Sunday, October 11, 2015

Flying Circus

While plying my trade as an ag-pilot (ag-pilots never refer to themselves as cropdusters ), I worked for an aerial application company that was owned and run by the Smiths.* (*Name changed for reasons that will become obvious!) There was Papa Smith, Mama Smith and Sonny-boy Smith. Papa Smith was founder and manager of the company for many years. Sonny-boy grew up and became an ag-pilot and a darned good one in his own right. When Papa Smith eventually retired, Sonny-boy took over the management.

Papa Smith, around 78 years old, was a diabetic and because of the onset of this dreadful ailment he could no longer pass the physical exam required to maintain a license to fly. Mama Smith did her best to ride herd on him and maintain his diet and insulin balance and keep him out of the airplanes. It was a sad situation really. The old man had a hard time adjusting to the fact that he could no longer fly. And when his system got out of balance from time to time, his behavior could become very peculiar as many people with this problem can attest to. If Papa Smith neglected to maintain his strict diet, he would take the bit in his teeth and decide he would fly anyway - diet, physical certificate, license be hanged!

Mama Smith also kept the company books balanced and took care of many other affairs around the little airport the company owned. She had decided that if they built a fence around a section of the airport property and stocked it with goats, they could make a little money off the grazing and also claim an agricultural exemption for tax purposes. (That little activity alone was a story in itself, but I will bypass that for now.)

Papa in the Air
Well, one fine day Papa Smith took a notion that it was time for him to spread his wings again before he forgot how. After making sure Mama Smith was nowhere around, he climbed into a little Citabria tail-dragger, which was a company plane used for general purposes. He even talked one of the hired helpers into riding with him.

In no time Papa Smith launched himself into the wild-blue yonder and had a good ole time, being careful not to get too much droop in his swoop. He buzzed the town. He buzzed his friends. He had no problems…until he decided to land.

Now, the airport had two runways. One was turf, long and wide. The other was paved, narrow and short. The paved runway ran right alongside the goat pen.

Papa on the Ground

Well Papa Smith, feeling he was doing just fine, headed for the paved runway. He lined up, reduced the throttle, but still came in pretty hot in a quartering tail wind with a couple of bounces…a swing to the left…back to the right and…a big hairy ground loop…out of control! Into the fence! Flattened a few small posts in no time. Tore a big opening in the wire fence, ripped off the plane’s landing gear, and slid to a stop sideways.

Scared the goat herd half to death! Yep, the terrified critters scrabbled out the fence opening at top speed and scattered all over the airport.

The hired hand in the back seat, by now scared witless, hurled himself over Papa Smith and out the bent-up door. A portly fellow, Papa Smith was sort of lodged in the doorway.

Pretty quick old Papa Smith managed to extricate himself and started hollering for help, but not for himself. He wanted everyone to grab the plane and drag it into the hanger before someone saw it and called the FAA. Of course he had been illegal - no medical, invalid licenses, carrying a passenger - the works!

We got the plane tucked back in a corner of the hanger all right, but the story was all over the county before the day was out! And guess what we pilots and ground crew spent the rest of the day doing - playing cowboy rounding up goats and mending the fence. The Citabria was a whole nuther story. Major repairs.

Papa Smith spent the rest of the day trying to convince us that his foot had slipped off the rudder pedal and got hung up under it. “Poor-designed it was. It could happen to anybody.”

Rolling our eyes, we pilots humored the old man, “Shoower, shoower, poor design. No doubt.” I wondered if his story would fly when Mama Smith heard it!


  1. This is still one of my top favorite stories. Laughing all over again!

  2. Still entertaining after all of these year! Love it!

  3. I had forgotten about this crazy story. I know who all the players were so I can just imagine the episode. I suppose it's OK to divulge now that, once upon a time, I got a "hopper ride" in one of the Smith's planes. It was really fun!

  4. Dear Anonymous:
    Very few persons can claim that privilege.