• Thank You Santa

I've been after Skip 'Gunner' King (US Army, ret.) for details of this incident since Christmas. It was worth the wait.

Just prior to Christmas 1969, I was one of three people waiting at a remote strip somewhere near Phan Thiet for a Caribou ride to Cam Rahn or Na Trang. I was trying to get back to my unit at Lane AHP near Qui Nhon. Two passengers and an RTO.

We saw a Caribou approaching and assumed it was our transportation, but it initially just flew past. But it turned back towards the strip and landed.

The first thing we noticed was the painting on the nose, like Rudolf, but it was Santa... about that time the real Santa poked his head out the astrodome.


The aircraft pulled up, dropped the ramp and there was a bar that looked like a chimney, a couple of very attractive elves, Santa and some people in flight suits.

One of us asked why the aircraft had turned around. A guys in a flight suit replied that this wasn't a scheduled stop, but that when they saw the three of us out in the middle of nowhere, they figured we needed a visit as much as anybody.

The eggnog was great, the girls were beautiful, and my green and red goody bag hangs on the mantle every Christmas, as it has for the last 39 years.

I don't think I ever said "Thank You" to the guys in the flight suits. So... "Thank You" for one of my life's most memorable events.

Anybody know who those guys were?

BTW, if anyone else has a flying-related experience they'd like to share (military or civilian)
send it to tailspintommy (at) gmail (dot) com, and I'll post it here. If you have photos or video that's even better. I have 10Mb broadband so send whatever you have. Of course, you're contribution will be acknowledged by name. Unless (snicker) you'd rather remain anonymous. More than one story? No problem. We'd love to share them!

• T'was The Flight Before Christmas




'Twas the night before Christmas, and out on the ramp
Not an airplane was stirring, not even a Champ.
The aircraft were fastened to tie downs with care,
In hopes that come morning, they all would be there.

The fuel trucks were nestled, all snug in their spots,
With gusts from two forty at 39 knots
I slumped at the fuel desk, now finally caught up,
And settled down comfortably, resting my butt.

When the radio lit up with noise and with chatter,
I turned up the scanner to see what was the matter.
A voice clearly heard over static and snow,
Called for clearance to land at the airport below.

He barked his transmission so lively and quick,
I'd have sworn that the call sign he used was "St. Nick".
I ran to the panel to turn up the lights,
The better to welcome this magical flight.

He called his position, no room for denial,
"St. Nicholas One, turnin' left onto final."
And what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a Travel Air sleigh, with nine radial Reindeer!

With vectors to final, down the glide slope he came,
As he passed all fixes, he called them by name:
"Now Ringo! Now Tolga! Now Trini and Bacun!
On Comet! On Cupid!" What pills was he taken'?

While controllers were sittin', and scratchin' their head,
They phoned to my office, and I heard it with dread,
The message they left was both urgent and dour:
"When Santa pulls in, have him please call the tower."

He landed like silk, with the sled runners sparking,
Then I heard "Left at Charlie," and "Taxi to parking.
He slowed to a taxi, turned off of three-oh
And stopped on the ramp with a "Ho, ho-ho..."

He stepped out of the sleigh, but before he could talk,
I ran out to meet him with my best set of chocks.
His red helmet and goggles were covered with frost
And his beard was all blackened from Reindeer exhaust.

His breath smelled like peppermint, gone slightly stale,
And he puffed on a pipe, but he didn't inhale.
His cheeks were all rosy and jiggled like jelly,
His boots were as black as a cropduster's belly.

He was chubby and plump, in his suit of bright red,
And he asked me to "fill it, with hundred low-lead."
He came dashing in from the snow-covered pump,
I knew he was eager to be drainin' the sump.

I spoke not a word, but went straight to my work,
And I filled up the sleigh, but I spilled like a jerk.
He came out of the restroom, and sighed in relief,
Then he picked up a phone for a Flight Service brief.

And I thought as he silently scribed in his log,
These reindeer could land in an eighth-mile fog.
He completed his pre-flight, from the front to the rear,
Then he put on his headset, and I heard him yell, "Clear!"

And laying a finger on his push-to-talk,
He called up the tower for clearance and squawk.
"Take taxiway Charlie, the southbound direction,
Turn right three-two-zero at pilot's discretion"

He sped down the runway, the best of the best,
"Your traffic's a Twin Beech, inbound from the west."
Then I heard him proclaim, as he climbed thru the night,
"Merry Christmas to all! I have traffic in sight."

• We're Not happy Until You're Not Happy

Over the years I've been faced with a severe case of what psychologists call "cognitive dissonance."

On one hand my experience has been that the folks that work for the FAA are, by and large, earnest, professional people with a real interest in aviation and safety. They've always treated me fairly (not to be confused with leniently). On the other hand I've met pilots and aircraft owners who profess something between mistrust and visceral hatred for the employees of the same agency. They really believe the FAA motto is, "We're not happy until you're not happy."


If you're among the latter, you can probably stop reading because what I'm going to write won't interest you.

To be entirely up front, I have to admit that my opinion is that the people who hate the FAA the most are the ones that have played loose and free with the regs the most, they're the people who treat "the Feds" as some kind of low lifes, and they're the people who receive, in return, just what they deserve.

Now that's not to say there aren't bad eggs in every basket. The apocryphal story of the Inspector who yellow tagged a bird with "Q-tip" props because its propeller tips were bent comes to mind. But consider that the basket of pilots is much larger (650,000) than the basket of FAA employees (50,000). And the number of those folks that you'll actually meet while committing the unnatural act of flight is smaller yet.

You don't have to be a math genius to figure out there are probably more asshole pilots than there are asshole Feds.

Yeah, I can hear you arguing percentages; asshole density, if you will. I don't buy it.

Sit in a parking lot by an airport fence and listen on your handheld, or sit in your cockpit and listen on your David Clarks. Y'all up there in the rarefied air can listen on your anorexic Plantronics too. How many times do pilots screw up? How many times do controllers? And which group is most likely to go into assholes mode when things don't go right?

Fact is, many of the FAA employees on the front line are pilots with experiences that you'd die to have, maybe even die from, since you may not be as good a pilot as they are. After all, half the pilots out there are worse than the other half. (Why do I hear a chorus from the tower, "More! Much more!")

But you wouldn't know those people from ATC and the FSDO have the depth of experience they do if you harbor a prejudice against them. That's true of everyone else in life too, come think of it.

When was the last time you took the time to go up in the cab and find out who the person is that's behind that voice your hear from the control tower? Have you ever figured out where the nearest TRACON is located and scheduled a visit to see what it's like to shepherd fast moving aircraft across a sector, essentially blindfolded?

All this reminds me of my favorite controller who once announced, when things were really going to hell in a handbasket,"All right, everyone stop right where you are, and we'll get this sorted out." Even the foreign student with minimal command of English flying up the downwind keyed the mike and laughed.

She's the same controller, I recall, who also told a bush pilot I was flying with in a busy Southern California weekend pattern "You have to do more than nod your head when I call you, 674H."

Mind you he's a pilot's pilot, an Alaskan 'Man of the Decade' for his selfless rescues, and a personal hero in an era when, as Styx puts it, "All the heroes and legends I knew as a child have fallen to idols of clay." But he's also someone who hadn't talked on a radio in years, except maybe to check in on the HF while crossing some of the wildest water and terrain in the world so his wife would know he's okay.

Mutual respect is what it's all about, in a phrase.

Doubts? Go out and drive a car blindfolded while someone talks you through an empty shopping center parking lot. A controller who'd done that, to appreciate the problems of a scared VFR pilot in IFR conditions, saved a woman's life because he understood. She's my wife today, and I appreciate his dedication. She found herself solid IFR in a snow squall on her second solo flight...but that's another tale.