Supplement to Descriptive Glossary Table of Contents for Supplement

Not all cardinals are red.
CardinalThe yellow cardinal (Gubernatrix cristata) is a tropical American relative of the Cardoma Grossbeak, songbird of North America east of the Rockies (Richmondena, cardinalis), in which only the male is red, the female mostly brownish.

The Pyrrhuloxia sinuata is a grayish-red relative found in Mexico and southern Texas, and the red-crested cardinal (Paroaaria coronata), a popular cage bird, has become established in Hawaii.

Cardinals are 20 centimeters (8 inches) long, with pointed crest.  Pairs utter loud clear whistling notes year round, in gardens and open woodlands.

Then there is the Cardinal 177RG (for retractable gear) made by Cessna. November Three Four Niner One Four is shown here parked at the Big Bear Airport in California in 1987.

With raked windscreen and streamlined fuselage, with strutless laminar-flow wings and full-authority stabilator, this plane is slippery as hell and is decidedly my favorite flying machine.

So far.


Real Flying
by Paul Niquette

Scan the sky above you. What wonders do you see? 
A flock of birds a-winging, a cloud beyond that tree,
A contrail in the distance from the jet that once was there. 
Closer up, a light plane's sound dares yet to part the air.
Humming with combustion, enroute to B from A, 
The small craft sings volition's song, along a swift air way. 
That such is aviation's best can hardly be in doubt,
Compared to airline journeys -- Hah! one trip will bear that out.
For, herding hapless passengers aboard a metal room,
Then plying them with movies, mints, and cocktails to consume 
Is how the airline people try to take away your thought
Of flying altogether -- and the tickets that you bought.
The view you get through windows like a sideways oven door 
Makes flight by jet so dreadful dull, no wonder most deplore 
Airline trips to anywhere -- and getting there as well:
Extruded to a noisy place with turning carousel...
To stand and stare at stainless steel and floors of asphalt tile. 
No surprise to me, you seldom see passengers who smile.
Slogging down the corridor, who once were straight and proud, 
Their pilots, too, are counted now amongst the sullen crowd.
Constrained by rigid schedules and instruments galore,
The driver of a wing-ed bus finds time aloft a bore.
For they're not free to take a plane and point it at the sky, 
To fly to where they want to go, then land there by and by.
And military pilots think that flying's what they know,
Except they dare not wander far from where they're told to go. 
Astronauts aren't flying -- no! -- they float around for days 
Inside a metal cylinder to measure solar rays.
They squeeze their food from bottles and talk in TLD's
(Triple Letter Designators), 'space speak,' if you please.
The truth concerning space craft, from all that we can learn: 
Computers do the steering from blast-off to return.
Real flying, then, is what is done by light plane; that's a fact. 
Controlled by private pilot bold, who finds that in the act, 
He or she admires the scene above the nearby earth, 
Free to steer a course at will, fulfilling dreams from birth.
One zooms above all worldly cares -- yes, Freedom is the word. 
Command a hundred horses, outperforming any bird. 
To distant destination fly, in just a little while. 
Then throttle back, descend, and land, arriving there in style.
Scan the sky above you. Oh, what wonders you will see!
A flock of birds a-winging, a cloud beyond that tree,
Yourself, perhaps, a-winging toward a chosen place up there. 
Closer up, your light plane's song dares yet to part the air.


Bottle to Throttle

There are two schools of thought about the effects of alcohol. 

  1. One asserts that the liquid imposes its own 'personality' upon the drinker -- that a person should not be held accountable for his or her behavior 'under the influence' ("It was the booze talking. If I were sober, I would say no such thing"). 
  2. The other view of alcohol holds that it dissolves inhibitions, revealing the true, otherwise hidden personality. 
Whether there will ever be a critical experiment that settles the matter I do not know. However, when it comes to aviation safety, the debate may have more than academic significance.

Federal regulations forbid flying less than eight hours after drinking ("Eight hours from bottle to throttle," the saying goes) or when 'hung-over' (whatever that means). There is ample reason for you to hope, however, that the stranger piloting your airliner is a teetotaller -- or at least has abstained for more than the minimum eight hours. 

Objective experiments over the years have shown that, depending upon all the familiar variables, alcohol can adversely affect the pilot's capacity to perform functions essential to flight safety up to -- now get this -- more than two days following its consumption.

So much for assuring the capacity to perform. But what about the pilot's personality?

  1. If alcohol is -- in and of itself -- responsible for unseemly behavior, then purging the system of the stuff should restore the pilot to safe conduct. 
  2. On the other hand, the pilot may have a perilous ego-state lurking beneath the surface, kept in check by sobriety. The 'whoopee factor,' folks. 
If the second theory is found to prevail, then air carriers should consider adopting the practice of the craftiest corporate headhunters and surrepticiously administer alcohol as a clinical device for pilot screening.


Fiascos in the Sky
  • Airliner flies into a swamp at night, while all three members of the flight crew are preoccupied changing a lightbulb on the control panel.
  • Airliner plunges thousands of feet before a fuselage-bending recovery, because pilots disabled warning devices in order to goad the plane into a treacherous 'corner' of its flight envelope. 
  • Airliner descends out of a storm and proceeds to land at the wrong airport, the pilots complaining later that both aerodromes have the same runway layout.
  • Airliner cruises twenty minutes beyond a shoreline destination over open water, despite radio calls from radar controllers, because the flight crew was fast asleep.
  • Airliner wanders off course into hostile airspace -- or the airspace assigned to another airliner -- because the crew did not key in the correct navigational coordinates.
  • Airliner runs out of fuel despite instrument warnings and protests by the flight engineer, which are overruled as a matter of prerogative of the captain. 
  • Airliner loses power from both engines after take-off and nearly glides into the ocean when pilots, responding to a warning, inadvertently operate the wrong engine controls.
  • Airliner at 37,000 feet, with its captain in the restroom and thus locked out of the flight deck, suddenly drops 5,000 feet as the copilot, in adjusting his seat, inadvertently pushes the control column.
  • Airliner crashes on takeoff as flight crew misinterpret readings from engine instruments or skip an entry on the checklist calling for take-off flap setting or...
For reasons that should be apparent to readers of these chapters, I am hardly reassured by the realization that airline pilots are made out of the same protoplasm as I am. 

Surrendering Control

Airline travel is unavoidable. As a passenger, one feels utterly powerless, dependent. I wonder what the statistics are for the number of passengers who, as their plane pulls up into the sky, plunge into a pool of frantic awareness that their destiny has been wrested from them. 

Ominous thoughts torture the mind. If those guys and gals enclosed in their locked compartment up front should suffer a lapse in competence, become distracted, get their priorities wrong, make a crucial mistake aloft -- cripes! -- I can't do anything about it. 

    Sure, you ask yourself, what are the chances of that? Professional training and practiced skills, checklists and check-rides, discipline and dedication -- all act in superposition to make making mistakes unlikely. 
Gulp, but not impossible. 

This issue like so many others in our complex, interdependent world has become all statistical. Whenever I am at the controls, however, statistics lose their hold on me. Probabilities become mere abstractions. I am the one tilting the yoke and pushing the pedals. Averages have nothing to do with the enterprise. Whatever adverse conditions arise, I know that I have the power in my own hands to deal with them, to influence the outcome. Numbers apply only to others, not to me. 

Egg Plant on Wheels 

"Where you headed?" asked the FBO in Needles, while pouring lemonade for the children. He was the archetypical jolly big-man in middle years. His office in the tiny building beside the ramp was a clutter of airplane parts and papers. Faded photos lined the walls. 

"Torrance Airport," I answered. 

"Hell, you ought to take a swim and relax right here," he said, mopping his brow with a rag.

"My family and I have just flown in from Carlsbad Caverns, so --"

"Good motel in town. Five minutes away."

I shook my head. "It's been a long trip, and -- "

"I'll even let you drive my 'egg plant.'" The fellow pointed with his thumb over his shoulder and watched my reaction.

Parked outside the window was a 1948 Cadillac limousine. Deep purple. 

"Got a chauffeur's cap?" I asked.

Prank in the Sky
Reminiscence Alert: Sharing technical features of flight with a first-timer in the cockpit provides great entertainment for every old-time pilot.  I especially enjoy giving elementary demonstrations in the sky.
Beginning in straight and level flight, I exult about the cockpit's distinguished view of the world.  I gesture at the control wheel and gently pull back, raising the nose and making the passenger in the seat beside me feel momentarily heavier.  Pushing forward results in wide-eyed weightlessness.  Finally, I bank the plane left and right using coordinated turns.
No surprises there.  

“Go ahead, try it yourself,” I say with a shrug.  I ceremonially withdraw my hands from the wheel and my feet from the rudder pedals.

Parenthesis.  The first thing passengers observe is that the flight controls seem to be interconnected in crazy ways.  Whereas the plane responds to the control wheel with banking as expected, at the same time there is a bewildering effect called adverse yaw.  It’s as if an invisible foot has mischievously trounced a rudder pedal. 
Of course, during my little flight demonstrations, I deliberately coordinate aileron and rudder control pressures, concealing these strange doings in the sky, thus setting the stage for discoveries by the hapless first-timer.
That's not a prank.  No, definitely not.  I have played only one prank in the sky...
It was in 1967, soon after I got my pilot's license.  On a Saturday morning three colleagues from the office were my passengers aboard Two-Four Fox.  We departed Torrance Airport (now Zamperini Field) for Bakersfield Municipal Airport to do some rafting on the Kern River.  Our route enabled us to do plenty of sight-seeing along The Grapevine above chrome-to-chrome traffic on Route 99.

In the front seat beside me sat Engineer Ed, a serious fellow, who the week before seemed quite uneager to go aloft in a single-engine flying machine with a low-time pilot.  He liked river-rapids, though, and did not want to miss out on the fun.  Now he was craning and gaping and laughing along with the rest of us.

Approaching Bakersfield, I made an early descent to pattern altitude, which gave us a close-up view of the San Joaquin Valley.  The airport came into view five miles ahead.  I obtained permission for a left base entry and took up a heading of 070, which was perpendicular to Runway 34 at some distance from the approach end.  Dropping his bravado, Ed squinted straight ahead through the windscreen.  I did the same. "See it, Ed?" I asked with a frown.  He leaned forward and shook his head.   Of course, he could not see the airport.  It was off to our left.  Houses and trees swept passed our side windows. 
With my right hand, I began briskly working my way down the laminated checklist on my knee-board, adjusting throttle and trim, shoving in the propeller control and the red mixture knob, all the while seeming to ignore the expanding scenery ahead.  As I lowered the flaps, the plane pitched forward and our airspeed slowed to a whisper.  With the runway in the corner of my eye, I reduced power.  Ed frantically gripped his seat cushion with both hands.  The cabin became quiet except for the conversation between the guys in back.  At the last second, I racked the plane into a left turn and planted the wheels on the pavement.
Rolling along the runway and chortling, I brought the flaps up and looked over at Ed.  He was pale and grimacing.  I saw pain in Ed's eyes.  The man had been deeply horrified by those last seconds.  He found it difficult even to smile during the rest of the trip.  So did I.  This despite the white-water high-jinks and the raucous paddle-splashing between rafts in calm pools.  Returning to the airport, Ed accepted my solemn apology for the prank and bravely buckled into the backseat for the flight home.

Essential Flying
February 21, 1987 
Anthony Day 
Editor of the Editorial Page 
Los Angeles Times 

Times Mirror Square Los Angles, CA 90053

Dear Mr. Day:

One aspect of Professor Richard J. Vogl's recommendation that "non-essential aircraft" over urban areas be banned (in today's edition of the Times) warrants careful thought: how to decide which aircraft are non-essential. 

Or conversely, which flights should be permitted? Some choices are easy: One flight last month, for example. A woman I know flew an Archer to Calexico to bring back a disabled child for treatment at Shriner Hospital. Though the flight "benefits only a few," Professor Vogl would surely permit it and hundreds of other flights being made by volunteers on the American Medical Support Flight Team. 

Business trips would be all right, too, presumably. My most recent flight was a quick hop in a Cutlass from Orange County to Santa Monica. One of our best customers, an aerospace company, was having a technical problem, so I brought in some special gear and one of our best engineers. Problem solved. 

But what if it were a candy factory instead? A business flight to fix a problem there would be "non-essential," I expect. Last thing we Americans need is more cavities. Same for a sales trip to, say, a cosmetics firm or a movie studio or a maker of vaginal sprays. Professor Vogl would doubtless ban private flights for non-essential businesses. 


No reason to limit the ban to private flights, though. For, as Professor Vogl emphasizes: "Limitation is the mother of good management!" That most airline seats are occupied by persons taking non-essential trips is a reality of aviation. 

Check the couple sitting next to you: why, they're going skiing. The people up front with the crying child are on their way back from visiting Grandma. Hah! And that thumper behind you? He is bound for a convention in Chicago -- for confectioners. Sometimes the skies above Los Angeles are full of airliners each filled to capacity with non-essential travelers to and from places like Reno and Las Vegas. Let's ban those, too.

Having cleared the skies of all non-essential airplanes, we can apply Professor Vogl's ban in other realms. Think of all the non-essential vehicles on our neighborhood streets and freeways. Trips to the beach would be first to go. And why should beer trucks take up space on our highways? "Individual freedom," asserts Professor (of Biology) Vogl, "must often be forfeited for the common good." His noble words taken seriously could get him grounded, though. Aviation regulators may someday decide that biology is non-essential.

Sincerely yours,
Paul Niquette
Vice President,
American Automation 


Under the Hood

Penny taught me a whole lot about instrument flying. There was this time when we flew to El Toro Marine Base to practice a procedure called GCA, Ground Controlled Approach. 

Penny scheduled me for six approaches one beautiful Saturday morning. As usual, I put on the hood before take-off from Orange County Airport (now John Wayne). I contacted the El Toro Marine Base by radio after we were aloft.

"We will be using student controllers for your practice approaches today," said a deep voice on the radio. I changed frequencies as instructed and lowered my seat in preparation for the effort that lay ahead.

My first approach was routine. The young marine on the microphone performed flawlessly. 

"Do not acknowledge my transmissions unless advised to do so," he told me at one point. "Please acknowledge," he advised.

"Will not acknowledge," I acknowledged.

"You are right of the approach course. Turn left, heading 340. You are below the glide-slope. Stop your descent. You are on the approach course. Turn right, heading 350. Above the glide-slope, descend at 500 feet-per-minute..." 

The instructions continued in a steady stream. Then, the controller made an abundantly sensible statement. 

"Your landing gear should be down and locked; please acknowledge."

"Gear down and welded," I chuckled into the microphone.

At the last moment, about a hundred feet above the runway, I was instructed to power up and execute a 'missed approach' procedure. Unless it were a real emergency, civilians cannot land at El Toro.

For the second approach, Penny concealed my direction gyro by covering its face with a jar-lid. I told the student controller about my predicament. After a delay, during which I assume there was a scramble to look up the appropriate procedure, the controller came back on and began a more detailed set of instructions. They included commands of the form, "Turn right -- stop turn."

So it went. Penny would cover up various instruments, and I would obey the commands issued from the ground. She brought plenty of jar-lids. The fifth time around, Penny set up a 'no gyro approach.' About all I had to look at on the control panel was the oil pressure gauge. This really put the onus on the GCA controller. 

How neat to pop up the hood after such a hairy simulation and see the runway directly under my nose wheel! I had an idea.

"Care to try one, Penny?"

Penny laughed. "The fantasy life of every instrument student includes getting his instructor under the hood." I determined not to touch that line with a barge pole. "Gimme that thing," said she.

Penny adjusted the headband and pulled the hood down to obscure the window. I sat back and folded my arms. For the first time that morning, I would be permitted to experience the visual reality of flight.

A new controller took his turn at the GCA scopes. He was less sure of himself than his predecessor. I left all the jar-lids in place for Penny.

Things went fine in the beginning. Penny reduced and increased power on command. She turned and stopped turn, first this way then that. I was astonished at the magnitude of the corrections being made. We were flying all over the sky. What a lark. Then something went wrong. We were no more than 300 feet above the runway and slightly to the right.

"Increase power. Turn left. Reduce power..."

The student controller forgot to say, "Stop turn."

We continued to turn left. Penny knew something was wrong. The runway drifted off at a crazy angle to our flight path. There were buildings, including the control tower, dead ahead. I didn't say a word. The radio went quiet. 

Penny stopped the turn on her own. But, without gyro instruments, she could not tell which way we were flying. She gripped the throttle, knuckles white. By then, Two-Four Fox had to be off the GCA radar screens. Two hundred feet, descending. Tower less than a quarter mile away. 

Parenthesis. The hood is a simple plastic contraption. If you want to see out the window, simply take it off with the flick of your wrist. Mine, in fact, was the deluxe model, with hinges at the temples, which enable the pilot to tilt the hood up at the last moment for the landing flare

Penny made no move to lift the hood. This tells you a lot about Penny -- and a lot about instrument piloting. It is an awesome responsibility, outranking open-heart surgery. In a practice exercise, you don't cheat.

The tension mounted. Penny cried out, "My God! Don't let us crash!"

I was on the verge of taking the controls when Captain Deep-Voice called on the radio with instructions to execute a missed approach, starting with a climbing turn to the right. 

Even then, Penny did not lift the hood. 


Hangar Wedding

A wedding in a hangar, with airplanes and aviation enthusiasts all around.  Got it?  It was in 1990.  Now, try to imagine that I might have been invited to give a talk.  Oh sure.  Are we on the same page here?   Now this: A short talk.  Yeah, right.  Here's the text...

Standing here in this environment puts me in mind of -- well flying, and I am reminded of the three most useless things for a pilot: the runway behind you, the altitude above you, and the fuel not put in your tank. 

A little like marriage, don't you think?  The three most useless things in a marriage: the grievances behind you, the expectations above you, and the affection not expressed to your mate.

As for the inevitable question about the couple, far as I know, they are still married to each other.  In my case, though,... never mind.


Ground-Fog Day

"Read-back correct. Call again when ready to taxi."

Ground Control cleared us to Runway Two-Niner Right. I released the brakes and started an exceptionally slow taxi.

"Reminds my of that morning at Orange County, Harv," I said, peering intently through the damp plexiglass. "Did I ever tell you?"

"The time with the PSA jet," he answered. My son, alas, has heard all my stories.

"What happened with the jet?" asked Murray from the back seat.

"Nothing much," I answered. "It was my regular morning commute out of Orange County. We had this patchy advection fog that morning, and -- "


"Fog blown in from the ocean. It is thin and streaky. Never very high, though. You're in the blue just a few seconds after lift-off. Anyway, I was creeping along the taxiway about like this. I turned the plane into what I thought was the run-up area when all at once out of the soup appears this big silvery, sphere-like thing with a light on it and a black patch in the middle -- "

"Radar dome," explained Harv.

"I had missed my turn and come face-to-face with this PSA jet. He was sitting there on the ramp. Waiting for the fog to clear before loading passengers, I guess. By the time I stopped, I was too close to turn around."

"Can't back this thing up, I guess," Murray commented.

"I reported to Ground Control that I had traffic, twelve o'clock, at my altitude."

Harv chuckled. "My dad had to shut off the engine and push the plane back by hand."

"Not before doing my Buster Keaton routine for the benefit of the PSA flight crew. Made'em laugh so hard, even in the fog, I could see the fillings in their damn molars."

Perfect Flight
Foremost, you don't just climb in and take off. The preliminaries are more than obligations. For one who would be joyfully conscientious, all those preludes add satisfaction to the quest. 

Take inspection, for example. Who can deny the gratification experienced by alert fingers diligently stroked along the smooth surfaces, assuring unblemished form!  Indeed, you eagerly inspect each fillet and recess.  Who can resist the fascination with features seemingly shaped as pleasure for the eye more than purpose and function! 

Ah, but now you have assured a state of readiness.  With a audible sigh, you liberate the vital elements of motion. Only then do you deign to enter that most privileged realm.  You set loose the noisome thrust with alacrity and escape the hold of earth, rising up to meet the sky. 

Still, you must take care to guide the enterprise along the intended course. Precision and purpose characterize every movement, whether gentle or firm. Wonder attends your progress. Perfection means that upon arrival at a distant place, you descend reluctantly from the pleasured heights to find renewed contentment below.

Thus does flying spoil you for any other activity. Well, almost any other. 
What sets perfect flight apart from perfect something else is that afterwards you go out and tell your friends about it.


Pope Soap

During Pope John Paul's U.S. tour in 1987 (September 10-19), a number of commemorative products sprung up.  Coffee mugs, ceramic tiles, and barbeque aprons were everywhere featuring images of the Pontiff.  Sears had a sale an animated lawn sprinkler inscribed with "Let us spray."  There were molded cleansing agents made from the salts of vegetable fats ("Pope Soap"). 

My favorite included a loop of nylon cord to be conveniently suspended on a shower head -- yeah, "Pope Soap on a Rope." 

Now a flying story...

A late-night fuel-stop in Cardinal Three Four Niner One Four at a remote field in Nevada found the flight line closed and the FBO unavailable until morning, which necessitated an unplanned RON.  At the closest motel, a toothless codger with a scruffy beard handed me the room-key and a fresh towel. 

"Do you have any Pope Soap on a Rope?" asked I with a grin. 

The old fellow shrugged as if he had been responding to the question all week.  "Nope." 

All right, so you had to be there.

Winds in the Sky.

Here is an 'anecdote in the sky', dating back to a short flying adventure in 1969.  The experience will continue to be relevant as long as the winds blow.  It features a two-hour family flight at night from Paso Robles Municipal Airport to Orange County Airport (now John Wayne Airport) in one exceptionally brisk Santa Ana wind


The plane was Two-Four Fox


Our Skylane boasted an ‘honest’ sea-level airspeed of 140 mph (120 knots).  In compliance with the semicircular hemispheric rule, my VFR flight plan was filed for a cruising altitude of 13,500 feet in order to have a smooth ride.  Our intended course was about 135 degrees magnetic on the leg from overhead Santa Monica Airport to – well, to Santa Ana, come to think of it.  The air was smooth as a putting green, and my passengers were sound asleep.  Their pilot in command (that would be me) was periodically ‘sipping’ from a fresh bottle of oxygen lying across my lap -- a practice attributable to the chapter entitled Pattern Altitude


Pilots know that winds aloft increase in speed with altitude above the surface.  Higher always means faster.  Our planned heading included a cross-wind correction angle of maybe 15 degrees. Not enough: Me and my passengers were being blown out to sea abeam the San Fernando Valley.


About then, I became vividly reminded of a worrisome anecdote by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in Wind, Sand, and Stars, describing a flight on his mail-route along the lee side of the Andes in 1935.   Our Skylane was a few knots faster than Saint-Exupéry’s Latécoère 28 (108 knots).  Even so…


Those dry easterlies in Southern California, warmed by down-slope adiabatic compression, can reach speeds of 60 knots at the surface (that's 'Category One' on the Saffir-Simpson scale).  Or fiercer, according to fire-fighting reports some years.  At 13,500 feet over the coastline, one might experience a ‘straight-on’ headwind of 100 knots.  On a ‘radical slaunch’ of, say, 45 degrees, the cross-course component of our airspeed might actually be less than 100 knots, as analyzed in the enigma entitled Wind Circle.

The solution would seem to be elementary: Descend.  Get down low where the winds blow slow.  But wait…


The TCA (Terminal Control Area) for LAX has a ‘ceiling’ at 12,000 feet.  That meant we needed to stay above 12,000 feet within 45 miles of that place to be in compliance with visual flight rules.  I chose another alternative, which was to request a clearance to use a low altitude ‘VFR corridor’, which crosses the runways under the local ‘floor’ of the TCA at 2,500 feet.  That meant beginning our descent abeam Point Mugu.  And waking up my passengers in severe turbulence.  Bummer.


Forty-eight years after that flight, record-breaking wildfires blazed in SoCal exacerbated by fierce Santa Ana windsFrom his home in a French village, the author sent a draft of this anecdote to proposing the title -- "No Shit: There I Was at 13,500 Feet Being Blown Out to Sea."  Some complained that it was too long.

Not Don Lauria.  My oldest friend sent a message under the subject title "No Shit: There I Was at 20,430 Feet" along with a link to a singular adventure of his own entitled American 1975 Karakoram Expedition.

Calendar in the Sky
During the 1980's, this was a familiar sight...

Queen Mary and Spruce Goose Building in Long
                  Beach, California

It always reminds me of my experiences as the Commuter in the Sky and makes me wonder about all the changes in the Greater Los Angeles Area that must be evident from the sky.  Perhaps someone will accept this challenge: Go aloft and shoot pictures for comparison.  The collection would make a wonderful calendar in the sky, don't you think?   If you want to accept the challenge, let me know, and I'll publish your photographs here. 

Phobia in the Sky.
Not all phobias are irrational. 
As observed in Sky Below, "a healthy fear of snakes or heights might well be favored in the genes. Indeed, our ancestors in jungles and mountains who lacked those fears must have produced few competent offspring."  Nevertheless, flying has a curious power to cancel out -- to nullify! --  my personal fear of heights.  Let this anecdote, exemplify what may be a common anomaly...
Back in the sixties, I flew some guests aboard Two-Four Fox to an event at the Holiday Inn in Long Beach, California.  Approaching the airport, I obtained permission from the control tower to circle above the hotel, while descending to 2,000 feet.  That’s higher than any skyscraper on the planet but tame stuff, it would seem, for one grinning aviator. 

After landing, we drove a rental car to the hotel for a wine-tasting on the top floor.  Of course, it was not permissible for the pilot-in-command to participate in the sampling of grape juices that day, so to pass the time, I wandered outside onto the balcony and casually glanced down at the driveway below. 

Holy shit!  I spun away from the railing and stumbled through a doorway.  Still gasping, I plopped onto a couch surrounded by astonished guests.  What the hell is wrong with me? I asked myself.

The psychology may be elementary: The inside of an aircraft fuselage hardly conforms to primitive paradigms.  At whatever altitude in flight, we are merely spectators gaping at abstract images beyond the Plexiglas.  That’s my hypothesis, anyway.

Holding onto a bannister and peering down from a dozen floors up is a different matter.  It is utterly real, according to the medulla oblongata or whatever ancient subsystem is most influential inside our respective craniums.  If you know a better explanation, please let me know, and I'll publish it here.

Wisecrack in the Sky
It was merely a sight-seeing flight from Boise International Airport to Hailey, Idaho.  
There were two passengers in Cardinal Three Four Niner One Four, my son and his wife.  The weather was CAVU on a spring morning in 1995.  Our excursion that day included a walking tour of the Sun Valley environs.

Departing the TCA, I received a routine request from Departure Control.  “What are your intentions?” asked the controller.
That tempted me to make a wisecrack based on an old joke about a student pilot who responded, “Well first I’m going to get a pilot’s license, then I plan to marry my girlfriend and have children.”  But for just this once I restrained myself.  The controllers in the Boise radar room might not have been amused.
“Initial heading one-two-zero,” I said solemnly over the radio. “Climbing through three thousand, planning to cruise at seven thousand five hundred.”
“Cardinal Niner One Four, squawk VFR.  Frequency change approved.  Have a good trip.”
“Thanks, s’long.” 
The rest of the story is embarrassing. To understand why, one might read Squawk 1200, which is an e-book mostly about the invention of the altitude-reporting transponder back in the late '50s.  Either that or simply be advised that the squawk code for visual flight rules (VFR) is – well, it’s 1200.  That’s what then appears on ATC radar screens to tell controllers to ignore the associated blip.
At about that moment, I clapped my son on his shoulder and pointed at the Idaho foothills north of our course.  “Like Baja in Two Four Fox, remember?” I exulted over the intercom. “You were nine years old."  I nonchalantly reached forward and entered 7500 on the transponder.  
Oops, “7500” just happened to be the number I was watching for on the altimeter during the climb. It had nothing to do with the transponder.   
Thirty minutes later, after listening to ATIS at Friedman Memorial Airport , I tuned up the radio and clicked the transmit key.  “Hailey Tower, this is Cardinal Three Four Niner One Four, inbound from the west, with your numbers, requesting a straight-in approach for Runway One-Three.” 

The radio was silent.  A minute later, I repeated the call. 

“Cardinal Niner One Four, we are unable to grant a ‘straight-in’ approach at this time," said the tower with a frown in his voice.  "Make full pattern for Runway One-Three.  Report turning downwind abeam.”

It seemed that no other traffic was being controlled by the tower at that time.  My voice expressed puzzlement more than impatience.  “OK, Hailey, Niner One Four is diverting to the south.  We will make a standard entry for a right-hand pattern.”

Roger that,” said the tower operator.  Then after a pause, he said, “Is everything all right up there?

“That’s affirmative,” I replied in full grin. “Um...why do you ask?”
“We received a call by land line from the radar room in Boise,” replied the tower operator.  “They suggested that you should recycle your transponder.”
I looked at the panel and immediately saw my mistake.  It was for such an occasion, that the expression “oh-shit” was invented. 
Squawk Code 7500 means “HIGHJACKING IN PROGRESS.” 
After my apology over the radio, the tower operator breathed a sigh of relief.  "Standby while we cancel Boise’s request for law enforcement officers to meet your plane on the tarmac."
Whew.  My son and his wife might have been handcuffed and searched.  That's embarrassing enough, but I probably would have lost my pilot’s license or something.
Maybe that wisecrack to the people in the Boise radar room would have been a good idea.

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