You Had Me at ‘Dambusters’



I flew to Christchurch, New Zealand, for business meetings.  And to give a talk at an industry group’s private event.   I still get nervous at these talks.  I always need a touchstone – an opening slide or story — to chill out both my audience and me.  I didn’t know much about this group.  How to start? 

We were surrounded by airplanes.






The event was in an aircraft hangar at a former Royal New Zealand Air Force base, RNZAF Wigram.  It is now the Royal New Zealand Air Force Museum.  Waiting to be introduced, I stood under an A-4K Skyhawk. 





Earlier, my hosts collected me at my hotel and drove me to the site.  They apologized for not briefing me earlier on the venue.  I looked at the Harvard trainer swooping down at the gate and said, 

“It’s perfect.  You had me at ‘Dambusters ’. ”





New Zealand is a country of pilots.  Because of the rugged terrain and distances between settlements, airplanes were an early enabler of nationhood. 

Aviatrix Jean Batten flew the first England-to-New Zealand solo flight in 1936. 




Air Vice Marshall Keith Parks hailed from New Zealand, schooled in Auckland and Dunedin.  He commanded all fighter aircraft defending London and southeast England during the Battle of Britain. 




Pilot Les Munro flew in the Dambusters mission.  He is the only living pilot today of that famous raid.  Kiwi.




I had the perfect first slide for my audience.  But my complete presentation was already locked and loaded into the multi-media system, ready to project.  I quickly bluetoothed two photos from my phone onto a thumb drive.  I handed the drive to the technical booth.  They re-sized and inserted the two photos into my slide sequence while I walked back to the conference.  They introduced me and I started my talk.


“Thank you for inviting me.  Isn’t this a great venue?  Let me tell you why.  Ever since I was a boy, I imagined myself flying airplanes.  Here is a picture of me when I was 8 years old.  That picture was taken just last Sunday.”



“I love airplanes.  I manage manufacturing and supply chain operations in Asia and Europe now.  But when I grow up I want to fly that one (pointing to a de Havilland Vampire in the lobby). 

“You can see all kinds of magical views when you’re in an airplane.  Here is a picture I took with my phone last Tuesday from my airliner window, when I was arriving here.  These are mountains west of Christchurch.” 


DSC_0560 (2)


“I thought I would remind you what a magical country you live in, and how much I’d like to keep coming back.”



It was easy after that.  We talked about their industry, and why it was so vital in today’s global food chain.  How what they did added value to people’s lives around the world. 

Afterwards, a farmer, an analyst from an investment bank we all know, and an executive from a global trading firm chatted with me.  

Of course we talked about airplanes.



Posted from Bali, Indonesia, July 18, 2014

This is the 200th article we have written in Flying in Crosswinds
It’s been an amazing 7 years.  Thanks for sticking with us.  Over 12,000 followers of this blog, from a surprising range of countries.

Personal notes to friends: 

Andrew, as you can see I could not have avoided going to the museum!  Let’s go flying in New Zealand together!

Kelly, I promised you the photo of the New Zealand Alps.  Download away!  And fly safely, always.



“Goose, you see a trailer?”
”Negative, Merlin.  Looks like he’s a single.” 
”Take it easy, Maverick.  I don’t like this shit.  I’m breaking high and right, see if he’s really alone."

– My friend Rick’s Facebook comment on the photo below.  


Bogey 9 o'clock level, where did HE come from?!








Rick was quoting from the movie TOPGUN.  I thought of other flying stories, like A Higher Call and Thunderbolt.  Tales of chivalry on both sides.  My childhood imagination, fuelled by weekly doses of “Twelve O’clock High” came rushing back.  When you see a German airplane outside your cockpit window, he wasn’t there to greet you, “Guten Tag, meine Herren, dies ist ein guter Tag für mich!”


A Higher Call


Rolf flashed past our wingtip and effortlessly arced back to our 9 o’clock. 




Dogfights are won by airplanes with high instantaneous roll rates and sustained turn rates.  The faster you roll, the tighter your turn, the more likely you’ll get the other guy.  Energy keeps even vertical turns tight and fast.  Glider pilots are masters at managing energy.  Rolf flies aerobatics in gliders.   




Even worse, Rolf was not flying a glider.  Rolf’s D.4 Fascination looks fast even on the groundDesigned by aerobatic pilot Wolfgang Dallach, it reflects the low-slung looks of a Messerschmitt Bf-109 or Focke-Wolf 190D, Luftwaffe fighters from World War II. 




German machines are engineered for purposeful efficiency — BMW motor cars, Leica and Zeiss optics, the Deutscher fußball team that deconstructed the cathedral of Brazilian football last Tuesday.  German aviation pioneers have names that are famous even now:  Bölkow, Dornier, Extra, Langewiesche.




So we were up against a German aerobatic glider pilot in a German airplane designed by another German aerobatic pilot.  Deutschland über alles.

Carlo is a much better English Lit professor than an aeronautical engineer.  He was about to get more education.   



“This is a great shot, Carl, I should be a photographer!”



Rolf again pulled low to our front and crossed our path left to right.  I felt Carlo roll into a right turn.  Ha!  Even mild-mannered English Lit professors have ruthless fighter pilots lurking inside.  He was pulling lead, closing.  

“C’mon, Mav, do some of that pilot shit!” 

But Carl was writing checks a Cessna can’t cash.




“Are you trying to shoot me down?”  Clearly, Rolf’s eyes were locked on us through that bubble canopy.  Fighter pilot dictum:  lose sight, lose the fight.  

“He saw you Carl.”

Carlo’s determined grin stayed fixed on his face.  He tightened our turn, pulling 2 Gs as the German airplane’s nose pitched up.




Suddenly Rolf arced tight inside our own turn and whipped past high above us.  Carlo unloaded and rolled wings level.

“When you see a Messerschmitt, Carl, and we’re flying a truck, dive for the weeds.  Where is he?”




“Behind us, Dad.” 

We were toast.  



Rolf’s pure pursuit curve smoothly slotted onto our tail.  Ratatatat! 

We went down in flames.  Rolf gave us a Westphalian wave.  Then he banked away, RTB.







Carlo flew down Germany’s Röhr river and skipped our bouncing bomb onto the Sorpe dam. 




Except that we didn’t.  We were shot down before our bomb run.  We had tried to dogfight a Messerschmitt with a Lancaster bomber.  If we had survived in another era, the air group commander would have banished Carlo to flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog poo out of Hong Kong.

Carlo flew a beautiful crosswind landing back at Woodland.   Then we had a beer.  Rolf was already working on the water heater in one of our guest rooms.


Now you know why the Sorpe dam survived the war.



Posted from Christchurch, New Zealand

11 July, 2014




Kiwi Warbirds



I grew up on a steady diet of World War II books and movies.  The war had been over just 12 years when I was born, and my Dad had lived through it.  I devoured his stories, books, went with him to movies.  I still can’t remember the title of one movie he took me to, where a pilot flew his B-17 without the 9-man crew, to look for the enemy fleet.  The hero flew until he no longer had the fuel to return, but accomplished his mission.  Never forgot that.

The first airplane model I ever built was a Spitfire.  Santa paired a Spit and an Me-109 for that year, 1/72 scale.  I can still see the models clearly in my mind, the desperate battles I flew in fiercely contested airspace in my bedroom.
I had never seen a Spitfire up close.  I saw one, about 2 million kilometres away, over the Ginkel Heath drop zone during an air show commemorating Operation Market-Garden. 
So when Anna, my friend in New Zealand, took me to the Auckland War Museum last March, I reacted badly.
I cut through the line, pushed past everyone.  I tried to climb over the rope cordon.  I shed tears.  Anna ushered her daughter away and considered calling for professional help.  “Calli, remember what I told you, don’t follow him, he is a little strange, even if he’s my friend… .”



There was a Merlin engine next to the airplane.  You could press a button and fill the room with the symphonic performance of a Merlin engine starting up.  They finally dragged me away after I had pressed it about 162 times.  

I was fed lunch and taken on a long drive to calm me down.  Then Anna and Neil finally decided they could safely take me to MOTAT, the Museum of Transport and Technology.

I went berserk.

They had a Lancaster!  A De Havilland Mosquito!  A De Havilland Vampire!  A DC-3, a Lockheed 10 Electra, a Tiger Moth! 
It was all too much.  These are the best airplanes from the movies with my Dad!  The Dam BustersMosquito Squadron, and 633 SquadronAmelia Earhart, and the exquisite flying scene with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in Out of Africa.  And my most loved books.  Frederick Forsythe’s The ShepherdFate is the Hunter. All in the same place!  Oooh.  Oooh.
It was all too much.  I had to sit down. 
There was another button, you could start a radial engine.  Again and again, and again.  They had a briefing tent for a bombing mission over Germany.  There were exhibits on Bomber Command; the Battle of Britain’s Air Vice Marshal Sir Keith Park, KBE, MC, DFC, who was Kiwi; aircraft carrier models; dioramas of dogfights.  There were leather helmets and flying jackets you could wear.  
You try grinning for an entire day.  My face hurt for days, long after I got back to Singapore.  
Thank you Anna, Neil and Calli  Smile

Posted from Positano, Italy
May 29, 2014

Coupled Approach

Shameful.  Six months between stories.  My excuses are a move to Singapore and demands of explosive business growth in the most burgeoning region in the world.
I travel alone over 200 days a year.  During one harrowing 12-day period last month, I spent each of twelve consecutive nights in a different city – ranging from Nashville TN to Dunedin, New Zealand, and two nights on trans-oceanic flights on B777s and A380s, surrounded by strangers.
I crave time in our little Cessna 152, flying with Carlo.
It was already drizzling when we took off.  It wasn’t quite a thunderstorm – no vicious lightning or thunder.  Nor was it the long, dreary monsoon downpour that recalls limping piano lessons, restless childhood hours trapped indoors, the summer vacation wasting away. 
No, this was a summer cloudburst, that ones that had us running into the streets as children, shivering deliciously under gushing downspouts before the sun sent temperatures soaring into the mid-30s again.
Huge raindrops smacked the windshield as we lifted off the grass.  Carlo, flying from the right seat, started an instrument climb.  The sun streamed through shafts of rain.  We orbited over the field.  Cloudbursts quickly move on.  It is best to stay in one spot and wait them out.  I set navcom 1 to the ILS at Clark, as a precaution.

Switching nav1 to the Clark ILS       
Carlo flew a perfect orbit.  You can see below his VSI perfectly horizontal.  Level at 900 feet, our entry altitude at Woodland Airfield.
    Carlo level at 900 feet, in an out of rain
The rain shafts moved on.  Visibility jumped to a bazillion kilometers and the air sparkled.  We jolted through some turbulence.  I thought of microbursts and shear and mountain waves across the top of Mt Arayat, three kilometers away.
Our wing-mounted GoPro camera shakes off the raindrops    
Time for an approach.  The smoke plumes from ground fires streamed in different directions, hugging the rice fields flat.  I pointed to one plume, on the horizon.  Horizontal.



The Angeles City Flying Club weather station is on top of Hangar 1.  I looked up our website on my BlackBerry, and sure enough, the wind was 25 knots, gusting to 28.  Crosswind, though all three of our windsocks pointed in three different directions.

The maximum demonstrated crosswind on a Cessna 152 is 12 knots.
I told Carlo he still had the airplane.  I wasn’t about to embarrass myself. 
Carlo flew a magnificent approach.  He crabbed 15 degrees into the wind throughout the pattern, then canted the airplane into a sideslip on short final.


As he flared, you can clearly hear my mumble in the cockpit video – “Sh*t, he’s going to grease it on.”
Of course he wanted to do it again.  There was a group of R/C flyers sheltering from the gale, in the lee of Hangar 3.  They were gawking at us.  A Cessna 152 isn’t much larger than a radio-controlled airplane.
Carlo did three approaches.  All greasers.  The wind shifted on the last short final, and he got a freebie headwind.  He nailed that, too.


I suggested he might quit while he was ahead.  Our faces were sore from laughing and grinning non-stop.  Did I mention I love flying with Carlo? 
As they pushed the airplane into Hangar 3, I took a photo of the windsock.  The wind had shredded it completely.

Later, Mike taught Carlo to walk bowlegged.  Because he had BIG brass ones.

I tried to take credit for all the landings.  “I used my autopilot to fly coupled approaches to our CAT III ILS at Woodland Airpark.  I use every resource, and I was totally in command.”  Nobody believed me.
Posted from Venice, Italy
May 26, 2014

First Solo



I’d had 11 hours of flying lessons with my instructor.  Four weekends.

One day my instructor and I practiced some landings, and then she got out of the airplane.  I was then supposed to fly three takeoffs and landings, alone.

It’s called the First Solo.








They say you never forget your first solo.  Well, I was 45 years old.  I’ve forgotten many things about that day.  Pictures help me remember.  There is a video somewhere, 8mm film transferred to VHS.  Probably all faded by now.

There is also a diary.



My most vivid memory is climbing after takeoff, glancing right, and seeing the empty seat beside me.  No instructor.  She’d left her headset on the seat.

I remember thinking, If I can’t land this thing, nobody else will.  I was alone.



I remember the wind was strong.  The school’s chief instructor pilot, Capt. Jhick, ex-Air Force, tough as nails, flew my pre-solo check at noon, the worst time.  Bad thermals, bad approaches, bad landings, bad everything.

He criticized my entire flight.  Poor speed control, tentative on flight controls, bad runway line up, poor altitude control.  I probably parked the damn airplane crooked.

In the end, though, he said I was safe enough.  Released for solo.


Safe enough?




I’d forgotten the beauty queens. 

There were local beauty contestants visiting the airfield that day.  And the media. 

Clearly, Carlo is very interested in airplanes


Geez.  My first solo crash would be covered live.



I’d forgotten also that Meynard was there, practicing aerobatics for the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.  He later became my instrument and aerobatic instructor.  But I barely knew him in 2003.

Meynard was told that is was the Big Day!  First Solo!

Meynard congratulated my son Carlo, standing beside me, 16 years old.  His first solo!  At 16!  His Dad even came to watch! 

Uh, no, Carlo said.  It was Dad who was going to solo.  Meynard turned to me incredulously, tickled to death.


“You??  You are the one soloing?!”

I found out later he learned to fly at my age, too.

Meynard, Julio, Gino, Tonet, Carlo





4pm.  It was time!  My instructor Ina and I took off in the 1978-vintage Cessna 152.  RP-C1051.

In 1978, when it was brand new, that exact same airplane suffered my cousin Rico’s first solo.  He is now an Airbus Captain with United.

My cousin Rico, center, in 1978, same airplane


In 2003 the airplane was already 25 years old.  I was 45 years old.  The instructor pilot was younger than the student and the airplane.  Ina is now an Airbus Captain at Philippine Airlines.

Ina and Tonet, Omni Aviation, a week after my solo, February 2003


I felt ready!  Ina was convinced I was ready!  I don’t know what the airplane thought. 


Ina flew with me on a final check flight, three takeoffs and landings.  She told me to think of my favorite food, positive thoughts.  Like Peter Pan.

On the ground, Ina told me to stop the airplane on the grass.  She got out of the airplane.  Hair blowing wildly in the propeller blast, she shouted at me to do three takeoffs and landings.  If I got into trouble, I should land at Clark’s runway, big enough for B-52 bombers. 


Instructor pilot Ina gets out of the airplane

I'm on my own!


I remember being very alert.  Almost giddy.


“Clark Tower, 1051 holding short Zero-Two Omni, ready for departure.”

“1051, is this is your first solo, sir?”

“Roger that.”  I cringe even now, remembering that.  “Roger that” is so cheesy Hollywood.  The correct response is “Affirm”.


"Is this your first solo, sir?"


“1051, you are cleared for takeoff.”


To complete the crazy day, there were US Marine CH-47 twin-rotor helicopters and C-130 Hercules 4-engine military transports everywhere, the annual Balikatan joint military exercises.

C-130s practicing assault landings  on Clark runway

  USMC CH-47 Sea Knight


The tower warned, “Jackal flight, use caution, Cessna student pilot on first solo.”

Imagine that.  He warned the C-130 military pilots about me! 

Then there were American voices on the radio.


“Good luck!”

“Beers on you later!”


Then I took off, looked to my right, and saw the empty seat beside me.  I thought of my Dad.

My first landing was dream-like, as good as it gets. 

solo first flare


I taxied back and waved to my sons, the instructors, the beauty queens, the media. 

solo last taxi back


Big cocky mistake.

The second landing was a man-made earthquake.  The entire airframe reverberated from the impact.  This is what started global warming.



Another bounce.

BOOM!!  The earth shook. The gods quailed.  Birds fled south.

And a third impact.


On the video tape, you can hear my sons.


Gino:  “Oh.”

Julio:  “Oh.”

Carlo:  “Oh, what the heck, anything you can walk away from, right?”


The third landing was, mercifully, like stepping off a sidewalk. 


solo parking


I parked.  I remember Gino was the first to congratulate me.  I remember the traditional dunking.  Pinning on the wings.  The car ride home in wet pants.

Gino congratulates me!

Carlo joins in on tradition

 Ina pins on my wings



On CNN that night, the news was about the tragic disintegration of the Space Shuttle Columbia over Texas, returning to land from earth orbit.  I was aghast.

I hate to trivialize an aeronautical tragedy.  But I couldn’t help but reflect that I had just done what very few human beings have done – to launch myself off the planet Earth, and return safely with my destiny entirely in my own hands.

In that sense, I had done what the Shuttle Columbia did not, sadly, that day.


There was nothing on the news about the beauty queens.


February 1, 2003.  Eight years ago.





Posted from Bangkok, February 1, 2011.

Link:  A pilot scared of heights?!



“I Hope You Make It Home”


People from 12 countries read the post about Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler on Christmas Eve.  Mostly Europe, the US, of course, but also Latin America, Asia and the Middle East.  I was a bit startled by that.  There are very few World War II veterans left with us, and their stories are going with them.  Over 30,000 men died in B-17 Flying Fortresses in World War II.  There were 28,000 German pilots who flew in the Luftwaffe in World War II.  Less than 1,200 survived.  I’m glad there is still some interest in that conflict, and ‘the Greatest Generation” who fought with honour in it.





My friend Rick read the article Jagdflieger – Fighter Pilot, which I wrote here on Christmas Eve.  He then posted a video link on my Facebook page.  The video shows Brown and Stigler at one of the reunions of 379th Bomb Group of the US Army Air Corps. 

I thought I would share it here.  Rick always shares great stuff with me, and I’ve learned never to pass up on his Facebook links.

Here’s a nostalgic video of Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler.  The ball turret gunner, Sam Blackford, is also in the video – his segment is especially poignant.


Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler, formerly adversaries in the air, join an

A word about my friend Rick — Rick’s Dad was an F-86 fighter pilot in the Philippine Air Force, and was also a published poet and author.  Doesn’t get better than that.  Rick and I have never actually met, an anomaly we will fix sooner or later.  Maybe one day Rick will write here or elsewhere about his Dad.


Posted from Manila, December 27, 2013


Jagdflieger–Fighter Pilot


It happened 5 days before Christmas, 70 years ago.  German Oberleutnant Franz Stigler in a Messerschmitt Bf-109 stalked Lieutenant Charlie Brown’s American B-17 bomber.  Stigler, a fighter pilot with 22 kills, had every reason to hit the trigger button – his beloved brother, also a pilot, was shot down and killed in the Battle of Britain.  The B-17 had just bombed Bremen, Germany.  With one more kill Stigler would get the coveted Knight’s Cross. 




But as he closed to within 20 meters of the strangely silent tail guns of the American bomber, he saw the gunner slumped over his guns, his blood dripping down the barrels and streaming through the air.  The B-17 bomber was a flying wreck, engines dead or dying, tail shredded, huge holes blown through the wings and fuselage by anti-aircraft guns and other German fighters.  Through a tear in the fuselage, Stigler saw crewmen trying to save a man whose leg had been blown off. 

Stigler remembered the warning of his Jagdgeschwader 27 commander, Gustav Rödel.  “You are fighter pilots first, last, always.  If I ever hear of any of you shooting at someone in a parachute, I’ll shoot you myself." 


Stigler escorted the enemy bomber past the German coast, saluted the American pilot, and dove away. 




He never found out if the American airplane made it back to England.

Then, in 1990, he got a phone call.








Every pilot with a sense of history knows the story.  Stigler had never wanted to fly in combat, but felt compelled to defend his country.  His brother had joined the Luftwaffe against their parents’ wishes.




Brown survived the war and served in the US Foreign Service, in Laos and Vietnam.  After retirement, he spoke at a veteran’s event and was reminded of the German pilot. 

Brown spent four years searching.  Finally he put an ad in a publication for Luftwaffe veterans, seeking the man who spared his life. 

Months later, Brown got a letter:  "Dear Charles, All these years I wondered what happened to the B-17, did she make it or not?" 

It was from Franz Stigler.


Brown called Stigler, who had moved to Vancouver.  Stigler confirmed details from that encounter over the North Sea that only he could know.


Franz Stigler and Charlie Brown found a deep, spiritual friendship.  One year, Brown organized an emotional reunion of the survivors of his 10-man B-17 crew and their extended families – children, grandchildren, relatives – people who were born and now lived only because Stigler did not shoot down the B-17. 


Franz Stigler and Charlie Brown died within months of each other, in 2008.  Stigler was 92; Brown was 87. 


Stigler’s commanding officer again:  “You follow the rules of war for you — not your enemy. You fight by rules to keep your humanity.”






Merry Christmas to all our readers here in Flying in Crosswinds.  Both Carlo and I have been extremely busy.  We were not personally affected by the typhoon that devastated part of the Philippines.  Our country needs cheering up.





Carlo and I are both on Christmas leave from our jobs.  Today we flew together for an hour.  And we prepared the airplane – it seems to have volunteered for a logistics role tonight… .




Maligayang Pasko!   



Posted from Manila, December 24, 2013




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