Photo by Jaime Unson
And I chose to learn from the best aerobatic pilot in the country.
He learned to fly at 40. Then he packed four years of study in US flying schools into a single year. Private, commercial, airline transport pilot licenses, instrument rating, airplane and helicopter certified flight instructor instrument, MEI, seaplane — the list reads like the complete syllabus of a flying school.
And power/glider aerobatics! Today Meynard is the undisputed aerobatic pilot in the country. He learned from the best — Sean Tucker, Patty Wagstaff, Bill Kershner — all gurus of aerobatic flight.
Approaching an unseen runway in heavy weather, or flying aerobatics at an airshow, Meynard is all laser-beam focus and knife-edge precision. Photo by Jaime Unson
There are dozens of stories about him. Cigarette vendor, toilet janitor. Able to recite entire soliloquies from Hamlet. Ran his own business, and then became a pilot.
I watched him survive an engine failure in a hammerhead, watched him push his airplane’s nose down with ice-water nerves until the very last moment, before using the remaining dregs of aerodynamic energy to turn a vertical downline into a hard but survivable landing.
Meynard torturing Capt C in the Frasca IFR simulator
He put suction covers on the gyro instruments, altimeter, VSI, and a CDI.
I had let down to the ILS approach at RPLL without height or heading information.
I had two stopwatches going, timing standard rate turns and descent power settings… .
Then, as I slipped down the ILS to Manila’s runway, he failed one engine!
Then he put on his approach controller’s hat.
“FRASCA 132, WHAT ARE YOUR INTENTIONS??”
Uh, Frasca 132 has one engine out, vacuum failure, ready to commence approach, sir.
“FRASCA 132, ARE YOU DECLARING AN EMERGENCY??”
Uh, negative, Frasca 132 will continue the approach.
[Unforgivingly, without any hesitation…] “ROGER, FRASCA 132, HOLD OVER THE VOR, YOU ARE NUMBER SEVENTEEN FOR THE APPROACH.. .”
And then, reverting to instructor mode, “WHAT ARE YOU THINKING OF, NOT DECLARING AN EMERGENCY?? YOU HAVE A DEAD ENGINE, NO GYRO INSTRUMENTS, BAD WEATHER… . YOU’RE NOT THINKING!!!”
Uh, Frasca 132 is declaring an emergency, one engine out, partial panel.
“GOOD! Continue approach, Frasca 132, number ONE for the ILS this time… .”
Who else can shake tears of laughter out of you even as you sweat an instrument approach, burning the lesson deep with both humor and terror?
But I don’t want to write now about that instrument course, which Captain C and I took together (to Meynard’s thorough enjoyment, the rowdiest, most ribald class of two that he ever taught) .
No, I want to write about becoming a fighter pilot. And how Meynard is going to keep me alive for the rest of my piloting days.
Next in this series: Tricycles are for kids, REAL MEN drag their tails!