Taking Off Downwind

If it hadn’t been for an old friend who was a pilot telling me I could fly an airplane as cheaply as I could spend an hour on the range practicing with a large-bore pistol every week, I’d probably never have thought of doing it.  But something about the idea grabbed me.

I went out to the Killeen, Texas airport and took a few lessons to find out whether flying was one of the adventures I wanted to give myself this lifetime.  Turned out there was no question in the question.

But being a man of ideas, not much time passed before I decided I could buy an old aircraft and save a lot of the cost of renting one while I learned.  A 1947 Cessna was sitting on the strip with a for sale sign on it, that one at the top of the post, so I bought it.

But finding an instructor to teach me to fly a taildragger cut down a lot of my options.  I ended up with a guy named John Rynertson, who introduced himself by saying he was one of the best pilots around.  He owned a Cessna 120, and John taught me enough to get me started.

But we had a falling out, him not soloing me in a timely manner, me thinking he wasn’t doing so because he wanted to maximize the trainer fees.  One day we landed, me thinking this was the day of the solo, and he sneered I wasn’t ready yet.  We were standing by the airplane, so I climbed inside, started the engine and taxied down to the end of the runway, gave myself my first solo flight, illegal.

John and I didn’t have much truck with one another after that.  I flew that old Cessna without having a ticket allowing me to do it, while he flew his C120 up one day and pulled the wings off it in a snap-roll, killing himself exactly the way a man ought to do if he’s going to pull the wings off a Cessna.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’d taken off downwind for the first time.  I couldn’t find another instructor, and I was relocating to another town at the time, where nobody knew me.  So for several years I flew that Cessna, 500+ hours flying time, as though I was entirely legal.  Flew out to New Mexico, over to Savanna, Georgia, sleeping under the wing along the way, with no license to pilot an aircraft.

But eventually word got around the Georgetown Municipal Airport and someone cautioned me the FBO was going to rat me out to the FAA.  I decided it was time to complete my training.  Found an old outlaw pilot to sign me off and made an appointment with the FAA examiner in Austin.

When he looked at my log and saw I had 500 hours he shook his head a longish time.  “I’ve been checking out pilots for thirty years.  Before you the one with the most flying hours I’d ever seen was a guy with 100 hours, and he almost killed me during the check ride.  Couldn’t fly an airplane.”

I grinned at him.  “You care to watch me take it around the patch a few times before we do the check ride?  I’ll get the numbers every time around and turn off by the first taxi way.”

We did the check ride and I flew back to Georgetown legal, for the first time.

Almost felt as though I’d lost something.

Old Jules

Today on Ask Old JulesMistakes and Regret? 

Old Jules, what mistakes have you made and regretted?

Previous post about the flying phase: Misplaced Worries


21 responses to “Taking Off Downwind

  1. good story, Thanks.
    I did basically the same thing in Hot Air Balloon. Got instructions from different pilots , logged my hours . Just never found time to take the final flight test. Got caught at a rally in Deming I think it was. Took my check ride that morning,and flew that afternoon. 🙂

  2. Too Freakin cool! Jules you are one interesting dude!

  3. My father-in-law owned many planes over the years, but the one he liked best was a Cessna 180. Back when I thought that I would like to fly, I tried my hand in planes that had tricycle landing gear. The first time I got in a tail-dragger, I almost ground looped it on the taxi-way.

    • DizzyDick: You’ve got me beat all hollow. I always admired the C180, but never flew anything with a complex prop. Surely admired them, though. As for ground-looping a tail dragger, some of the best pilots around have done it. John Rynertson did it once, rumor had it. Gracias, Jules

  4. Wow, what I’d give to get behind the stick! been a dream of mine for as long as I remember.

    • Good morning Andy. Thanks for coming by for a read. If you really want it you might consider buying, say, a MS Flight Simulator program. You can pick one up at a thrift store for a couple of bucks, maybe a 2002 version, which is plenty good enough. Another five bucks for a joystick used. You might have to buy the toe brakes and rudder pedals new, but I’d suggest getting them anyway if you intend to actually fly an aircraft eventually. But give yourself a lot of simulator time, plug in every obstacle of weather, engine failure, wing icing, fuel, you name it, and practice practice practice. Once you have it letter-perfect on a simulator you won’t be far from being able to pilot an aircraft.

      I don’t know what old planes are going for these days, but I suspect you can build, or pick up an ultralight cheaply enough to get you flying without too much expense. Just a thought. I’m not handing out advice about what a person ought to do with himself. Gracias, Jules

      • Hey Jules! Thank you for the reply, It’s a thought for sure! maybe I’d spend sometime behind a Sim if I didn’t spend so much time feeding my photography addiction lol 😀

  5. I never got to go up in the 180, that was before i knew him.

  6. Were you aware the entire Ground School course, sans test, is offered in public schools in Alaska? I took the course, but never came anywhere near the kind of folks who would help me go any farther. I’m not sure it matters that much now, having been a passenger so very much in all kinds of stuff while in uniform. I’m still hankering for a sea cruise, though.

    • Hi Ed. Good seeing you here. I wasn’t aware of the Alaska school ground school, but it’s heartening to know. I’ve thought private aviation was becoming a lost phenomenon. As for the sea cruise, there’s sea cruises and sea cruises, I reckons. I don’t think I hanker much for another one. Gracias, Jules

  7. I feel sorry for those people who’ve never experienced that renegade feeling.

    I’m not overly fond of people who sneer.

  8. The story was compelling to read. Thx for sharing.

  9. Pretty cool story and once again, I enjoyed the tunes that you finished with.

  10. One thing I can say, you are a man with a few surprises under his belt! Sah-weet! My brother was a pilot and I always thought I would learn to fly and even to parachute, but life has taken me in other directions. So I get to live vicariously through folks like you 😉

    • Good morning Bela. Glad you came by. Maybe you’ll get to jump out of an airplane yet. No way of stopping it if the Coincidence Coordinators have it in store for you, I reckons. Gracias, Jules

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