What We’re Reading: 'Fly the Friggin’ Airplane!'

 - November 21, 2022, 5:48 PM
Book: Fly the Friggin' Airplane! by Patrick Gordon

For those who know Patrick Gordon either personally or through his writing (some of which has appeared in the pages of AIN), it won’t be a surprise that he has written a book chronicling his adventures. Sadly, “Fly the Friggin’ Airplane!” is just the first in a series, so we’ll have to wait patiently for the rest of the story. But meanwhile, his first book, with a foreword by Jay Mesinger, is a delightful recap of his youth and how he became a pilot, as well as some of the valuable lessons he learned along the way.

Gordon has the unique ability to be candid about his past while entertaining the reader. During a lie detector test while pursuing a slot in the Army Security Agency, his admitting to “borrowing” a car and a locomotive scored points with the examiner and he was accepted into the program.

While learning how to skydive, Gordon became enamored with flying the airplane and began learning to fly in a Piper J-3 Cub and Aeronca 7AC. On his first solo cross-country flight, Gordon ran into some turbulence and while looking for a receptacle to hold his “upchuck” bemoaned his lack of preparation, which meant there was no airsickness bag on board. “It hadn’t occurred to me that I might get airsick,” he wrote. “As my condition worsened, I looked around the cockpit to see what I could throw up into.”

I won’t spoil the fun, but suffice to say that he had to get creative not just once but twice, and the fog of confusion resulting from the nausea may have had something to do with his landing at a really wrong airport.

Many pilots end up flying anything they can get their hands on to build flight hours, and Gordon is no exception. Somehow he launched a side business flying cadavers under what today would be considered questionable regulatory standards—hopefully the statute of limitations is well over, Patrick—and this was before he had even earned his commercial pilot license. “As long as no one looked at the arrangement too closely,” is how Gordon put it.

Just before taking the commercial check ride, he was to receive some of the most valuable advice ever from his flight instructor and he wrote this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt in his logbook: “Learn from the mistakes of others. You won’t live long enough to make them yourself.” As his friend Scotty the flight instructor put it, “Yer gonna make mistakes as you get along in this career you’re a chasin’. Try to make ‘em small mistakes and don’t repeat ‘em. And talk about your mistakes so others kin learn from you, too.”

Scotty was the one who told Gordon to “fly the friggin’ airplane. If you’re flyin’, you ain’t die’in.”

Like many pilots, Gordon has made his share of mistakes (or learning opportunities), and he freely admits them and shares these experiences to help others learn.

A particularly nasty encounter with icing in a single-engine Piper Comanche 400 resulted in the airplane carrying a heavy load of ice and the ice completely obscuring the windshield. With Scotty’s help radioing from the ground, Gordon was able to land the Comanche by looking out the side vent window, only to find that he couldn’t open the door because of the ice. After 20 minutes of careful pounding on the door, Scotty was able to open it. “You know you’re one lucky son of a bitch, dontcha?” he asked Gordon.

With the goal of becoming an international contract pilot, Gordon took every opportunity to gain experience, flying airplanes all over the world and learning more about the challenges of flying different aircraft and with pilots of varying and sometimes questionable quality.

But it’s the lessons that he learned as a manager that stand out, in particular an incident at his first management job when Gordon tried to encourage some recalcitrant night-shift FBO employees to straighten up by sending an employee memo titled “The [Effing] Honeymoon is Over.”

John, the boss, called Gordon into his office and dressed him down for his lack of judgment in sending that memo and made him ask for permission before making any more such actions. Later, some more advice from John struck home, after a lineman mistakenly removed a tow bar from a Sabreliner before chocking the wheels. The jet ended up rolling into the tug, and the result was an expensive repair to the Sabre’s nose cone.

When Gordon suggested that the lineman be put on administrative leave, then undergo more training, John disagreed and asked the lineman to come to the office. John explained that he understood the pressure the lineman was under while working alone under difficult and dangerous circumstances. Instead of admonishing him, John “gave him a raise, thanked him for his service, and put him back on the line. After the lineman left, John looked at me and said, ‘He will now be the best, most safety-concerned lineman on our staff. He won’t make that, or any other mistake, for a long time. It will take about 10 minutes for our actions to be known by every other employee in the company. You’ll see a definite improvement in morale.”

That was indeed the case, and Gordon took the lesson to heart.

The adventures continue, and Gordon keeps the reader entertained to the end and wanting more. But that will have to wait until the next book come out—hopefully soon.

“Fly the Friggin’ Airplane!” is available as a digital Kindle book from Amazon. For a signed hard copy, send an email with name, address, and country to Luann.storyandsongbookstore@gmail.com.