For the Love of Flying
“I see you work for Blackhawk.” A man sitting next to me on an airliner headed to Washington DC a few weeks ago said as he pointed at the logo on my shirt. “Yes” I replied. “So what do you do there?” he asked. “I’m the president”. “Really? Cool! Are you a pilot?” He asked. “Yes.” I replied. “I’m a pilot myself, but just a single engine rating. I’ve seen your ads in Flying Magazine and AOPA and have always dreamed of what it would feel like to fly one of those Blackhawk King Air’s.” he offered. I began to regale him about the many benefits of the upgrade, the cost savings, the new gauges, the performance gains etc. He listened politely and then said; “But what does it feel like?”
I have gotten so used to selling our products from the “back of the airplane” where I am trying to sell the financial benefits of our products; I sometimes forget to sell from the front of the airplane or the pilot’s perspective — which is how we started out selling Blackhawk upgrades. No matter what my corporate title is, I am first and foremost a pilot and aviator who still enjoys the thrill of flying a machine through the air. With all of the technical aspects of flying, all the training, rules, regulations, formulas and procedures, all the safety gizmos, all the things that make a machine leave the bonds of earth and defy gravity; I occasionally forget the best thing about what I do — enjoying the feeling of being a pilot. This man didn’t care about the sales pitch. He wanted to hear what it felt like to have 1700 ponies pushing you back in your seat as you hurtle down the runway at speeds of over 150 mph, then skyrocketing through the sky as you burst through a high flat layer of clouds into a dazzling sunny sky at 25,000 feet and finally streaking through the heavens at over 300 miles per hour, all under your complete control. “It’s truly amazing” I said.
I learned to fly at the young age of 20 when I was stationed in England in the USAF. The very first time I sat in the pilot seat of that little Cessna 150 two seat trainer I was smitten. I loved the smell of avgas, oil, old leather and metal. I loved that my favorite leather “flying jacket” smelled like that after a couple hours in an airplane. My first wife called the smell; “pilot’s cologne”. She couldn’t understand my fanatical love of flying but she tolerated it, figuring I had lost my mind. I read every aviation magazine I could get my hands on. I hung out at the aero club there in England every weekend just to be around other pilots, listening to their stories. To earn some extra flying money I washed and fueled the airplanes when they returned from a flight. Every dollar I could save I put in my “flying jar”. I was completely infected with the flying bug.
To say my first flight was exciting would be an understatement. The little 100hp engine sounded like a lawn mower as we began the take-off roll. The sounds of aluminum popping and creaking filled my ears as the airplane shook its way down the runway until finally we were airborne and….. I was flying. All my dreams of flying came true the moment the wheels left the runway. The shaking and noise faded away and all I heard was the muffled sound of the engine while the huge runway of RAF Lakenheath faded away beneath us as we crawled ever higher into the cold gray England sky. As we leveled off above the green farm fields of East Anglia, I thought this was the same view P51 mustang pilots saw in 1944. It was the greatest feeling I had ever had. After a few basic maneuvers I asked the instructor if I could roll the little Cessna 150 aerobat. He laughed and said; “Sure give it a try”. I banked that little two seater over and learned my first lesson about aerodynamics; when you are upside down you don’t pull the yoke back. In a flash the English countryside filled the windshield as I pulled the airplane into a steep vertical dive as we plummeted towards some farmers cow pasture. My instructor, who was an Air Force fighter pilot, laughed at me while he calmly recovered the airplane from what I thought was certain death. After my pounding heart slowed and my adrenalin flow subsided I gasped: “That was awesome! Can I try it again?”
Fast forward 30 years and 8,000 flight hours. I am sitting at the end of the McGregor Airport runway, alone in the cockpit of a King Air C90 on a bright sunny spring day. The brand new PT6A-135A engines that we just installed are smoothly idling outside my cockpit window just a few feet away. The same smell is there; leather, metal and now; jet fuel. It takes me back to that day in England those many years ago, only the engines don’t sound like a lawn mower now.
Mike Moore and his crew are watching from the terminal area waiting to see the first flight of our latest product. Mike’s voice crackles in my headset from his handheld com; “How’s it look?” he asks. “Like a new airplane” I respond.
Take-off checklist complete, it’s time to fly. I planned to use all 750 horses per engine for take-off even though the approved version that we have today limits take-off horsepower to 550. On that day, I was having none of that. I wanted all she could give. I lined up on the runway, and for a moment I got the same old familiar excitement in my stomach as I advanced the throttles to the stops, holding the brakes until I had reached max power. She was shaking and bucking like a race horse restrained in the start gate. As I released the brakes, the plane seemed to jump forward as she hurtled down the runway and I was blown away at the acceleration. It felt like a racecar hitting second gear on a drag strip. Within seconds I hit rotation speed but she had already become airborne before I rotated. She wanted to fly more than I did and man did we fly! The rate of climb jumped up to 3000 feet a minute almost immediately as I held the best rate of climb speed. Waco departure control had granted me a max performance unrestricted climb to 25000 feet and we were headed that way like a homesick angel. Going through 12000 feet, I heard a strange roar that I had never heard before. “Mike, I am getting some sort of roar going through 12000’” I transmitted. Mike, keyed the radio and said; “It’s that big compressor talking to you! Keep going!” He answered. I would later dub that sound; the Blackhawk ROAR!
As I blasted through 18,000 feet I let out a yell of “HOLY SH..! This plane is a BEAST!” I was asked by Ft. Worth control center what kind of King Air C90 is that, that could climb to 25000 feet in under 14 minutes? “A BLACKHAWK King Air” I replied. “Remember that.” I added. “There are going to be a lot of these.”
Since that day I have had the privilege of flying all of our Blackhawk products. The performance difference is night and day. There is no feeling in the world like flying an airplane with our engines on it. The power, the smooth acceleration, the roar, it’s what makes me come to work every day.
For the love of flying, I have the best job in the world and I feel sorry for all those pilots who don’t get to fly a Blackhawk.