“THE NAVY CAREER OF JOHN R. NICHOLAS”
In 1945 while attending the engineering school at Northwestern University, I learned that the V-5 program was open and thus went to the recruiting office on 11 August 1945 to enlist. They advised me to get my high school transcript, birth certificate, and parent's permission and to return on 20 August for mental and physical exams. Then on 14 Aug, the Japanese agreed to a cease-fire; did I frighten them or was it just a coincidence.
Fifteen applicants started exams on 20 Aug and two of us were-sworn in on 21 Aug. I wanted to immediately quit school, but my Dad felt with the cease-fire in effect, I might not get called to active duty, so back to school I went.
In October my orders to Villanova College in Villanova PA arrived; I'd not heard of this school. On 31 Oct, a large group of guys gathered on the plaza behind the Board of Trade building in Chicago. We then marched to Union Station for the overnight train trip to Pennsylvania on an all Navy Penn RR train.
People who inquired about this marching group were surprised we were entering the Navy – "What for, the war is over". On the train were guys going to Bucknell, Pennsylvania, Rennsaleer, other schools, and about 30 guys for Villanova. We were in the first car behind the locomotive and tender and it was the dirtiest train ride ever. When I sent my clothes home, my mother responded "How did you get so dirty in two days?"
When the train stopped in Villanova PA the next morning, the detail leader Edwin Meyers lined us up and marched us onto the campus. We sort of resented his manner and called him "admiral", a moniker he retained. That day, 11-1-45, we received our shots, moved our room furniture from storage into our dorm, Mendal Hall, and received hair cuts. That evening, some of us were lucky and got our uniforms that consisted of used blues and whites plus new skivvies, shoes, and socks. Classes had started before we arrived; thus we were a week behind in schoolwork when we attended our first classes with textbooks.
Villanova is a Catholic school, Order of St. Augustine, with V-12, ROTC, and Marine units. Some of our teachers were priests and they began each class with a prayer in speed speech. We stood fire watches and had military drill on Saturday. In short, we were attending college with a $50.00/month allowance, I never got that kind of dough from my Dad.
On our first liberty, after 3 days in the Navy, we went into Philadelphia and stopped at a bar for a beer. When the bartender served us he added, "Don't get caught in here". Between semesters, all of the Navy units embarked on the USS Columbia (CL-56), a light cruiser. We had a tour most days, engineering dept, bridge, CIC, fire room, etc. but in the main we were deck apes. The Navy terminated their wartime contracts with the colleges about 30 June 46. Having finished the two-year college requirement for flight training, I received orders to NAS Glenview IL for Selective Flight Training. After taking the Aviation Cadet oath, we were issued officer type uniforms including dress blues and khakis.
In ground school, we learned code and blinker and received instruction in Navy customs and etiquette, military drill and course rules. We flew N2S-3s with a lockable tail wheel. My instructor, LT Wright, advised all of his students made it to designation; I continued the streak. On 15 July, I had my safe for solo check, got an up, and then taxied my plane too close, much to close, to a field marker. My check pilot had to push and pull the plane so I could clear the marker and continue my solo at Arlington Field; he was a forgiving guy, a Santa Claus.
My home was about 7 miles south of Glenview and I went home every weekend; loved it. Three friends from high school were stationed at Glenview; one in the crash crew, a second in the pay office, and the third ran the coffee mess in the instructors ready room. He would ask LT Wright, "How's your student doing?" and then relay the response to me.
After some leave, I took the CB&Q railroad to Ottumwa IA for pre-flight on a ticket procured by my Dad. I rode in the parlor car, seated in an individual overstuffed swiveling chair. Beer was available by pressing a call button; I thoroughly enjoyed the trip.
I was assigned to class 10-46 in Battalion 4 led by LT Ed (Hunchy) Ludeman. I enjoyed pre-flight; the ground school wasn't tough and the physical stuff mainly fun except mass exercises. The swimming was the most demanding especially the mile swim and some swims while wearing a flight suit. I collected many demerits for little stuff and had to march them off. The winter of 46-47 was cold so we pulled our watch caps over our faces when marching into the wind to ground school. We also had some snow ball fights and sometimes we washed the faces of the Georgia and Florida guys with snow; they were both surprised and upset. On 14 Dec we mustered in the drill hall and about 90% of the Regiment took the oath of Aviation Midshipman.
During Christmas leave in 46, my Dad wanted some pictures in dress blues. I resisted, but did comply; today I think they're pretty good, in fact I like them. Returning to Ottumwa, there were so many Mid'n at Union Station in Chicago that the train master said "Navy first"; we enjoyed that recognition. It was -30F the next morning in Ottumwa. Some strong and lasting friendships began in pre-flight. As a class we lived together, went to class together, ate together, marched to church together, fought the system together, went on liberty in search of girls together – included in this group are Carl Neidlinger, Dick ‘Fingers’ Rauhut, George Stith, Bob Harpo Marx, Lou Ives, Roy Murphy, Jim Burton, John Reilly.
During 1946, the Navy went through a big demobilization; many flight instructors and mechs left the Navy. There was no recognizable purge of flight students. Some Mid'ns finished pre-flight and were sent to Corpus Christi. About 4-6 weeks later, they returned to Ottumwa. This group could not start flight training because of the paucity of instructors. Our class's time in Ottumwa was extended a few weeks. In mid February, I left Ottumwa on the CB&Q to St. Louis, then the MoPac to Houston and Corpus Christi. Enroute, we stopped in Little Rock and there I first saw racial discrimination: separate drinking fountains, separate-waiting areas, it disturbed me.
At Corpus Christi, reveille was at 0530 followed by a muster outside which was conducted by CPOs enrolled in the Aviation Pilot program (AP). There were also some 1st and 2nd class petty officers in the AP program undergoing the same flight training we were enrolled therein. After Corpus Christi, we seldom saw an AP student. We had to wait several weeks before we could start ground school and flight training and we spent those days doing menial tasks including lawn mowing and on one exciting day we polished bowling balls. Our initial training was in the N2S-5 Stearman with a steerable tail wheel. One week we would go to ground school in the morning, then after lunch bus to NAAS Rodd Field for flight training. The next week, the schedule was reversed. In the morning we would "Roll out the yellow birds" from the hangar and in the afternoon we would "Roll in the yellow birds". We also refueled the planes and helped start them by cranking the inertia starter. We flew off the mat at Rodd and all of the outlying fields were sod. My instructor gave me an up, but the check pilot rewarded a down. So after a warm-up flight I got an up and soloed. There were a number of students who quit the program at this time and a significant number who washed out in A stage.
In the spring of '47, the Navy inaugurated two new syllabi. In the Yoke program all flight training was in the SNJ, the students did not train at all in the N2S. The Xray program was used to transition N2S students like myself into the Yoke program. I finished B stage in the N2S and then went to NAAS Cabaniss for SNJ training. Because of the heavy new student load, we had to work on the SNJ line for about 4 weeks. Then we went to ground school full days for awhile and finally down to the flight line for some flying. After soloing the SNJ, a student could fly three hops/day M-F plus two hops on Saturday. One week I had 15 flights and in July 1947, I flew 61.0 hours. I had a good instructor, a chap named Depaninger.
Meanwhile, back at the barracks a poker club flourished including Roy Murphy, Harpo Marx, John Lindsay, John McNamara, John Barkley, Lou Ives, couple of guys named Van and others. We met in an empty but unlocked barracks and never cleaned up our coke bottles, cigarette butts, or trash. One day a Battalion Officer found our "clubroom" and saw our mess and also found a note with some names thereon. He contacted these guys and told them to get their fellow players and clean the entire barracks building, and we did. I spent an evening polishing brass doorknobs.
After Cabaniss, we went through instrument training at Mainside flying SNJs under the hood. We also spent time in Link trainers. The first 10 flights were basic instruments, then a check ride. Then 5 radio instrument flights and a check ride followed. I accomplished all of it in less than 3 weeks and was finished with the Corpus Christi training on 28 Aug 47. We had some great Texas liberties including Houston, Galveston, Loredo, San Antonio, Matamoros, we also enjoyed drinking beer at the cadet club.
After the Labor Day weekend, I boarded a heavily loaded R4D with about 12 other Mid'n and we flew to Pensacola. There we were placed in flights of 6 for formation, cross-country, gunnery, and night flying. My flight consisted of Tom Voorhees, Mal Thompson, Rudy Radigan, Jim Raborn, and one other. Our cross-country flights were the hurricane evacuation flights (4), to Memphis and return, in September '47. We had good times on this flyaway, but those who remained at Pensacola worked to clean up the mess created by the hurricane.
Gunnery was special; we flew in right echelon about 10 kts above stall speed. Shortly after we'd peel off the instructor would shout "Reverse", reverse". In fact, he was hollering all of the time during our runs. I made it through gunnery without ever hitting the sleeve. The next squadron was CQTU-4, carrier qualification. The first flight was a solo "slow flight"; how slow will the SNJ fly before stalling. Then plenty of FCLP. One day when returning from FCLP with B. J. Stringer in the back seat, we ran into heavy rain. I made a 180 turn and returned to better weather where we both looked for a place to land. We landed at an unattended outlying field. Thirty minutes later, two SNJs were overhead and one radioed to take-off and join-up. The squadron XO was critical of our landing field choice, but the CO said, "Well done". We embarked on the USS Saipan (CVL-48) for our 6 carrier landings. I needed 10 or so passes to get 6 traps. After one launch, I noticed a big splash off the ship's stern; someone had spun into the water. He was picked up by the plane guard and returned by highline to the Saipan; it was my buddy Tom Voorhees.
The PBY flying boat was next. Each flight consisted of an instructor, two students, and a mech. We took off from Pensacola Bay, flew over to East Bay, and shot landings: normal, full stall, and instrument landings; we did very little airwork. I flew with Rudy Radian in this squadron including both solos. On our solos, we had a mech with us and we either shot landings, or sat on the water having a cigarette; it was boring.
The night flight was hairy and very dark. To land, we had to line up with a single row of flares in the water, then establish a descent of 200 ft/min, keep the wings level with no horizon, and maintain airspeed of about 80 IAS. When the plane hit the water, we pulled the throttles back. I wasn't much of an instrument pilot and thus struggled the entire flight. I was glad when that flight was complete.
Liberty was better in Pensacola; we were close to town, there were some gambling places in town, the AcRec had several dances, and New Orleans just hours away. Returning from Christmas leave, I looked for Bob Marx and learned he had suffered a brain concussion and broken left femur in an auto accident and thus was in the Naval Hospital. Six months later he was still in a cast. He eventually was released from the hospital, flunked the eye exam, and left the Navy.
Our final squadron was flying SNBs at Whiting Field. We lived in the BOQ at South Field and flew out of North Field; a bus ride every morning and evening. The beer hall was the "O" Club which we enjoyed, but we ate in the wardroom and that was lousy. Our flights we similar to the PBY training, a little airwork, but lots of landings, most of them included single engine work. My check pilot was ENS Klein, a reputed hardnose. I made three major mistakes on this flight including a ground loop while taxiing. I expected a down, but his opening wordswhen debriefing were "On your solo you should work on …” On our solos we could not leave the flight patterns at Whiting. The final flight at Whiting was a navigation flight in an R4D, six students per flight. I was number 18 student in waiting for this flight when this training was canceled. PBY training was also canceled at this time. We spent two rainy days checking out of Whiting and Mainside and then flew to Jacksonville.
We all loved Jacksonville; it was our final training squadron before designation. We lived in the JBOQ, we had an open gate, and we could wear civilian clothes.
I was assigned to ATU-5 flying TBMs in a flight that included Carl Schluter, J.C. Shows, Jim Glover, Bob Martin, Mal Thompson, and Bob McIntyre. On my first TBM flight, Dick Nickerson, known as "Little Nick", climbed up on my wing and help me start, it was much appreciated. The take-off was OK, I flew around for awhile, then we 7 rendezvoused and returned to JAX for our first landings; they weren't bad. Our training included lots of ordnance work, rockets, glide bombing, and even some gunnery. We had 5 night flights, some instrument work and a cross-country to New Orleans. The weather was good and we finished the flight syllabus before the ground school syllabus.
Carl Neidlinger lived in Jacksonville and he introduced me to Catherine Gaule, it was a wonderful courtship which lasted for several years. We returned to Pensacola for Carquals in type, which concluded with 7 landings on the USS Wright (CVL-49). Upon returning to JAX, we underwent several days of intense ground school to complete the syllabus. Then on Thursday, 24 June 1948, we mustered in the admin building and were Designated Naval Aviators. A great day. I acquired 416 flight hours, soloed in 5 types, and made 13 arrested landings in 24 months of flight training. However, on Friday, I returned to ground school to complete my communication checkout. Then I flew to New York with the JAX NARTU and onto Philadelphia.
Having never traveled West, I requested and received orders to San Diego. I flew American Airlines to Los Angeles where I met Stu Ferguson and Lou Ives. We had several days at the beach and then drove down to North Island to check in with ComFairWestCoast. They immediately assigned us to FAETUPAC at NAAS Ream Field for four weeks of electronic training. We returned to North Island to await our squadron assignments. While I was unpacking, John Reid watched me start to pin on the lapel anchors. He commented "We're not wearing those out here Nick", and I never wore them again. I volunteered to attend the homing torpedo school in Key West for 7 weeks.
Meanwhile Air Group 21 was forming at NAS Seattle – many Mid'n were included in that group. Upon returning to North Island I took the oath and became an Ensign USN on 14 Dec 48. I was then assigned to VC-21 for future assignment to VS-25. So I requested and received orders to VR-32, the ferry squadron, and went flying.
My first trips were AD-3s to Alameda. After following Lenny Komosarek in a corsair to Quonset Point and then returning a different F4U to North Island, I was made a Solo Pilot; I could get lost by myself. My first ferry was an SNB to the Beech factory in Wichita returning with a TBM from El Paso. My final trip was an AD-3 to Norfolk, returning a F4U-4 to North Island. VS-25 was commissioned on 1 April 1948 and I was there. We flew some, attended some schools and carqualied with 8 landings on the Badoeing Strait. I volunteered to attend Mine Warfare School in Yorktown VA. About this time, the Seattle Air Group was decommissioned, the pilots returned to North Island and went into North Island Air Groups. In July, 49 I was notified that I would not be retained in the regular Navy. Shortly thereafter I was sent TAD to the USS Curtiss (AV-4), a seaplane tender in San Diego; I was most unhappy. Highlight of this four-month tour was a cruise to Hawaii. I also qualified as OOD Underway. Returning to San Diego, I got TAD orders to VR-32 and ferried an F4U-5N from the factory in Dallas to Norfolk. We ferried a PBY-6A on the return to North Island. I returned to VS-25 in late December and from there went to the Separation Center at the Naval Station San Diego and then left the Navy on 2 January 1950.
I returned to the Chicago area, reenrolled in Northwestern, and joined the Reserve at NAS Glenview. I was assigned a non-pay billet in a VS Squadron and could only fly the SNJ. In July 1950, the Korean War started. I received a pay billet in December. On 26 December 1950, I received a navy letter from Glenview, which read "You are hereby notified of your recall to active duty as a pilot in VA-728.” We reported to Glenview on 1 February 51 and stayed there for two months flying AM-1 Martin Maulers. We also completed instrument training and earned white cards. We moved to NAS Alameda in April and formed Air Group 15 with VF-831 and VF-837 from New York, VF-653 from Akron, and VF-713 from Denver. The squadron complement was fleeted up; we flew AD-1s for awhile and then transitioned into the AD-4. We did our ordnance work at NAAS Fallon NV, carqualed with 20 landings on the USS Antietam (CV-36) off San Diego. In mid-September, we loaded aboard the Antietam and headed for Hawaii and an Operational Readiness Inspection.
The ORI flights were my first operational flights from a ship; all previous flying had been carquals. In preparation for some close air support work in Makua Valley, Bob Thomas and I flew a fam hop around Oahu, sometimes rather low. We caused a ruckus that Sunday and thus both of us went into "hack" for 2 weeks.
Upon arriving in Yokosuka, Japan, we got evade and escape lectures, water survival suits, 38s, charts, and other stuff. On the way to the Sea of Japan, we had a refresher flight. On my first launch, the engine was running rough, so I aborted, dumped most of the bombs, and then landed with two 1000# bombs hung up. On my first strike, I was surprised how inanimate enemy territory appeared. We did not see smoke, trains, trucks, people; nothing was moving. On another strike, leader Jim Walley was directed to land at K-3 after the strike to repair his tail hook. The Marines treated us well, especially at the Club. We walked in every mud puddle so we would have the only muddy boots back on the Antietam. The ship would be on the line for 30-33 days, then off the line for 14 days including about 10 days in Japan. Our flights were usually 6 ADs and 6 F4Us. There were 3 launches each day for 3 days, followed by a replenishment day with no flying. The ADs normal load was 1-2000#, 2-1000#, plus 8-250# on the wings, and several hundred rounds of 20mm ammo. The F4Us carried 1-1000# bomb, plus 6 smaller bombs on their wing racks. Our main effort was railroad interdiction. We encountered enemy fire on most strikes, even in the boonies. Small arms fire was the greatest threat, and we saw few tracers. On many targets, we set up a racetrack-bombing pattern and made multiple runs.
We did not do this on such hot targets as Yangdok and Wonsan. Sometimes we'd drop the 250s flying straight and level at 100-200 feet; we also got bomb blast when flying this low. On our first tour, we had several flight deck crashes, and one pilot, Glen Geho, ditched near the task group and was picked up by a destroyer.
On our first R&R in Japan we visited the shrines in Nikko; on all subsequent R&Rs I went skiing at Akakura. I flew 10 strikes on the first tour, 12 on the second including 6 in 7 days, 9 in the third, and 10 in the fourth and last deployment. We had one group grope: 8 ADs, 8F4Us, and about 12 F9Fs. The props launched first and flew at normal rated power 40" and 2400 turns to Yangdok, the target; the jets still got there much earlier. CAG led and I flew on his wing. We climbed to 13,000 feet and then CAG radioed, "Switch blowers". Not remembering how to switch and knowing we had to switch back before diving on the target now in sight, I didn't switch. All the ADs passed me by, however they needed to make a right 90 to reach the target and so I rendezvoused with them in that turn in the #3 spot. I watched 3 big bombs leave CAG's plane, then 3 from Dwyer's, then I pickled my three; this all happened in a few seconds. The bombing run felt good, and looked good, but the photo recon advised only damaging hits from our 20 plus big bombs. Experienced hydraulic failure on one strike that lead to a no flap landing with a closed canopy; the emergency canopy system failed. I had a tendency to land to the right on the ship, a bad habit I never corrected.
After returning to the States, Joe Voda and I got orders to FASRON 7 in San Diego. Then TAD orders to Seattle squadron VS-892 for a checkout and carquals in the TBM. In September '52 we embarked on the USS Rendova (CVE-116) for Eniwetok Atoll and the first hydrogen bomb test. We were assigned as liaison pilots to the ship and in reality we had little to do; it was a boring assignment. For test day, 1 Nov 52, the atoll was evacuated and we were steaming about 10-15 miles away. We had our backs to the blast and our eyes in our arms, at detonation. Still we very much felt the heat from the blast and also were very cognizant of the light, both were extremely intense. Because of the partly cloudy sky, we didn't see the big mushroom cloud, but we saw and then heard the shock wave. On 16 Nov we witnessed an air drop and detonation of an A-bomb. We were seated on the beach of Eniwetok Island. Shortly after the blast, we were directed to fly all the planes aboard. I led the TBMs and after take-off, kept 40" & 2400 turns on to rendezvoused with the lead Corsair flying downwind at 2000' and indicating 180; it was a very good joinup. When I got the cut, I was heading left and landing left, felt I was going into the water. However, I caught an early wire and stayed on the flight deck. It was my last carrier landing and my worst carrier landing.
After we returned to San Diego, I left the Navy and returned to Northwestern University. I rejoined the Reserve at Glenview in 1953 in a VF squadron flying F8Fs, then F4U-5s, and then into jets and the F9F-7. The aircraft assigned to the Reserve were frequently Fleet discards including the above. Took my first 2-week cruise at NAS Willow Grove flying F4U-5s in 1954. After getting a BSME degree, I moved to Seattle to work for Boeing and flew AD-5s with VA-892. Returning to Chicago in 1956, I started flying the F9F-6. After several years, the reserve command got a new mission – ASW warfare, and I moved into the S2F program. Really enjoyed the Stoof, all 2000 hours therein.
We flew night and day, rain, snow, fog, sun, but no sleet. And we flew all over the USA. On 1 Oct 61, VS-721 went on active duty and we spent most of a year at NAS Seattle flying close in ASW patrols. It was fun and we got to enjoy the World's Fair in 1962. Returning to Chicago, I flew the stoof another 7 years including a tour as CO of VS-721. My final flying assignment was instrument instructor in VS-724 and I relished that role. I hung around Glenview in a non-pay status for awhile, was selected for Captain, and retired. The NAVY, a great, great adventure, oh to live it again.
Memorable and Humorous
Memorable experience: I survived. Never lost an engine. Didn’t meet an accident board. Stayed out of the water and the barrier. Didn’t get caught busting FARs or playing poker.
Humerous experience(s): Getting nailed for buzzing Oahu. Somebody dropped a sonobuoy on Disneyland.
Letter from Helen
22 Cape Cod
Irvine, CA 92620
May 02, 2009
Hello to All:
I’m still alive and kicking—maybe not quite as quickly as before, but still kicking. I know I have been quite remiss in my communication, for which I sincerely apologize. … I’ll try to up date you …
It’s been four years since Jack passed away. Sometimes it feels like a long time ago, and at others it seems just like yesterday. Every time I occupy the window seat while flying commercially, I can’t help but see the small airports on the ground below. The sight of them always brings back wonderful memories of our adventures together. I miss them and him! [Jack and Helen made a bike trip through the Blue Ridge and the following year flew Jack’s Mooney to the east coast and RON’d in Charlottesville, Virginia, with Lou and Elli Ives. One year Jack & Helen also flew to Alaska—that story is included in Jack’s section of the Brown Shoes History].
…I wish you all well and hope that each of you finds some positives in each day. It is my desire to be more communicative and I hope that, at the same time, you will keep me in your communication network as well. I have an answering machine on my land line, (949)726-0858, a guest bedroom and a car that knows the way to the local airports, all of which can be put into use at a moment’s notice. Be good to yourselves and please stay in touch.
With love and caring,
Email from Helen Nicholas
April 10, 2007
This e-mail is to restore some semblance of hope in all of you with regard to Jack's prognosis. The neurosurgeon told me that his exam on Wed. Morning, [April 10] confirmed voluntary movement of both the left: arm, and leg. Another "jump for joy day"! I felt that I had observed it, but the doctor said the left side had responded to his verbal commands, more weakly on the left than right, but still responsive. The left arm is the weakest of the appendages.
Also, Jack now opens his eyes if someone is in the room talking to him. Yesterday I spent about 45 minutes at his bedside and his eyes were open for the whole time. I finally told him that I was leaving for awhile and would be back. I think it was an effort for him to hold them open and when he stays awake for extended periods of time, he truly does gain consciousness because he starts squirming to find a more comfortable position. Some of that is because he's been lying basically in one position for a week+, but also as a response to some pain. They are still giving him morphine as needed, but not as often as before.
Sunday morning's catscan was the fourth consecutive catscan to show no new bleeding. Each morning when I get up and haven't heard the phone ring in the middle of the night, brings him closer to living normalcy and I am thrilled. They have reduced the outflow acceptance rate of the catheter in his skull draining out excessive spinal fluid. As the brain adapts to absorbing more of it by itself, the rate of outflow will continue to be reduced and the catheter will be removed. They have also taken the ventilator out of his mouth and inserted it in a trachiostomy, so that his mouth is free of obstruction. Correspondingly, as the lungs take over more and more of the breathing itself, the oxygen inflow will be reduced and the ventilator will be removed. The more things they can take away, the more the danger of infection is reduced. Infection is now his biggest demon. In fact, his temperature shot up to 103 Sunday evening, and the blood pressure went right along with it. They immediately began to administer a different antibiotic and brought everything back to normal ranges and he's been stable ever since. But because of the very high risk of infection, the neurosurgeon still considers him on the critical list.
His leg wound is healing well. Monday the trauma surgeon was able to close the wound on the outer side of his leg and partially the one on the inside. There was a lot of dead tissue that had to be cleaned away, and when done, the surgeon felt that the underlying tissue was not yet healthy enough to accept the skin graft that will be necessary to close that area. He hopes to be able to do that next week. Poor Jack, not only does he have to experience the trauma of the accident, but also the trauma to the body of four major surgeries in 2 weeks time.
But, Jack is very obviously fighting hard. He still will be in the critical care unit for another, perhaps, 1-2 weeks, depending on his rate and his degree of improvement, but I know he'll do it and do it well! We just haw to take it one day and night at a time. My thanks to all of you for your messages of encouragement. They mean so much to me. But for as much as they mean to me, they are everything to Jack. I'm sure he feels your energy, which, when added to his own, results in a faster and more complete recovery.
I will stay in touch and, please, you do the same!
OUR FLYING TRIP TO ALASKA, A GREAT ADVENTURE
The Alaska trip idea originated with Bill Rewey. I first met Bill in the Navy when we both were stationed at Villanova College. In 1999, Helen and I attended the experimental Aircraft show in Oshkosh. There we saw a homebuilt aircraft with Bill's name thereon. I called Bill on the telephone and in that conversation he inquired, "Have you flown to Alaska, you should." Bill mailed much information about such a trip and we proceeded to get the charts, the Canada and Alaska flight supplements, a GPS (global positioning system), and lots of other stuff. I spent $950.00 getting the plane ready including the automatic direction finder (ADF); non-directional beacons are prime navigation aids in Canada and Alaska. We would be flying over "sparsely settled areas" (a Canadian term meaning super boonies) and that required us to carry survival equipment including two weeks food, fishing gear, a rifle on loan from brother-in-law Bill, signaling devices, cooking and camping gear, plus other items. We planned a June departure so we would not be late for the July wedding of Helen's son Scott. We also scheduled a dress rehearsal, a camping trip flight to Catalina Island, alas that did not happen. We did get an excellent two-hour lesson from Bob Riester in the use of the GPS.
28 June 2000 - We depart EI Monte airport at 1430 for Columbia, CA where we will get our "dress rehearsal" camping. The plane is fully loaded including Helen's pillow, Helen's bath kit, Helen's needlepoint, Kleenex, Jack's cookies, candy, tie-downs, camping stuff and more. Helen has inserted my flight plan into GPS. So I fly and Helen works the GPS; all goes well. We use flight following to check all of the navigation/communication gear, all OK. I am hot on final and thus use the entire runway. Columbia has 25 or more airplanes located there including 3 turbo-prop Stoofs [S2Fs] for fire fighting, plus six fuel trucks, a Unicom, but only one 0800 to 1800 attendant to help refuel, sell charts, and answer the Unicom; they are much understaffed. Camping area is for fly-ins only with hot showers and a minimum of bugs. Our camping equipment works OK, but our packing is poor, we'll need to make some changes. The night is warm with a full moon, a night for lovers like us.
29 June 2000 - My son Scott Nicholas is 38 today. Terrible time starting engine today, about 6 attempts needed for the start. We're in the air by 0930, it is clear and smooth and beautiful over the Sacramento Valley. Leaving Red Bluff Omni radio (VOR), I fly on a heading of 324 that results in GPS confusion for Helen. Then she sees Mt. Shasta; a massive snow covered peak, to the right of our course. I know Shasta must pass on our left, so I alter my heading to the east. My error was reading the chart incorrectly; the course is 359 not 324. We fly over Klamath Falls, and land at Redmond, OR. After lunch, I get the plane started on the second try and we fly past the Three Sisters peaks, Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, and Mt Rainier; we also sight Mt St. Helens, and Mt Baker. All are snow covered and spectacular. Our track takes us over The Dallas, Yakima, and into Wenatchee, WA. Like Columbia, nobody answers the Unicom at Wenatchee; you're on your own here for landing, take-off and taxi, and it is a multi-runway airport. Refueling service is poor here; the same people who don't answer the Unicom handle the refueling service. We stay at the home of my sister Martha.
30 June 2000 - Right after breakfast, I procure some boxes and we repack the food and camping gear. We leave the backpacks, some clothing, and USA charts with Martha. I phone Canadian customs, then file my flight plan, and we depart. We follow the Columbia River north for awhile, then the Okanogan River over Omak, WA, and into Canada. After passing Penticton, our course is northwest to Kamloops, where our radio call is answered. We land for fuel and customs. A phone call to CanPass and they give us custom number 01820435. This flight leg is strictly DR and GPS, and it went well. The ADF received several NDBs. Then on to Lake Williams and past several good-sized thunderstorms to Prince George. From there we follow powerlines, a highway, and a railroad through the Canadian Rockies to Fort St. John. We land about 1640 at an airport built by the US Army in WWII. We're not in the boondocks yet; this town of 16,000 has television, fast foods, cellular phones, and tonight a high school graduation for 400. We sense a slower pace of life here and we enjoy it. Our dinner waiter is a comic. My request for a second cup of coffee gets a "Not allowed" response and the third cup request is answered with a disgusted "You would." Sounded better than it writes. We join the Alaska Highway here and we will follow it into Alaska.
1 July 2000 - This is Canada Day with parades, but no fireworks this far north because fireworks can't be seen in the full sunlight of 2200 - 2300 hours. We fly north to Fort Nelson away from the Alaska Highway. The flight is smooth (the air is always smoother in the morning), and the terrain is flat and forested. This is oil and gas country plus some timbering. Heading west from Fort Nelson we are now under a 5500' ceiling. A significant rainstorm is right on our course, so we deviate south and fly for 20 minutes in light rain and mountains. Them, just as I planned, Helen sights the Liard River, and we follow it in the rain and mountains to the Alaska Highway and there the sun comes out. The rest of the flight to Watson Lake is between snow capped mountains, and over a beautifully green forested valley with a stream and the Highway. Beautiful country and very desolate. This scenery is the reason for the trip. We refuel at Watson Lake, an old military field that has the last intact WWII military hangar in the Yukon Territory (YT). Population here in the second largest city in YT is 1600. I visit the CARS office to file; a very busy guy named Bob mans it. He files your flight plan, gives take-off and landing advice, starts the flight plan when you depart, and closes your flight plan when you land. He also answers calls from enroute air traffic. The flight to Whitehorse is more beauty over the Highway, and under scattered cumulus. This is fun flying, BIG fun. Whitehorse is the biggest town in Yukon at 24,000; there are less than 30,000 in all of YT. The airport has two runways, lots of concrete ramp area, but a paucity of parking space for overnight tie downs. We stay in a sleeping room at the airport above the FBO. I chat with some other Alaska bound pilots who share their experiences in flying to Alaska. For dinner, we hike into town which means walking around the airport perimeter, then rappelling down a cliff, then another mile or so walk to the Edgewater Hotel by the Yukon River. We have a gourmet dinner with waitress named Irene. We take a cab back to the airport.
2 July 2000 - We get off late because airport restaurant does not open until 0800. We are following the Alaska Highway to Northway, AK. The first half of the flight is under a 5000' ceiling, then we fly in sunlight into the USA. The custom guy doesn't want to come to the airport; it is Sunday, so he gives us a pass. Airport has a small cafe, cook does everything: cooks, sells gas, and charts and candy bars, answers Unicom, and gives advice. We also meet Don, who is flying a Cessna to Paso Robles CA; he has lived in Alaska for 35 years. We inquire about some fishing ideas where Jack can fish with his light tackle vice salt water fishing for king salmon or halibut. Decide Gulkana sounds right and we head out via the Highway to Tok Junction. We turn left to follow the Glenn highway to Gulkana, flying in-between some really big mountains. We check-in at Carol's B&B in Glennallen, a town of 500 in a metro area of 3000, and that metro area is big. Carol's is a good choice, she rents cars, and her husband Si knows some fishing holes. With a rented car, we drive to lake Tolsona for dinner and then some fishing, I catch two Grayling; also got acquainted with the Alaska mosquito that evening. Sunset is after 0100 and sunrise is about 0300, and it is never really dark.
3 July 2000 - A no fly day. Carol fixes a fabulous breakfast that includes fresh fruit, stewed rhubarb, and super delicious sourdough pancakes. Carol advises the sourdough starter is over 100 years old. She also makes special syrups including cranberry, gooseberry, and black berry. Si suggests a fishing lake 60 paved and 15 unpaved miles away. On the way we fish at 2-mile lake where a moose is feeding and a sign advises "lake stocked by Alaska Fish and Game Comm." Shucks, I always believed that ALL Alaskan lakes were chock full of fish just waiting for a lure. Well, that isn't quite true, but I did land a nice, maybe two-pound rainbow that we cook at Carol's for dinner. We drove past several 16,000-foot mountains and several 10,000 plus mountains on this road trip. Carol suggests we visit Eagle, AK and stay at the Falcon Inn run by their friends. I check the flight supplement and it reads "airport unattended, runway condition not monitored, recommend vlsual inspection prior to landing.” That doesn't sound so good, but Si advises, "That's a good gravel runway, I built it and also built the runway at Fort Yukon." So we make plans for both locations.
4 July 2000 - After another fabulous sourdough pancake breakfast, we are now watching and enjoying the July 4th parade. It is really something to watch and also nostalgic. It starts with a squad car, then a fire truck, then kids dribbling basketballs for the length of the parade, bikers, the Alyeska pipeline truck with a swamp buggy in back, then two church floats, one with a small chorus (no separation of church and state here, and that is the way it should be throughout our country), three horses, bookmobile, ladies handing out flags, one politician, (riding not walking), a National Park service vehicle with a camper shaving while also cooking coffee in a "controlled burn," 4 motorcycles - see lots of them here, some cars, and some walkers. Kids love this parade because riders in the various vehicles toss out candy, it's better than Halloween with no walking and no begging. A final fire truck and the parade is over. The town shuts down State Hwy 1 for an hour for this parade. This delays some travelers, 18-wheelers, and some locals, but none seem to complain. After the parade, the town has a salmon bake with corn on the cob, coleslaw, baked beans, baked potatoes, and watermelon. It is the BEST salmon we will eat on this trip. We're in the air by 1325 following the Alyeska pipeline to Delta Junction where the Army has a major training base. Continuing North using the GPS and DR, we note the mountains become rounded, and the terrain is mainly treeless with small scrubby like vegetation. We land at Fort Yukon, a gravel strip serving a town without a road leading thereto. It is located just north of the Arctic Circle on the Yukon River, which is very wide, with many channels. The local FAA guy advises this is not tundra, but permafrost is a few feet down. Tours fly into Fort Yukon, spend an hour touring the town, and then return to Fairbanks; we are a very curious mammal. Avgas costs $3.80/gal here, we do not refuel. After takeoff we fly up the Yukon River to Eagle, AK. This is the super, super boonies; try to find Eagle on a chart, it has a road so you can find it on a road map. Locals advise that here the Yukon River is 35' deep here, with a current of 7 (seems high). All in all it is a mighty river. Gold seekers came to Eagle from Dawson, found little gold, so many returned to Dawson, which is in Canada. A dirty hamburger joint is only restaurant in town; it has such a limited menu, I chose raisin bran cereal for dinner. Dennis owns restaurant, plus pool hall, laundromat, motel, store, bank, truck stop, and airport refueling service. Nice guy, but if he gets assassinated, the town folds. B&B is nice, operator Marlys requires everyone to remove shoes upon entering the building. Sleeping rooms are comfortable, with private bath. Only window is in the bath, thus summer sleep is easier and window drapes are not needed. At dinner we meet two chaps who are riding motorcycles from Montana to Alaska and onto the Kenai Peninsula. One of them is a writer from NYNY, the second flew for TWA, and in the Navy, VA-196, ADs and A4Ds, he also knows Paul Bergdahl. We had a great evening chatting and laughing with them.
5 July 2000 - Breakfast does not compare with Carol's. Marlys calls it a German pancake; I like IHOP's German pancakes much better. The historical tour of Eagle, population under 500, takes 2 hours unless you ask questions, our tour last 3 hours. Every place has its history and believe we learn everything about Eagle. It is the site of the first US Court in Alaska; Fort Egbert was located here with 122 soldiers assigned including Lt. Billy Mitchell of the Signal Corps. Desertion was high; the company got down to 66 men at one time. It is raining hard when we get to the airport with some thunder and lighting. We have a 20minute rain delay, then fire up, takeoff in light rain, and follow the Yukon River to Dawson. From Dawson to Whitehorse we follow the river or a road. We arrive at Whitehorse about 1800; all the sleeping rooms at the FBO are gone so we stay at the Edgewater Hotel - expensive.
6 July 2000 - After a late departure due to weather, we follow the Alaska Highway to Watson Lake, then turn right and follow the Stewart Cassiar Hwy to Dease Lake. Again we fly between snow-covered mountains and over narrow and beautiful valleys. The flight from Watson Lake was more challenging than the Alaska Highway, narrower canyons, and rain all the way, no landing strips, but some beautiful and brilliant rainbows. Jim and Sharon operate the FBO and provide friendly service, we are happy we happy we stop here. A local fishing lake is a 10-minute walk from the motel; have one strike before dinner, but nothing afterward. I don't get a BC fishing license, maybe that's why I get skunked. But the fish don't know that, or do they.
7 July 2000 - It is raining with clouds hiding the local mountains as we arise. At Breakfast I note 5-armed diners out of 10 patrons. Waitress explains, "Mister, we got animals here that eat people including bears, wolves, lynx, and others." So I go fishing and get really skunked, not one strike. Raining as we take-off to follow the Gnat hwy to Smithers. And then I get lost when the road turns, but we don't; a 5-minute booboo. The mountains are close, snow covered above 5500 feet MSL, a little rain, challenging, but definitely fun flying. We land at Smithers to refuel. The two ladies in flight service help us file, wish us well, and we are gone. A few more mountains, then some broad river valleys and we are at Williams Lake. Tie Down area a loong way from the fuel pit and then a loong walk back to the taxi pickup spot, Taxi trip to town is $20.00 US. A most enjoyable dinner at Giorgios, waitress Reyna serves us well. Owner/chef Walter prepares pasta for Helen and Rack of lamb for Jack. Rhubarb pie and marscapone cake complete the meal. Walter chats with us for 30 minutes while we eat discussing British Columbia wine, his role as an airport advisor, plus other local issues. It is dark by 2200 tonight, quite a change from Alaska and Whitehorse.
8 July 2000 - Heavy rain last night with low clouds and mist in the morning. We wait until VFR conditions exist before taking taxi to airport. Ground is soggy from the rain. We get a good start and are in the air by 1140. 5000' ceiling and numerous rain showers enroute to Kamloops. Then on to Penticton and a landing at Oroville, WA. We taxi to gas pump; then Helen walks 100 yards to customs, nobody there. After refueling, we notice two armed lady agents arrive for customs and immigration. We get scolded for buying gas first, then we pay $25.00 entry fee, plane gets inspected, and we are USA citizens again. An hour later we land at Wenatchee where we taxi directly to the tie down area without refueling. Sister Martha drives out and we spend the next two nights as her guests.
9 July - A no fly day, I go to church with Martha, receive Communion, it gives me a good feeling. The Minister is a pilot with most of his flying experience in Alaska; we have a pleasant conversation. He is building a kit plane to fly to Alaska for his high school's 40th reunion. We spend the afternoon retrieving and repacking the stuff we left at Martha's.
10 July 2000 - A 1.1 hour flight and we're in Walla Walla to meet with Cliff Ungerecht and Dave Evans of Nelson Irrigation. Helen impressed with the beauty of the wheat fields that we overfly enroute. Walla Walla has a control tower that they don't need; the crew should be reassigned to Wenatchee. Next leg is over central Oregon to Klamath Falls, OR. Some mountains, some farms, but mostly semi-arid land. Our final leg this day is to Columbia, CA where we camp, cook and sleep under the stars - no full moon this time.
11 July 2000 - Our final flight is to EI Monte CA in the morning. Again a very smooth morning flight, then very smoggy in Los Angeles basin - 4-mile visibility. I need flight service and Helen's GPS to find the field. A great trip, the flying the funest in a long time.
Post Mortem: 1. We flew 50 hours on this trip and the Mooney performed great.
We learned much from other pilots: how to better start the Mooney, where to camp, different places to stop and routes to fly, where to stay, and from Bill Rewey: "Fly to Alaska for a great adventure".
We very much enjoyed the Canadians we encountered, always most helpful and polite. Just ain't nothing like people to enhance life and these all speak gringo.
We did extensive planning for this trip which was fun and also rewarding. We filed a VFR flight plan for each flight leg and things went well. On this trip, IFR meant I follow roads or I follow rivers.
It was the funest flying I can recall, and the funest trip also. We want to return especially to the Alaska Highway and to Dease Lake. You pilots who haven't had this adventure, you've missed something good, go fly to Alaska before you lose your medical.
HELEN &- JACK NICHOLAS
THE GREAT MOONEY TOUR
I don’t recall exactly when the Great Mooney Tour was conceived, but it had to be after Robert Bonilla offered the use of his Mooney. I took three flights with Tom Morton at El Monte to get familiar with the area and the Mooney. Tom, who also served on the [USS] Antietam [CV-36], is rather laid back, but definitely demanding about procedures and air speeds. The Mooney has manual gear retraction, a variable pitch propeller, 2 omnis, a wing leveler, 6 hours of fuel and cruises about 135 kts TAS. To gain some experience, I flew to Nevada County with Pat Monroe, Helen’s son, on Saturday, 3 May . After takeoff the left wing was most heavy, so I let Pat fly most of the way – he loved it. With haze, navigation from El Monte to Burbank was difficult, but we found the San Joaquin Valley and later Nevada County Airport, and landed (Pat adds, with a couple of bounces). Sunday we returned with Helen. Navigation was better but the wing was still heavy and the landing was still poor. I also ran a tank dry, which startled everyone, including me.
Monday, 5 May
We got to the El Monte Airport about 1300. Mike, the mech who did the annual [inspection], advised the heavy wing condition could be corrected with the wing leveler control, so we filed our flight plan and took off, Helen had baked some cookies and I bought a lemonade for our flight snack. We flew through Banning Pass, skirted Palm Springs, over the vast desert of eastern California, across Colorado River, and over the meteor crater in Arizona. We landed at Winslow “international” Airport, AZ. After refueling we decided to unload everything from the plane, storing most of it in the airport office. The local Best Western hotel, El Adobe Inn, picked us up and drove us to the motel. We had a good meal, a comfortable room, and were ready to return to the airport the next morning at 0715.
Tuesday, 6 May
Ron, the El Adobe Inn manager, drove us to the airport. We loaded the plane, filed [flight plan] took off and, with a good tail wind, landed at Dalhart TX, 3 hours later for lunch. The airport café had good homemade apple pie, but that gal won’t survive the number of customers increases; we were her only customers for an hour. Crop dusters fly out of Dalhart, a former B-29 base, and this day were working the fields adjacent to the airport. We had to fly around them on landing and after take off. Dalhart is the beginning of the Great Plains with many tilled fields, thus navigation was easier and Helen did well. However, she still struggled to keep the wings level and the nose on the horizon. Thus we wandered a bit and climbed a bit. This wandering was somewhat rectified by Helen figuring out how to get her seat from a semi-prone position to a sitting position so she could have back support while flying. We also bought a pillow in Chicago that enabled her to sit high enough see the horizon, when discernable. We planned to land in the Kansas City area at Johnson County Airport. We got them on the radio, received landing instructions, but we were at the wrong airport; we were over Olathe, not Johnson County. Well, we did recognize our error, and I did make a lousy landing at Johnson County. The FBO refueled us and as we unloaded, we noted that our three garment bags were missing – we’d left them in Winslow 6 flying hours behind us! Cindy at the flight desk got us a room at the Holiday Inn, then drove us there on her way home. Before dinner, we spent some time arranging with the Winslow Airport, the El Adobe Inn manager Ron, and Federal Express to get our missing bags shipped to us in Chicago.
Wednesday, 7 May
Clyde McDougal of Sokkia joined us for breakfast and then drove us to the airport. The sky was overcast and Flight Service advised we would have rain and some low ceilings enroute to Chicago. We were below 3000 ft. AGL before Kirksville MO, and we encountered rain and turbulence east of Burlington IA. We landed at Palwaukee, a busy airport north of Chicago, now owned by the cities of Wheeling and Prospect heights. We ate some cookies on the ground, the lemonade remained unopened. The plane’s transponder had not been working, so we decided to have it checked. We found Charlie Priester, a Q.B. [Quiet Birdman] and friend, and president of Priester Aviation, which operates Palwaukee Airport. He reported that the transponder was broken and it could only be repaired by the manufacturer. We checked into the Ramada Inn at Randhurst, a former Holiday Inn, and somewhat run down; it wasn’t a good choice. That nite we were guests of Frances and Phil Higley for dinner, which Phil prepared. It was a lovely evening with a most lovely couple; we chatted until 10:00 PM. Rain had started before dinner and continued thru the night; we’d landed just in time.
Thursday, 8 May
I called Tom Ernst at SAC Electric regarding a diecasting idea and he advised SAC will continue to investigate diecasting alloys and products, which is good news. We went to breakfast at the Picjwick. All the guys showed up: Tony, Howard, Don, Alex, Jim, plus some others. We visited until 10:00; fun. We also stopped to see George Eastman. He has had some health problems and now gets a dialysis treatment 3 times each week. Then we made a couple of business stops: NADC to buy a technical manual for Modern Faucet and then a visit with old friend, Bill Mims, at Appleton Electric. Back at the hotel we were greeted by our “lost” garment bags, and thus were able to change out of our airplane clothes. We went to dinner with Jack’s son Scott, his lady Michelle, and her two daughters, Lauren and Kristen.
Friday, 9 May
The weather was still not great, in fact it was very windy, cold, overcast, with scattered rain showers over Illinois and Michigan. But we leaped off, flew across Lake Michigan to Grand Rapids where we had lunch with cousin Dorothy and her husband George. We left there in a light rain hoping to get to Buffalo. Instead, after flying through rain across Ontario and Lake Erie, we landed in Erie PA. A line attendant signaled us in and we parked at North Coast Air. We bought gas for $1.89, the cheapest by far by $.20, and got a hotel room. North Coast Air insisted we use the “crew car,” a new Dodge compact. We even negotiated the tiedown fee from $15 to $10. It was a good welcome to Erie. We had a comfortable room at the Hampton Inn and a good dinner at Applebees, a family restaurant chain. When you land in Erie, we highly recommend North Coast Air.
Saturday, 10 May
We awoke to an overcast, windy, wet morning (IFR). So we stayed in bed for awhile. The continental breakfast was done well: cereal, fruit, waffles, French toast, muffins, juice, milk; you couldn’t go away hungry. Upon arrival at the airport, the rotating beacon was on indicating IFR weather. So we went to the Laundromat, the post office, and the gas station. When the field went VFR, I pre-flighted in the windy cold, it took 5 min. for one quart of oil to pass through the funnel. My fingers hurt from the cold. We filed our flight plan at 1300. Flight Service advised that VFR flights were not recommended and then the airport went IFR. We finally got airborne by 1612, and flew along Lake Erie. We were planning to fly north of the highest hills and, if necessary, travel the Mohawk Valley. We started “scud running” southeast of Buffalo, near Rochester, in rain & hills. Then an inner voice said “Nooooo! Go north, don’t be foolish.” There was rain, scud, and hills again by Utica. Then the ceiling lifted and we flew VFR into the Hudson River Valley, over some hills and there was Great Barrington Airport. After landing around 7:00 PM and refueling, the FBO helped us tie down, and then covered the cowl openings because the birds were nesting; a warm engine attracts nesting birds. Helen’s friends David LaBerge and Jan Lawry met us and we were whisked off to the Berkshire Brewery for dinner. The Berkshire brews 6 – 7 different beers for sale and consumption on the premises. David ordered a sampler: 5 kinds including stout and boch, whose taste brought back good memories. Jan is Dean of Admissions and Enrollment at Simon’s Rock College. It’s a small private college with 325 young students ages 15-20. It’s rather expensive, $28,000  annually for tuition and room and board – Harvard prices! Their students are highly motivated and bright and don’t fit well into the normal high school education program; they want more challenge. We attended a dance recital at the College Art Center, which is an old converted barn. The dances were created and choreographed by an 18 year old male student, now a college sophomore versus a high school senior. Great Barrington is in the Berkshire Mountains and David and Jan’s home is in a wooded area near a small lake. The house has a wood exterior with an untreated knotty pine interior. The master bedroom is on the 2nd floor; the full guest apartment below the first floor includes a living area, separate entrance, and windows. The guest bedroom was most pleasant: Monet on the walls, a warm queen sized bed with a down comforter and the same linen design I use in Irvine [CA].
Sunday, 11 May. Mother’s Day
After a breakfast of banana pancakes we drove to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. Rockwell became a magazine cover illustrator at the age of 22, around 1915. He possessed a great talent: the ability to real life and the wholesomeness of American life. I purchased reprints of the Four Freedoms and The Golden Rule. The museum is privately funded, immaculate, done very well. There are several dozen Rockwell paintings on exhibit. Also on exhibit were other illustrations of American life episodes including Currier & Ives. While in Stockbridge we lunched at the Red Lion Inn which is very big, and is painted white, not red. David then drove us to see the Bash Bish Falls in New York, a half mile hike from the parking lot. The area around Great Barrington is quite hilly, wooded, the roads always turning, very small farms and villages, quaint and enjoyable. Highway warning signs include such unique advis as “Squeeze Left” and “Thickly Settled.”
Monday, 13 May
We took a short drive on our own, then met David and Jan for lunch at a local “saloon” and out to the airport. The airport attendant, Ed, helped us with the flight plan so we would not overfly Camp David (a prohibited airspace), or penetrate the new mode C airspace around New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Dulles Washington. After a crosswind takeoff, we had 25-30 kt headwinds and turbulence to Charlottesville, VA. Navy flight school friend Lou Ives met us at the airport. Lou’s wife Ellie fixed a delightful dinner, a spaghetti casserole with strawberries on meringues for dessert.
Tuesday, 13 May
After breakfast Lou drove us to Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. It is a most complete self-sustaining estate with stables, a nail factory, a complete vegetable garden (kinda necessary in those times), slave residences, etc., all sitting atop a hill with a grand view of Charlottesville, VA. We toured the University of Virginia; T, Jefferson is it’s founder. We then drove to the home of Pat Francis who maintains the biographies of the Flying Midshipmen, some 20 plus volumes. I enjoyed reading some personal histories, including [Buz] Warfield, Ives and Carusso [Bill Carozza]. We went on to the airport and had a rather uneventful flight to Shelby NC. Navigation in the East and South is more difficult than the Midwest because the roads are not laid out along section lines. Hence the roads seldom go straight, and the towns kind of run together. Jack’s friends Edward and Carolyn Erickson were waiting for us at the Shelby Airport. We drove to their lovely 3500 sq. ft. custom built where Edward offered us the use of one or two bedrooms; we chose one bedroom and one bed. Into town for dinner and Edward became upset when I outmaneuvered him for the check.
Wednesday 14 May
Edward and Carolyn suggested a visit to the Biltmore House in Ashville. This castle was built by George Vanderbilt, grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt who made millions developing railroads and shipping. It is still a family residence for George’s grandson. It is 175,000 sq. ft. and is built on a 4 acre foundation. There is a massive banquet hall, 75x30x70 ft. high. It was built in 1895, with hot and cold running water, electricity, and central heat throughout. It includes a swimming pool, billiard room, many bedrooms all with adjoining baths. Everything is certainly as elegant, if not more so than Hearst Castle. On returning to Shelby, Edward and I played 9 holes of golf and not very well. Dinner was at the country club that night and Edward got the check.
Thursday, 15 May
We arrived at the airport around 0800 and into the air by 0915. We were OK until Macon, then the ceiling dropped down and we struggled most of the way to Pensacola. Helen did a masterful job of navigating. She knew where we were all the time. We arrived at the Ramada Inn for the VA-726 Reunion just as the golfers were leaving for NAS Pensacola. (Thank goodness we got there in time; we had hauled those golf clubs from CA, mainly for this outing, and they took up the whole back seat.) Our room was not ready, so I changed clothes in the men’s restroom. NAS has three 9 hole courses, all starting and ending at the same location. We played the Bay View 9 and the Bayou 9; Glen Geho, Don Lucas, and Wib Martin. My golf was better than Wednesday, but still not good, Lucas shot in mid the 80’s, Wib shot 91. We went to dinner with Gahos, Driessens and Gardners.
Friday, 16 May
After a poor buffet breakfast, lousy service, dirty tables, a wait for glassware, silverware, food, we boarded a bus for the Museum of Naval Aviation. Si Marshall, a VA-728 pilot and a museum docent, escorted us through the museum. It has dozens of planes: WW I, WW !!, Korea, current fleet types. We watched the “Magic of Flight” film in the imax theater. This film contains mucho Blue Angel footage. Most of the film was shot with cameras mounted on the plane: in the cockpit, under the fuselage, plus other locations, interesting. We also had a small tour of the NAS Pensacola and Fort Barrancas. Dinner that night was at the Mustin Beach Officers Club.
Saturday, 17 May
Off to Mobile, Alabama. While the others visited the Battleship Alabama, I wrote post cards. About noon we drove to Bellingrath Gardens, a beautiful home with lovely gardens, all built by a Coca Cola bottler for his wife. After returning to Pensacola, I played tennis with Jim Roumanada. Our final dinner was at the Angus and we all sang “Old Pusan U.” This year’s event had several first time attendees: Bill Bird, Howard Hoehn, Phil Gardner, 6 pilots from the Hancock cruise in ’68, and Verlyne Daniels who had several tours with VA-155, was shot down over N. Vietnam and spent 5 years as a POW.
Sunday, 18 May
Bill Carlson drove us to the airport and we had a lovely, smooth flight above cumulus clouds to Hot Springs, AR. Bill and Pat Maher met us and we toured the area. We then drove to Hot Springs Village where they reside. This gated community of 10,000 plus is a retirement or second home for most of its residents. A developer created the village in a wooded area, dammed several streams to create lakes, built about 7 golf courses and did it all very well. Mahers’ home is as big as their house was when their six kids were living at home. It sits on Lake Coronado, has new furnishings, a giant kitchen, and is just lovely. Bill loaded some wine and snacks on his pontoon boat and we went for a sunset cruise. Our bedroom and bath were on the ground level overlooking the lake.
Monday, 19 May
Weather was IFR, including some thunder storms, so we stayed in Hot Springs Village, and helped the Mahers with a project and just enjoyed life!
Tuesday, 20 May
We were into the air at about 0900, and the weather was not good. We ran into rain, hills, and low ceilings, so we landed at DeQueen, AR. We wouldn’t have found this stop without Helen’s good navigation. Weyerhouser has an helicopter operation there and those guys treated us great. We had access to their weather computer and the offer of a truck to drive us into town for lunch. We took off once, flew for a while, had to do a 180 and return, rain. About 1500 we again took off hoping to get north where the weather was better. Instead we again ran into low ceilings and rain and thus landed at Durant OK, where we spent the night.
Wednesday, 21 May
The couple that operate the Durant Airport picked us up at the Holiday Inn at 0745. Flight Service said, “Forget it!” But by 0900 it looked too good to sit around, so we took off and flew north and then west pass Oklahoma City. Visibility and low ceilings forced us to land at Clinton OK. An hour later we headed west for Amarillo following Flight Service’s advice. This time we experienced extremely low ceilings and low visibility; we were at 400-500 ft. and ready to turn around when Helen said, “There’s the airport.” My approach was flat and fast so I landed long and hot, not a pretty landing, but a welcome one. We had landed in Shamrock, TX, about 90 miles east of Amarillo. A friendly dog ran out to greet us after we taxied in. A local flier, Bob Galmor, drove us shortly thereafter and showed us how to use the self-service gas pump. It’s the same credit card procedure that one uses at a gas station. The weather outlasted our wait, so we tied down 6349Q. Bob later returned to the airport, gave me a quart of oil, and drove us to the Irish Inn. With no parking fee, gift oil, and gasoline at $1.50/gal , this was the cheapest stop on the tour.
Thursday, 22 May
Zero, zero in the morning, that means ceiling zero, visibility zero, fog: 200/1 by 1400. Meanwhile we did laundry, read and waited. At 1800 there were only a few holes and about 4 miles visibility. So we rechecked into the hotel for another night and took a walk into town for dinner. Shamrock has one traffic light.
Friday, 23 May
FSS Fort Worth advises VFR not recommended due to low clouds and mist. After an embarrassing event—I forgot to untie the left wing, we took off and made a quick climb through thin scud. We passed Amarillo at 0940, cruising at 6500, ceiling and visibility unlimited; what a welcome sight! The air was smooth; I was flying hands off, writing this narrative, while Helen navigated. We passed Tucumcari, our Tuesday nite goal, about 1030 Friday. After Albuquerque, the air got rough, real rough. We landed at Holbrook AZ after 4 + 40 planning to eat lunch at the airport. Instead, Jack, the FBO guy, gave us car keys and we drove to Dennys. Our final flight to El Monte took 3 + 30 and we landed at 1700 PDT.
POST SCRIPT: I flew 55.2 hours in the Mooney; this included the check-out, the round trip flight to Nevada County to pick up Helen, and 45 hours on the Kansas City, Chicago, Great Barrington, Shelby, Pensacola, Shamrock, El Monte tour. The lemonade we purchased in CA on 5 May to enjoy on the flight to Winslow, I finally drank after we landed at Pensacola on 16 May. We were so busy flying and navigating, we found little time to drink, eat, or relax. After forgetting and thus leaving some bags in Winslow, we thereafter only unloaded these items we needed at each stop. And the plane with our items inside was never disturbed. We always received good, and sometimes great, service from the airport people (FBOs), especially in Erie, Great Barrington, Palwaukee, Shelby and Shamrock. And when you identify yourself as a pilot, you sometimes get a discount at motels and car rentals. The Flight Service 1-800-WXBRIEF phone number works super and is free, so USE IT. We obtained a weather briefing and filed a VFR flight plan for each flight leg. And that 30 year old Mooney, [N]6349Q, performed without fail, we did not require any maintenance or repair during the tour.
We very much enjoyed the times with our families and friends; there just ain’t nothing more funner than people. Cannot end this story without writing some things about Helen. She embarked upon this venture with enthusiasm which never waned. She strove and succeeded in becoming a great flying companion, learning how to hold heading and altitude. And she developed into an expert navigator—she knew where WE were. She always read the check list so I always took off and landed in rich [mixture] and on the best tank, and I never tried to land wheels up. She was especially effective and calm when we were flying through rain and scud searching for a place to land. I LOVE HER!