All characters appearing in this story are mine of my own design.
This story is a work of fiction based upon nothing in particular.
There really is (or was in 1989) an Arrow N8072S, the flight as described
happened in the real world. My apologies to the owner of that aircraft for
appropriating it's likeness. It was a marvelous Cherokee, I have many fond
memories of it.
Precious Cargo is copyright © The Silver Coyote
Within a few minutes they were in Poncha Springs, diesel fuel gurgling into
the tanks while Annie explored the munchies available at the A&W fast food
joint next door. She had changed her mind about being hungry. Joe leaned
against the truck, staring idly up into the sky at the clouds, at the
mountainous horizon to the west, at nothing in particular. He could faintly
hear a music radio in the office of the Texaco station, country music, and
somewhere nearby a lonesome pig snuffled sporadically. An occasional car or
truck would go by on the highway in front of him, but by and large it was
quiet. While he listened to the tank filling, he became aware of a raspy buzz
in the sky to the north. Searching the sky in that direction as the sound
slowly increased in volume, he waited patiently for what he knew to be it's
source, a general aviation aircraft. Eventually the familiar sound manifested
itself in physical form, a Piper Cherokee Arrow, droning south down the
Arkansas River Valley.
Joe was quite familiar with the aircraft. As a pup and young fur he had spent
many hours in the copilot's seat of various types of Piper Cherokees and
other makes and models of single engine aircraft, and had enjoyed many hours
of pleasant and exciting general aviation adventures. His father had taken
him to uncountable fly-ins around California, and they had flown out of the
Los Angeles area into several states including Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.
Joe's father had taught him to fly, and one of his life's little mysteries
had always been why Joe had never obtained a pilot's license of his own.
"Can't afford it" had always been Joe's rational, but truth be known Joe had
always been more interested in the technology of aviation than in the actual
flying of the aircraft. Yet even now, after all the non-flying years that had
gone by, he would automatically tilt his head back to identify whatever
aircraft it was he heard flying overhead. He could still recall the feel of a
control yolk in his paw, the exhilaration of liftoff, the joy of knowing
that all your earthly troubles had been left behind on the surface. But he
had found his own unique pleasures that substituted for, and improved upon,
the feelings of flight. Still, he would occasionally recall the days of
aviation in his life, and at times he could almost feel himself in the
cockpits of the aircraft flying overhead.
"When do we begin our letdown?" his father had asked over the intercom. Pablo
was half Shepherd, half Coyote, a tall but relatively thin fur. It was mid-
morning in January, 1989. Their ears were insulated against the engine noise
by the headphones they wore, and they spoke into attached boom mics. Pablo
sat in the left seat, pilot in command, while Joe occupied the right seat.
Tracking outbound from a local navigation aid, Joe had been contemplating the
point of initial descent. "About now, we're ten miles out. At around two and
a half miles a minute and a five hundred foot per minute descent rate, that
should put us at pattern altitude as we turn downwind." Joe excelled in
aerial navigation. He could read the charts, compute the speeds and arrival
times and estimate fuel consumption using the old E6B mechanical flight
computer, manage all the navigation and communication electronics, and
communicate with ground controllers, leaving his father free to fly.
Occasionally they would swap jobs, and Joe would fly for a time while his
"Palomar tower, Arrow Eight Zero Seven Two Sierra inbound from Oceanside VOR,
thirty five hundred, with information Delta for landing."
"Arrow Seven Two Sierra, Palomar tower, squawk two seven one one, make right
traffic runway two four, altimeter two niner eight four. Traffic on the
upwind a mile west, a Cessna 182, report on the forty five."
Joe's voice sounded in the earpads of his own headphones on sidetone. "Seven
Two Sierra, squawking two seven one one, no contact with the traffic yet,
we'll report on the forty five." Along with Pablo's, Joe's eyes began to
scan the horizon in front of the nose of their aircraft, searching for the
other aircraft climbing away from the airport.
"Seven Two Sierra, radar contact, eight northwest, thank you."
After a couple of minutes another voice sounded in their headphones. "Palomar,
Ninety Eight Papa is abeam right traffic for two four." And hard on the end of
that statement came the tower controller's voice. "Ninety Eight Papa, negative
traffic, you are cleared to land, wind from two two five degrees at five
knots." To which the pilot replied "Ninety Eight Papa, cleared to land,
thanks." With this information both Joe and his father were able to locate
their traffic ahead, a Cessna.
As Joe's father lifted his paw to motion for him to call in, Joe was already
keying his push to talk switch, "Seven Two Sierra is two miles out on the
forty five for right traffic two four, traffic in sight."
"Thank you Seven Two Sierra," replied the controller, "you're number two to
land following the Cessna ahead on right downwind."
"Gear down." said Pablo, motioning thumb-down with his right paw. As
Joe reached forward to flick the wheel shaped knob on the lower portion of
the instrument panel down, his father continued "Landing checklist."
Waiting a moment or two while listening to and feeling the landing gear
extension mechanism operating beneath them, Joe replied "Three greens,"
meaning that the gear down and locked indications were properly illuminated.
Reaching for a small, laminated piece of paper in a map pocket in the door,
Joe began his litany. He recited from memory and then double checked himself
against the checklist.
"Mixture rich," he said aloud as he slowly pressed a control in the throttle
quadrant fully forward. "Prop fine," as he advanced the next lever to the
left fully forward as well. "Alt air checked." He reached forward and flipped
a couple of switches in front of the throttle quadrant. "Fuel pump on,
strobes on. Fuel on fullest tank, right wing?"
Pablo reached down and to his left to check the tank selector on his
sidewall and replied "Check right."
Joe watched the fuel pressure gauge for a few moments, then moved on. As he
said "belts", both he and his father tugged on the shoulder and lap belts
that held them in their seats.
His father banked the plane gently to the left, turning into the downwind
"Trim?" Joe asked.
Reaching above his head, his father adjusted a crank in the overhead, glanced
up to confirm a setting, and replied "Set neutral."
"Call the flaps." Looking out the right side window, they both observed the
tower cab at Palomar airport sliding under their wing, and also observed the
Cessna rolling out on the runway below.
"Seven Two Sierra, you are cleared to land, wind from two three zero at
"Thank you, Palomar, Seven Two Sierra."
After a moment or two his father pulled the throttle back to almost idle and
began the final descent to the runway. "One notch," he said, indicating that
Joe should apply approach flaps. "We're going to try a power off approach,
"Fine by me," Joe said as his father retarded the throttle completely. The
cabin became quiet suddenly as the prop slowed to approximately eight hundred
RPM. The sink rate increased noticeably as they turned right onto the base
leg of his approach approximately a mile from the approach end of the runway.
"Glideslope alive" called Joe unnecessarily. The visibility was at least ten
miles in haze, but he was letting his father know none the less that the
instrument landing equipment was active and functioning properly.
"Check", replied his father, looking at the approach end of the runway as it
moved farther astern in the right side windows. He banked smartly into the
final approach course. As he reached forward to flick on the landing light
toggle, Joe noted with admiration that the localizer needle was centered, and
that they were quite above the glideslope. Just where you want to be with a
pretend dead engine.
"Flaps two," his father called. Joe reached between the seats and tugged up
another notch on the lever there, applying the next amount of flaps. His
father reached over his head to apply a minor change to the trim adjustment
and smiled. "Dead on target."
The numbers at the approach end of the runway began to slip under the nose.
"Full flaps," called his father, and Joe pulled up on the flap lever as far
as it would go.
"Wind from two three five at four." intoned the tower controller. A few
seconds later the wheels of the Cherokee Arrow chirped as they made contact
with the runway. A rumble in the cabin confirmed wheels rolling on the
"A grease job!" said Joe, complimenting his father on the smooth landing.
"Flaps up," replied Pablo as the controller's voice once again sounded
in their headphones. "Arrow Seven Two Sierra, taxi back this frequency or
contact ground one two one point eight off the active. Cessna Ninety Eight
Papa, taxi into position and hold."
As his father angled towards the first high speed taxiway, Joe reached up to
the radio stack in the instrument panel and flipped a selector switch,
changing the transmit function from the number one communications radio to
the number two unit. The number two radio was already tuned to the correct
ground control frequency. As they rolled up to the hold line at the parallel
taxiway and came to a stop, Joe turned the volume adjustment for the number
one radio down as the tower controller cleared the Cessna for takeoff. Keying
the mic once again, he said "Palomar ground, Seven Two Sierra off the active
holding short at A3, taxi to transient parking."
"Good morning Seven Two Sierra, Palomar ground. Are you familiar?" meaning
the controller wanted to know if they needed directions to their parking
"Yes sir, we are." replied Joe.
"Seven Two Sierra, taxi transient, caution the Cessna Conquest loading at the
south end of transient. Have a good breakfast."
That brought a smile to the muzzles of both Joe and his father. Somehow the
ground controller had correctly guessed that they were making the morning
version of the "hundred dollar hamburger" flight, having flown down here for
nothing more important than a good breakfast and the sheer joy of the flying.
"We'll watch for the Conquest, thanks, Seven Two Sierra."
As they rolled slowly east towards the tower, Joe opened the cabin door to
admit a bit of fresh air. Next he began his shutdown checklist. "Fuel pump
off, strobes off, lights off, transponder to standby," he recited as he
flipped switches. Suddenly a loud roar filled the cabin as the Cessna
departed, climbing out almost directly overhead, nose up, clawing for
A well manicured paw reached forward out of the back seat to tap Joe on the
shoulder. "What was that?" a feminine voice asked him.
Removing his headphones and turning to his left, Joe looked at his girlfriend
in the back seat, who had already removed her headphones. Raising his voice
to be heard over the noise he replied "It was that other airplane we followed
in. He went back to the end of the runway and took off again." Seeing her nod
in understanding he asked "How do you like this? What do you think?"
"She smiled and nodded again, but her reply was lost in the engine noise of
the receding Cessna and their own idling engine.
He and Annie had only flown a few times with his father after that, her
initial flight, but they enjoyed those few trips. All too suddenly he and
Annie had been married and started a family of their own, and the years
skated by to find his father letting his medical lapse after thirty years of
trouble-free pleasure flying. "He retired undefeated!" Joe would say. One of
the last flights he could remember making with his father had included his
son Chris, who couldn't have been more than four or five or so at the time.
To Chapter Four: Up The Hill.
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