward.  It was the first time the team ever flew together in front of an airshow crowd.

The Blue Angels were born.

1946 Blue Angels flying Grumman Hellcats

On April 24, 1946 the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Chester Nimitz ordered the formation of a flight team to enhance Navy moral and bring the mission of naval air into the public eye.

Later, rear admiral Ralph Davison chose Lieutenant Commander Butch Voris as the first leader of the Navy’s new flight demonstration team, The Blue Angels.

Voris personally picked his fellow teammates, LT Maurice “Wick” Wickendoll, LT Mel Cassidy, and LCDR Lloyd Barnard, all combat veterans of the Pacific theater.  After establishing themselves, they began secret practice sessions over the Everglades—in the event that if there were a mishap during the initial training, the public would be unaware.

The first team. From left to right: LT Al Taddeo, Solo; LTJG Gale Stouse, Spare; LCDR "Butch" Voris, Flight Leader; LT Maurice "Wick" Wickendoll, Right Wing; LT Mel Cassidy, Left Wing.

After a very short period of practice, the Navy brass witnessed the team’s first performances and they were enthusiastic about Voris’ and his team’s work.  This led to the scheduling of the team’s first airshow at NAS Jacksonville on the First Coast of Florida.

Flying highly modified Grumman F6F Hellcats, the former combat pilots performed low-flying maneuvers in tight formations, a tradition carried on through today by the present team flying F/A-18 Hornets.  As with today’s Hornets, the Hellcats of yesteryear were painted sea blue with gold leaf trim.

Their first show in 1946 lasted all of 15 minutes.  Since then, the show routine has increased in both time and number of airplanes.  The type of men, both the flyers and the maintainers, remain constant; they are the best of the Navy.

Back in the early days, Butch Voris instituted the values, intent, and objectives that remain the cornerstone of today’s team.  He wanted to keep something going on in front of the crowd all the time.  And he wanted to be better than the Army Air Corps, the predecessor to the Air Force and their team, the Thunderbirds. 

In short order, Butch Voris’ team won worldwide recognition as the best aerobatic team for flying spectacular maneuvers in tight formation close to the ground.  The United States Navy and the Blue Angels are perched high on the hill as the best aerobatic team flying.  No other flight demonstration team is capable of playing “King of the Mountain” to take away the Blues’ position as the King of Airshow Performers.

For my previous post about the Blues, see Impressions.


© 2011 J. Clark

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Sad Day for the Bomber Boys

Monday, June 13, 2011, will remain a sad day for the warbird community.  A vintage warrior made her final landing in a cornfield near Chicago.  After the landing, all seven aboard the airplane were able to make good their escapes, with only one suffering injury during the egress.

Many warbird enthusiasts and different companies restored this airplane to appear as the B-17G Flying Fortress, Liberty Belle.  The original Belle served with the 390th Bomb Group.  The United States Army Air Corps formed the group in mid-January 1943 and activated the unit on January 26.

They trained for war with the B-17s and moved to Framlingham, England in July 1943.  They began combat operations on August 12, 1943 and continued through to the end of the war.

In September 1944, the group went up against targets in Dusseldorf, Germany.  Twelve aircraft of the group were flying in formation when flak struck one of the airplanes amidships.  The exploding bombs of the payload destroyed nine airplanes in the formation.  Of the remaining three aircraft, only one made it home to Framlingham.  That ship was the Liberty Belle.

The owner of the aircraft that crashed yesterday was Don Brooks.  His father served with the 390th Bomb Group during the war.  Brooks, in a tribute to his father, discovered this particular airplane and purchased it in 1990.  He then created the Liberty Foundation, an organization dedicated to preserving and displaying the airplane.

B-17G "Liberty Belle" / via Wikipedia, Mark Strawn

On December 8, 2004 after 14 years of dedicated hard work by many paid and volunteer workers, the airplane flew for the first time after a $3.5 million restoration.  Following the initial test flights, the airplane joined other vintage aircraft in touring the country.

Besides touring the United States, the Liberty Foundation flew the airplane to several airshows in Canada.  In addition to rounds in the United States and Canada, the Liberty Belle also made a transatlantic crossing to visit England. 

This particular airplane, SN 44-85734, never saw combat and had a unique journey from the times of the war to its last landing in the Illinois cornfield.  In 1947, the government sold the airplane for scrap, but before destruction, Pratt & Whitney purchased the airplane for use as a test bed for their emerging turbine engines.  After Pratt & Whitney completed their testing, they donated the airplane to the Connecticut Aeronautical Historic Association.  While there, the airplane substantially damaged by a tornado in 1979.

During the restoration process, Liberty Belle became operational by cannibalizing another Flying Fortress.  Tom Reilly’s company in Kissimmee Florida, the Flying Tigers Warbird Restoration Museum, performed most of the work.

Monday morning the airplane was to takeoff from Aurora Municipal Airport in Sugar Grove, Illinois.  The aircraft and crew were bound for new destinations in Indiana.  Shortly after takeoff, an engine fire developed in engine number one, the outboard engine on the left wing.

Another aircraft participating in the tour advised the bomber pilot of the fire and to “get it on the ground now!”  That is exactly what the crew did.  They lowered the landing gear and landed the airplane in a harvested cornfield.

After the landing, everyone got out of the airplane.  The number one engine continued to burn and the fire spread.  Eventually, the fire reached the high-octane gasoline in the fuel cells.

Monday afternoon, Don Brooks reflected on the loss of the airplane.  He, like many, feels as though the crash of the airplane was a loss of a national treasure.

Indeed, it is.


© 2011 J.  Clark

Posted in Aviation, Aviation History, Flying, Life in General | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments