A Treasure Map of the Sky

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by Stu Simpson

A pilot’s log book is like his finger print.  There isn’t any other exactly the same.  A log book contains a record of all the training, the background and the experience that makes each pilot unique.  And that’s why a pilot has to keep a log book; So his flying experience can be judged and evaluated as he moves on to new ratings and licenses.

But my log book is more than just a statistical record for Transport Canada.  My pilot’s log book is a treasure map.  It takes me to places in my flying past that I had forgotten about.  To memories that are more valuable than any jewels.  It let’s me recall, as if they happened last week, the adventures, the thrills, and the achievements that make me rich in flying experience.

My first log book is about 6″ x 4″ with a light blue binding and nine full-width pages.  It’s made of paper; no fancy leather or plastic binding here.  The paper inside is still mostly white, but it’s gotten tattered at the edges.  Some of the pages are torn a bit where the staples still manage to hold the thing together.

The notations in my log book are printed because my writing is so hard to read.  And they’re all done in ink so they last as long as the paper.

The pages have columns to record the date, the type of ultralight flown, the registration of the aircraft, where I took off from and where I landed, and the total flight time.

But the most important column is one titled “REMARKS”.  Its here that I note what happened on a particular flight, where I went, what the weather was like, and a host of other little details that bring back the treasured memories of ultralight flying.

The first entries in anyone’s log book deal, of course, with training and mine’s no different.  My log tells me my first training flight was on February 22, 1986 in a Spectrum Beaver RX-550 with registration letters C-IDVL.  My instructor, John Reed, and I took off from Indus and according to the “REMARKS” I learned how to perform gentle turns, climbs and descents.  What the book doesn’t say is how cold it was that winter afternoon.  To this day, I still feel the bone chilling cold when I read that entry.  I hope I always will.

The reading is pretty dull as my training progresses.  The book tells of stalls and circuits and forced approaches and steeper turns.  The standard fare.

Then came the day I ventured into the sky alone.  The entry indicates my impatience to fly by myself, unencumbered by instructors, and intercoms and the like.  The entry simply states:  Solo, Finally, YIPPEE!!!!  (There really are 4 exclamation marks.)

The book goes on to tell how I learned to be a pilot by trial-and-error and sheer luck.  There’s the entry that reads, “Power on stalls, very exciting.  1 engine failure.  Good landing, very exciting take-off.”  What really happened was that while I was practising the power-on-stalls, I accidentally hit the engine kill switch.  It lead to my first forced landing.  The take-off, once I got the engine restarted, was in an alfalfa field which hid large, moon-sized craters beneath the plants.  It was one of those craters that nearly did me in because I didn’t check my take-off path before I fired up.  Once airborne, I saw a farmer’s landing strip where I could have touched down had I been paying more attention to my position before the “engine failure”.

I learned plenty that day and my logbook won’t let me forget it.

By the time I had 17.6 hours (I know exactly because my log book says so) I thought I had most of my landing troubles worked out, as noted by the entry “Landing techniques greatly improved”.

There’s an entry from an August morning that reads, “Great flight.  Great weather.  Great flying.”  No further explanation needed, thank you.

My log book goes on to remind me how I learned about G-forces (by blacking out in a tight turn), about instrument failure (“ASI not working, caused great tension.”), about distance flying (“boring, but good cross-country experience”), and that maybe I hadn’t quite got all my landing troubles worked out, (“Along the river. 3 bad approaches”).  The book tells me I learned to watch carefully for other traffic, , and on another day to watch the weather, “Local flight, interesting weather avoidance”.  That was the time I nearly got caught between two cloud layers.  Then there was my first time formation flying.  Our two planes headed toward the city, in an echelon-right, for about fifteen minutes before fuel shortage forced me to turn back to the field.  But when I peeled off, it was perfect with a sharp break and a steep, smooth turn-out, the way it’s done on TV.  Those few seconds live in my log book as one of my fondest memories.

There’s usually plenty of ego in any pilot and I’m no different, just ask my log book.  Example;  “Great formation flight w/ Ron S. Perfect landing.  God I’m good!”.

There’s an entry that tells of the time I flew in the lower mainland of B.C.  I was in a single seat Beaver and was able to see the ocean right there in front of God and everybody.  It was a first for me.  I also flew over the United States for the first time that day, though I didn’t land there.

I flew in Saskatoon when I lived there for a summer.  My log book diligently records my being checked out on the Husky Norseman.  The book doesn’t say so, but nor will it let me forget how the Norseman, my first tail-dragger experience, with it’s stiff gear used to infuriate me on landings.  Despite having more than ten hours in the airplane, I never quite got my landing troubles worked out.

Also noted in my log book are the flight hours for my Ultra-light Commercial Pilot‘s license.  I’ll never forget how, flying from the back seat of a Beaver, I got soaked when an unfaired wheel hit a puddle on a touch-and-go.  I turned the aircraft over to my instructor who could barely control the plane because he was laughing so hard.  I wanted to throw him overboard, but I needed him for ballast in the front seat.

My first “student” after earning my commercial license was the woman who would be my wife.  On that flight, I asked her to marry me.  What could she say; No?  If she did, I’d tell her to get out and walk.  She said yes on my first try.  I had been planning the event for several months.  I also took her brother up for a lesson that day.  The log book entry reads, simply, “First flight w/Tina – proposed.  Also flew Paul – didn’t propose”.  Those few, almost laconic, words will help us to always remember that day.

I have a new log book now.  I got it in Saskatoon after I finally filled my first one.  The new book has laminated covers, also light blue, and a coil ring binding.  It’s very different from my first log book.

Oh, this one has columns for the date, type, registration, etc.  But it has few more columns you wouldn’t expect to see in the average ultralight jockey’s log.  For instance, the column for turbine time.  Is it a sign of the future?  There’s a column for multi-engine time.  I guess that’s there for the Lazair crowd.  And what of the column for instrument time?  I can’t remember the last time I flew with anything more than an airspeed indicator and a tachometer.  I just skip those spaces and fill in the total time and remarks.

The “remarks” space is quite small in this log book, probably because the person who designed it does not fly.  I suspect his only remarks would be “Took off.  Landed, thank God!”

Because of this limited space I’ve had to adopt some short hand to make the whole story of a flight fit in the box.  For example, SnS means stalls and spins, while an upside-down U with an arrow at one end denotes a chandel.  I don’t have to write how many circuits I did because there are columns for takeoffs and landings.

This log book is full of good stories too.  Like the time Don Richter and I took off, in formation, and flew to an airfield 20 miles west for a fly-in bar-b-que.  Turns out we were the only pilots among about 20 conventional pilots who had flown in.  We and our airplanes were the hit of the party.  When we left, we took off again in perfect formation, leaving the crowd waving.

My log book contains memories of more dangerous moments as well.  There was the time I was in the right seat of a Cessna 210 when the landing gear refused to come down.  We made a perfect belly landing and a hasty exit.  I denote it only as a “Wheels-up landing”, but I won’t ever forget it.  There are a few other crashes in those well-thumbed pages, but fortunately no one was hurt.

There are notes of engine failures and subsequent forced landings.  Of squeaking in to the field on a sick engine, with me begging the thing to keep running just a little longer.

One entry tells of a pilot who wasn’t so lucky.  I navigated in a Piper on a search and rescue mission for a missing pilot named Wilder.  The log book entry reads, “SAR-WILDER w/B. Thompson.  We didn’t find him.”  Mr. Wilder was found that day though, by hunters.  He was dead.

My log book also tells me how many different types of airplanes I’ve flown.  I’ve got most of my time (145.3 hours exactly, again, because my log book says so) in Spectrum Beavers, singles and two seaters (are there any others?).  I also have time in both types of Husky Norseman and I’ve been checked out on the Challenger.  I have a smattering of conventional time in a Cessna 210 and a Cessna 170.  All those airplanes leave a smile on my face when I read about them in my log book.

One of my most vivid flying memories is how when I got my first log book, I couldn’t wait to fill it up with stories of adventure and daring-do.  Now, I’m working on my second log and can’t wait to fill it up either.  Each page completed brings a feeling of pride and accomplishment as I thoroughly review each entry.

We’ve all seen log books in aviation museums and, secretly, I hope mine winds up in a museum too.  I like to think of a pilot from the future standing at the hermetically sealed display case, reading how I dodged a thunderstorm or made greaser landings (apparently, I’ve finally got my landing troubles worked out then).  I hope it inspires him to keep extra notes in his log book so that he too can open it up and follow a map to his own treasure chest of flying memories.