Sunday, August 21, 2016

Rock and Roll Radio, Airplanes and Quail Droppings!

It was the summer of ’69! I had just earned my private pilot’s license and was eager to take my buddies out for a ride over the city. So late one hot afternoon after his shift and before mine, Scotty Quick (Eddie Knox) and I found ourselves at the end of runway 11 at Columbia Metropolitan Airport “in position and hold” waiting the mandatory delay after the heavy airliner departed some seconds before. I decided to have some fun with Scotty. I reached down beside my seat and found my old flight manual, opened it up and started to flip through the pages. “What are you doing?” He asked. “Looking for the chapter on take offs.” I replied just as the controller cleared us for take-off. “Just kidding” I laughed as I pushed the throttle forward and began our take-off roll. Scotty laughed with me but I noticed that he kept a sharp eye on me as we climbed into the sky.

Left: ADF Receiver There was some turbulence that day so we did a little rocking and rolling until we reached a couple thousand feet of altitude and things smoothed out a little. As we were flying out over Lake Murray he said he would like to see the WCOS transmitter site. I knew the transmitter at that time was in a wooded area on Edgewood Avenue near what is now Charles W Johnson Stadium. In order to fly directly to the station I turned my Automatic Direction Finder (ADF) receiver on and tuned it to our frequency, 1400 kilohertz. We flew across the city listening to Woody with the Goodies count down the Fun 40 as he did every afternoon. Sure enough, after about 5 minutes we could see the tower and made a couple of turns around it and went on our merry way. When Woody started the top 10, I knew it was time to head back to the airport so I could land and get back to the studio in time for my shift on the Nightbeat Show.

Despite the images of fighter pilots speeding into battle listening to Kenny Loggin’s “Danger Zone,” rock and roll and aviation don’t really mix that well. There was too much else to listen to; instructions from controllers, position reports from other pilots and if you are in the military, Surface to Air Missile (SAM) warnings and the ever touted tone, as in “I got tone!” When a sidewinder missile was armed, the pilot heard a growl that increased in pitch until the seeker locked onto the target. When that happened the missile emitted a 400 Hz tone to let the pilot know that it was ready to fire. Today, a voice synthesizer tells the pilot that the missile is ready. Interesting enough, the synthesized voice is female. Somebody figured out the pilots paid more attention to a woman’s voice.

But even in a civilian plane, the cockpit is a very noisy place and listening to music on the radio is a distraction. So just as we say, don’t text and drive” we also say “don’t rock and roll and fly!”

There were times when I did use a radio station to navigate. When flying to Union County Airport, there were no radio-navigation aids on the field, but the WBCU Radio tower was near Buffalo, SC a mile and a half North Northwest of the airport. So sometimes I would have my ADR tuned to 1460 to help in my visual navigation to the airport.

Now I have a funny story to tell about Union County Airport. I had a flight student by the name of Frank Hill that owned his own plane. He was based out of Union County Airport. He wanted to get his Commercial Pilot’s License so he could fly out of state customers to hunt on his quail farm. To make things better for his passengers, he had installed an 8 track tape deck and some speakers behind the back seats. He would fly down to Columbia several times a week for lessons. Despite his appearances, Frank was a pretty good pilot and he was soon ready for his Commercial Flight Test. So I signed off his log and he taxied down to the FAA office to take his test. I was surprised when he came back in half an hour instead of the two hours I expected the check ride to take. Frank was all red faced because the FAA inspector took one look at the extra audio gear and asked Frank for the mechanical log on the airplane. It seems that the weight and balance charts for the plane were not re-calibrated after the installation of the audio gear and the inspector refused to fly in Frank’s plane. He got his license by renting one of our planes for the check ride that day.

Left: Frank Hill on the Tonight Show Now, just in case the name Frank Hill is tickling a place in the hallways of your memories, you just might remember the night he was on Johnny Carson’s show on NBC. You see, Frank had this idea that he could encapsulate quail droppings in Lucite plastic and sell the resulting pendants as art. The Tonight Show staff got wind of this and Frank was invited to appear with Johnny. This is not a tall tale. Just Google Johnny Carson and Quail Droppings, and you can see it all. By the way, Frank dressed the same for the show as he did for his flying lessons; blue or grey denim pants, wool lumberjack shirt, red hat and a quail dropping necklace. Frank gave me one of those beauties but alas, I can’t find it anymore. Oh MY!

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