The Richard Jackson Saga: Tenth Grade
Monday was another glorious day in California. It was a pleasure to do my morning run. When I went out the back gate to the park I had some nosey watchers. Horses were looking out of the open doors on their stalls. The cowhand who had stayed behind said, “Mornin.” I nodded back as that seemed appropriate to such a laconic greeting.
There was also a little girl feeding an apple to a small pony. It was still a small pony but would probably end up fat as a pig if Mary got her way.
The run went well with no fearsome tigers or chipmunks along the way. That is one story I will take to my grave.
After cleaning up and eating too much at breakfast, thinking I didn’t need Mary to feed me as I could do the pig bit on my own. Well okay I had what they were calling six-pack abs, and looked in great shape so guess I could eat what I wanted. Anyway, I asked Mum and Dad if I could talk to them for a few minutes.
“Sure Rick, what’s up?”
Suddenly I felt a little nervous.
“Well I was thinking that if I have all that money, maybe I could buy an airplane.”
Dad got a serious look, but before he could say anything Mum butted in.
“Jack, don’t tease him, of course you can buy an airplane if you want, if it makes sense.”
“Thanks Mum,” As I gave an innocent looking Dad a nasty look.”
Dad ignoring my look asked, “What do you have in mind?”
“A twin engine aircraft; it makes the most sense for carrying some passengers and reasonable speed. I have talked to Mr. McGarry about different ones, but would have to do some more homework before I choose one.”
“Well since it’s not a 707, I guess it is okay.”
Mum must have been feeling contrary today.
“Well Jack I have been meaning to talk to you about that, a Boeing 707 or a DC-8 would be nice.”
Dad had a pained look. You could tell he was an experienced husband though.
“Yes dear, let’s talk about it.”
I wondered what colors our new large jet would be painted.
“It would be nice to have a machine shop; I would pay for an extension off the garage.”
“Well your inventions have more than paid for it, so that’s okay. Just let us review the plans before proceeding,” Dad told me.
While I was on a streak I decided to go for broke.
“I understand that my investments include beach front property here in California, I wonder if the family would want to use one of them as a weekend place.”
I thought I was clever bringing the family use into it.
With a smirk, Dad replied, “Well you should look up two of them, one near where you surf, and the other for the family to actually use, like down in Malibu.”
You could have knocked me over with a feather, how can parents see through you like that?
About that time, Mrs. Hernandez left the room to answer the telephone. You could hear her say, “Jackson House.” As usual she had been sitting at the breakfast table with us. She really was a member of our family.
“Rick, it’s for you.”
“I’ll be right there.”
I identified myself and found out it was a producer from the Today Show in New York. They wanted me to be part of a show which would be on Monday morning. I didn’t have to call Susan Wallace to know I should do this. I told them I would. I would have to fly east on Saturday for a Sunday afternoon taping. Mr. Garroway’s health had been declining, it was pretty-well known in the industry that he suffered from depression and would walk out in the middle of a show. That was why it was taped.
I did call Susan after that and she told me that was a good call. She would be flying with me on Saturday, so would take care of all the arrangements.
Mum, Denny, and I headed downtown. Each of us went to our agreed upon positions.
I walked the route and didn’t try any evasion until after I passed the four points. There was no front tail this time so it was easy. I had my t-bird in a parking garage so we were home by lunch time. The cook had outdone herself with a toasted cheese guacamole sandwich.
After lunch, we went to Denny’s darkroom. He developed the pictures and he had wonderful shots of my tail and Mr. Robertson. I must say Mr. Robertson still seemed very unhappy. When he saw how well the pictures turned out Denny tried to jack up the price, by saying he thought he now deserved to be paid for taking the pictures. We didn’t really get into it, but I had to tell him.
“I’m the boss applesauce.”
He came back with, “Don’t give me lip, potato chip.”
Honor satisfied on both sides we let it drop. However I did realize I needed to think about an extra gift if it all worked out. As I walked out of the room he had to have the last word.
“Hit the road toad.”
I made a rude hand gesture over my shoulder and left with a grin. I went to check if I had any mail delivered to the house.
In the mail was a letter from my school. It was an invitation to a sock hop in two weeks. It would be on Saturday. That would be the day after my visit to the White House, but I should be back on time. I had to go, the invitation said, “Be there or be square.” I certainly wasn’t going to be square.
Mum also got a letter, more of a package really. Within it was a small package addressed to, Sir Richard Jackson, Queens Messenger. She stood there as I opened it. There was a letter with my name on it, and another envelope with the notation, DO NOT OPEN.
I read the letter out loud.
“Sir Richard, Her Majesty requires you to deliver this accompanying letter to the following address unopened on Monday of next week. Wear your greyhound pin to identify yourself. The address is a Chinese drycleaners, so drop off some clothes which really do need cleaning.”
That seemed pretty straight forward. Mum and I went to the library and found a Los Angeles street directory. The address shown was in the middle of China town.
“Well this should be interesting.”
“Rick, just remember the statement, ‘May you live in interesting times’, is a Chinese curse. That said on the surface it doesn’t seem unreasonable. I shall make some inquiries as to the nature of this delivery.”
“Thanks Mum, it doesn’t seem that big of a deal.”
“It never does at first.”
Wanting to strike while the iron was hot, I head to the airfield to talk to Mr. McGarry to see if he would help me shop for an airplane. Silly me, of course he would, as a matter of fact we spent the rest of the day going from one aircraft dealer to another.
He knew everyone in the trade, or more accurately they knew and respected him. When he explained what we were looking for, I didn’t get any of those, ‘How can a kid like you do this’’ looks or questions.
The Cessna 310C is what I wanted to buy. Its six seats and 260hp and 155 mph made it the best going. The going rate of sixty thousand dollars seemed a bit much until you considered the alternatives.
The Piper Apache also has six seats and is a lot cheaper at thirty-six thousand. Its drawback is it has only 160hp or 135 mph. I had learned that going across country direct that 20 mph made for a lot less time in the air.
The biggest drawback to the Cessna was its maintenance costs, if earlier models are any indication. The aircraft hadn’t been out long enough to have a good base line. There was no question they would be much higher than the Piper.
The Beechcraft Travel Air was out of the question since it only held four with a fifth fold down jump seat. Its speed and cost were between the other two, but the extra passenger seat was important. I wanted the entire family to be able to fly comfortably; that is if they would let me fly them at all. Well at least Mary would let me drop her off at school.
I decided upon the Cessna. We had been to that dealership first and Beechcraft last so we went back to Cessna. I told them I wanted to order a 310C. I was ready to pull out my checkbook then and there, but Mr. McGarry jumped in. He had a bunch of questions, like how long to delivery, what choices in color schemes, wet or dry, scheduled maintenance cost at this dealership and a few more.
As they were answered I learned that wet or dry was with or without fuel and lubricants.
There were also a whole bunch of extras in the form of navigation aids and communication gear. I settled on British racing green as the base of the color scheme with my coat of arms on the pilot side door. Leather seats were a given.
I could see the dollars rolling up. Then Mr. McGarry rubbed his hands together and said, “Now the fun begins.” He negotiated the price. It would have been a total of sixty seven thousand dollars. He got them down to sixty two thousand and the first two years of normal maintenance. This was really good as anything else would be warranty unless I crashed it. If I did that I doubted the cost would be a worry. The aircraft was to be delivered wet.
Then the talk went to insurance. I thought this would never end.
Well I was right; it wasn’t going to end soon because now the salesman wanted to talk financing. Mr. McGarry told me that I should pay as much down as I could as the cost of financing could turn out as much as the cost of the aircraft.
That was one thing I could handle. Now I did pull out my checkbook, and knowing I could cover the whole amount, asked for the bottom line.
Even Mr. McGarry’s eyebrows went up at that. The salesman looked disappointed as though he was losing out on something. Later I found he was; a commission kickback from the bank.
Mr. McGarry kidded me as I dropped him off at his office.
“If I had known that you could write a check like that, I would have charged you more, and told my daughter to chase you.”
At least I think he was kidding.
I got home just in time for dinner. As we settled in Dad asked me.
“Well Rick, what sort of an airplane did you buy?”
How do parents always know these things?
Rather than get into that I described the Cessna. This got us into a family discussion of where we could fly locally. When Dad used the term locally I gave him a questioning look.
“Oh, Mum and I have an appointment next week at Boeing headquarters.”
That brought on another round of excitement, my own included. They all agreed my choice of colors and my coat of arms were brilliant. They would do the same, but use Mum’s coat of arms; now that was just plain weird, talking about using our own personal coat of arms as if everyone could do that.
The talk changed to everyone listing places they would like to go. When Buenos Aires was brought up I had sudden memories of an irate father. Well I would cross that bridge when I came to it. Thinking about it, I hoped I would never be in the position of some sex starved teenager chasing my daughter.
It was perfectly logical that I spent the rest of the evening studying my aircraft manuals. The dealer had some brochures on the Cessna, but not a complete manual. They had agreed to get me one as soon as possible. It would be a while before I received my aircraft as they were built to order and currently on a six- month lead time.
While I wasn’t very physical today, I apparently was mentally tired as I dropped right off without reading anything.
In the morning my nosey neighbors were waiting for me. Heh, I had to pull that on someone, my nosey NEIGHbors. I had a good run; then did my exercises, I sure to include the new sets for flexibility.
Tuesday’s tailing lessons were a repeat of yesterdays. There was another person added to the mix as a front tail. I spotted them early on but ignored both my tails until we passed the four picture points. Since downtown LA business district isn’t really that large I don’t think it was noticeable that we were passing the same points since most of the route was different than yesterdays.
The developed pictures told the tale. We decided to try something different on Wednesday. Home schooling was certainly working out well for my project, but I know the boys were ready to attend school again as they missed the social activities. Mum was brought into the discussion about what I wanted to do different and she enthusiastically approved.
After lunch at our favorite café Denny and I dropped off Mum at home, picked up Eddie and we headed to the beach for some surfing. Both boys were really getting into it. I had got them set up with all the gear they needed at Katin’s.
We had to hurry home and get cleaned up and dressed for dinner. Denny really enjoyed the dressing up, Eddie not so much. I think Denny would be what they used to call a Dandy, but now it was a Preppy.
After dinner I hit the school books. Well I spent my time doing the extra writing assignments at the end of my current chapters. I found that by doing these I developed a deeper understanding of what really happened, or what the basis of an experiment really was. I think the hardest thing for me to accept was how hard of men the founding fathers were.
In grade school it was practically St. George Washington, the real George Washington was a hard man in hard times. As I thought about it, under those conditions his choosing not to be a King was even more amazing. I mean he had the ‘off with their heads’ part down pat.
Later I read about the fireman Guy Montag and the Mechanical Hound. I just couldn’t picture people becoming so sensitive about the use of words that some of them would be banned and books burned.
It was getting to be normal for the horses to be watching for me. I still got the same, “Mornin,” from the cowhand. I returned it with, “Yep.” Two could play that game.
No tigers or chipmunks were about though I did see an evil looking squirrel.
Denny, Mum and I headed downtown for my daily lesson.
I deliberately did a poor evasion job so they were able to follow me to the parking garage. What they didn’t know was that Denny was tailing them after they passed the last picture taking point. They had never spotted him so they had no reason to suspect a kid at this point. He had a reversible jacket so he shouldn’t stand out. He carried a two-way radio along with his camera on a strap around his neck. It was a kid’s toy but it had enough range for our purpose.
Since they were done for the day by following me to my vehicle they returned to theirs. Denny followed them to where they parked two blocks over. He gave me a running commentary so I was there to pick him up as they exited the garage. I held back as far as I could. I wondered if I should buy a less noticeable car for events like this.
They were staying at a small motel not far from downtown. Denny got shots of them as they opened their adjoining room doors on the outside first floor. There was an outdoor pool in front of the building. They brought out food to prepare hamburgers on a grill next to the pool. It seems like they were on a small vacation. The group consisted of five young people, early twenties I guess and Mr. Robertson. They were all dressed for swimming, so we figured where they would be for most of the afternoon.
Denny and I returned home where he developed the pictures. They came out perfectly, the tailers had been tailed! Denny had a magnifying glass and was examining everyone in every picture.
“Hey Rick, look at this.”
He pointed out the same man in several pictures. He also had a camera. He was taking pictures but it was not of Denny or I, it was of the CIA trainees, at least I assumed they were trainees.
As we were wondering what to do with this information Mum joined us. She wanted to know how our back tailing worked out. She thought we had done a good job. When Denny pointed out the mystery man she got a thoughtful frown.
“Would you boys mind if I joined your party?”
“You are always welcome Mum,” enthused Denny
I silently added, unless it is on a date.
We were in place at five o’clock and had to wait an hour for the CIA crew to go to dinner. It was a good thing we were in the housekeeper’s car which was a blue Chevy because the mystery man showed up five minutes later. When the CIA people left for dinner we followed the mystery man.
He took pictures of the CIA group and left after they went into the restaurant. We followed him as far back as we could. He drove to a park by the beach. Mum quickly set us up as a rotating tail. One of us would move up as the other dropped back. Denny and I had reversible jackets so we would turn them inside out when we switched.
It was just a walk in the park. He did stop and tie his shoe once, then sat on a bench for a while. But all in all, it was nothing. Or so I thought.
When he returned to his car I thought we would follow him but Mum had other ideas. She took us back to where he had tied his shoe. I could’ve kicked myself after Mum pointed out the chalk mark he had made on the base of the light pole that he had stopped at. This was right out of James Bond.
So, I was not surprised when she told us the film of the CIA operatives was hidden on a ledge under the park bench he had stopped at. We scouted around and found a vantage point to watch the bench from, but saw nothing. Passersby had dwindled, so we checked for the film, it was still there.
After lunch we spent the afternoon with the horses. We didn’t try to ride them, we walked them around on a leader so they became used to us. I found out that last night Mary had disappeared from her room setting off a mild panic. It was only a mild panic since Mum went directly to the stable and found her sound asleep with Misty.
My evening was spent on homework. There is nothing like the exciting life of a movie star.
Thursday morning started as usual, other than Mary had actually slept in her bed last night.
Denny and Mum spent the next day watching that bench while I led the CIA on a chase around downtown LA. I used every trick I had been taught to identify and lose them. My best time all week was one hour.
In the mean-time we checked the bench later in the evening. The film had disappeared. Denny had been taking pictures of everyone who had stopped at that bench. When we reviewed them he actually had a shot of a man reaching down under the bench. He became our new target.
I redoubled my efforts trying to give the CIA a good workout, and the mystery man photo opportunities. At dinner, we talked about what was going on. Both Mum and Dad agreed that it was probably a foreign agent or freelancer taking pictures of the CIA trainees. Their covers would be blown before they ever went to work!
Eddie wanted to shoot the mystery men. Mary wondered if they could be turned. What was Mum teaching that kid?
I did more homework later in the evening; ho hum.
Friday afternoon the mystery man showed up again. There was no chalk mark indicating film waiting for him, so he walked on by. Mum and Denny tailed him back to the Soviet Consulate. That answered that question.
Now what to do with our information? Mum filled us in on a few realities of life.
The information rightfully should be turned over to the FBI as they were responsible for counter spy operations within the United States borders. They would do a good job, but also use it in their ongoing political war for funding and authority. J. Edgar Hoover hated the CIA with a purple passion according to Dad.
We could turn it over to Mums old; or maybe not so old group. It would be a similar issue, they would use it for leverage and favors with the CIA. We decided to avoid the politics and give it to the CIA. It was their operatives that were compromised.
The question then became who in the CIA to turn it over to. I came down in favor of Mr. Droller who had debriefed me on Cuba. He apparently had a high position in the agency and wasn’t directly mixed up in this mess. Mum and Dad agreed but also wanted to back channel Ike that the CIA had a problem. Not all the details but enough that he could keep them honest.
The last thing we wanted was to have young agents known to the enemy before they even went to work. The group that had their pictures taken would never be going into the field. They were deskbound and would never know why.
I never really heard how it all came out, but there was an article in the paper about someone at the Soviet Consulate being declared persona non grata. There was also another story about a spy trade at checkpoint Charlie, one of theirs for one of ours. I had no idea if these were the people we had identified.
What really puzzled me was how Mum gave homeschooling credit to Denny for counter-espionage. Well okay it was for his photography but we all knew what it was really for. When I asked if I would get any credit, she murmured something about standing in the shadows.
After lunch I drove over to the studio. I was there to view the team presentations that I had been invited to earlier. They were slick, but more important to me, they were really working as teams. There were no radical new proposals on how to structure their business as they had with the ‘extra board’ concept. However everything they presented was cross functional. Finance was sensitive to the needs of production, and production actually considered the costs of what they were proposing and how they could control them.
What I really found strange was that the various team leaders and presenters kept looking to me as if seeking my approval. I had no problem keeping a positive look on my face as they were performing Boy Scout teaming 101. From my business transactions I know that at the boy level it’s pretty elementary, but at the adult level it was burdened by adult gamesmanship as the adults jockeyed for power and position. They had appeared to find a happy medium of cooperation so they all won a little.
Now I’m not that naïve. I know that the boys and adults all did their normal scheming behind the scenes, but they did not let it show on the surface as in the troop they were all being role models for each other. Here the adults were showing they were members of the team, peer pressure is what I think they called it. It was the same for professional athletics, I knew they were normal people, so had their problems, but you never saw them in the newspaper. It was a silent collusion between the players, the teams, and the media to show their best face to the world. You would never see a story about a former player whose picture had been on a Wheaties box being in trouble.
At the end of the presentations I stood and started a one man slow clap. The smiles in the room were incredible since they had done all the work. I gave a half bow and said, “My work here is done.” After that I left without getting involved with any follow up conversation. It was their moment in the sun to enjoy. On my way out of the room I passed two writers. One had written down in large letters my statement of ‘My work here is done.’ The other was saying we could use that in ... I didn’t hear the rest of his idea of where to use it.
When I left the room there was Mr. Monroe waiting for me. He wanted to know how they were doing and would he be pleased with the results. I assured him that his team was doing very well and that he would be pleased with their presentation. He thanked me profusely.
As I walked away I was bemused with how I was fitting into this world. The man who should be a God in my Universe was thanking me!
I had dinner with my agent Mr. Baxter at the Brown Derby; it was our standard meeting place. There was nothing specific on the horizon after my Hawaiian surfing movie. It was more of a catch up and what type of movies would you like to do in the future. I told him I was open to anything that didn’t have me in a water trough. That brought a deep laugh from him. My adventures with water troughs were gaining international notoriety. He asked if he could share that thought. I told him to discuss it with Susan Wallace of how and when to use it, but I was down with it.
Mr. Baxter’s family was doing well. He made a point of again thanking me for my efforts in seeing he got the money needed for the medical bills. It was a little strange realizing this older man felt like he owed me big time. I had to think about this, along with the group earlier in the day. I was beginning to affect people’s lives and had better keep my head straight. Now how was I to do that, I wouldn’t be sixteen until Sunday!
Mr. Sinatra caught me as we were leaving. He wanted to know if I was open to another duet. I said sure, I would be glad to help his fading career. He looked like he was going to deck me, but I couldn’t keep a straight face so he ended up taking it in good part. I’m glad because if he had taken a swing it would have ended up bad for both of us; me for the publicity and him for his health.
I asked Mr. Sinatra if he had a song in mind.
“I was thinking of a remake of The Coffee Song or maybe High Hopes.”
“I’m not familiar with either of them.”
“Not to worry, they are easy songs to do.”
Mr. Baxter was with me, so I asked him if he would take care of the details. Of course he agreed. Mr. Sinatra gave him his agents contact number and they were to work out the details. I was surprised on how much money I had ended up making on my last foray with Brothers. It was fun to do and I would continue until someone realized I couldn’t sing.
Mr. Sinatra told us about a funny conversation he had with Judge Smails, the Judge thought he could get Sinatra to get some heavies after me. Mr. Sinatra told him that there was no one heavier than my godfather. Of course Smails bit and asked which gang leader that was. Franks answer ended the conversation quickly. Frank told me he was a little disappointed because he never got to mention my godmother.
As we were leaving I noticed several people had been eavesdropping, so I knew it would be in the scandal sheets. I made a mental note to tell Susan about it on our flight.
When I got home after dinner I didn’t feel like hitting the books so I watched TV with my parents. When I said good night I realized I had no idea what had been on the boob tube.
Saturday I passed on my workout, I had to leave for the airport at 4:00 am to make a 6:00 am flight east. I was able to doze off in the limo, but it wasn’t deep sleep. There were no problems getting checked and boarding for my first class seat. Susan was waiting for me at the check-in counter. She had our first class boarding passes in hand TWA flight 160. The Today Show had paid for these.
There were only several other people in first class so there were ten vacant seats. The copilot was standing in the doorway to greet passengers along with a stewardess. I must have been really gawking into the cockpit because he asked me if I wanted a look. I jumped at the opportunity. With my interest in flying of course I wanted to see the cockpit.
When I told him I had my student’s license and had soloed I became a member of the fraternity. He and the pilot both whose name I missed welcomed me and gave me an extensive tour of all those gauges and instruments. I came to the conclusion that as long as nothing mechanically went wrong a person could keep track of what was going on. It was when those lights went red the excitement started.
I was amazed at all the gauges and dials. One thing puzzled me; there was a pilot and copilot, but no flight engineer even though there was a seat for one. I asked about that and found out a flight engineer was only required for flights which were more than eight hours in the air. As we were doing a stop in Cincinnati, Ohio we weren’t required to have one. I asked how that worked for them and was told that it wasn’t a problem. Even on the long hauls flight engineers had less and less to do all the time.
The copilot thought with the advent of transistor radios that radio needs on aircraft would change dramatically. He figured that on the overseas routes they wouldn’t even need a Navigator using a sextant to keep track of where they were headed.
I took one last look at the instruments and was glad that I would not have to fly this bird.
When I returned to my seat Susan teased me about flying the plane. I shook my head and told her that I would need many years training to do so and really wasn’t that heavy into it. Changing the subject I brought her up to-date on my conversation with Mr. Sinatra. She told me that she would get in touch with Mr. Baxter as soon as we landed in New York.
While the coach passengers were boarding our stewardess asked us what we would like to drink. I had a Coke, Susan asked for a Mimosa. I had to ask what that was, turned out it was champagne and orange juice. While she was serving us, the stewardess told us that very soon there would be in flight movies for long flights. Susan thought that amazing and wondered if they would ever have telephones. I thought they would someday, but it would be far in the future.
The take-off was amazing to me, it took such a long runway to rollout, I was used to my little plane; this was a whole different ballgame. Landing this thing must be a trip.
We were no sooner up in the air and the stewardess was preparing breakfast. The menu gave a choice of Eggs Benedict or French toast, along with orange juice, coffee or tea. Susan and I choose the French toast. I noticed the one of the stewardesses and the guys up front took Eggs Benedict. I wondered if after I finished my French toast if I could beg for a serving of Eggs Benedict.
Apparently not, TWA seemed to have a firm one passenger one meal policy. Oh well, we would have lunch before landing in Cincinnati. It would be a small filet so I would probably make it to New York. Maybe they would have a meal on that leg of the trip.
We had been in the air about two hours when the copilot made a quick trip to the restroom. I say quick and I mean quick; he looked desperate. Next thing you know the pilot is standing at the restroom door urging him to hurry up. A quick change took place and they returned to the cockpit. In another five minutes they were both out again. Except this time the pilot got to the restroom first.
The copilot went to the galley and was throwing up in a bin. The pilot came out but turned right around again for the restroom. In the meantime the copilot obviously had uncontrollable diarrhea. He was doubled over in pain. The smell was awful. The head stewardess helped him to a seat where he promptly passed out.
She next checked on the pilot. He was unconscious in the restroom. I helped her bring him out to a seat. To put it mildly it was a stinking mess.
In the meantime the head stewardess got on the public announcement system and asked if there was a Physician on board; if so push the button for help. There were two responses. Soon two Doctors were escorted up front. One was a general practitioner and the other a surgeon. They both quickly agreed that it was food poisoning. This was no sooner said than one of the other stewardesses rushed to the restroom, she had the Eggs Benedict.
As a thought was going through my head it was confirmed by a request for any pilots or aircrew to ring their call buttons. There were no dings or red lights on. It dawned on me that I may be the only one on board that had ever been at the instruments of an aircraft. Talk about a sinking feeling in your stomach.
I identified myself to the head stewardess as a student pilot who had soloed. She gave me a piercing look and said, “You’re all we’ve got.”
Talk about the pressure.
We went into the cockpit which I had been a tourist earlier in the day. Now it was mine. I hadn’t eaten Eggs Benedict, but had a desire to go to the restroom. I managed to overcome that to take a closer look at the pilot’s seat and the controls. At least we were at cruising altitude and on autopilot.
I went back to the Doctors who were tending their three patients. Not that there was much to do, as all three were unconscious. I asked how long before one of the pilots might be conscious and able to help me. Both had very bleak looks as I was told they had no idea. Whatever poisoned them was extremely serious.
From the noise in the back end you could tell people knew something was going on and they were getting worked up. I signaled the head stewardess to come with me.
“Do you know anything about the radios,” I asked Sara. I knew she was Sara because of her nametag.
“A little bit, I have watched them many times.”
“Okay, you are now my copilot.” She made the sign of the cross and said, “Okay.”
We sat down in our respective seats. At least the pilots didn’t mess them up. We buckled up, adjusting our straps and put on the headphones. After fiddling for a minute we had them set correctly so we could talk to each other and use the radio at its current settings.
Reading from a card set in front of the radio, I made a call.
“This is TWA flight 160 tail number N742TW declaring an inflight emergency.” I repeated this twice and then waited.
Almost immediately there was a reply.
“TWA 160 what is the nature of your emergency?”
“The pilot and copilot are both unconscious, suspected food poisoning. Physicians on board are not optimistic.”
“Please reconfirm, pilot and copilot are unconscious.”
“That is correct.”
“Who are you?”
“Richard Jackson, a student pilot who has soloed.”
“TWA 160 this is FAA TRACON, what is your flight status?”
“We are on autopilot, bound to Cincinnati, Ohio with probably a lot of fuel as we are only one and half hours out.”
“TWA 160, DO NOT, REPEAT; DO NOT TOUCH THE AUTOPILOT.”
“Roger flight control, not touching the autopilot.” There is no way in the world I was going to mess with the autopilot.
“TWA 160, go to radio channel 121.50000 MHz Repeat 121.50000.”
“Roger going to channel 121.50000 MHz.” From my studies I knew this was the VHF Guard channel for emergencies. They wanted us to go to this channel while they sorted things out. Every aircraft and scanner in the area could hear us. Most of them would monitor the new channel, but it would free up the main channel for normal business. That seemed a little cold, but they had a whole lot of aircraft to keep out of trouble.
Sara had been paying attention as she adjusted one of the radios to the correct frequency.
“This is TWA 160 on Guard channel.”
“Roger TWA 160, we are contacting your company. In the meantime do not touch the autopilot.” I got the impression he really didn’t want me to touch the autopilot. That worked for me.
The people in the back had to be going crazy. I got on the in plane radio and announced.
“Ladies and gentleman, there is an inflight problem. The pilot has suffered food poisoning. He is receiving medical care; we are currently in contact with FAA TRACON who will direct us to the nearest safe landing.”
Since I had seen several Latino’s board the aircraft I repeated the message in Spanish. Odds are they spoke English, but it was easy to do, and might forestall problems. I also asked again if there was anyone else on board with flying experience. No one came forward.
I was not about to tell everyone that both the pilot and copilot were unconscious. Panic would ensue with that information. Time enough for panic later.
“Sara, have someone stationed at the rear of first class and do not let anyone come forward and see the real mess we are in.”
“I already have.” Thank god for at least one professional here, I should have ordered that first thing. Ordered that? I think at that moment it really sank in, I was now the Captain and pilot of this flight and it all depended on me.
Thoughts of what I would have to do, get us to an airport, dump fuel, land the aircraft, stop the aircraft. I would have many opportunities to kill us all!
My mind went in circles for what seemed forever, but was only a few seconds. Then my life training kicked in; one step at a time. I needed expert help. Presumably the FAA was contacting TWA for that help. See problem resolved. Who am I kidding! About that time instructions came back.
“TWA 160 this is FAA ARTTC Denver Control Center, please go to channel 130.925 MHz for TWA.”
“Roger that Denver.” Sara tuned the radio to 130.925. One small saving grace was that we had good reception.
“This is TWA 160 calling TWA.”
“TWA 160 this is TWA, please tune to channel 130.125 immediately. Repeat channel 130.125 immediately.”
Sara was quick on those dials.
“TWA this is TWA 160.”
“TWA 160 this is TWA, we did that to try to give us some privacy on this.”
“Roger that TWA.”
“TWA 160 what is your name?”
“Richard Jackson, but call me Rick.”
“I am Edward Frankum, but call me Ed.”
“Okay Ed, I need a lot of help here.”
“My first question is exactly how many people are on board; tell a stewardess we need to know how many souls on board.” I had never heard it put that way before. It didn’t sound good, but it did give total head count without any confusion.
The head stewardess was prepared with that and told me 139 souls on board. I relayed that and was given the next question.
“What is your experience?”
I told him what aircraft I had flown and my hours.
“Okay so you understand the principals of flight and handling an aircraft, but know nothing about how jets operate or handling something this large.”
“That is correct.” By this time we had given up on radio protocol and were having a conversation.
“Well at least we have something to work with. Please reconfirm the conditions of the flight crew.”
I checked with the Doctors once more. All three were now described as being in a coma, and we couldn’t count on a recovery in the very near future. The doctors felt if we could not land and get an IV in them, we could lose them.
I relayed this to Ed.
“Okay Rick, we will proceed as though you are going to land this aircraft. The first thing we will do is get you familiar with how the aircraft handles. It will respond to the same controls as you are used to, but will seem like trying to steer an elephant in comparison.”
“Roger that, steer like an elephant.” Even in the grimmest of times you can get a chuckle out of things.
“Rick in a minute I’m going to ask you to disconnect the autopilot but I have a few questions first.”
“What is your altitude?” I could see the altimeter clearly but he described its appearance and location.