Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Iíve known Henry Haddock for over forty years. When he graduated from high school, he enrolled in aircraft mechanics school. He learned to fly and bought a damaged aircraft. Using his newfound knowledge, he re-built the 1949 Piper Clipper. He got the aircraft back in airworthy condition. Now there was only one problem. He didnít really know how to fly this type of aircraft. He loaded the airplane on a trailer and took it to Timmonsville, S.C. to have M. B. Huggins test fly the aircraft. Mr. Huggins inspected the aircraft. He pushed and pulled on the struts and wing surfaces. Mr. Huggins deemed the aircraft safe to fly and went up to do an impromptu air show. Mr. Huggins did several loops and rolls then checked out Henry and his brother in the airplane.
Henry and his brother flew the airplane back to Cedar Swamp. On the way back they were flying in silence. After a while they looked at each other and both asked the same question. ďDo you want to try a loop?Ē
They climbed up and each of them would try a loop. By the time they got back to Kingstree, they had started their aerobatic flying.
Several years later, Henry and I began to fly aerial application planes. He was flying out of Latta, S.C. and I was flying out of Manning, S.C. Our paths didnít cross much back then. A year later he had his own flying business flying out of Kingstree. He worked many years out of the Kingstree airport. Later he transitioned to flying helicopters and moved his operation to his farm near Gourdin.
Over the years our paths would cross mostly at airports or at meetings about aerial application. Most of our talks were about the high costs of farming and the high costs of flying. In more recent years, we fly different airplanes together and now we mostly talk about some of the old adventures that we got into.
He asked me about writing a story about some of his flying. He has forty years of flying and 20,000 plus flight hours. There are lots of things that could count as a great aviation tale. (Hours of boredom followed by moments of terror.) I told him I would write my three favorite stories about his flying career.
About twenty years ago, Henry had a Piper Twin Comanche. This was a plane with two 160 horsepower engines. It was fairly fast and economical to operate. Henry flew it nearly two thousand hours. He traveled all over in this little twin. I flew it a couple of times and I am still a big fan of the plane.
Henry and another pilot had flown near St. Louis, MO. They went to a business meeting that ended late in the afternoon. They had planned to spend the night and come back to Kingstree early the next morning. They went back to the airport and started calling motels to get a room for the night. Everywhere they called they got the same answer, ďNo Vacancy.Ē There was a convention in town and just about every room was taken. They decided that they could fly back to Kingstree and be home by midnight. Since they couldnít find rooms, they launched for home.
After the long flight out and the business meeting, Henry said he was getting tired. He could barely hold his eyes open. The other pilot had just learned to fly that year. He was enjoying the chance to fly this long trip. Henry asked if he wanted to fly while he took a short nap. Of course, Henry closed his eyes and dozed off. In just a little while, Henry heard the other pilot yelling that the wing was on fire. He was wide-awake then. He looked and the right wing of the airplane was glowing red. It took them a minute to figure out what was wrong. They were flying along this very dark night and it began to snow. The red rotating beacon was reflecting off the snow and made the wing appear to glow red. What else could it be but the wing on fire? I asked if he had any trouble staying awake for the rest of the trip. They both stayed awake for the remainder of the night.
My second favorite story again is set in the Twin Comanche. Henry took some friends down to Florida. When he landed, he realized that he had left his wallet in his truck back in South Carolina. With no credit cards and no money he could not buy gas. There was only one thing to do. He would fly back as far as he could and land. He would call someone to fly down to where he was and bring his wallet. He looked at the fuel gauges, visually checked the tanks and took off. He climbed up to seven thousand five hundred feet and set the engines to economy cruise. The Twin Comanche is an efficient airplane. He studied his maps and planned on stopping somewhere in Georgia and then calling some one to come get him. He kept looking at the fuel gauges and calculating his ground speed. As he got into Georgia, he figured that he might be able to make it to Hilton Head, S.C. He knew some people at the airport. He could probably get fuel on credit and save someone a trip. The closer he got to home the lesser the trip for whoever he could find to fly down to get him. Still at seven thousand feet, the aircraft was flying a little faster because it was getting lighter as the fuel burned. He looked at the map, recalculated and thought he could make it to Charleston. If it seemed to long he would land at Walterboro.
He pressed on. He ran the auxiliary tanks dry. He kept looking at the fuel gauges. He could easily make Charleston maybe even Moncks Corner. He knew he could get fuel at any of those two airports. He stayed at seven thousand feet and was zooming along. He kept figuring and figuring. He looked at the performance charts for the plane. He leaned the mixtures a little more. Heck he could make Kingstree.
He could see the Gourdin airport. If the engines quit he could just land there. He went overhead the airport and he could see the airport at Kingstree. He was going to make it without all the hassle of getting someone to get him. Then the left engine quit. He feathered the propeller on that engine. Then the right engine quit. He feathered that propeller. Now he was flying the Twin Comanche at the lightest weight. No fuel, one passenger and he hoped so good luck. With the propellers not making any drag and the lightweight, the plane had only glided down to five thousand feet when Henry crossed over the top of the airport. Of course he was sweating a lot also. He put the landing gear down and circled the airport. He was worried about not getting to low before lining up with the runway. He couldnít add power if he was too low. He had to make the runway the first time. He planned on staying high until he was on final approach to the airport. That was a good plan. When he turned on final approach, he realized that he was too high. He turned the airplane; he slipped the airplane side to side. Without the drag of the propellers turning and the lightweight, this plane was really gliding and did not want to come down. He kept working at it and got the airplane on the runway about five hundred feet from the end. He slammed on brakes and with the lightweight of the plane he skidded to a stop and the very end of the runway. He walked back to his office and brought fuel for the plane. He also had to replace two tires that he flat spotted from pressing the brakes so hard. Like all pilots, he told me ďItís amazing what you learn when youíre young and dumb.Ē
My last story really doesnít involve a plane directly. Henry was going on a trip to the Bahamas after spraying season. Ten people were going on this trip. They were taking two airplanes. All the people were going to meet at the airport early in the morning. They were going to take off before daylight and they would be fishing in the Bahamas by noon. Henry said that he would occasionally forget his sunglasses. He didnít want to fly all the way to the Bahamas without his sunglasses so he put them on for the drive to the airport. He would not forget them this time. He was the last to arrive at the airport. Several of the people that were going on the trip did not know Henry. They watched as a car pulled up to the airport. Henry had forgotten his key to the gate so he drove around the airport fence and cut in behind the terminal. He was on the airport now along the edge of the runway. He turned toward the airplanes. There was a place where the planes taxied out across a ditch. With his sunglasses on and it still being dark, Henry didnít quite line up with the culvert in the ditch. When he realized that he was headed for the ditch he slammed on brakes. His little Honda Civic just slid on the wet grass and into the ditch. Some of the people waiting stared in amazement. ďWho is that?Ē ďThatís your pilot.Ē