We had all sorts of characters come and hire aircraft from us. Among them were a couple of old-timers who definitely did things their way. This is part of the reason that the commercial school hated us so much, I'm sure of it. Which is why we loved it.
First there was Mac. Gentleman's gentleman, always smartly dressed. Tall, thin, reserved, never said much - a shame, because he must have had some stories to tell. Our boss was going to pull him up because his idea of a chart (a legal requirement) was a well-thumbed copy of the AA Book Of The Road - 1947 edition. I don't think airspace had even been invented yet, let alone charted. We let it go when we found out that he had more types in his logbook than the boss had hours, though I think we gave him an old one to at least tuck into the book for appearances' sake.
And then... then there was John. "Lock up your womenfolk!" was the cry whenever he walked in the door. What a rascal. Absolutely barking mad, too, but then you'd have to be to fly Swordfish in World War 2. He came out of that whole mess unscathed and with enough tall stories to keep us entertained for years. One other thing he came out with, he brought in to show us. A logbook older than Mac's road atlas - and there, in his scratchy handwriting, an entry from 26th May 1941. "Credited with hit on Bismarck rudder." As far as I know, he's the only one of our customers to have his own Wikipedia page
I went flying with him once. Only once.
Miserable day, barely usable for circuit training if you don't mind being 200' too low on downwind and being thrown around like a kitten in a cement mixer. John's flying anyway - nobody's shooting at him so it's a great day for it, and nobody's going to refuse to authorise the guy who sank the Bismarck. Boss signs the tech log, then offers to man the phones so I can go along for the ride.
Ever done aerobatics in IMC? It's interesting. For about a minute, then it's terrifying. Then you drop out the bottom of it and see what you're going to hit and it's worse (especially when you realise just how much higher the ground is here), until you go back in and it's merely terrifying again. Did that for about half an hour before the instruments tried to convince my ears and my guts that we were straight and level. Except the gyro, which had not only toppled but crawled up into its casing and started whimpering for mercy. Everything else said straight and level, which was clearly ridiculous except that we were taking far too long to die. Nav radios were turned off, and I realised: This psychopath's at 1200 feet in the clag partial-panel doing dead-reckoning from a squint at an upside-down field with 2000-foot rocks all over the place.
Thought about tuning in the VOR then decided I'd rather not know. A famous tune popped into my head, but the words were wrong:
"C-F-I-T, it's fun to die in a C-F-I-T..."
Not enough space in a 150 to do the actions. Must be some way from the airfield, though, he hasn't called five miles out to request rejoin yet. Wonder if we'll live that long. "You want to drive?" No thanks, the pathologist can find your
thumb broken, I'm not taking the posthumous rap for this one. Also I have no idea where the hell we're going.
Suddenly we drop like a rock, pop out of the clag, and there are four white lights way off to the left; I have no idea what they are or where they are. Then it dawns on me. Holy shit. It's the PAPIs for 21. They're less than a mile away and we're falling through 500' in the mother of all sideslips. Can't make out the concrete in all that rain, just the PAPIs, which are now all red. Isn't there a tree on the extended centreline just about... shit, that was close! "Golf Tango Kilo very short final 21, landing." It takes Air Traffic a while to recover from that. "Erm.... Golf... Tango Kilo, cleared to land 21, wind 270 at 15 gusting 30." And the old bastard greases it on. "Christ, that was fun!"
I've forgotten so much more about John and his stories than I can remember, but the look of absolute terror on that cow's face when we suddenly appeared in front of it at the bottom of a loop will stay with me to my dying day. I've no idea how he made it to old age. Some time I'll have to tell you about his entry in the flour-bombing competition....