I have had this diary floating in my head for awhile. I hesitated to write it because it really had nothing to do with politics, it certainly wasn't serious, given all that was going on in the world and at home. Then again because everything right now is so serious wars, nuclear meltdowns,budget battles etc etc I thought some might enjoy the distraction.
So here goes . . . The Story on how my pilot call sign became POTUS.
Once upon a time not so long ago, when my bank account was full, and I was working a lot I owned an airplane. Not an expensive airplane (there are more expensive cars), but a fun airplane. A Yak 52 eastern bloc military and aerobatic trainer.
I learned to fly it very well. I learned how to loop it, do cuban eights, rolls, spins and how to fly very, very close to another airplane in formation. I even got proficient at dropping 5lb pumpkins out of it to hit a floating target in the middle of a small pond in the middle of small maine town.
But all this isn't really the point of this story just a little background for your edification.
This story actually begins on a beautiful summer's day. A day I was scheduled to be in NYC on business. As luck would have it, the trip was postponed and I thought well I'm not supposed be in the office anyway, so why not go punch holes in the sky and get some aerobatic practice in.
So off to the airport I go. My airport (KEEN) is of the non towered variety so air traffic control, clearances etc are all up to each individual pilot. And because of this fact, SOP is to give a call to FAA flight services for a weather briefing and to get any possible NOTAMs(Notice to Airmen). However in my infinite wisdom, the ability to look up and see the weather and the fact I really wasn't going anywhere except over Mt Monadnock to the aerobatic practice area and then into the Nashua Airport for lunch . . . I made no call. (remember this seemingly minor over sight)
My pre-flight walk around is done, I've pulled the prop through 18 times to clear the 9 cylinders of any pooled oil ( a must do in radial engines). I have strapped my parachute on, fired up the engine and checked my radio and was thus off into the wild blue yonder.
As I mentioned earlier I was flying up over Mount Monadnock which is to the east of my field and headed to the aerobatic practice area which is just to the SW of Nashua's airport. Now Nashua is a towered field because the aviation college on the field where they train both pilots and tower personnel.
My usual routine, once topping Monadnock, is to tune into Nashua's tower. One to listen to how busy the airport happened to be and to advise them of intentions in the aerobatic practice box which is near the field.
I tuned into the tower and there was not a peep, not a single radio call just dead silence. So I waited a few more minutes just to be sure I hadn't hit a lull, but nope nothing.
My first reaction, uh oh do I have a radio problem? I tuned my radio to Nashua's AWAS (Automated Weather Advisory Station) which broadcasts winds, altimeter settings and any airport advisories. Whew, my radio worked since the recording was coming in loud and clear. I started to relax when I heard at the very end of the announcement. Be advised a 30 mile radius from Manchester Airport Presidential TFR is in effect until 1700 hrs ...
My first reaction? Was OH SHIT! My next reaction was to push my control stick forward and hard to the right to dive for speed and turn simultaneously in some vain hope that I hard not broken the 30 mile line by much and I could get the hell out of there as fast as possible before they noticed. Silly me.
As I was heading back to my airport. My attention was split between three things - fly the plane, checking my 6 o'clock for F-16s and wondering what the hell was W doing in NH today he was supposed to be here yesterday. Then it hit me, he had postponed the trip for Corretta Scott King's Funeral . . . ugh. Now where were those F-16s which I was sure would be pulling up next to my military, winter camo painted, plane with a big Russian red star on it any second.
Well I got back to KEEN with out being intercepted, but as soon as I was overhead the airport my radio started to talk to me. It was the airport manager telling me that I needed to land immediately. I muttered a profanity on my still open mic and the airport manager laughed and said: "so I guess you know why."
I land and immediately head over to Green River Aviation, where I get my gas and minor maintenance done. I climb out of the plane look around for the Secret Service, police anybody? All that I see is a maintenance guy walking over to me with a slip of paper. He hands it to me says you need to call this number.
Turns out the number is for Boston Air Traffic Control and goes right to a supervisor's desk. I call identify myself and give him my plane's registration number and also tell him I believe I just busted the Presidential TFR. And he pauses and then said no need to think about it you did! And then the questioning begins. Where was I going, how high was I, what were my intentions and most importantly why did I bust the TFR?
This last question for most pilots is a tough one. Why? pilots are an egotistical lot. It is never, ever, our fault. It was the plane, it was the other guy, it is always something other than our own damn stupidity. I mean we cannot be stupid WE FLY! So far about ten seconds there was no response from me as I ran through all the possible excuses. I couldn't believe any that I came up with so the guy on the other end of the phone sure as hell wasn't going to believe them either. So in the end I said: I've got nothing, beyond I'm an idiot. I failed to call Flight Services to get a NOTAM update so the only excuse I have is that I am an idiot and I am sorry for that. I could swear I heard a repressed laugh on the other end of the phone. He then said hold on someone else needs to speak with you.
This is where it got just a bit scary. The next guy introduces himself as an agent for the Secret Service and did I realize how much trouble I happened to be in? I said I had a pretty good idea. And then we proceed to run through all the questions the FAA guy had gone through.
Now while all this is going on two police cars have shown up and I now have two cops standing next to me. They aren't doing anything just standing there telling me they want to talk to me. I finally ask the Secret Service guy to hold a second while I tell the police I cannot talk to them while I am talking to you. As soon as They realized I was talking to the Secret Service they back off . . . a bit. Now the lead officer was also on the phone talking to someone.
My conversation with the Secret Service was winding down and I asked, now what? And he said one of the officer would inform me of what was going to happen to me next. I sensed handcuffs in my immediate future. I thanked the Secret Service guy, apologize yet again for being an idiot and taking up his time and ended the call.
I now turned my attention to the police officers and hold out my arms ready to be cuffed and what do they do? Crack up.
The lead officer says he has been talking to the Secret Service, as well and had informed them that they knew who I was and felt in all honesty that I posed no danger to any one . . . but myself! I was free to go. Huh? I said thats it? Well not exactly, I would be hearing from the FAA shortly as to the status my pilots license and whether or not I would be allowed to keep it.
In the end I was allowed to keep my license basically because I was, as I was later told by the FAA, one of the very few pilots who ever admitted up front that there was no one to blame, but myself. In fact the woman from the FAA that was handling my case said, I was the only pilot that ever admitted to her up front personal responsibility. Oh and those F-16s I was looking for? They were at 18,000 feet and diving on me when I turned to exit the TFR area and once it was clear I was exiting broke off pursuit.
And so ends the story on how I got the call sign POTUS from my fellow pilots who fly eastern bloc warbirds.
Oh and just to let you know how fast things happen at the FAA, from the time of the incident until my case was closed . . . almost a full year.