decision to launch into light rain, 3 miles’ visibility,
and 800- to 1,000-foot ceilings. I tucked in on Nel’s
wing (you do not want to lose your leader in low
visibility close to the ground) and stayed there.
I could tell Nel was doing a lot of maneuvering
to get set up for the initial point (IP) and to get the
timing perfect. I could see him using a hand towel
to wipe the moisture from the inside of his canopy.
He then gave me the hand signal to cross under to
his right wing, such that I’d be able to pull up and
away to the west—the missing man—upon command.
Nel then gave the “two minutes out” call to Milon,
our man on the ground at the ceremony with the
handheld radio. At the appointed time Nel said,
“Pull…now!” I couldn’t pull up because of the low
cloud cover, so I just pulled away and flew west—for
our pilot/buddy Neil.
Often, when you have to make tough
pilot decisions, you think back to
other aviation decisions you’ve made
over the years, some good and some
not so good.
Nel then entered traffic at the local airport
closest to the ceremony. I fell into the trail position,
and we landed, taxied to our pre-briefed parking
area, shut down, and rolled our canopies back. First
thing Nel said was, “What did we just do?” He was
talking about the scud we’d just been running. And
then he said, “Couldn’t have done it without the
GPS.” He had pre-programmed the IP into his GPS,
which gave him the lead-in point for the ceremony
we couldn’t see from the IP. I’m always one to pop
off at my hangar with, “GPSes are for sissies.” Well,
okay, except for this day. My bride then pulled up in
the car and whisked us to the ceremony.
At the ceremony, the flyby was much
appreciated. And it fit nicely with the aviation
display that Neil’s bride, Betty, created: It had lots
of Neil’s aviation memorabilia: his logbooks, an
EAA Sport Aviation magazine opened to the column
“Flying Buddy” (August 2008), and a military flight
suit with dry toast (mentioned in that column)
sticking out from the lower left leg pocket.
We honored our flying buddy. He’d have liked
that. He’d have also understood if we canceled
because of weather. We didn’t do anything
dangerous: We always had ground contact, knew
where we were, and had an out. The marginal part
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Hand-held radio for illustration only. Not included with combo. HEADSET / INTERCOM COMBO MILITARY HEADSET ADAPTERS
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