One day back when I was a kid, my mom loaded my brothers, sisters, friends and dogs and drove the carful of us to a remote beach on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula for a day of beach fun. As the afternoon wore on, fog formed offshore and crept inland. About the time the temperature dropped, one of us kids locked the only set of car keys in the trunk. These were the days car trunks were really inaccessible, MacGyver had not yet been born to inspire anyone, and cell phones were only a gleam in a geek’s eye.
The only choice it seemed was to get someone to the nearest phone (which was about fifty miles away) and get them to report the problem to my father at his office. Some departing tourists agreed to make a call on our behalf. Time passed and we sat on a log as fog teased the beach and the air got colder. Our peanut butter sandwiches were long gone and our growling stomachs made us eye our bucketfuls of raw clams. Maybe we were stuck for good, we thought.
Then, over the wind, we heard the familiar sound of a Jacobs R-755 radial engine. My mother, (who was a pilot) said to all of us, “What sort of idiot would be flying in this sort of weather?” Right then her question was answered as our family’s blue and white Cessna 195 flashed low overhead through a hole in the overcast. Next we heard the engine rev up as my oddball pilot dad put the prop forward and descended.A minute later, our plane came barreling down the beach at about 20 feet.
Beachcombers, tourists, and clam diggers hit the deck. Not us; we knew the events about to occur were simply a normal family procedure. Dad pinpointed us on the log, and waved out the fabulous roll-down pilot window which was standard issue on all 195s. Carefully, he flew out over the ocean, turned inland, and lined up for one more low pass on the beach. Passing overhead, he flung a set of keys attached to a long bandage out the window. They landed at our feet.
We kids grabbed the keys and loaded up the car, and then we all drove off to the incredulous stares of the beachgoers while the Old Man circled overhead, making sure we got underway. Then he flew back to town and went back to work, never missing an appointment in his office. The Old Man was quite a flyer. Years later he set a world distance record and won the Louis Bleriot Medal from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (the world record sanctioning body), but that is a different tale for another time.
Just last year, my brother and I found and bought the very 195 used in this story and we are restoring it to key dropping condition. Don’t lose your keys before our plane is done or you are S.O.L.!
Contributing writer Ross Nixon is a pilot for Hageland Aviation and only flies tricycle geared aircraft if he is paid. Before flying commercially he was a police officer and a commercial harvest diver in Puget Sound. He lives in Anchorage, Alaska now. For fun he flies a Piper PA-20 and is restoring a Cessna 195. His writing has been published in Alaska Magazine. He recently finished a book on the Carla Corbus air crash tragedy that led to the development of the ELT. The book, Finding Carla, will be published in 2013.