Precious Cargo

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

Flying High

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 father navigated.

"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 leg.

"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 four."

"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, OK?"

"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 concrete.

"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 area.

"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 altitude.

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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