Already, I Didn’t Want the Day to End

I didn’t look up the Spitfire school website.  I could never afford it.  For two years I just watched the video of Alex James flying the Spitfire.  Here’s a rock star who once lolled in champagne with groupies in a hotel.  And was awed to tears by a World War II fighter airplane, “The prettiest girl at the ball.”  Lucky man. 

Fly a Spitfire, pfft.  It would never happen to me.





Carlo and I found Ardmore Airport at 10am.  The Spitfire flight was scheduled for 12 noon.  Already, I didn’t want the day to end.

Ardmore is just south of Auckland, in the beautiful North Island countryside of New Zealand.  Carlo and I wandered around the ramps.  Pilots fueled Cessna 162s at the Auckland Flying Club.  Instructors hovered Schweizer helicopters over grass.  A privately-owned Strikemaster attack jet ripped around the circuit.


My son Carlo, who used to watch TOP GUN every day at 1 year old, still watching airplanes


We watched two hangars in particular.  They harboured a matched pair of North American T-6 ‘Harvards’.




A pilot pushed one Harvard out.  This must be Carlo’s airplane.  Warbird Adventure Rides had offered us a Spitfire and a Harvard to fly in formation.  Carlo and I meant to toss a coin for the Spitfire.  But I had made an executive decision sans currency.  Carlo, the English Professor, agreed to become a Harvard alumnus.




We hurried over.  John “JK” Kelly, with 900 hours in Harvards, introduced us to the airplane.  The Royal New Zealand Air Force once had 200 of these training airplanes.  Ours, used for gunnery training, had a .303 machine gun in the starboard wing.  That Pratt & Whitney R-1340 gulped seven litres of gas per minute.  That’s seven times what our Cessna sips.  Nomnomnom!




Carlo, in his Burberry, looked the RAF ace back from leave in Blighty, keen to get his ticket re-upped in a dicky op.

Other smiling pilots arrived.  Liz Needham, CEO of Warbird Adventure Rides, is a B767 airline pilot.  She has 20,000 hours in 37 years in aviation.  She is #2 in the Harvard “Roaring 40s” flying display team and also flies the P-40E Kittyhawk.

I checked my camera batteries yet again.  Then JK called out to me from the porch.  She was here.


DSCN0077 (2)


The prettiest girl at the ball.

I could only gawk.  I took several photos.  I wish I took hundreds.  I should have walked around, propped my camera on the grass, climbed a ladder, taken close ups.  The day was going too fast.

Safety briefing.  Pull bumblebee to jettison canopy.  Egress.  Clear the aircraft.  Pull parachute ripcord D-ring all the way out there.




Instructor pilot Gavin Trethewey would fly with me.  Gavin is ex-Air New Zealand and flew military jets in the RNZAF.  He stressed that, “This is your flight.  It is all about you.  We will do what you want to do.”

We briefed the op.  Formation photo shoot.  An aerobatic routine.  And I would fly the Spitfire through a low-altitude corridor near the Firth of Thames.  Down on the deck to evade Adolf Galland’s Jagdgeschwader 26.

Then we boarded the airplanes.




I was strapped to a Spitfire, cocooned in history.  Twisting around, I watched Carlo clamber into his own cockpit.  Carlo and I, who love airplanes almost as much as each other, were wingmen in this incredible adventure.





Too soon, it was time to go.  Clear ‘round, switches on, starter button.  The iconic Merlin V-12 engine was smooth and warm, like an old favourite song record.  The headset crackled, Gavin checking in.  But what I heard was a radio call for my childhood airplane models.

“Gannic Squadron, scramble, orbit station angels fifteen, bandits two-zero miles.”





Fullscreen capture 23112014 22731 AM


Posted from Köln, Germany.

13 December, 2014




Warbird Adventure Rides, Ltd.


Warbird Adventure Rides





History of Carlo’s Harvard:  The Royal New Zealand Air Force flew 202 North American Harvard T-6 trainer aircraft.  This was the advanced trainer flown by pilots before moving on to high-performance fighter aircraft.  This particular Harvard, NZ1057, served from the 1940s to the 1970s, then became a playground piece.  It was fully restored to airworthiness in 1998.


Harvard NZ1057





Want to hear what a Merlin engine sounds like?  Headset and medium volume recommended.  I played this here in Köln, Germany.  I thought the air raid sirens would go off.  This is the exact same Spitfire I was about to fly.




Sleep, Food, Money, Sex, Luck


New Zealand is breathtaking.  Most people see this fabled land second hand, in movies like Lord of the Rings or The Last Samurai

There are flyable Spitfires in New Zealand.



New Zealand is stunning from any altitude, from the window of a Boeing 777, the cockpit of a De Havilland Beaver, or an AS350 helicopter.  It’s almost a mythical landscape.


DSC_0560 (2)




New Zealand has a strong aviation heritage.  The country perches on the edge of the South Pacific, close to Antarctica.  Airplanes are vital here.  Helipads, grass airstrips and proud aircraft museums dot the countryside.

In Christchurch I once gave a talk under an A-4K Skyhawk jet at the RNZAF museum.  They also had a Spitfire. 





Auckland has the Museum of Transport and Technology.  Their Avro Lancaster is an airplane that made The Dambusters famousThe Auckland War Museum has another Spitfire, a German V1 flying bomb and a Japanese Mitsubishi Zero.



I took Carlo to New Zealand last month.  Carlo lucked through visa, document and scheduling hurdles right into a new Airbus A380 to Auckland. 




Carlo will always be lucky.  He is a teacher.  Teachers are angels assigned to earth.  I always stick close to Carlo. 

We all need luck.  There are things in life you just cannot work hard enough for.

When we arrived, Auckland was buffeted by thunderstorms, gusts to 120 kph, lightning strikes.  I walked with Carlo on the waterfront, waving him around like a magic wand.  The weather began to clear. 





At the cruise liner pier there was a Perry-class guided missile frigate.  I built a scale model of this 20 years ago.  Our walk was turning curiouser and curiouser.




The Lancaster bomber dwarfed Carlo.  Those Rolls-Royce Merlin engines were legendary.  A Lancaster could carry to Berlin a load bigger than that of three American B-17 Flying Fortress. 




The De Havilland Mosquito light bomber could carry a 4,000 ‘Cookie’ bomb to distant targets.  Merlin engines again.  Frederick Forsythe’s Shepherd.



Carlo said I spent a quarter of an hour photographing the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine of the Spitfire at the War Museum.  I was being a nerdy engineer.





That Merlin and the Spitfire’s wing are the Holy Grail of aircraft engineering. 

In a dogfight, you must get behind your enemy.  Then he can’t shoot back.  The Spitfire’s elliptical wing could turn a full circle faster than the German Bf-109 or the American P-51 Mustang. 

Eight guns, four inside each wing, gave the Spitfire massed firepower.  The Bf-109 could fit only one gun inside each wing, the P-51 just two or three.




Wings are choices.  Long wings fit more guns but roll slower into turns.  Short wings snap into turns but have less lift and internal space.  Thin wings are faster, thick wings stronger.  Narrow wings have less drag but also less lift.

You now know more than the average pilot.  Pilots don’t read aerodynamic theory.  That’s because engineers use long words like spanwise flow, mean chord length, aspect ratio, or lift coefficient to describe what they want.  Pilots use words like sleep, food, money, and sex to describe what they want. 


Bet you were wondering what this article’s title was about.


Carlo and I had to get to Ardmore airfield.  A taxi would cost 250 Kiwi dollars.  A rental car was cheaper, but I’m too old to learn right-hand drive. 

Then we made a wrong turn on Queen Street during our walk.  We bumped into an old friend on the sidewalk.  He insisted on driving us to and from Ardmore.  He could visit his Dad there anyway.





Posted from Chicago, Illinois

05 December, 2015




The Spitfire at Ardmore



More Kiwi airplane museum tales




The Dambusters!



How bad was the weather when we arrived?




It Could Never Happen to Me


My bucket list always had it.  To fly a Spitfire.  Impossible, of course.  “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”  Winston Churchill’s soaring words during the Battle of Britain leave a painful edge today.  Of 20,351 Spitfires built, fewer than 35 are still flying.





I’d seen a Spitfire but once, its legendary Merlin engine snarling at an airshow over Arnhem.  A Kiwi friend told me years ago that Spitfires flew at Warbirds Over Wanaka, the biennial airshow in New Zealand.  I scoured their website.  Spitfires, yes.  Rides, no.

Then The Telegraph published a story about learning to fly a Spitfire. 

Learning to fly a Spitfire?



Alex James, a popular figure in Britpop, plays bass guitar for the British rock band Blur.  After a rather decadent lifestyle he has settled down with wife and family.  He did a bit of song-writing and TV gigs.  He also became a renowned cheese-maker.  He has been a pilot for 17 years.

This was a double bucket list irony for me.  Rock star.  Fly a Spitfire.  Damn.




The Telegraph published James’ article on Spitfire training in October, 2012 (link below).  Boultbee Flight Academy in the UK offers intro and conversion courses.  They even have a fighter appreciation course.  You scramble with another Spitfire to intercept a Messerschmitt Bf-109.

I didn’t even look up their website.  I could never afford that.


So I just watched Alex James’ video in the Spitfire (click on image below).  Here’s a guy who once lolled in champagne with the five prettiest groupies in a hotel.  Now awed to tears by a World War II fighter airplane.  Lucky bastard.


Alex James Learns to Fly a Spitfire -- Telegraph.co.uk/video

I’m Alex James and  I’ve had a pilot license for about 15 years.  But I still can’t actually look at a Spitfire without crying.

The most beautiful handling aeroplane I’ve ever flown.

Such an overwhelming head rush of imagery.  You’ve got green and pleasant land, and seeing the other Spitfire… I was crying for most of it.

An incredibly well-balanced, beautiful flying machine.


I watched it a lot.  Shared it on Facebook. 

Fly a Spitfire, pfft.  It could never happen to me.





Posted from Singapore

27 November, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving to readers in America


Next week:  Already, I Didn’t Want the Day to End



Alex James’ full article in The Telegraph.  



The video:


Another Spitfire video I enjoyed:



Boultbee Flight Academy, Spitfire flight training.




Ten Seven Seventy-Eight


I met Rick online.  We are friends on Facebook.  We love similar music.  We are both pilots.  We are both Dads.  We both lived apart from our sons.  We both went to the Ateneo University.  There are minor issues:  He is a Harley biker, and I never learned to ride even a bicycle.  We each live on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean.  We have never met in person.  Minor issues.

We both miss our Dads, who happened to pass within a year of each other.

Rick’s father flew F-86 Sabres for the Philippine Air Force.  A jet fighter pilot.  It doesn’t get much better than that.  His Dad also penned beautiful poetry. 

My son Carlo teaches drama, lit and poetry at the Ateneo.  Carlo assures me that poet-pilots perch on the peak of a special pinnacle.

I’m a sucker for father-and-son pilot stories.  This is one of the best.

–  Tonet





Ten Seven Seventy Eight

By Rick Saguin




I still think about you every day.  Five years ago, I woke up in a cold sweat because I could not remember how you looked like.  That’s when I decided that I needed a tattoo of your face on my left arm.  Every morning, when I shave and look at the mirror, you are with me.  When I ride the bus to work.  When I shoot the breeze with my friends about flying.  When I ride my Harley.

These past few days, however, I have been out of sorts.  Confused.  Befuddled. You see, I am now 52, you left us when you were 42.  I wonder how our conversations would go now that I am a decade older than you were.  If we met on the street, would I treat you like an elder, or as a younger person?  Would I seek your advice, or dispense mine?

There are so many things that I want to tell you.  My life has exploded many times, the last major one was my divorce.  Do you remember when you took me flying on the Islander?  It was just a few months before your accident.  You told me to fly straight and level.  No sudden turns.  Control the power, trim the tabs, easy on the yoke.  And then your shoulders dropped to relax.  You took your headset off and told me to follow the Isabela River.  You smiled and I returned it – the altimeter read 200′ AGL*.  Your eyes wandered off to look at the horizon. If only life was like flying.

In 1984, after 10 hours of flight instruction, I soloed at the Port St. Lucie airport. It was a beautiful afternoon as Florida summers go.  A thunderstorm had just passed and the air was smooth and calm.  I circled Tita Marilu’s house on Elyse Circle to give a nod of gratitude — and you were with me.  And then I lined up the Cessna 152 on runway 09’s center line, you were with me as I touched down like a leaf.  You would have approved of my landing.  You were with me when Richard was born.  You were with me when I got married.  You were with me when I was honored at Microsoft for a business award that I have now forgotten.

Life continues on with equal parts of joys and stresses.  Joy is all about the children.  You should see your grandchildren — they are all well-adjusted, happy kids who would make you proud and you would have infused your humor into their lives.

My panacea for stress and pain remains the same as you taught me:  when in a bind, escape for a couple of hours to watch some film or listen to music and the solution to a problem will present itself.  When the chips are down in my life, I get lost in "Apollo 13" because Jim Lovell reminds me so much of you.  You trusted me by telling me to fly the left seat of the Islander when I was 16.  I don’t think anybody has trusted me like you did, since.

I am an atheist, as you have challenged me to think freely.  So I am not expecting that you and I will ever meet again.  But in this life, you will always be my magnetic North, my omnidirectional beacon.  I try to live my life as you lived – humbly and contentedly.  In the off chance that we may meet again, I hope to hear your story, why you hit that mountain – wasn’t full flaps and full power not enough as you tried to negotiate that mountain peak?  You almost made it.  I have remained in contact with some your friends – especially the pall bearers at your funeral.  Johnny Andrews gave you a heartfelt eulogy.  Tito Louie Lopez flew me to San Francisco on the 747 as a jump seat passenger.  Tito Nap and Bimbo have passed on.  Bimbo crashed flying a DC-9 and Tito Nap died with a broken heart from losing a son.  Skipper now flies for Etihad.  And now, "Maps" Mapeso is a friend on Facebook.  I will tell you about Facebook some other time.

Sometimes, I think that life can be a fucked up mess.  On the other hand, I think that I am holding up pretty well given the circumstances.  The family is doing great and we all have our health.

On my right arm is a tattoo of a wing with the initials RCR.  Rene, Carmen and Richard.  The three people in my life who will never throw me under the bus. The three people who remain my inspiration.

There are days when all I want to do is buy a Maule, fly charter for a living, raise a bunch of Labrador Retrievers, teach flying, teach writing, write for a living and just be true to my core.  It remains to be seen if I can make those things happen.  This is all for now.

I still think about you every day.

Your son.



(*Above Ground Level.)


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

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