chapter 52

Harvey Takes a Flight Check

    Harvey needed to have a flight check. He hadn't had one since WW II.

And now one of the FAA inspectors was getting on him to get his bi-annual

flight check, as the new regulations required.

    "Look," Harvey said to me over the telephone. "This FAA SOB is getting

all over me about not having one of these here new pain-in-the-ass flight

checks."

    "Yeah, well, you ought to get one," I said.

    "Well, can you give me one", he wanted to know?

    "Yeah," I said, "I can do that. When do you want to get together?"

    "Get together hell," said Harvey! "I'm gonna mail you my log-book this

afternoon. When you get the damn thing, just write down

something-or-other in it that will make the FAA happy. Then mail it back."

    "Harvey, you know I can't do that," I said. "You and me got to get together

 somewhere, talk a little bit about all these new regulations, and go fly around

a little bit. Then I'll sign you off. It won't be any big deal."

    "Fly around a little bit," Harvey howled! "You want me to go 'fly around

a little bit'? With you? Are you nuts? I'm sick and tired of 'flying around a

little bit'. That's all I've been doing since I was eighteen years old, and I'm

sick of it. And even if I did want to go 'fly around a little bit', I sure as hell

wouldn't want to go flying around with you."

    "Well," I said, getting mad, "If you want to get a flight check from me,

you're gonna have to go 'fly around a little bit' with me."

    "Well," said Harvey, "I ain't gonna go 'flying around a little bit' with you

or any other of you smart-aleck flight instructors. I was flying airplanes

before you was potty trained, and I don't need you to explain to me what

it's all about. I'm gonna mail you my log-book this afternoon and you can

just write down some of those fancy words that you smart-alecks use to

keep the feds quiet." Then he hung up the telephone.

    A couple of days later Harvey's logbook showed up in the mail.

    Harvey's logbook was an odd document. It was a standard pilot's

logbook that had entries in it going back about twenty-five years. But very

few entries were records of particular flights. Mostly, it was a record of

aircraft bought and sold. Also, it recorded engine changes or other

modifications to particular airplanes. Most of the aircraft mentioned were

crop-dusters.

    Some entries were particularly mysterious. 'Seven-Seven-Tango', for

instance, was an old Navy N3N that came to an unknown fate. She had

been fitted with a 220 HP Continental engine, and "flew good" for the first

two hundred hours. Then some unexplained event occurred, and

"Seven-Seven-Tango got tore up and I busted my arm."

    Another airplane, identified only as the "black and yellow T-6", was

"sold to a man in Mexico." A J-5 Cub was "traded for a pick-up truck".

    For the first ten or twelve years of the record, yearly entries simply

stated: "I flew about 800 hours this year." Each succeeding year would

hold a similar entry. The only entry dated in 1953 stated, "I must have

flown over 1200 hours this year" As the years went by, even those scant

entries ceased to appear. When I received the logbook, the most recent

entry was almost five years old. That year Harvey had flown "only about

200 hours."

    Knowing Harvey as I did, and knowing the business as I had come to

know it, I realized that that slim little log-book was the cryptic record of a

lifetime of flight, and the untold experiences of an old time Texas

crop-duster pilot.

    Harvey, like Bob, was one of several old pilots in South Texas who

automatically gave me a phone call any time they got crossways with the

FAA. It never seemed to occur to any of these old-timers that it wasn't my

responsibility to see to it that they stayed legal with the feds. But just

about everybody in the crop-dusting business in that part of the country

seemed to think I was some sort of liaison officer between ag. pilots and

the civilized world. So when Harvey needed a flight check it was

automatically assumed that I would see to it that he got one.

    Within a week I was on my way to Hondo. I had borrowed a Piper

Cherokee from a friend and was determined to give Harvey a legal flight

check.

    Harvey was happy to see me. Right away he wanted to see his signed

logbook.

    "Dammit, Harvey," I said. "I told you I wasn't going to sign that log

book until we made a flight."

    "For cripes sake," said Harvey. "You mean you're still yammering on

about flying around in some airplane."

    "Yeah, I'm still yammering on about flying around in some airplane," I

said. "It's called a 'flight check'."

    I got out an aviation sectional chart and started asking Harvey

questions about various symbols, radio frequencies, and control zones. He

knew a little bit, but not much. Then I started asking him about some of

the flying rules and regulations that had been introduced over the last

decade. He had never heard of any of them, and didn't particularly want to

hear about them then.

    "Look," argued Harvey. "I don't need to know any of that stuff. I hadn't

used a radio in 20 years. I haven't flown into a big-city airport in longer

than that. I haven't flown much over a hundred feet off the ground since

Trueman was president. And I don't ever intend to do any of those things

again in this lifetime. All I want to do is fly a few more loads on cotton in

the summer, and onions in the winter. Hell, a few more years and I'll be

too feeble to fly anyway. Why don't those fed SOBs just leave me alone

and let me wind up my flying the way I want to. I'm tired of it all anyway.

I'd quit today if I could afford it."

    It was hard for me to disagree with Harvey, so I didn't. "Tell you what,"

I said. "Let's just go fly around a little bit."

    "Oh, so now we're back to 'flying around a little bit'. I guess you expect

me to fly around in that tin-can airplane you showed up here in." Harvey

was referring to the shiny new all-metal Cherokee that I had borrowed.

    "Ah, come on Harvey," I said. "You know I can't sign-off your flight

check if we don't actually get in an airplane. All I'm gonna want you to do

is make a few turns. Just get off the ground and take a turn or two around

the air patch. It won't take ten minutes."

    "No, I'm not gonna fly that airplane. I don't know how to fly an airplane

like that. I'll wreck that damn thing just trying to get it off the ground,"

Harvey insisted.

    "Ah, Harvey," I wheeled, "you'll like this little airplane. She's nice and

quiet. Flies easy as pie."

    I finally coaxed Harvey into the left seat of that Cherokee. Right away,

he didn't like it. All his life Harvey had flown airplanes that were controlled

by a stick. He had no use for airplanes with 'steering wheels.' He also

complained bitterly that this airplane had the 'tail wheel' on the wrong

end

    I fired up the engine and we taxied out to the runway. Harvey was as

nervous as a cat. He refused to even touch the controls on take-off. We

leveled-off at about fifteen hundred feet and I tried to persuade him to at

least put his hands on the control wheel. He wouldn't hear of it. He just

sat there all sulled-up with his arms folded. It occurred to me that this was

probably the first time in decades that Harvey had been airborne with

another man on board.

    "Come on, Harvey," I coaxed. "Just make a couple of turns here and

there. Then we'll go back and land."

    "I'm ready to go back and land right now," he said.

    "Damnit, you know you can't take a flight check without even touching

the controls," I argued. "Now, just put your hands on the control wheel

and make a couple of gentle turns."

    Harvey slowly placed his hands on the control wheel. The moment I let

go of the wheel on my side, he let go of the wheel on his side. "Damnit,

Harvey," I said, "if you don't make a couple of turns here and there, I'm

not gonna sign-off your log book."

    "Well, I don't know how to fly one of these kinds of airplanes," Harvey

complained. "I don't like these funny little things anyway. I don't think

they're safe."

    "Well, just quit complaining and put your hands back on the controls," I

said. "I don't like flying around with you any better than you like flying

around with me. Just put your hands back on the yoke and make a couple

of gentle turns. Just quit complaining and do it, so that we can get this

stupid flight check over with and get back on the ground."

    Harvey put his hands back on the wheel. After flying straight and level

for a couple of minutes I said, "Okay, now make a turn one way or the

other."

    Slowly Harvey went into a gentle turn to the left. After about 30

degrees of heading change he released the wheel and folded his arms

again. "Let's go back now," he said.

    "Okay, okay," I said. "We'll head on back now. You wanna try to shoot

the landing?"

    "Lord, no," said Harvey! You'd have thought I had asked him to land the

space shuttle.

    Back in Harvey's office I could tell that he was still nervous. He found a

couple of coffee cups and poured about a half-inch of whiskey into each. I

got out his logbook and signed him off for his bi-annual flight check.

    "Thanks," said Harvey.

    The last thing he said to me before I headed home was, "Damnit, you

need to do a better job of keeping up with all this pain-in-the-ass flight

check business. And don't forget you're gonna have to sign me off again in

two years."

 

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