Recently I’ve been reading a book by Malvern (Mal) Gross titled “Nine Lives – Adventures of a Lucky Pilot.” (See the first part of the review here.) Gross started his career as a CPA and during his many years he set world records in his Cessna 210, headed up a couple of national and international aviation organizations, and won a battle against Mobil Oil over its Mobil One synthetic oil.
In his book he describes a lot of flying from his earliest in northern Maine (where I grew up) in an Aeronca Champ. It was the experiences in those early days of his flying — it appears to me — that convinced him to become a lot more careful about his planning. That ultimately made him a “lucky pilot.” Gross describes a lucky pilot as one who survives because his “luck didn’t run out.”
The book reads like a thriller at times, such as his first cross country flight from the Presque Isle Air Force Base in Maine, where he was stationed, to his home in Rochester, N.Y. He had earned his pilot’s license flying the Champ on skis but replaced them with wheels to make the flight home. Logbook time? 44 hours and none of it on wheels.
With only about 20 minutes into the flight, the hinge on the pilot side door breaks, Gross recounts. He flew on, using his left hand to grip the door handle and keep the door in place, while flying with his right hand. He describes flying on to Houlton, Maine, about 50 miles away, and making an uneventful landing. It was a Saturday but he found someone to fabricate a new hinge and on he went on his 302- mile journey.
He called his mother from a stop along the way to say he was going to be a little later than anticipated but the strong headwinds made him a lot later, to the point that family was worrying seriously. Imagine it for yourself: Your young son is flying his own plane after just earning his pilot’s license and switching from skis to wheels and flying over mostly uninhabited, mountainous, tree-covered terrain with a great deal of the last portion of the flight at night (with no prior night experience).
Obviously he made it or there wouldn’t be a book.
And, that’s just the start.
How about a flight with oil pressure dropping to zero…I can recall that happening to me, but I was in my car driving from Maine to Iowa. Quite a bit different situation.
Another “fun flight” was around Presque Island and nearby Loring Air Force Base when he found the fog had closed in behind him and it was bad ahead. Only Loring Air Force base seemed open. But, at the last moment, doing lots of scud running, Gross saw the runway at Presque Isle and was able to land there.
His book reminds me of lots of my own situations but I never was as careful or as dedicated as Gross. I guess that makes me a very lucky pilot, too.
You can order his book in paperback ($19.95) or hard cover ($26.95) plus $6 shipping by going to his website: NineLivesLuckyPilot.com or you can send a check with your name and address to Island in the Sky Publishing Co., 60 Meadow Lakes, East Windsor, NJ, 08520.
I’m still working my way through his book … it is one of those you can pick up at any place and read for half an hour and come back several days later to read some more.