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‘You the Pilot?
(Would you ever want to deny it?) By Dorcey (Captain Methane) Wingo


I vividly recall, while enduring the Army’s primary helicopter flight training, that to a man, we were so proud to be pilots! Well, not exactly yet, since we were still just a gaggle of lowly Warrant Officer Candidates and our silver wings were many months away, if ever.

Still, we had collectively given up our hair, our homes, and our freedom. Patriotically signing our lives away for the opportunity to become chopper pilots; wear those cool Ray-Bans and silky flight jackets and say “Roger” a lot!

We were pilots! And we wanted everyone to know it!

And then one morning this Military Science Instructor we so admired stoically informed us that pinning on those silver wings wouldn’t make the slightest difference in our collective appeal to the opposite sex. We were floored! He was wrong. He had to be wrong! Adoring women were a must!

That was the first time I ever questioned if I really wanted to be a pilot. Up until then, being a pilot had meant everything to me. That was all that I dreamed of.

But I have met a pilot or two since then…. who, at least briefly in their flying careers…wished they weren’t pilots. And “Captain Tom” comes to mind!
........................................................................

Tearing low-level across the rolling high country, Captain Tom made it look easy as his chopper’s skids mowed down several old yucca stalks along the way. The old Hiller’s turbocharged 540 Lycoming banging-metal engine roared through twin headers of hot blue steel, delivering what the Captain demanded with his size-eight left hand.

Leveling the ship abruptly, a dry stalk jammed into the red position light fixture at seventy knots and stuck!

Literally riding shotgun, “Jeffro,” his right-seat door gunner yelled “Bulls eye!” as the chopper’s right skid toe fractured another pod not more than two feet from the business end of his Wingmaster. Without missing a beat, Jeff pulled the weapon up and fired from hip level, taking out the next dead vegetable in line.

Captain Tom hooted his approval over his headset: “Ha-haaaa! Nothin’ but chunks!” Both men laughed as the Hiller dipped and darted toward the hogback ridge.

Having just done a one-eighty from an unsuccessful dog hunt, the Captain had decided to have some fun along the way back, seeing as how they were out in the middle of nowhere! He and Jeffro had flown several “predator control” missions before, and as far as the two of them were concerned, low-level-over-the-coyotes was it!

Torqued up to red-line manifold pressure, the Captain traversed the incline cresting the razorback ridge, whereupon he shoved the cyclic forward - a daring ‘negative g’ maneuver that dumped the nose and yanked both men up against their lap belts; the spent double-ought 12-gauge cartridge floated skyward from the floor.

“Shoot howdy!” Jeff howled, snatching the shell like a fly with his left hand. Suddenly the Captain banked hard left, the thirty-foot rotor blades popped loudly as he exclaimed “Ho-ly Mo-ly!” Jeff pumped a fresh round into the chamber by reflex.

“Them ain’t no coyotes, Jeffro, but look at all the stinkin’ sheep!” To which Jeff had no response, for before he could say ‘Que pasa, Calabasa,’ Captain Tom dove down reeeeal low over the nucleus of the herd, yanking and banking and howling like Wolf Man Jack! Hundreds upon hundreds of hysterical bleating sheep stampeded in every direction. The Captain was clearly on a roll!

Five minutes later, Jeff signed Tom’s Operations Report as the Hiller ground-ran to cool off six red-hot cylinders, the shaking machinery making their jerky signatures look suspicious, if not half-drunk!

It was almost “Miller Time,” or so it seemed.

Alfredo - the Hiller mechanic - was already busy pulling yucca top debris out of his skid’s position light fixtures, muttering to himself about his joy-riding gringo pilot. He ambled off toward the limp 100 Octane fuel hose as the engine coughed to a stop and the rotor blades whistled slowly overhead.

“Thanks for yet another memorable ride, Tom!” Jeff chuckled.

“See you tomorrow!” Tom replied, pulling off his sweaty headset and stepping down from the cockpit. Jeff cleared the weapon’s chamber, slipped the Wingmaster into its case and headed for his Jeep.

Tom usually followed Jeff down the hill, but today, he had decided to install a new CB radio in his Ford 4X4. ‘The more gadgets, the merrier,’ he always said. He was soon inverted under the Ford’s dashboard, a-drillin’ and a-cussin’.

Done with refueling, Alfredo was now occupied wiping down the tail rotor drive shaft, getting the dirt out of the way for a thorough post-flight inspection. He was the first to notice the battered old 1950 Dodge pickup bouncing up the dusty road from beyond the distant hog-back ridge. They weren’t expecting anyone, especially anyone driving such an old beat-up piece of ……..

Probably rubber-neckers, Alfredo rationalized, already wishing Tom would reappear to answer the inevitable litany of dumb questions that amateurs always seem to come up with. And here they came. Or was there just the driver?

Alfredo pushed his grimy bifocals back against his sweaty nose for a better focus. Then again, he mused, this guy didn’t really look like the kind of man that stops to ask dumb questions. Stepping out of the little truck, he stood around six feet, but this one was ‘broad at the shoulder and narrow at the hip,’ as the song goes.

The mechanic started paying closer attention as the hombre bee-lined past Tom’s rig and marched straight toward him. Alfredo could now see the man was sweating profusely, glaring, and grinding his teeth. His long dirty hair was tangled with broken twigs. He was coated with dust and festooned with bloody scratches. He looked Basque, somehow. Turns out, he did have one question:

“ ‘You the pilot?” he asked, his voice barely under control.

Alfredo’s Army-conditioned brain ran through a few choice one-liners, normally reserved for wise guys - quickly rejecting every last one of them, as he recognized the intent in the angry man’s eyes and the fragrance of a large sheep herd that followed his inquiry.

“That would be the Capitán’, ” Alfredo offered in flawless Castillian Spanish, nodding toward Tom’s Ford. Without another word, the sheepherder turned and stomped down the incline toward the pickup, clinching his fists and creating angry little dust clouds in his wake.

Tom was still upside-down, splicing the red wires together when he heard the heavy boots arrive at his open door, and the question barked from the stranger, “ ‘You the pilot?”

“That would be me, but I’m kinda busy,” Tom replied, just starting to tape over the bare hot-wire splice as the stranger grabbed both of his spotless size eight Adidas and hauled him rudely feet first out of the rig and onto the dirt.

Hollering “What the…” in protest, 12 volt fireworks erupted under the dash as the bare copper wires arched along behind him. Tom struggled to kick himself free from the stranger’s iron-like grasp.

Once the pilot’s backside was in the dirt, the sheepherder released his ankles and hauled him to eye-level by the front of his flight suit, getting up-close-and-personal with the smaller man.

“That was my herd you scattered from here to hell and back, pilot, and now I’m gonna kick your ass!”

And he did just that; a rather thorough ass-kicking it turned out to be, while Alfredo protested from a safe distance; and not in his loudest voice, as the story is retold.

After a few minutes, the Basque’s big fists grew sore from pounding on the Captain’s face, and he left, never to be seen again. As if anyone was going to go looking for him, after all the facts were known.

The Captain took some unscheduled time off after his butt-kicking. “A little R&R,” according to Operations. Time to collect himself, re-evaluate his life’s ambitions. Time for the swelling to go down. Finish wiring up that CB radio, maybe. Keep his line of work to himself, perhaps. Less low-level terrorizing and unabated howling, definitely! Burn that sheep-smellin’ flight suit and start dressing like a logger, he reckoned.

An ironic twist came a couple of years later. Tom had moved on to a helicopter-logging outfit and was indeed dressing as a logger…..

One morning he was “sport loggin’” somewhere in the great northwest when his Huey’s 42-degree gearbox let go. The Captain narrowly escaped serious injury in a nasty crash-landing into tall timber; the ship coming to rest inverted, near a fellow logger; one of his “hookers.”

Emergency calls went out as two of the closest ground crewmen came running to rescue the Captain, who had fortunately only suffered a broken collarbone. After a few minutes to evaluate his condition and treat themselves for scrapes and cuts, all three hiked down the steep incline toward the log landing as the ambulance crew pulled up, Code Three!

Walking out through the tall brush, the first in line to reach the ambulance crew was the scratched-up hooker carrying Tom’s flight helmet. Thinking the hooker was the pilot, the ambulance crew grabbed him and literally had to wrestle him down onto the clean sheets of the gurney, before the hooker could say “What the……!” At which time the Captain shouted above the confusion,

“Hey, I’m the one who’s hurt, I’m the pilot!”

And I was glad to hear that you admitted it, Tom!

(But where are the adoring women?!)

The End

Posted in: Humor & Poetry

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