Dad needed to fly to Sarepta, Louisiana to take care of a family situation. He asked me to be his co-pilot. I was barely 18, and had never co-piloted, although Dad had been teaching me how to fly for about a year. Dad had a couple of airplanes at that time. One was a Bellanca Super-Viking. The Bellanca was tailored after the WWII Italian fighter plane made by the same factory. This air craft was FAST. If you needed to be somewhere right now, this aircraft was the one to take. Plainview, TX to Sarepta, LA would have been, what, a couple of hours if the wind were in your face. I was excited to be co-piloting the Super-Viking. All a tremble, I rode with Dad to the local Airport in Plainview.
We pulled up to the hangar. Dad’s other airplane, a Cherokee 6D, was on the tarmac, waiting for us to go. The Bellanca was still moored in the hangar space Dad rented. The Cherokee is a great airplane. But she is like the other sister. The Bellanca was fast, hot, sexy, and dared us to find her limits. The Cherokee, on the other hand, was pretty, like a sister is pretty. She is stable, steady, and a good and reliable performer. However, if you need to get there fast, the Cherokee 6D is not going to be able to accommodate you. What would take two hours in a Bellanca, will take about 5 or 6 hours in the Cherokee. Dad saw the disappointment on my face, and the fires leave my eyes. He told me to stow it, because he needed to get some hours on the Cherokee to stay current, and I needed my first co-piloting experience in an aircraft that will forgive the inexperienced fumbling of a newbie pilot. He was right. The Cherokee is very forgiving in flight. She is designed for comfort, not speed. Her wings are cantilevered, meaning they can absorb a lot of in-flight shock and air pressure changes.
After doing my pre-flight check, we loaded up our bags and took off. Everything about the Cherokee is smooth and easy. She is all about the flight, not the destination. I guess Dad actually knew what he was doing, since I was scared to death. I mean, I wrecked, no, I TOTALED over 5 automobiles from the time I was 16 to the time I was 17. My transportation record was not all that sterling. Flying, though…I loved it, and it loved me. I took to flying like a bird. (OK, if you disregard the fact that, on my very first lesson I nearly took out a radio tower in Lubbock, TX! Geeze, lighten UP!)
Since the flight was going to be a long one, and an easy one, Dad decided this flight will be the best time to polish my land navigation skills. FAA Maps are incredibly accurate. If that map said there is a cow chewing cud near a largish oak tree, you can count on it being true. Every detail of the land below was accurate. He told me to keep an eye on the instruments, but, for now, don’t rely on them. He pulled out his pilots slide rule and navigation tools. It was all on a nifty clipboard that attached to your leg. We practiced slow turns, navigating at varying speeds and altitude, and predicting the timing of getting from one location on the map to the other. He showed me how Sun angle matters, IF you see the sun. He showed me how to pick an object on the horizon that aligns with true north, and keep it located against my projected flight path.
All this was fun, and I was eating it up. After all, my Dad is a very experienced pilot, and I know that if I mess up, He will hop in and correct it, and teach me what I need to do to avoid another error like that. These times were golden for me. These were some of the few times my Dad and I had any real bonding moments. It was rich and satisfying. While I was doing all that “Leave it to Beaver “thinking, the airplane suddenly got very quiet. See, in a single engine craft, noise is normal. You are practically sitting on top of the engine. You have to wear headsets with microphones to even hope to hear each other talk. Quiet is not a good thing in this aircraft. I looked up from my navigation charts to see that the propeller was not spinning. I am no ACE pilot, or anything, but I believe a spinning propeller means a happy flight. We were about to have an unhappy flight, by my reckoning.
I looked at my Dad. He was all calm and cool, as if he regularly flies an airplane without using the actual engine. He asked me if I checked the fuel before take-off. He knew I did, because he saw me do it. The fuel was clean. The gauges showed both tanks should be full. Dad asked me why one tank should not be full. (These aircraft have two tanks, one in each wing). I looked at the gauges again. He was right; we had been flying for almost two hours. One gauge should definitely be showing fuel usage. I told him as much. He said that we cannot always trust our instruments, even when we think we did a good job in pre-flight checks. Dad switched to the other tank and tried to start the airplane. It didn’t start. He stayed calm but looked at me in that look that said, “We WILL discuss this later!” He called a May-Day to the DFW Airport (It was brand new, back then). DFW advised that we should land at the little Airport in Olney, TX. They also advised that that Airport was abandoned and not FAA commissioned. Good luck, they advised.
Dad calmly told me to find Olney on the map, and calculate a flight path to it, with the best glide slope, in the least time for landing. The beauty of this ever so wonderful and adorable Cherokee 6D is, IT GLIDES. It glides a long way when the engine fails. I LOVED THAT AIRPLANE MORE THAN ANYTHING AT THAT MOMENT!!
I did the math, and told Dad that we are 10 miles off the end of the runway. Looking at our air speed, altitude, and no engine, I calculated we will land short of the runway. What I didn’t say was that I hope we don’t land upside down. Dad nodded at me, and made ready for our approach. I was thinking, “ARE YOU INSANE, MAN? HAVE YOU SEEN MY MATH GRADES??? ARE YOU TAKING MY WORD FOR IT???” I knew we were doomed.
Dad flew on as if everything were OK. He updated DFW on a periodic basis. I saw the end of the runway. Sure enough, it looked like it was too far away. Dad was not even showing signs of stress. We were about 100 feet up, and approaching the grass off the end of the runway. We had not lowered our gear yet because we didn’t need the drag. Just as Dad said to lower the gear, three crop duster aircraft flew right beneath us. Dad did a trick with the airplane that made the plane seem to leap up another 20 or so feet. He adjusted for glide and landed right on the numbers at the end of the runway. We notified DFW of our landing, and rolled to a stop just off the runway.
What I thought was going to be a disaster because of my errors, Dad turned into a real live adventure. In the hands of an experienced pilot, this was no big deal. His training and experience brought him through this adventure. One of the crop duster pilots had tools in his aircraft. They helped us take apart the fuel floats (No electronics in the fuel tanks back then), to see what the problem was. The bane of fuel floats is they get stuck. So what looks to be a full tank actually isn’t. I should not have trusted the ground crew when they said they had topped off the tanks. I should have used the fuel stick and measured the amount of fuel in the tank.
Had all this happened in the Bellanca, I would not have been able to write this story. I could have chosen to stay home, that day, too. After all, there were still lots of girls on the Wayland Baptist College campus who had not had the rare privilege of knowing me. But I would not have learned as many things as that experience taught me. Everything from flight mechanics to “Is there really a God?” were covered during that flight.
KNOWING A THING IS NOT THE SAME AS DOING IT
Jesus said to GO. Teach. Bring home God’s lost sheep. He didn’t say it will happen from the comfort of our home. He didn’t say it would be easy. He didn’t say it will be smooth sailing. He said GO, and wherever we go, He will be right there with us. I want to serve the Living God as an evangelist and teacher of the Gospel. This is my calling. This means I cannot do it from my barka-lounger. I cannot do it during commercial breaks. I have to be willing to leave all the things I think are comforting and safe, and be willing to take the flight God has planned for me. I can read all about the great saints, all the martyrs, and read all the sermons by all the best preachers. Unless I am willing to take this journey with Jesus, and learn of Him, and trust that he knows what is going on, unless I am willing to take the chance at the unknown and uncomfortable, I will not get to live that life that God wants me to live.
It is time for believers to get up out of our comfort zones and take the risk that being just like Jesus is worth it. We can watch the world go to hell from our TV sets, or we can set out on a journey that God has chosen for us and watch God redeem mankind from the front-line of the action. You were not promised all the comforts of home when you decided to believe in and serve Jesus. But you were promised an abundant life, full of living and joy. God is a great pilot, if you will choose to fly with him.
Let’s be about it!
I love you.
David G. Perkins