Flights & Fancy: It Started off Bad and Went Downhill

Flights & Fancy: It Started off Bad and Went Downhill

The author went on to fly anti-submarine P2V Neptunes. (Alexander Hafemann/istockphoto and William J. Onderdonk; Illustration by Theo)
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Remember how I couldn’t get the engine started? Now I couldn’t get it to stop: It kept pre-detonating, smoking, and shaking. Of course the instructor shut it down with no problem.

We climbed out of the airplane. I did get the exit sequence right, except for slipping off the trailing edge of the wing. We took our parachutes, and following protocol, I reached for the instructor’s parachute. “I’ll carry it,” he said. “I’m afraid you’ll drop it or carry it by the D-ring.”

We sat in the debriefing area. I had a brainstorm: I asked if I could “self-debrief,” rather than have him do the debriefing. “Well, I suppose so,” he said, “if you’ve got all day.”

I began with preflighting the wrong airplane and proceeded through the long list of my errors. He followed along with his notes, and as I recounted each event, he nodded and checked it off his list. Several times he said, “Aha! I missed that one!” and scribbled more notes.

I finished. He retrieved my flight training records and asked how many “downs” I had so far. When I told him I had none, he rolled his eyes and began leafing though my records.

After a few minutes he said, “You had a really bad day, didn’t you? Let’s call this fiasco an incomplete check ride and try it again this afternoon.”

A really bad morning; a much-improved afternoon.

William Onderdonk flew anti-submarine aircraft out of Chincoteague, Virginia.


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