Thursday, November 10, 2016

Don't Meet in the Middle

I was working for Arrow Aviation, east of Lewiston, Idaho, applying dry fertilizer to winter wheat. About 2 miles away on another make-shift air strip two of my friends were doing the same thing for a competitor.

I guess I should change the names to protect the guilty. One friend was Fats Hughes and the other was named Germania Gene.

When flying on dry fertilizer it only takes a few minutes to apply a full load of fertilizer if the field you are fertilizing is close by. So it was this day for my friends. As one pilot was out applying his load to the field, the other one was on the ground being loaded. As soon as the load was pumped into the plane on the ground, the pilot quickly swung the plane around and headed down the strip for a takeoff. Shortly after he was airborne he would head for the field being treated and usually pass the other plane returning for his next load. 

Nothing complicated about this, most crop-dusting crews did this regularly. Generally, you would hit the ground about every 15 or 20 minutes. Very monotonous. Up and down, back and forth, get a load, takeoff, fly it on the field and return for the next load, all day long.

The strip that my friends were working off was located in the middle of a pea field. It had a sizeable hump in the middle so much so that when you started your takeoff run you could not see the opposite end of the strip until you topped this hump. Still, it was a smooth strip and the hump presented no problem to experienced pilots. 

You started your takeoff going up-hill, you topped the hill and started downhill and were soon airborne. Same thing in reverse when landing. It was a steady rhythm. 

For some reason, Fats Hughes had a problem and came back to the strip early. He landed on the down-hill side of the hump. Germania Gene didn’t see Fats land. He received his load, swung around, and poured on the coals to the old Pratt Whitney and went roaring up-hill for his takeoff. 

You guessed it. They met at the top of the hump. 

Fortunately, each was off center of the strip, each was a little to his right. They passed each other and sheared off the upper and lower wings on the left side of both Stearman biplanes. Gene said they passed close enough that he could have reached out and slapped Fats as he went by.

Of course, they filled the air with the debris of chopped up airplane wings. Gene, who was taking off, had up a head of steam as they collided. His plane was going fast and before he could shut it down, it careened around to the left, making an wide circular path out through the pea field, and headed back toward Fat’s plane. 

Fats’s plane slewed around, went off the strip, and quickly came to a stop. Whereupon Fats, seeing the other plane circling and coming back in his direction, bailed out and started running. 

Later he explained, "Well, h***, he made one pass at me and I shore wasn’t gonna sit there and let him make another one." 

Fats was a tobacco-chewing feller and said it was enough to make him swaller his chaw!

1 comment:

  1. HaHaHa! A good one that I don't recall ever hearing!