Rough Riders

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E4 (Ed Hayes) told a great story—sort of on himself, but not really. It seems that he had ferried a Cessna 172 to TYS and was to bring another plane back, but the weather closed in there, and not being instrument rated, he waited as long as he could for the weather to clear. When it became apparent that it wouldn’t any time soon, he caught a Delta flight on a twin engine, propeller driven craft they flew on the short legs in those days and headed for ATL, where he’d grab a connector back to JAX.

Sheets of rain were slapping across the skin of the Convair as they taxied out, and the ground disappeared as they entered the clouds no more than 500 feet above the earth. At the same time the turbulence began. It was brutal. The airplane bounced and twisted and it was all one could do to try and keep one’s arms in place as G-forces worked first one way and then another in the boiling air. Outside the wings flexed mightily and the engine nacelles heaved up and down as movable panels twisted in the maelstrom.

The stewardess, wisely not attempting to serve meals or drinks, made her way up and down the aisle checking on the welfare of the passengers, reassuring those who needed it. As she passed by Ed, he said to her, “I’m an air traffic controller. Would you ask the captain if I could visit the cockpit.” (boy are those long gone days. Actually they’ve been mostly gone since the hijackings of the 70s, but after 9/11 one wouldn’t have a chance.) He gave her his ID card and she said she’d see what she could do.

A few minutes later, weaving like a drunken sailor (why is that always a metaphor for difficult ambulation in turbulent surroundings?), the stewardess came back to Ed and reported, “the captain says if you think you can make it up there, you’re welcome to come in.”

Ed unbuckled his seat belt, and with a firm grip on the seats on each side of the aisle, worked his way forward, hand over hand. At last reaching the cockpit he opened the door and saw the co-pilot, seat all the way back, lounging with one foot on the right window sill, a sandwich in his left hand and a Playboy opened to the centerfold in his right.

The captain, his seat cranked down to the floor, his cap on backwards, and flying solely with reference to the instruments, was man handling the controls as the turbulence wrested the aircraft first one way then the next. He turned his face up toward Ed and said, “a little rough for you back there, son?”

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Last updated: 14 April 2009