On Track and in The Sky Hoof Prints the Making of Ace original novel Esteban Erik Stipnieks all rights reserved
Major Harding was waiting at the parking lot of Ft Worth Meacham airport. He had been selected to be flight instructor of CW4 King’s son. The honor had been profound. Cw4 King was one of older herd bulls of the Unit Harding was in charge of….Harding was dummy. In matters aviation Cw4 Vandiver’s opinion and advice was considered from on high. Cw4 Vandiver quipped about King “For a former scout driver he is surprisingly bright and knows he does not know it all” Cw4 Vandiver had accepted King. Cw4 King on the ground was the merry prankster….at once instance purchasing sex toy for a gag. Cw4 King treated everybody with respect enlisted guys loved him. Vandiver had embraced Cw4 King as a friend. Now Harding was facing a position. I was the IP of the Huey IP and instrument flight examiners son. It was not an honor casually given and as the fact emerged Harding found himself respected to greater extent by a couple other warrant officers. Harding respected Cw4 King not to the extent that Vandiver was King was an encyclopedia of flying knowledge. As Harding’s buddies from Austin said King could be a teenager at heart but the prankster side manifested itself in some extraordinary problem solving. He wondered what the teen his father referred to Ace would be like in the air.
Major Harding had much of the essence of a generational shift in Army Aviation. The man was boring as watching paint dry. Major Harding like Maris’s son was a Christian. Major Harding was a structural engineer by training who aspired to be an airline pilot…..it would not be. Ace would later remark that if he saw Harding in an airliner cockpit Ace would sleep during the flight and sleep soundly because Harding could handle a double engine failure in an MD-80 with all the drama of his hated biology teacher in Denton lecture.
It was amazing the similarities and the profound differences that manifested themselves. Ace had gone through a fair amount of bootleg instruction. Ace like his father was lethally serious around an airplane and furthermore Ace knew more than some certified private pilots on pre-flight. Ace could spot traffic with the best of them. Harding did not know the phenomenal amount of effort made….a dyspraxic who could spot traffic with Ace’s skill was one a couple million. Ace like is father was slightly clunky on the controls but Ace’s mind was as fast if not faster than his father eager to learn. This is what had endured Cw4 King to the legendary Vaandiver.
On the difference side Ace was far serious and calm in demeanor. One could see even the first lesson a phenomenal amount of aggression but in a far more conservative demeanor. Ace was not like his father in flamboyance. Their was the creativity but it manifested in measured experimentation.
The flying was almost a deception on Ace’s part. In reality Ace did not intend to use aviation to deceive his father but the common ground of aviation deceived Ace’s father into thinking Cw4 King was a whole lot closer to his son than he was. After the three weeks of camp Ace and his father had taken the Comanche up to Boston. Ace would forever remember the trip with a degree of fondness. Ace though dared not trust his dad outside airports or the cockpit of an airplane. Cw4 King’s love of flight and Cw4 King’s ironic role in aviation history had the effect of ruining the relationship he had with his son. Stephen who was becoming Ace retained a passion for the sky for him it was almost unfortunate that his father and him shared a similar passion.
The flying as another tool Ace used to maintain family peace. Ace had discovered the greater degree of activity he had the less he saw of his parents. The less he saw of his parents the less chance their was to argue with them. Ace could study flying and have another excuse to avoid face time. Things were peaceful.
Track was different. What Ace did not know was the degree of conflict between Coach P and Coach Noel Scott it was subtle conflict but conflict non the less. Coach Noel Scott was low keyed calm. Coach P was the old school football coach loud and aggressive. Coach Noel Scott intuitively knew Ace over 90% of the time would push himself extremely hard. Coach P screamed and screamed. The effect was almost pushing inertial coupling.
Track also for Ace boring. Ace was always cross-country at heart. The potential dizzying array of turns, climbs, descents on a course Ace loved dealing with and though he shrugged and scrubbed speed Ace’s lines were subtly getting smoother. Track was level with two turns. Ace was stuck on the 3200 squad.
The other large differences between track and cross-country was track workouts were on school property their was double figure 8 semi-cross-country course Coach P had laid but the majority of the workouts were for Ace boring. Droopy, Ponse and Boyd were Ace’s teammates.
Coach P could quickly figure out while Ace was intense….track was hardly primo priority in Ace’s life. Ace gave his all during workouts but once the workout was over Ace quickly left. Ace did go through the effort of cheering on teammates but beneath it Coach P could see Ace was trying to convince himself that he was that enthusiastic. A subtle tension crept up between the two.
The first track meet was at Lewisville high school. It was on a Saturday. Ace found himself putting up with partially embracing track but not loving with it. The 3,200 was early and this followed by waiting. So in Lewisville stadium home of fighting farmers Ace got a lot of homework done first for school than pushing the material for flying. Ace hardly the most talented finished bottom half of the race but it was varsity Coach P did not want to deal with his mother so Coach P stuck Ace in a race no one else really wanted to do so Ace could get a track letter.
The new rhythm emerged. Sunday was church flying followed by bible study….then the challenges of the week would reign. This stress built up till Wednesday with youth group. Ace did read the bible regularly between Sunday and Wednesday those quiet times were a source of strength. Wednesday night though was a period of calm during the storm. Than it was the stretch to Friday where either a track meet or youth group than Sunday.
Track workouts had a steadily building tension between Ace and Coach P that momentarily abated for week Coach P had noticed some slacking and allowed it to build . Ace looked the other way while he was trying his hardest even in the cold. Coach P decided by allowing this to happen he could assert a profound authority and than entrée into a grueling speed workout. On a Tuesday this contradiction exploded and Ace suddenly reminded himself he had yearbook that last class period. Walking into the yearbook room muscle spasms were quite noticeable. What did though emerge was quick agreement to disagree as that evening Coach P and Ace talked it out man to man.
The Wednesday in the staff lounge Coach P was surprised….Ace’s mother had chewed him out….which was good. Coach Noel Scott was shaking his head. Coach Noel Scott was 10 years younger then Coach P. Coach Noel Scott remarked “You were doing to take control with a heavy hand”
Coach P “Gotta show them to respect authority” replied
Coach Noel Scott “It flew out of control Ace talked to you about instead of talking his mom notice how one Spanish teacher announced her retirement”
Coach P was surprised “You mean”
Coach Noel Scott replied “He was upset but he knows you are his older brother who messed up but you are his brother his mother is not…..a believer he has been trying to change your ways by trying his best to be obedient to you allowed him to fail if his mother has not called you……as upset as he was his mother would have been far worse”
Coach P “Thanks for the advice brother”
Coach Noel Scott laughed “Gotta get you to retirement realize we are on the same team even if we see things differently Baptist” the bell rang.
Coach P caught Ace in the hall “Its my team”
Ace replied “If there had been somebody mentally ill on it things would have happened its your team you are my coach even if I disagree with you the way you run it I have to set the example of leadership to prove my point” Coach P realized what scripture had just been cited. It was a family matter taken up according to scripture. Now if only Ace would stop cutting people off on the track.
Three more weeks emerged. Ace was the firebrand after the confrontation with Coach P Ace had shown some additional effort on the track team and subtly shielded another runner who was trying from the wrath of Coach P. Ace was also mastering ground school and progressing well with the flying lessons. On the 3200 Ace finished fifth in district and aside from the sprinters no one from Denton was regional bound soon though another period of life for Ace emerged. Coach P had harshly rebuked Ace for cutting off a runner from Haltom City. It would be the last time Ace would ever do anything like that on a track or a cross-country course.
It had been said that a male pilot would remember his first solo with more detail than he would remember his loss of virginity. For Ace the airplane was a Cessna 150 that was completed on month of his birth. The location was alliance airport. The weather was high overcast 2,000 agl (above ground level). The winds were calm and the temperature was warm. The mother of a future roommate of Ace was working alliance tower. Unlike Ace’s father she was not happy in Robert Mueller tower. Ace remembered a line from learning to fly as he took off before he turned crosswind. The three touch and goes were done with various flap settings. The last one was done without flaps.
Major Harding smiled as the plane landed 4th time and taxied to the FBO. It had been a profound honor that he had signed of Cw4 King’s kid to solo. Cw4 King had trusted his son with him. It was quiet but Harding said as they approached Saginaw water tower “You honored your father today” The landing at Meacham was smooth.
Ace nailed the FAA written with a score 90. The process of cross-country flying began in earnest now that track season was over. Harding was feeling comfortable with son of King in the cockpit and took to calling him Ace. One of the dual cross-countries was to Abilene. There was a big long highway which made navigation easy in the daytime the pencil course on the sectional criss-crossed interstate 20 as it went west southwest. The nighttime leg though showed Ace surprisingly was hard to get lost…..Of course having an instructor in the cockpit made things easy.
Controlled humiliation was the purpose of any solo cross-country. So it was for Ace who got lost but avoided busting TCA he confessed quickly recovered and blundered through it. Then the edge of desire to learn he had lost was once again to the surface. One of the landings was more plunk as Ace stalled out the Cessna 150 a foot above the runway. Ace had was nervous after getting lost before the plunk. After the plunk the final landing to Meacham had been smooth even though it tested a now exhausted pilot’s reflexes in a cross-winds that were right at the limits proscribed by Major Harding.
As weather conditions changed Ace found himself learning how to deal with crosswinds. Major Harding had learned some instructor tricks from Ace’s father. Harding while being new school Army Aviator had respect for Cw4 King and Vandiver’s era. The Warrant officers of that era had variety training scenarios and were taught to expect the worst at any time. This made the training conditions at Wolters and Rucker grueling but it produced an aviator who while at times having too much courage produced an aviator who could cope with adversity easy. Harding and King had agreed that the FAA minimum standards were minimum standard and that Cw4 King’s son needed more grueling more cross-winds even this was more expensive. There was also a bit nod nod wink wink in advanced stall recovery. Which were not quite spins but not quite stalls. This was additional polishing life insurance purchased on his son gleefully.
Ft Worth Spinks had a narrow runway and was demanding for any student. Learning to handle the crab to slip for the crosswind landing on the narrow runway of Spinks was a challenge. Ace had to turn into the wind and than before touchdown he had to kick the tail with the rudder pedal into alignment with the runway landing one must following the other holding the nose up as long as possible with the flaps were retracted and the airplane accelerated back to flying speed and climb.
There were other tricks the field had which made touch and goes potentially interesting. In those crosswinds a large burble air existed off the hangar which required a rather strong use of ailerons to correct roll that could quickly develop. It was a locally known condition and it caught some novice flyers off guard as shortly after takeoff they found themselves banking. Naturally you had to deal with his by quick corrective action on the aileron turning the yoke to level the wings. Ace had the tenacity of his father and Harding slowly increased the cross-wind component on conditions he allowed Ace to solo in and than it was time to look for the ideal window for the long solo cross-country which FTW Abilene Waco and back to FTW. It took three weeks for Ace to get the maximum crosswind component allowed by the flight school on Ace’s solo endorsement.
This also added some five hours of extra flight instruction. The extra solo time in the long evenings was 8 hours slowly refining cross-wind technique the safe way to do it meant 09 touch and goes in off peak hours at Meacham. Ace was peculiar he chose a Cessna 150 over the available 152. The 152 had some play in the controls where as Ace’s favorite airplane was wired a bit tight compared to even other Cessna 150s. The 150 Ace preferred had the flap indicator on the bottom right of the control panel.
The long cross-country solo for Ace on a Saturday in early may for Ace was an unforgettable journey. Ace had drawn the course with his father only looking on but his father offered a navigation log to his son which his son gratefully accepted. By checking actual ground speed over predicted ground speed and making note of altimeter settings Ace had learned from a writer of flying one could find a busted forecast.
Ace’s 2nd long solo cross-country showed that Ace could learn. It also showed how much Ace had yet to learn. Dawn had barely broken over Meacham when Ace was pre-fighting the Cessna 150. The flight school owner watched in a distance. Ace was testimony to the skill of Major Harding who the flight school owner grieved was no longer full time. In the distance the flight school owner could hear Ace talking to himself gong through the checklist. It seemed odd if you did not understand
“Left tire and brake….typical Chaudry….new tire good brake”
Line by line the checklist was read aloud. Reading it aloud making verbal comment required effort a discipline by saying things hearing things Ace was actually increasing the amount of concentration paid on the airplane. Ace also knew what airplanes had the additional belly drain on them. The airplane selected for the long solo cross-country had it. Ziad Chaudry from Libya noticed that Ace had done the belly drain. Ziad might give Ace a check ride…since Ziad was the examiner FAA certified. It was obvious that Ace had done something 60% of the flight school would not do. The fact that he had done it not knowing he was being watched made another favorable impression. The takeoff was smooth using the runway wisely and the climb to the west showed good handling of the airplane.
In the air once clear of the Mode C veil of the TCA Ace showed that intellectually Ace had read Richard Collin’s but was not fully comprehending. The winds out of the Southeast were stronger the ground speed was a bit lower…..the pressure was below standard. The temps were a bit higher than forecast. In the vicinity of Mineral Wells Ace permitted himself to reflect some that he was solo in the same sky his father had soloed in. Ace while fearful of his father was not overtly hostile. Ace quietly was searching for his father. It was something to think about as the Cessna 150 was grinding up the distance at 90 miles an hour. This was real rugged Texas. Ace was happy to be heading towards this rough rugged landscape away from he hustle and bustle of the DFW TCA. Abilene was just east enough to avoid the horrible conditions of West Texas which built its own pilots. Abilene though was the heart of Texas just not the heart wild woolly west Texas. Ace took a ground speed reading 3 miles below forecasted speed. The winds aloft confirmed by Ft Worth radio were stronger out of the southeast. The altimeter setting at Abilene was below standard lower than anticipated. A seasoned pilot would have known to get butt in gear and do not dilly too much in Abilene.
Ace kinda sped things up at Abilene avoiding a fast food trip but Ace got water to drink to dilute the coffee which was the liquid speed or some extra mental cognition in a Styrofoam cup. Ace grabbed for fat and protein in the vending machine as his airplane was fueled. He waited a bit then he headed out to the airplane.
Ace had learned about the VHF Omni range…..aka the VOR he followed the improvised airway to Waco out of Abilene. The area of Texas he was flying over was pretty. Flight service confirmed that thunderstorms were forecasted. Thirty miles out of Waco he noticed tower cumulus. His ground speed was also much lower then forecasted. Ace better land soon and would probably have to wait out a storm in Waco his moderately sloppy navigation and his 15 additional minutes wasted at Abilene were costly. When Ace landed the thunderstorms were 20 miles away. It was a good time to get on the ground and hunker down.
A conversation with the flight school was clear wait an hour half for the thunderstorms to break that would allow the leading edge to die out but it would also mean enough daylight for a good landing at Meacham. So at the FBO ace was left to watch radar. A TV screen in the FBO had the weather radar. It was not quite gripping TV viewing but as Ace ate peanut butter crackers drank coffee after using the facilities it was needed. The rule on thunderstorms was 20 miles. Ace had a minimum of 25 nautical miles. The wonder of the flight school had no problems with Ace’s personal minimums. Ace had taken to heart the rule it is better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than being in the air wishing you were on the ground. On the ground you were safe in the air in bad weather you could be shoved back down to the ground.
The storm rained itself out and a discernable gap appeared between two other cells that was 15 nm and the storms were shrinking and fast. The winds were now calm at Waco regional. During the pre-flight the thunderstorms had shrunk and changed position. Ace made note of it. Ace was having to change ups his plan. As Ace also knew the airspace between Waco and Ft Worth the way he knew his own backyard and the course at Northlakes park. It was time to go.
Ace took off to the north and quickly turned to the west. Ace got scared momentarily as he was making this turn it felt like somebody was sucking the airplane higher and the vertical speed indicator briefly flashed 1,200 feet per minute climb. The airplane had crossed on the periphery of an area where a thundershower was sucking things up. The fact that Ace was turning to a compass heading of nearly 270 degrees. Ace also had leveled the airplane out momentarily pushing it through the area of bad air and clearing the potential danger zone. It did however scare Ace for a few seconds. Ace took this heading to a point. The path to Ft Worth with full fuel was not totally straight it started with dogleg west over a path frequently visited in the family Comanche between New Braunfels and Denton. This was followed by a turn to near north. This modified navigation was easy an easy change up pitch for Ace to hit. Ace had nailed the trim and as he was flying almost due north as Ace made this turn finally tailwinds greeted the airplane and the band of showers was placed behind the Cessna 150 with a nice paint job.
With clear skies ahead and a clear image of the upside down cake of the DFW TCA 30 nautical miles out Ace began a subtle descent and he aimed for Spinks. He called Spinks tower who in turn handed him off to Ft Worth Tower who in turn set up for landing on runway 17 after coming up on a rather nice downwind turning at the loop 820 highway intersection. Ace had recovered a poise calm and was positive situation awareness.
The tower controller had a Skylane and almost betting the Skylane coming in from Saginaw would either have to diverted to a parallel runway or made to go around. Yet the babe in the tower was wanting to see if this student pilot was really good. She told the Skylane pilot that the Cessna 150 would be turning left base. She saw much to her chagrin that the 150 turned base. That was a positive sign she wanted to put the 150 on the big runway but she almost felt like telling the Skylane be prepared.. What she did not know was Ace was processing. Ace decided to land with only 1 notch flaps and that put final approach speed at 75mph. Ace also started the final fairly quickly. The result of these actions was quick landing using very little run off. “Thanks 7 Pappa Charlie good flying by the instructor go to ground ” Ace replied “7 Pappa Charlie home solo cross-country going to ground 121.9.” What Ace did not hear was the remark “49er Gulf wish my last student was good on final 17L”
Major Harding was in the flight school listening to the tower on the scanner. At that moment he let out a chuckle. A couple other people had heard the exchange in the flight school. Ace sounded tired but had earned the nickname. Harding started walking helping his student tie down the airplane. Once in the school Ace closed the flight plan and grabbed a little more coffee. The amount of caffeine was measured to keep Ace safe for the 45 minute ride home which had two of the worst intersections n Texas.
As Ace drove home Major Harding made a phone call. “Your son did a bit better than average on the long cross-country he whiffed the forecast but I can think of several private pilots who would have done likewise he heard the situation and managed not to make a nuisance expediting landing for an incoming Skylane.
The meal was a large rack of beef ribs from Riskys warmed up. It was a celebratory meal by order his father. Cw4 King was pleased at what his son had done.
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