I was thinking of some of the more interesting things I have done along the way; by interesting I mean frightening. As a child I was ship-wrecked on a costal boat in Newfoundland. The boat was named the Northern Ranger and she was one of the few ways to get about in Newfoundland in the fifties. That was an interesting night that I still remember even though I was only seven or eight. Of course children have lots of things to be afraid of, so I looked more to my adult years.
I got my pilot’s license somewhere in the eighties. I commenced my flying out of Nashua, NH with a young instructor who was very much a “hands off” type guy; meaning he wanted you to fly, and him be there only if HIS ass needed saving. He also had another special trait; he told a story that back during the Second World War, pilots were expected to solo after ten hours of air training. That is not a lot of time, as the first five hours is getting over him telling you a dozen things to do while explaining the idea of aviate, navigate, communicate as a means of staying aloft. I did most of those hours in daylight, with him there to save against any of my abnormalities.
One late autumn day at about five, when the hours in my log said ten, he had me land, taxi to the terminal; he got out, and said, “Take her up, around, and land. See you back here.” He shut the door and walked away.
Now, don’t get me wrong. He had put me through my paces, both in the air and on the ground. He was no slouch. He knew his stuff, and he made sure I did. But, I was now alone.
“Nashua, this is (I forget my real tail number) November, Echo, Charlie, 1775. Permission to taxi from the main terminal to the active 32, for takeoff.”
“NEC1775, permission granted. Proceed to the active and hold.”
Now, what the hell do I need to do? A little power and left ruder and I taxi towards the active.
“Nashua tower, this is NEC1775”
“It is my intention to stay in the pattern and land immediately.”
“Roger, NEC1775, take a right turn on takeoff and announce your attention again.”
Okay, what next? I look out as the runway lights pop on. Oh dear God, it’s getting dark. I’m screwed. No, no, lights will be good. I’ve done this before. The lights make it easy to see, and lineup. Ya, I’m good.
I move the single-engine Piper Cherokee into position and hold. I have already done my run up.
“Nashua Tower. NEC1775 in position for takeoff and holding.”
“NEC1775, you are cleared for takeoff. Right turn on takeoff; rise and maintain 1500 feet.”
“Roger NEC1775. Right turn, climb to 1500 feet.”
I start the roll down the mile long runway, lots of room; at take off speed I pull the nose up and I’m air born. Straight ahead until 1500 and I make my right turn.
On the right turn I make contact. “Tower, NEC1775, requesting right turn downwind and permission to enter on the 45(degree), and land on the active 32.”
I’m all set to get my ass on the ground, and go have at least two cold beers.”
“Negative, NEC1775. We have an inbound. Please leave pattern. Turn left, climb to 2000; contact us when you are on the inbound.”
What the hell just happened? I leave the pattern and go to 2000, wondering where I will go, or how I will find my way back. In the pattern I was safe: right turn on the downwind, fly parallel to the runway; take a right when pass the runway, another right, and straight in, on the lights; even I could do it.
But now I’m 2000 feet up, moving off to the left, towards Manchester, where I do not want to go; my little airport is being left behind me. I need a visual. This is not a planned flight where I could use my instruments to navigate. I was supposed to be going nowhere, and here I am moving off onto the evening.
Aviate, aviate, aviate. Okay, I’m level at 2000, I not going to hit anything.
Navigate, navigate, navigate. The airport’s behind me. What’s ahead? Oh yes, Anheuser Bush Brewery. It would be lit up like a Christmas tree. Where is it, where is it. There, off to my left. So I was only a few miles from my airport and more important I knew how to line up with my landing run way.
I navigated north, west a bit, up over the Brewery and then made a long turn and head back the way I came. I wave (I like to imagine I did. I’m positive I did not) as I pass over the plant, not because I like the beer, but it has saved my ass. The last thing I wanted to do was have the tower vector me in like a lost puppy.
What seemed like hours had only been minutes. I maintain 2000, move on pass the plant and then the air strip off to my right comes into view.
A few miles out I make my turn and I contact the tower. “Nashua Tower, NEC1775.”
“Go ahead NEC1775.”
“NEC1775 is five miles out on the 45, requesting permission to land on the active 32.
“Permission granted NEC1775. Cleared to land.”
I landed and made my way back to my instructor. He is holding a hand set where he had listened to everything. His only comment is, “I guess you want me to tie her down while you go clean your pants.”