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A Little Night Freight Music: AVwebflash

Discussion in 'Trip Experiences' started by Lord Leighton, May 9, 2016.

  1. Lord Leighton

    Lord Leighton Hangar Gold Member I

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    A Little Night Freight Music
    By Rick Durden

    [​IMG]
    It has again become fashionable in some aviation circles to assert that if only we could return to ways and days of yore by getting rid of some or all of the Federal Aviation Regulations and those who enforce them, all would be well and general aviation would zoom into sunlit uplands and robust financial health. Well, maybe. It sounds good if you say it fast and make some assumptions about human behavior when the police aren't around. In the world of Part 135 flying, it simply isn't true. The cowboy days of operators cutting every corner possible to make a buck while the FAA looked the other way killed way too many people.

    We sure aren't perfect today, but it seems to me that a pilot who has had real recurrent training and is about to launch into foul weather in an airplane that has had its squawks fixed stands a lot better chance of arriving at the desired destination alive and well than if the training had been lousy or nonexistent and maintenance just some entries in a logbook. I think it is appropriate to open a page of aviation history, look at it objectively and recognize that there were definitely some "bad old days" in professional aviation.

    I happened to come into the Part 135 freight hauling scene at a time when the FAA chose, for whatever reason, to not enforce its regulations on the charter operations at one of the busiest freight airports in the country.

    I was like many other professional pilots at that airport, young, burning with desire to fly and didn't much care about how well the airplanes we were to fly were maintained because we not only figured we could fly anything, anywhere, anytime. We also knew that if we didn't go because of weather or condition of the airplane, we would be fired and someone else would go in our place. I only differed from the group in that I was luckier than some. I survived. Not all of my contemporaries did.

    Willow Run
    By the mid-1970s, Willow Run Airport, created by Edsel Ford on one of his father's farms west of Detroit to build B-24s for World War II, had become the center of the universe for airplanes hauling components needed for the manufacture of cars. The Big 3 auto companies were so huge that there was always an assembly line somewhere that was in danger of shutting down because of a shortage of some part. It meant that any pilot who could scrape up a down payment on a clapped-out Beech 18 with a cargo door and could obtain a Part 135 Air Carrier Certificate could promise traffic managers at the car makers lower air freight prices than anyone else in hopes of getting the call to haul auto parts on short notice. It was unbridled capitalism with constant price wars, minimal training for the pilots, little maintenance for the airplanes and an FAA that was looking the other way.

    During law school I had hauled freight out of Willow Run in piston twins. About the time I graduated and began studying for the Bar exam, a number of the operators which had been flying Beech 18s discovered that the per-mile operating cost of a well-used Lear 23 or early 24 was about the same as the Beech, and the Lear got the freight delivered much, much faster.

    Suddenly there were Learjets at Willow Run, almost all of which were being operated by folks who had previously done nothing but run single-pilot airplanes.

    They weren't exactly sure what to do about the requirement of a copilot in a Learjet. The regs said that the copilot had to go through some training and make three takeoffs and landings in the airplane. However, there simply wasn't the money for any training, or to pay more than a pittance for a right seat warmer and, by gawd, the Learjet 23 panel was set up for single-pilot operation anyhow, even if Lear couldn't convince the FAA to grant single-pilot certification.

    [​IMG]
    The reactions among Lear operators varied. One was reputed to simply tell the lineboys that fueled him that he needed a copilot for a trip and one of the lineboys would go. As he never let his copilots do any flying it worked out fine until the night the lineboys put a guy who'd never even been in an airplane before into the right seat, promising him an airplane ride. Eventually the Lear operators hired and trained copilots, paid them a living wage and put them on the path to upgrade to captain. But in the interim, where I came in, the practice was for an operator to find some pilots he trusted and pay them a small amount to fly right seat in the Lear as needed. Training was on the job—no classroom, no books, no three takeoffs and landings before the first revenue trip and certainly no checkride.

    The Introduction
    After getting a call from one of the operators who needed another part time copilot, I found myself sitting sideways in the "barrel chair" right behind the copilot's seat of a Model 24B Learjet as we taxied out for 27R at Willow Run. Behind me the rest of the seats had been stripped out and the cabin wrapped with heavy gauge plastic to protect it from the sharp edges of freight.

    In short order I learned that all ground ops were on one engine because the fuel burn of the GE CJ610 engines was higher on the ground than in cruise flight (as all Lear pilots, I rapidly became obsessed with fuel). The second engine was not started until we were cleared for takeoff. Moments later I learned that the acceleration of a Lear on takeoff was as nothing I'd ever experienced and that it might well be investigated for its deeply addictive properties. Grabbing the partition behind the copilot's head in a death grip, certain that I would otherwise be hurled aft and pulverized against the rear pressure bulkhead by the stunning acceleration, I knew I was going to like Learjets.

    On the second leg of the trip I was assigned to the right seat where I was to talk on the radio, call airspeeds during the takeoff roll and final approach and, upon the captain's command after we broke ground, raise the landing gear and flaps, turn on the yaw damper, turn off the landing lights and generally make myself useful while learning by doing and trying to avoid causing catastrophe. This time takeoff acceleration was a physical entity that shoved me back in my seat, accompanied by view similar to that from a go-kart.

    Seated eyes low to the ground, the sensation of speed was vastly amplified as the Lear went scorching down the runway at something approaching a million miles per hour (conservative estimate). I, overwhelmed, did my best to gasp out "airspeed alive and cross check," then "V1" and finally, sharply, "rotate!" With that we pitched up at an improbable angle and tore our way into the sky as sensory overload caused me to struggle to do my simple post-launch tasks. The VSI pegged at 6,000 fpm, a rate I had never seen and my brain, doing its best to keep up, informed me that the vertical vector of our climb was, stunningly, more than a mile a minute.

    [​IMG]
    Intellectually I knew that the speeds and operating altitudes of the Lear were old hat, for jets had been going far faster and higher for decades, yet the visceral reality of those first flights created a burning excitement that penetrated every level of my being, so much so that it would take me hours for the euphoria to drain away after the trip. On the first flight in the right seat, as we cruised at FL450 (45,000 feet, the max legal altitude for the airplane and where we routinely flew to minimize fuel burn). I, who held an ATP, was so effectively mesmerized by the concept of being that far above the planet that I was unable to utter the simple phrase, "Flight Level 450," in response to an altitude query from ATC, managing only after a number of stammers and halts to utter, "forty-five hundred feet." I thought the captain was going to hurt himself laughing at the rube to his right.

    As I came to know the airplane the captain I most often flew with, who also owned the company, and whom I'll call "Ben," would put me in the left seat every other leg. He wasn't being generous; he was tired and utterly pragmatic.

    Gear Up and Good Night
    Once he was reasonably certain I wouldn't kill him, Ben engaged in what had come to be called "gear up and good night." Going through about 10,000 feet following takeoff the copilot's workload dropped off to talking occasionally on the radio. Thus, because we so often ignored crew duty time limits and kept flying so long as there was freight to be hauled, we were frequently deeply tired, so upon passing through 10,000 it was not uncommon for the right-seater to unbuckle and head aft to spread out the sleeping bag wherever there was room, and fall asleep instantly upon becoming recumbent. Invariably the pressure change during the descent would wake him up at about 15,000 feet or so and he'd be buckled in and ready to take over copilot duties when descending through 10,000 feet.

    Even when things settled into what passed for a routine, there were events, good, bad and funny, that made each trip its own adventure. Once, when light on fuel, we broke ground at O'Hare and passed through 10,000 feet exactly one minute later, a rate of climb of nearly two miles per minute.

    Ben carried an HP calculator that could provide great circle routes from latitude and longitude inputs. Coming out of Van Nuys for Willow Run one night I asked Los Angeles Center for "060 degrees, direct Detroit."

    When I was asked if we were carrying inertial nav, I said we had Hewlett-Packard. We were cleared direct Detroit. We made it, too, but with maybe enough fuel to go around the pattern once after a balked landing.

    There was the 3:00 in the morning flight out of Fairfax (Kansas City, now closed) bound for Teterboro. I was cleared to fly a heading until receiving Cleveland, then direct Cleveland. With Captain Ben asleep in back, I dutifully flew the assigned heading, vainly waiting for the "off" flag on the VOR head to disappear and the needle to come alive. After some time Center asked me where I was going. I confidently read back my clearance, only to hear a laconic voice respond with, "You're over Joliet." I was so tired I'd put the wrong frequency in the nav radio. I shuddered to think what would have happened had I been on an approach where there were things to hit.

    There were all sorts of creative electronic warning noises to alert the crew to the fact that all was not right in their little world aloft. I slowly learned where to look for information when one of the high decibel alerts activated. When I heard the noxious beeping akin to the French fries being done at McDonalds, I knew that I'd let the speed slide a little over the barber pole on descent. A "bing!" alerted me to wandering off altitude.

    Yelp!
    Then, one morning, again at about 3, when I thought I'd heard all the noises the airplane could generate, I was trying to move a bit to ease the discomfort of being 6 feet 4 inches tall in a cockpit built for smaller humans when I heard a sharp "Yelp!" Adrenalin poured into my system. I urgently scanned the panel trying to figure out what was wrong, what system was malfunctioning, and what I must do to set things right. What goes "Yelp!?" All needles were firmly where they should be.

    I had to find what was wrong because at FL450 any problem can become huge in a frighteningly short time. Nothing. All seemed in order. I pulled the flashlight from its holder and started a complete exam of the cockpit. Its light revealed Ben's small dog, who frequently rode with us, curled up, asleep, around the base of the left hand control column. As I'd stretched, I'd inadvertently kicked him and he'd given a single, loud announcement of my transgression before going back to sleep.

    Ben's dog was the source of enjoyment for us, as he had a universally pleasant personality. He never fussed when the flying pilot would err and have to shove forward on the yoke to avoid blowing through an assigned altitude and float him off the floor. He would not bark, just start running as fast as he could in midair, which usually caused him to invert (I never figured out why). Whomever was in the right seat would reach out and cradle him to his chest until gravity returned, and then set him gently between the seats.

    [​IMG]
    There was, however, the night we stopped for fuel at Flower Aviation at Pueblo, Colorado while carrying eight, count 'em, eight Camaro door panels from Cincinnati to Van Nuys. Any Lear looks great from outside. The scantily clad line woman waved us into parking as Ben advised me that on a fill up for a jet, Flower gave the crew a box of steaks. As we shut down the young lady spread a red carpet in front of the door. I went back and opened it. When she saw that the guy coming out of the airplane and asking that it be topped off looked to be a bearded reprobate in a lumberjack shirt, blue jeans and boots and who certainly had no business in a Learjet, her welcoming smile disappeared. When Ben's dog jumped out behind me and relieved himself on the left main landing gear tires, she picked up the red carpet and drove away in her little golf cart. While we were fueled, we never did get our steaks.

    Terror
    There was terror as well: Late night over the Grand Canyon, again at FL450, above a thunderstorm, Ben asleep in the back, and sudden, sharp turbulence that caused both the autopilot and the yaw damper to shut off. A Lear at FL450 without a yaw damper will yaw in one direction while rolling in the other and then reverse itself with the magnitude increasing (true Dutch Roll). It is akin to being in a very bad skid on ice, in slow motion, in three dimensions. Unless you have received training for handling it, there is a good chance of loss of control of the airplane. I had not received such training.

    I shouted for Ben. He couldn't hear me. My control inputs did not seem to be helping the situation and I suddenly couldn't recall where the yaw damper switch was. Good grief, I'd only been turning it on after takeoff for some time now, but as I'd turned the lighting down to enjoy the light show from the thunderstorm, I couldn't find the switch. The combination of fatigue, increasing terror and that I was used to activating the switch from the right seat did not help my increasingly frenetic search. I realized I had to go to plan B because I couldn't find the damn switch.

    I turned on the autopilot, hoping it would fly the airplane better than I. Things got better, as the oscillations were not as profound. The autopilot was a model that had indicators showing the actions of its control servos. I could see those indicators moving nearly to their limits. I didn't think that was a good thing. I had to find the yaw damper switch. I grabbed the flashlight, turned it on and pointed it where I thought the yaw damper switch lived. The light made the difference. I found the switch and flipped it on. Instant return to sanity. The rudder pedals were again seemingly encased in concrete, the fear-inducing roll-yaw coupled cycle stopped and the Lear was serenely cruising the heights. It took some time for my pulse to return to double digits.

    I was luckier than some of my contemporaries who went to work for companies that had either no scruples whatsoever, or no understanding of high-speed aerodynamics combined with high-altitude meteorology. Those operators were the ones who put "go fast switches" under the panel of their Learjets. The switch disabled both the overspeed warning and stick puller. 20-series Learjets have so much power that they can exceed redline airspeed in cruise flight. Doing so is an exceedingly serious affair because at some speed past redline comes what is known as "Mach tuck." When that happens the airplane begins to pitch down, eventually uncontrollably, until it violently comes apart. There is a very limited time for a well-trained crew to take precisely the correct action to save the airplane and themselves. While I was flying as copilot there were some inflight breakups of Learjets, notably freighters. It was later discovered that go fast switches were to blame in at least some of those tragedies.

    [​IMG]
    It was a time of certain adventure, generated by characters behaving as humans will when the police is not watching. I was lucky. There were too many deaths and too many publicized close calls for that time to have been sustainable. As the Marshalls came in and cleaned up the wild west, the FAA eventually paid attention to the smaller operators at Willow Run, although it was not until after the Michigan economy had undergone one of its periodic collapses, this time in the winter of 1978-1979, and Ben's company went under.

    When the FAA started inspecting for real, one operator had to junk some half-dozen 20-series Lears because it had never conducted required maintenance and the cost to make them airworthy exceeded their value. A lot of pilots found themselves facing violation actions. It took a few more years before the cowboy days ended. Flying with another operator, Ben died about that time in what I always thought was purely a fatigue-induced event. It was a time of walking very close to the aeronautical edge even though a heck of a lot of us did not understand that the edge existed or where it was most of the time. The times the abyss suddenly made itself known to me were terrifying. Looking back at some of the events with the knowledge I have now sometimes causes me to break out in a cold sweat. I got lucky. Too many of my peers went over that edge.

    Rick Durden holds an ATP with type ratings in the Douglas DC-3 and Cessna Citiaton and is a CFII. He is the author of The Thinking Pilot's Flight Manual or, How to Survive Flying Little Airplanes and Have a Ball Doing It, Vols 1 & 2.
     
  2. Lord Leighton

    Lord Leighton Hangar Gold Member I

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    I remember the "Zantop Airways" Lears very well!
     
  3. xnwa

    xnwa Hangar Bronze Member III

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    Great article about the "good old days"
     
  4. Lord Leighton

    Lord Leighton Hangar Gold Member I

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  5. Exuma Guy

    Exuma Guy Hangar Silver Member V

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    The more mature pilots that came up through the fast freight business have that thought- "I survived!"
    We survived because we were good to start with and had some luck on a couple of nights.
    We lost some friends along the way too.

    The younger generation, those that got hired around 1995 and later, had an easy career rise because of the vast hiring that started.
    They don't have nearly an ounce of experience compared to the freight dogs, but their quick rise due to vast airline hiring gave them a feeling of entitlement.
    They think they are God's gift to aviation and express great disdain for those of us that got the job done no matter the circumstances.

    The truth is the younger pilots can't hold a candle to the Beech 18 and Lear 23/24 drivers of old.

    Nice article!
     
  6. Lord Leighton

    Lord Leighton Hangar Gold Member I

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    Ty EG. I read it twice as it was very entertaining. He articulated his experience/s very well. Living nearby, I remember some of those planes very well and a while back I was tellin Rich about a guy who ran out of gas in a Cherokee and crashed it into a large tree trunk at ground level just down my street on approach right where the leading edge of the wing joins the fuselage. It was about 11 PM and was unfamiliar with the area. He walked down the street to a payphone to call the police without a scratch on him. He told us he was flyin in some small emergency parts for GM from Quebec. Oddly, he mentioned the large Funeral home directly across the street over and over and was shakin his head lookin at it and kept sayin "Guess it ain't my time". Lucky guy! PS: I've loved Learjets since I was a kid and my favorite was the 23 on the original first Microsoft flight sim.
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2016
  7. Exuma Guy

    Exuma Guy Hangar Silver Member V

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    Some years ago, I remember going with a good friend to an orange grove about 2 miles from the airport. A renter had put a C-150 from my friend's flight school into the trees. When we reached the site, we saw that everything from the instrument panel forward had ripped off from the impact. The pilot and passenger didn't have a scratch. I would say it wasn't their time even though they tried by running out of fuel.

    As for car parts, I remember going to Mexico in the 727 to pick-up car doors. We stopped in Texas to get some specialized pallets along the way. In Mexico, we were told that the folks in Texas forgot to load the clips that lock the straps to the pallets. We had a long wait while they dispatched an Mu-2 to carry 30 pounds of metal clips down to us.
     
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  8. David Barnshaw

    David Barnshaw Hangar Gold Member I

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    The Learjet has always been my favourite too,the superb design stands out from all the others,and all those early models that are still flying is nothing short of fantastic...:D
     
  9. David Barnshaw

    David Barnshaw Hangar Gold Member I

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    A very enjoyable, and interesting article.
     
  10. Lord Leighton

    Lord Leighton Hangar Gold Member I

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    Guess ya weren't gonna be carrying a load of canaries that you could pound on to make everything lighter lol.! Lucky guys! ;)
     
    Last edited: May 12, 2016
  11. Lord Leighton

    Lord Leighton Hangar Gold Member I

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    Yea and the only thing missing is 6, 50 cal. machine guns lol. I remember the olds days when these guys were on climbout and noise abatement wasn't a problem about then. We called it the sound of "Freedom". Those things were so good loud even from 10 miles away. This would be in the mid 1960s to the early 70s. I still see many around the area on FR24. Like the 757 and the P-51, they are a timeless design and look modern and mean, even today.
     
  12. Richard Wyeroski

    Richard Wyeroski Hangar Gold Member I

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    .....Well all I could say is :p.....:D.....:eek::(;):eek:....

    I really have a great Lear-Jet story....but if anyone in authority reads it...I will say that it is pure fiction....( I made it up)....( but It is true)....GOD know the truth. He let me live!.....

    The owner was a guy named Lou. It is a funny story and why I even did it is still a mystery to me. I suppose I wanted to fly jets. It happened over twenty years ago ( is the statute of limitations past?)....Maybe I dreamed the whole thing?....so it did not happen....Okay...Okay here it goes.

    Lou owned a nice Lear-31. It was pretty and I took care of it. Washed it waxed it polished the interior and all that..and did light maintenance

    The job was Co-pilot on call FAR part 91. I got my three landings and read the book on the thing and I was legal

    Story number one. There will be two more if I get the nerve to write them.

    My friend Patty called me and said the job was mine and to show up at the hangar for some training. Bring a bag and we will be back in three or four days. So, it seems the owner had a private pilot Certificate and a multi engine Rating. Patty said he couldn't go above 18000 with only Lou aboard, so we would be legal with me on board too!:eek:because the copilot has to be also instrument rated to go over 18000 feet...So mostly I would sit in the back of the aircraft and only fly when Lou got tired. I never took off or landed the thing for months:eek:....(One day Lou had Gas and did not want to fly and I finally got to fly a trip from beginning to end.)

    Well there I was sitting in the back and Lou was in the left seat and Patty was handling the radios and keeping Lou from killing us all.....BTW Lou could not fly too well, but he had bucks. Lou never used a check list. He just got in and did a Mexican start-up:eek: He always hit the breaks a little on take off....too ! I figured well I am getting paid, living on the road and flying jets( from the passenger compartment) and well I will learn....Lou did not like to talk on the radio, had no idea what so ever about the systems and basically like to fly and chew his cigar and spit in a cup. (Doctors orders Lou was not allowed to smoke)....yeah my job was to throw the cup away and clean up cigar juice off the instrument panel:eek:

    I think we all get the idea about this job. :eek: I will write about two trips, one to south Florida when we lost pressurization and another when I was almost left behind in the Cayman Islands by accident!!!!

    BTW this story is not true;)
     
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  13. Lord Leighton

    Lord Leighton Hangar Gold Member I

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    There's black helicopters flyin over yer house right now! :rolleyes: ;)
     
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  14. Richard Wyeroski

    Richard Wyeroski Hangar Gold Member I

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    :cool:
     
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  15. Richard Wyeroski

    Richard Wyeroski Hangar Gold Member I

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    ....2nd Lear jet story. BTW in the event a government official should read this, it is not true and I may have dreamed it or maybe it happened. No one will believe it anyway.....But GOD knows the truth.....

    Patty called me and said we have to go to Opa Loca Florida with Lou and his attorney. We may be there a few days. My routine was to go to the airport have the Lear pulled out fueled and program the flight maganment system after getting the flight plan.

    Lou shows up in his RollsRoyce with his attorney we all get in a Lou performs his Mexican start-up (Patty always had the check list and kept everything straight.) Has I sat down in the cabin, I noticed the attorney was really nervous. He was wide eyed a little and had a really concerned look on his face. I introduced myself as the co-pilot and he said "how come your sitting in the cabin" I said Lou likes to fly and when we level off at altitude I will go up front....he still seemed very nervous as we climbed out heading for Florida. Lou managed to hit the brakes again on the take off roll, but all was going well.......

    The attorney started to relax a little and I offered him a beverage and started to talk about how great the Lear 31 was. Best aircraft out there for the money. He seemed satisfied and has starting to settle down, when the cabin started to fill with mist and made a load hissing noise.....

    Patty started yelling at Lou...and yelled for me to come up front.......the attorney started screaming and flipping out ..... I thought he was going to have a heart attack. I went up front and Patty leveled the Lear at 17000 and asked ATC for a heading. He gave me the check list and I read the procedure to shed the electrical load.

    So what happened?.....well Patty told Lou to get the F**ck out of the seat and he put me in it and we finished the check list and got the Lear settled down. It seems Lou shut of the Generators instead of the igniters, which are right next to each other. With the generators off line, the Lear went into emergency pressurization, bypassing the system and used hot bleed air to keep the cabin pressurized. This makes a lot of steam, it gets hot and is noisy as hell.

    Patty said for me to stay in the seat and for the first time I was in the left seat of a Lear 31 right to the landing.

    When we landed Lou and his Attorneyt went off to their meeting and hours later Lou came back alone. I noticed Patty was having a conversation with Lou, waving his arms a lot, and for the first time I was up front on take off and flew the whole trip home to a landing! Patty even let me take off. I was careful not to hit the brakes while rolling........

    BTW shutting off the generators is bad and to put them back on line requires shedding the electrical load, if this is not done it could damaged the starter/generators.

    Lou did not say much and we all went home until the next trip:cool:.....
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2016
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  16. Lord Leighton

    Lord Leighton Hangar Gold Member I

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    Those black helicopters have landed on the grass at Bayport Aerodrome just now. :D
     
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  17. Richard Wyeroski

    Richard Wyeroski Hangar Gold Member I

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    .......:cool:.....bring it on
     
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  18. Lord Leighton

    Lord Leighton Hangar Gold Member I

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    Now they are knockin on yer door. All they wanna know is where's the closet All-You-Can-Eat Chinese food Buffet. :p
     
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  19. Richard Wyeroski

    Richard Wyeroski Hangar Gold Member I

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    sure.....let me get the arsenic first
     
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  20. Richard Wyeroski

    Richard Wyeroski Hangar Gold Member I

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    INTERESTED?IN ANY MORE LOUIE AND THE LEAR STORIES
     
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