Thursday, September 24, 2015

I've moved!

The new home of J.L. Vaughan is now at Go there for the latest information regarding the author

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Summer Vacation

I thought I would apologize for my absence from the blogosphere. I'm currently hard at work on a new novel and will be back shortly. The book is a family infused crime novel and takes place in the Seattle area. It should by out by the beginning of next year. In the mean time, below is a link to some art I ran across the other day, who knows you just might like it.

I heard a rumor that The Root of Esau might be free this Friday 8/16, if you don't have a copy hurry quick and grab one.  And don't forget to leave a review, even if you completely hate it I'm curious what you think.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Perpetual Fowl Weather

Copyright © 2013 by J.L. Vaughan
All rights reserved. This story may not be reproduced in any form, in whole or in part, without written permission from the author.

Perpetual Fowl Weather - A Pilot Confessional

By J.L. Vaughan

On a Tuesday in the Fall Roger and I showed up for our usual Tuesday schedule.  When I initially started a career in corporate aviation I did so partially to avoid the mundane routine that is found in the schedule of the airplanes that you find lining the tarmac of your friendly air terminal.  Flying from Atlanta to Dallas three times a day, every day for a three months just didn’t have much of an appeal to me.  What I didn’t realize was that corporate aviation had its routines just like everything else. On our Tuesday’s we would make the same four milk run flights, every summer the same companies would charter our plane for the same winery tours, and every winter the same families would charter our plane to go skiing at their favorite mountain, which was always the same one.  So Tuesday’s local flights, or milk runs as we liked to call them, were something Roger and I had grown used to.  It was the same rainy weather, with the same low ceilings, moving the same passengers around the same four airports. Today our day started at Arlington airport with a planned stop in Hoquiam, Washington to drop off two passengers on our way down to Salem, Oregon. In the afternoon we would do the same flight in reverse, taking everyone home.

Our flight enroute to Hoquiam was uneventful until we dropped south of the Olympic Mountain Range. Flying into Hoquiam one can expect a number of things, but most of all you can expect the cloud ceilings to be low, the wind to be blowing and it to be either raining currently, the ramp wet because it had just stopped raining or the clouds to be building because the rain was just about to start. I don’t mean to be harsh on the neighborhood but that just tended to be the reality of things. It didn’t get the name Grays Harbor because of its wealth of sunshine.  Either way as we started down on the approach into Hoquiam we weren’t surprised to not see the airport until we were within a few hundred feet of the approach end of the runway, and then to find the wind hollowing.  As we neared our flair on final I saw one other constant occurrence at this airport–birds. They were always there, and somewhere along the line that morning they had decided the middle of the runway was the best place to congregate. Midway down the runway there was a flock of seagulls numbering close to one hundred. As Roger threw out a few choice words in their general direction, I decided that there was enough room for us to put the airplane down and stop before getting anywhere near them.  I put the airplane down just before the numbers and had it stopped with plenty of space to spare.  Partially to clear the runway for our coming take off and partially to get back at them for making me use reverse, I taxied the airplane through the conversing group of feathered menaces with a little bit of a smile on my face as they nervously took to the air. We taxied off the runway to the ramp letting out our two passengers then closed the door and taxied back to the end of the runway. We picked up our clearance without a hitch and I was pointed down the runway giving it full power just as Roger finished putting the last bit of our course into the GPS. 

Midway through our take off roll I caught a slight shadow out of the corner of my eye. Roger stared through my window and let out an “Ah Crap!” before I saw them coming – just as I pulled the plane off the runway. The same group of fowl intruders that I’d just sent packing, those damned seagulls, were heading back to their asphalt nesting area which put them on a collision course with the nose of our airplane.  Being as close to the ground as we were, turning wasn’t an option. My only choice was to wrench the nose up and pray, both I most certainly did. Our attitude passing through fifteen degrees up, Roger and I both held our breath as seagulls ducked and dived in all directions around us.  Forcing myself to take that first breath, Roger and I looked each other in the eyes then looked toward our passenger in the back. We were both surprised to see her fully contempt and unaware. She was sipping her coffee and reading the newspaper. She then took the opportunity to add her Irish Coffee additive (whiskey), which Roger had given her prior to take off, into her drink. Already up into the clouds now, Roger and I scoured all parts of the airplane that we could see for signs of damage. We hadn’t heard anything hit and couldn’t find any damage ourselves.  We decided that we had gotten lucky, that the avian crowd in Hoquiam were quicker in reflexes than the rest.  Along the way Roger started in on a story from his instructor days that he was reminded of.  Roger used to be a flight instructor down at Montgomery field, just outside of San Diego, California and he loved telling stories about his old students.

“I had this student that I had been trying to get to solo for weeks,” Roger started in. “He was an older guy. He knew what he was doing, but he was wound up tighter than a rat-terrier on methamphetamines. I was afraid to break wind around the guy for fear that the noise would make him jump and hit the ceiling, that or give him a heart attack. Teaching the guy to fly was like walking on eggshells every second, but I was determined to get him up there. Mostly he just needed convincing that he was doing fine. So the day came that he was as put together as he ever would be. We spent a half hour doing landings and every one of them was as slick as cow snot. I got out’ the airplane, told him to give’er hell. As usual, I stood out on the ramp to watch as he made his first venture into the air by himself. As the airplane rounded the corner onto final I watched them coming and knew there was nothing I could do to stop it from happening. It was that damned flock of green parrots. Probably ten years prior some idiot had let loose of a couple of pet parrots somewhere in San Diego, and ever since they’d been lingering around the area multiplying. Seeing’s how their family tree was one straight line, they was as dumb as rocks and right then all eight of ‘em was lined up to meet my student on short final. I had no radio to warn him, standing there on the side of the runway, my only option was to wait for the inevitable. I swear I saw it in slow motion, my guts sunk down into my boots.
“I prayed to God. I asked God to keep my student from wrecking the airplane…too bad. That he might keep my student from dying and that even though I’d lose my Instructor License over the wreck, that I might be able to get it back; maybe someday. Then, on short final just as I’d expected, the birds flew in front of the airplane. Next came the cloud of green feathers, right then I doubled over with my hand covering my face.  When I looked back up the most amazing thing happened–he landed! He put the airplane down on the runway softer than three-ply Charmin. As he taxied to the ramp I could see the green circle of feathers just above the nose wheel and another on the right wing. As he got out of the airplane I just stood there dumbfounded and silent; shocked he hadn’t freaked out and ended up in a fiery ball at the end of the runway. He asked me if I saw the birds in front of him and then strolled right on into the airport lobby, as if nothing interesting had happened.”

Around the time Roger had finished telling his story we were on our descent into Salem. The weather was clear so our approach was quick. My phone beeped as I opened the cabin door. Walking down the stairwell to the tarmac to take our passenger’s bag it became very clear to me that Roger and I hadn’t been as lucky as we had originally thought. The left side of our airplane was redecorated in red. One of the birds had gotten caught into the slip stream of our propellers, proof of its path was the thick line of blood that ran at an angle up the side of the airplane then stopped and picked back up five feet further down as the bird had spiraled back into the airplane. Just above the windows there was another crimson line as another seagull had met its fate.  We found yet another line running along the bottom of our wing, another area we couldn’t see from the cockpit.

A midst my quick assessment the car that was waiting to pick up our passenger drove out alongside the now morbidly painted airplane. Without even a glance back our passenger walked off the airplane, took her bag and hopped into the passenger side of the car and then drove off. She had not even a clue of what was behind her.  Turns out, the message on my phone was from the Hoquiam Airport Manager. He wanted to know if he should put the birds he found lying dead on his runway on ice for us; if we wanted to cook our kill for dinner.  After letting Roger in on our successful bird hunt I called dispatch, his and my day of flying was done until a mechanic could assess the damage done by our fallen fellow aviators.

The End

*The story above is fictional with some level of truth in, with and under it. At what level fiction takes over reality and whether this has its basis with the authors own situation or one that he may have heard via other parties is for only the author to know. The author felt the need to write it in first person in order to give the story the needed effect for the sake of the reader.

Fingernails In Leather

Copyright © 2013 by J.L. Vaughan
All rights reserved. This story may not be reproduced in any form, in whole or in part, without written permission from the author.

Fingernails in Leather- A Pilot Confessional

By J.L. Vaughan

Any parent who has sent a child off to college will tell just how hard it is to see them go. You’ve spent their entire childhood preparing them for this very moment, for them to venture out into the world on their own.  That day comes and you break down, you want to tuck them back into that racecar/princess bed—knowing full well those days are gone. On a particular Sunday Roger and I were called in by a mother and father also seeing their son off as he ventured to college for the first time.  It’s almost a tradition to help load your son or daughters bags into the back of their car or drive them to the bus station for that last heartfelt goodbye.  It’s not strange to find a mother making her son or daughter a snack for the road and for her to ask if they packed their toothbrush, just as this particular young man’s mother had done. That day Roger and I had loaded the bags of this young man into our airplane as a teary eyed mother and proud father stood on the airport ramp saying good bye to a son who was flying to Pullman, Washington that afternoon.  His college courses would start the next day and he was equal parts nervous and excited.

The plane ride for him was nothing new, it was one of his families normal modes of transportation.  Our airplane, for this man was no different than most people view hopping into the family sedan for a weekend vacation. It was just the way his family had always gotten around, there honestly was nothing different about him than any other eighteen year old packing his things. I’ll never forget the look on his mother’s face as she handed him the sandwiches she had made for the flight. She knew full well that Roger and I would have snacks on the plane, she knew we could arrange to have a five course meal catered and ready. Not today, this mom was sending her son away with something special, something she made with her own hands. I have know doubt that it was the same kind of sandwich she had made for him back in his high-chair days.

After we finished loading up all the young man’s belongings we told our passenger that it was time to go. He hugged his mother and father and walked up the stairs into our airplane. Both parents fought every instinct they had to grab him and tell him not to go.  Roger and I took no time starting up the airplane and getting ourselves into the air. 

Personally I had my own reasons for not wasting too much time on the ground. Just like any other job, each aviation job has its goods and its bads. With my first position as a flight instructor, came pay that was below 3rd world country poverty levels and a schedule that had nothing that could pass off as even mirroring consistency, but I did find myself under the veil of a “as long as you leave it full of fuel you can take any of the airplanes” clause which made for some very good days off in Southern California.  My next job was that of a cargo pilot and it came with a constantly insomnia driven schedule; airplanes that were so old, decayed, and overly used that daily malfunctions became an expectation; and the guidelines of a single pilot operation that lended itself toward being very lonely.  On the plus side though, the cargo airplanes were fast(compared to the ones before it), the packages never complained about your landings and the pay scale was at least up into U.S. poverty levels. The next job, as charter pilot, came with its nuances such as cleaning the av-toilet, picking up after messy passengers and an occasional off comment on a landing or two but it did have one very big plus—carrying passengers. Finding a spot on your plane for someone that wasn’t a company employee or passenger on empty legs was no longer frowned upon and now was completely legal. Sure in the cargo world it was rumored that an occasional girlfriend or pilot’s father might get snuck into an airplane on an early morning when no one was looking. But God help that pilot if dispatch, the chief pilot or the faa ever found out about it. The legal consequences were endless.  For those of us wanting to share what we do with those around us this new level of freedom was amazing.

On that particular Sunday I had arranged a little family transportation of my own. It turned out my little sister had recently graduated from the same collegiate institution our young passenger was about to attend and was visiting Pullman that very same weekend with some friends. Me, being the good brother that I am, I had talked her into ditching her friends for the seven hour car ride back to take the fourty-five minute flight with us back to Arlington. Of course she had said yes.
Once we landed at Pullman Roger and I quickly unloaded the new freshman’s belongings from the airplane. We helped him load them into the taxi that had met us, ready to take him the rest of the way to his dorms. My sister was nearby but I had told her to wait out of sight. It wasn't that there was anything wrong with taking her on the trip back, like I said it was perfectly legal and I’d literally received the stamp of approval from dispatch. She was on my passenger manifest and everything. It was just that, since this man’s proud Mom and Dad had footed the bill for the entire flight, I decided the less questions asked the better. Walking into the small FBO(Fixed Based Operator or airplane Gas Station and lounge) I could see her peering out from one of the back rooms. I told her the coast was clear, we exited to the ramp then up into the plane. 

After a safety briefing, being sure to cover all the little cool nuances of our aircraft that I knew she’d get a kick out of, I left her to her seat and we took to the air. The first few minutes of our flight I had checked back on her to make sure she wasn’t nervous. Both times she didn’t even notice I had looked, she was too enthralled with the scenery around her.  That was a good flight. My sister and I did not come from an aviation family, flying to us was new. While I’ve since grown used to flying, it was fun to see the look on her face as she took in the view from the aircraft window; we were flying over the same section of Eastern Washington the two of us had grown up in. I left her to enjoy her flight and concentrated on the task of flying the airplane back to Arlington. Along the way Roger and I got into our usual chitchat. That day’s discussion centered around his church’s bookreading group. Roger was an old-school guy, the type that wore cowboy boots, carried a pocket knife and wore a ball cap only because a Stetson (that is a cowboy hat to city folk) wouldn’t work well in the airplane. His church’s book group was reading some “whiny, hold hands, and get in touch with your feelings book,” as he put it and he was fit to be tied. He had plans to set the book on fire in front of the whole group as a public protest and it was all I could to do keep him in the copilot seat and calm.
“That’s what’s wrong with men today,” he had said. “The bunch of pansies. About the time a guy’s cahones finally drop in, the whole world starts to tell him he needs to shove’em right back up there. The stones in David’s slingshot weren’t the only ones he had on him you know.”  While I may have mostly agreed with Roger, his use of imagery and planned public book burning still didn’t seem like the best course of action, especially in a church. Over the course of the flight I did my best to talk into re-organizing his planned protest.

It didn’t seem very long into our flight before we’d found ourselves nearing Arlington.  It being a clear summer day we started our descent early down to the flight pattern and entered on down wind, adjacent to the runway.  As we neared parallel to the runway numbers being at our traffic pattern altitude of 1,500 feet another aircraft asked us if we could do a short approach.  A short approach entails making the quickest descent and turn to final that can possibly be made, getting down in a hurry so this next aircraft would fit in quickly behind us, us being just inside of him.  The runway numbers being even with our left wing I told Roger to tell him we would oblige. With a grin on my face, in one fluid motion I quickly pulled the throttles back to idle, pushed the props to high pitch, engaged the landing gear, put in our first notch of flaps and pointed the plane down toward the ground.

For this next part we need to talk systems  for a second. A plane of this size and price comes with all level of technological gadgetry. Systems giving you the weather, databases of airport lengths, frequencies, procedures. We have an oxygen system in case we lose pressurization at altitude, fire detection systems there purely to detect flames in our engines, oodles of back up instrumentation and GPS equipment just incase an instrument might have a bad day. One particular system is the Terrain and Obstacle Warning system.  This system lays dormant unless one of two things happen.  First, if it thinks that our aircraft is on a course that within one minute could cause it to collide with what its database tells it is the ground, a loud audible voice yells “Caution Terrain!”  Second, if its instrumentation shows an excessive rate of descent near the ground, the same voice yells “Sink Rate-Sink Rate!”

While we tended to avoid short approaches such as these on our standard flights due to passenger comfort, it was a more than safe maneuver for our airplane. Still, with the quickness that I had changed the airplane’s configuration and speed, having yanked the power back in one motion from cruise settings straight to idle, changed the propeller from a set of blades that pulled us through the air to two big speed brakes and lowered our landing gear and flaps our aircraft lifted, lurched forward and dropped all at once amongst a myriad of noises.  Even though I had full control of the aircraft, because of our descent rate and proximity to the ground the two audible warnings, “Caution Terrain” every seven seconds and “Sink Rate-Sink Rate” which increased in frequency the closer we got to the ground, had both kicked in. I hadn’t done an approach like that since my cargo days and I was loving every minute of it.  We had our airplane on the runway and stopped in record time.  The only thing I had forgotten was that my little sister was seated in the back, and until then she had been enjoying what she thought was a serine flight. As we turned off the runway I looked back to see her feet planted into the floor, back arched deep into her seat, hands clenched, nails dug into her armrest and her eyes as big as baseballs. I had gotten so excited at the chance to work the airplane over a little I had completely forgotten she was back there. After parking the airplane and apologizing profusely she had calmed down enough to talk.  She said in a very somber tone. “I just knew you were my brother and…I thought…I hoped you knew what you were doing.”    

The end

*The story above is fictional with some level of truth in, with and under it. At what level fiction takes over reality and whether this has its basis with the authors own situation or one that he may have heard via other parties is for only the author to know. The author felt the need to write it in first person in order to give the story the needed effect for the sake of the reader.

The Root of Esau

Get your copy today!!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Inverted Flight

All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in any form, in whole or in part, without written permission from the author.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a rather unnatural work schedule being a corporate pilot.  I don’t have a work week involving weekends and holidays.  For me there are those days I work and those days I don’t.  On one of those work days, I think it was a Thursday, Roger(my copilot) and I were asked to fly to a rural part of Eastern Washington in the middle of the summer.  The destination that our passenger was trying to go to was void of any airstrip so it took a little research to find a patch of asphalt in the area that was big enough to suite an airplane the size that we fly. We decided on a tiny little strip that wasn’t much more than a twenty minute drive for our one passenger to get to where he wanted to go. Personally I love that stuff, give me a runway a few inches longer than what the book tells me I can land our plane, one skinny enough our wingtips hang over the sides a little and I’ll smile for a week prepping and two weeks after.  I’m always after a new challenge.  

The next morning at six fourty-five Roger, our passenger and I took off for our the one and a half hour trip to the Whitman County airport. Once there we landed amongst a swarm of crop dusters, all  making their daily rounds as the temperature still hovered low enough for their "products" to be effective. Touching down on the strip our wings hung out past the edges of the runway just enough to kick up a cloud of dust behind as we rolled below the summer sun. We found a small out of the way part of the ramp to park and exited our airplane to some inquisitive looks. Our one passenger made his quick exit before the owner of the nearest crop dusting outfit came over to greet us. Apparently our plane was the largest aircraft Whitman County had seen on the strip since she had taken ownership of her Ag-flying business. Roger, the proprietress and I started into an array of aviation chit chat as the three of us watched crop dusters work their way through the ramp at her refueling station. 

That morning we learned from our new friend that a very energetic type of aphid had been ravaging the wheat crops of the area and ag-pilots from all over the area had flown in to help this infestation keep from turning into one of biblical proportions.  I think Susanne (the business owner) even made a few references to Revelations chapter nine.  As we talked, the three of us watched as planes were loaded with fuel and pesticide then sent to the end of runway with assembly line speed.  These folks were running at full scale and were a sight amongst themselves. Inside of ten minutes they had moved enough planes to make an air carrier deck jealous. Whatever Hemiptera this was, he was taking a bombardment. On the ramp with engines still running the airplanes were pumped full of their needed fluids while each pilot, donning orange jumpsuit and crash helmet, ran into the ramp office to grab coffee, food and take care of their own personal “tank sumpings.”  Each pilot was in his airplane and seated just in time to watch hoses being retracted and caps taking their places.  

 With their grizzled faces and oil marked suits we could tell that these pilots had been at this a while. I watched Roger's eyes widen as he watched one particular pilot, while walking out his cockpit onto his wing, let the most holy of holy’s drop from his face back into the cabinhis aviators sunglasses.

There is a particular bond between a pilot and his aviator sunglasses, commonly referred to in the industry as just his “aviators” and there is a reason for that.  Most professional pilots won’t hesitate to tell you that the drop out rate in the onset of any flight training is high. With the high cost of training, hours spent studying a curriculum that is almost an entirely new language in itself and small margins for error, added to the fact that there is no shortage of people thinking they would like to take to the skies. Some have estimated that about a quarter of those who start off into this career choice actually get there, personally I think those figure are very optimistic.  Looking back at it now the indicators of those who would land short of their pilots license is pretty easy to see. Among them was the premature donning of pilot nicknames(a student going by the name of LearJet who didn’t last a quarter comes to mind), widely used pilot attire(shirts with space for captains bars should never be purchased prior to being given the bars), and well the early arrival of ones aviator sunglasses.  As those of us in training watched students around us drop like flies some of us acquired certain hesitations toward jumping on to the pilot band wagon too early. Consider it an attempt at restraining egos.

 For a pilot, specifically a professional pilot, to reach a point in his/her career where he/she could comfortably wear this icon of aviation in eye protection form they had paid their dues, pulled the wool over the eyes of the authorities or a little bit of both. Consider it a rite of passage. To the untrained eye, watching this seasoned veteran drop his “aviators” might seem like a lite thing without knowing their deep felt meaning and the level of attachment this man had for them. Roger's cringe as he watched the man’s glasses fall into the cabin and out of view to me made perfect sense, it even riled a little sympathy in my own heart. The two of us watched the man, standing on the wing of a still idling aircraft, bend down to get them and we both felt relief, which we found later was very premature. As this man lowered his head into the aircraft cabin he somehow managed to loose his footing on the slick metal wing. Falling ass over tea kettle he hit his knees on the side of the cockpit before falling headlong into the pilot seat.
Now I’ve never really had a chance to look over the cockpit of any airplanes used in agricultural flying but I’d imagine that their parking brakes functions much the same as any other smaller aircraft. To engage the parking break on the wheels the pilot simultaneously pushes the top of the rudder(feet) pedals while pulling out the knob marked "parking brake."  Releasing the break only requires pushing that same knob back in, which is very simple and easy to do, being very unfortunate for this particular gentleman. As Roger and I watched the legs of the sunglassless pilot toss and turn in the air, the aircraft slowly began to pulled forward.  Our new friend Susanne saw it right away and was at dead sprint inside of a second. The orange and blue aircraft started out straight then took a hard left as it built up speed. It had been park perpendicular to three spaced rows of other parked aircraft and started between them toward the runway.  Roger and I stood frozen in awe as the yellow ag-plane taxied a perfectly straight line between the two rows of parked airplanes.  The entire crew scrambled in chase behind the airplane.  As it reached the end of the row nearing a small ditch that separated the runway from the taxiway one man dove onto its left wing.  Just as he landed the airplane took a sharp right which flung him back off the wing.  The man tumbled down into the ditch as the plane somehow straightened out once again with the two black boots still sticking up from the pilot seat.  Then, as if guided by principalities from above, the airplane took another hard right, circling the airplanes at the end of the row turning back toward Susanne's business. Once again the airplane managed to follow the centerline between two rows of planes neirly following it perfectly. All hands, except for the one man lost in the ditch were in trail and picking up speed. My first thought was that somehow the pilot was steering the airplane but, judging by the helpless flailing of both legs I soon gave up on that notion and leaned back toward a gracious higher power trying to keep damage costs to a minimum. The airplane was closing in on the Susanne's building, more specifically the three story steel tank sitting at the east end surround by fuel hoses. This being a scene both Roger and I had watched play out in a number of action movies involving pyrotechnics; the two of us dove for the nearest ditch attempting to find safety.  Unable to completely look away both Roger and I raised up to see the propeller of the airplane dig into the side of the tank with sparks flying in all directions.  The sound was horrendous. Think nails on a chalkboard time one-thousand.  We both lay in the ditch waiting for the inevitable flash and bang but it never came. Clear fluid poured from the side of the tank and the airplane was engulfed in steam as it ran through the aircraft's engine compartment. Looking closer I saw the words "water" written on its side. Apparently the fuel tank was on the west side of the building and was waiting for him had he hooked a left at the runway instead of a right..  The engine was now forcibly ruined and stopped the pilot emerged from amongst the cloud, proudly holding his sunglasses in hand. 

Under most circumstances both Roger and I would have stuck around, having been witnesses. But these were crop dusters.  They weren’t our crowd and certain stigmas tended to follow them. Most times a situation like this would require the involvement of the FAA and a large amount of paperwork but that’s not how men(and women) working in “Ag” flying work. More often than not, their level of involvement of the authorities mirrored that of certain “families” in Chicago during the 1920s. Quite frankly their rule of law tended toward “if no one saw it did it really happen?”  Roger and I decided that we didn’t want to impede on their situation; seeings how there were plenty of shovels scattered about with plenty of wide open spaces where holes could be dug and “inquiring eyes” could be taken care of. The two of us hopped into our airplane, taxied to the end of the runway and made for home.  Before plotting a course for Arlington we circled the runway one last time on climb out. Hot steam still rose from the airplane as people scurried in all directions.
Roger turned to me and with a smile said, “Man I hope he really liked them sunglasses.”

*The above is fictional with some level of truth in, with and under it.  At what level fiction takes over reality and whether this has its basis with the authors own situation, one he made up, or one that he may have heard via other parties is for only the author to know.

Copyright © 2013 by J.L. Vaughan