“We don’t remember days, we remember moments.”—Old saying, author unknown, but they might have been a pilot.
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It had been many years since I thought about her. Even longer since I had seen any pictures of her. All I had was lots of old memories about mostly good times together.
Then there she was one day last week. An aging, grainy photo of her in a 1984 edition of The Light and Champion where she was looking for a new place to work.
For Sale” the ad declared in large type. “Cabin Class Twin Aircraft.” The Cessna was a step up for Shelby Newspapers, Inc. in the early 1980s. It was the second aircraft Jim Chionsini purchased for easy access to newspapers from up in Kansas to down in South Texas.
The first was a six-place single-engine Piper, a larger and faster version of an aircraft in which I was a partner and flew at the time.
Center native Jonathan McDonald was the pilot for the company’s first plane. By the time the Cessna replaced it, Jonathan had acquired newspaper skills that earned him a publisher’s job, and C.A. Samford, another Center guy, became chief pilot for the Cessna.
The perk for me was that as a licensed pilot, I got to accumulate right-seat time with both of them. In addition to serving as editor and publisher of The Light and Champion in those days, my duties often entailed helping Jim with new acquisitions. So, I was along for the ride anyway.
To me, the heavens and the earth viewed from the cockpit of an airplane is the “catbird seat” for breathtaking views and fond memories from which great stories are born. One, in particular, was a trip over to Selma, Alabama, where we met with Jim’s long-time friend, Shelton Prince. A trip to see Shelton was always a mixture of business and pleasure.
On the return flight home that night “flying” right seat in the cockpit with C.A., I watched growing thunderheads off the right wing at a comfortable distance while Jim snoozed in the back. Flashes of lightning illuminated the massive clouds every few seconds that were otherwise invisible in the darkness. Closer to me was the mesmerizing red glow from the exhaust flowing out the right engine just outside the cockpit window.
Magnificent scenes then and pleasant memories through the years.
Coincidentally, that same right engine later produced something less than pleasant moments on a trip down to South Texas. I wasn’t on board for that trip, but Jim’s vivid account of it is a great memory and a good story.
The flight was taking a friend to visit a newspaper for sale. I dropped everyone off at the Center airport on an overcast morning and returned to the office downtown. Just a short time later, Jim was calling. “Can you pick us up at the Lufkin airport? Long story, I’ll tell you when you get here.”
Recounting the short flight on the long drive back to Center, Jim began, “We took off and had punched through 5,000 feet of overcast. When we popped out on top in the sunshine, I noticed oil seeping out of the cowling on the right engine. Knowing my prospective newspaper buyer hated flying to begin with,” he continued, “I calmly got up, stepped to the cockpit and tapped C.A. on the shoulder. Before I even said anything, he replied, ‘I know boss, I’m watching it.’”
Jim said he barely had time to get to his seat and sit down when the engine let go with a loud, explosive noise. “I jumped up and went straight back to the cockpit, but C.A. cut me short saying, ‘Boss, I’m really busy at the moment.’ Then he closed the cockpit door.”
“I sat down and tried to console my friend who was about to have a nervous breakdown,” Jim always told the story. “I looked out the window as we went back into the 5,000-foot overcast. When we came out the bottom, we were looking straight down the runway at the Lufkin airport.”
According to Jim’s oft-repeated story, C.A. landed the wounded airplane gently on the runway and taxied to the terminal. “As the good engine shut down,” he told it, “The cockpit door opened, C.A. stepped out and asked, ‘What was that you wanted to talk to me about boss. I’m not quite as busy now.’”
I smiled at seeing the newspaper ad last week. Whether it was remembering the good moments or the others, the old girl was apparently up for sale when she was repaired and flying again.
Details in that ad read, “… 880 hours since left engine overhaul, zero hours since right engine overhaul.”
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