Sunday, June 14, 2009

Skip Powell part eight

" I worked DC-3's at 11 NC stations. Except for the two biggie GRB and MSP stations, all flights were scheduled 3 minute stops. On ramp arrival, the left engine would be shut down. The airstair door would be let down and often, with outbound passengers at elbow; the SA would assist deplaning/enplaning passengers - all the while maintaining 'meaningful conversation' with the young 'Stew.' Cargo handling was mostly via the rear bin, thus more talk time.

Lastly, with fire bottle at hand, the agent would signal with 2 fingers aloft, OK to start left engine. Once engines running smoothly, the SA and Pilot would exchange military type hand salutes. The salute was an important communication. First, the SA salute meant all pins, locks and chocks were removed, the area was clear of gear and it's OK to move the a/c. The pilot salute meant responsibilities were now his and he was departing.

NOTE: The 'on-ramp' Agents time was measure between left engine stop and exchanges of salutes. At times, the clock was a bit 'shaded' to avoid a Delay Report write-up. Of course, and no one would ever admit that at times, Pilots would 'shout out the window' a reduced ramp time, which we would use and he would record on his flight log. I suppose later, that modified time, became input to the Payroll Departments pay calculations? Nah!

At rare times, a two engine stop was necessary. Such might be required for front bin loads (pilots often helped with front bin loads), a/c fueling or much more rare a/c de-icing. Delay report write-ups always followed - with attendant explanations.

A rare thrill during a/c engine start time could disturb the normal. The cranking engine would issue a loud cough, belching smoke and maybe flames. The alert pilot would keep the prop turning and finally blow away the bad stuff. I understood things could get nasty if the prop should stop and the flames naught. I never had the pleasure. My only action with that red fire extinguisher was its periodic weighing.

Early one high wind and 'snirt' blowing morning, the runways were snow and ice covered. Runway braking action was 'Nil', ice covered runway, absent any braking capability. These BRA reports were often determined by car. The first flight delivered got his IR (In Range fuel report), answered by the station barometer setting, along with a braking action report. He arrived, made a circulating approach to the airport, and executed his landing. Fish-tailing down the nest of two cross-wind runways, he finally stopped 'catawampus' to the runway. The waiting second flight questioned conditions and was told by the first 'landing not recommended!' The airborne pilot responded 'get off the runway, if you can make it so can I' - and he did. I was hoping neither would land, it was nasty Parka WX and fur lined trooper ear flap hats were not yet authorized attire - by arm chair GO types.

Weather in ATY ranged well between 'clear & cloudy.' Temperatures exercised both ends of the scale, my first joys of -30's. The winds blew heartily; summer time dust, fall time tumbleweeds, and wintertime snirt (dirt mixed with snow).

Weather forecasting then was quite rudimentary. DC-3's did not have radar capability. On a summers evening, nasty thunderstorms and fierce lightning bolts filled the air. A DC-3 landed and taxied up on the ramp, stopping in front of the terminal. Fast rising, low flying, hair raising turbulence is unique to Dakota flat lands and perfect for a Clint Eastwood movie scene. Heavy winds increased. Passengers were ushered in the building for safety. Ramp gear, with an agent in tow, blew across the tarmac.

A tornado sat down, destroying buildings either side of the terminal building. During which, the pilot had spun around his close by DC-3 to point up-wind. There he practiced his 'tail up' ramp flying. Meanwhile, watching passengers were also doing a bit of 'wondering' of their own. No one was hurt and all soon returned to normal.

Idle time was not unusual working in small stations like ATY, and most of my later 10 stations. But, one could not anticipate their next airport adventure, some not ending well. At ATY, a 'flamed-out' Air Force Jet Fighter dead-sticked one hot summer day from about 30,000 onto the short (for him) runway. Later, as he sat drinking a cup of coffee, we were unable to determine the wettest part of his attire was arm pit area or the pants? Later, working at ASX (Ashland, WI) a Piper Cub spun a hole in the terra-firma, his last act and messy. While in BEH (Benton Harbor, MI), a couple guys were pulled from a twin a/c floating in Lake Michigan, one of which was my former high school class mate.

All was not sweat in ATY. There was small airplane recreation flying in the 'wild blue yonder,' tossing out rolls of toilet paper, then attempting to cut the unrolling ribbon headed toward Mother Earth. Even more fun was trading my '57 beautiful, pink and cream hardtop Buick for shares in 'The Future Bottle Opening Bottle Corporation.' Its President, a big, gregarious red bearded guy, was quite a salesman. I was not the only investor. The newly arrived pop-top can and twist-off bottle caps killed the investment. I got my car back with a bit of my scarce cash - wish I still had it. Attendant to that relationship was trip invitations in his ball busting AT-6 air machine and his Piper tri-pacer. Where we went, fun followed. "

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