Tuesday, June 2, 2015


In May of 1987 I was still in the Professional Pilot Wanabee stage of my career.  The good news was, I was making definite progress.  I was free lance working as a flight instructor for a school located on Red Bird Airport, on the south side of Dallas, Texas.  My pilot logbook numbers had grown to a little over 900 hours with almost 40 of those hours in multi-engine airplanes.  The key to making that next jump to a "here-to-there" flying job in contrast to the "here-to-here" work of instructing, was multi-engine time.  Naturally, 95% of instructing is in single engine airplanes.  Students wouldn't want to rent a multi-engine, at twice the costs, to learn the basics of flying, nor would it be prudent to suggest that they do so.  Like any starving instructor, who was about 460 hours short, I would leap at the chance to fly a light twin, any light twin, but one had to be patient.  Also, the ever present insurance obstacle loomed, without 500 hours of multi-engine time I couldn't instruct in twins regardless of the fact that I held a Multi-engine Flight Instructor Certificate.  Sigh....

One day, serendipity walked in the front door of our school.  A man named Jere F. came in asking the normal questions about what it would take to learn to fly.  His questions quickly veered in an unusual direction when he asked if one could go through the Private Pilot course in a twin-engine airplane.  While I replied, "Certainly." , I also asked why? He told me of a beloved uncle who had owned and flew his own Piper Apache / Geronimo for as long as Jere could remember.  This uncle had finally accepted the brutal fact that time and age wear a man down and had decided to part ways with his precious airplane.  However, he was very dismayed to learn that time and age had worked on his plane as well, as he could not find a buyer who would pay for what he was selling, a precious touch stone of a grand life's adventure.  His solution was to give the plane to his nephew and maybe Jere could continue the magic.  The only hang-up was the crucial fact that Jere wasn't a pilot.

The Piper Geronimo started life as a Piper Apache.  The Piper Apache was an under powered bulky light twin which had some success due to being one of the first on the post-WWII private airplane market.  However it's lackluster performance made it ripe for improvement.  The Seguin Aviation company developed several improving modifications including more powerful engines, a pointed nose and a more effective rudder, which transformed the Apache into a nice light-twin.  While it did perform respectably, it had a "nerdy" look, especially when parked next to modern, sleek airplanes.  Jere's airplane was a 1956 model and from it's long life of not being hangared it looked positively geriatric.  Poor ole' N2064P had seen better days.  In fact, as we were looking it over, it had a flat nose tire.There were two other instructors there who quickly turned up their noses while I was getting excited about the possibilities.

Soon after that first introduction to Jere and N2064P we were in business.  Our shop gave it a look over and determined that it was airworthy, Jere had signed a lease agreement with our school and our Chief Pilot went up with me and determined that I was capable flying the Geronimo.  Jere was satisfied with the liability issue since he had very little invested in the airplane.  So, off we went.  I quickly learned to love that old machine.  It was built like a tank and flew like a dream.  Jere and I got along well and we had put in several lessons which showed me that Jere had the enthusiasm and the ability to become a fine pilot.  It looked like his Uncle's fond dream was coming true.

Suddenly, Jere stopped scheduling lessons.  I called him and asked him what was wrong.  He came in soon after and gave me his reason for quitting the project.  He and his wife had been married by a minister who was also a dear family friend.  Shortly after Jere and I started flying, this minister went on a long trip to Montana with several other friends.  It was while traveling back, in a private Cessna - 421 Golden Eagle, as I recall, that their plane disappeared from radar and was lost.  The agony of waiting and hoping to hear good news while dreading the worst was what stopped our lessons.  After a couple of weeks, when the worst was confirmed, Jere's heartbroken wife put her foot down and forbade him to continue flying N2064P.  I was as sad for Jere as I was for the poor lost souls on that plane.  That experience was a growing one for me.  Up to that point, all of my flying was centered on the fun.  Listening to Jere describe their saddnes made me come face to face with the awesome responsibility a pilot takes on as he leaves the ground with people trusting his judgement and skills.  It took away some of the sparkle, but it added depth of sight.

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