When I got to Cal Poly, I found that there was a Faculty Flying
Club. They owned a Cessna 170B, originally built about 1952. The club had around seven members, and
they allowed me to join. I got a local instructor to bring me up to speed. He required quite a bit
of "indoctrination", about 28 hours before he recommended me for my checkride for renewal of my
Private License, original number 160066 ! I was checked by Mr. Roger Moulin. Eleven days later,
after some other checks, such as night flying, I left with my family for a trip to Minnesota.
Between then, 10 September 1970 and my last flight in 8245A on 9 December 1988 I flew it for about 545 hours. This included numerous short trips and four round trip flights to Fargo ND.
This flying time involved 736 landings at 79 airports in 13 states.
I served as their Engineering Officer because of my experience and did the test hops.
Grand Canyon (1)
Alturas, Apple Valley, Bakersfield, Burbank, Carlsbad, Concord, Davis, Fresno, Fullerton, Gasquet, Hayward, Lompoc, Long Beach, Madera, Merced, Modesto, Monterey, Oakland, Oceano, Oroville, Palmdale, Palo Alto, Paso Robles, Placerville, Red Bluff, Redding, Santa Barbara, Salinas, San Andreas, San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria, Santa Rosa, San Jose, Tracy, Vacaville & Watsonville. (36)
Alamosa, Boulder, Cortez & Craig (4)
Boise, Idaho Falls, Malad City, Pocatello & Twin Falls (5)
Minneapolis/St. Paul, New Ulm & St. Cloud (3)
Billings & Missoula (2)
Battle Mountain, Carson City, Ely, Las Vegas, Lovelock, South Lake Tahoe & Tonapah (7)
Bismarck, Dickinson, Fargo, Jamestown & Valley City (5)
Chadron & Scottsbluff (2)
Bandon, Klamath Falls, Pendelton & Richvale (4)
Aberdeen, Pierre & Rapid City (3)
Bryce Canyon, Provo & Salt Lake City (3)
Casper, Rock Springs & Sheridan (3)
Of course, to me, all flights were memorable.
8/11/70 On our nineteenth anniversary, 11
August 1970, we were returning from the first of our four round trips to Minnesota. We landed at
Grand Canyon Airport. That's an interesting one. The next morning we were to take off for Las Vegas.
The runway was northeast/southwest, at 6600 feet and was 9000 feet long. On the south end was a
woods and on the north end was the canyon! Nine thousand feet sounds like a long runway but at 6600
feet, it was not that great. Fortunately, early in the morning it is still cool. The wind was such
that we had to take off toward the woods. We cleared the woods and turned in a big circle to the
left to go out over the canyon.
This was impressive. I flew down the middle of the canyon at 8500 feet, several thousand feet higher than the rims. It was a magnificent view but after about fifteen minutes, I began to get a bit uncomfortable. If we had trouble and had to go down in the canyon we would have had a very long and hard walk and the plane would have been gone forever.
So I went over to the rim and continued to Las Vegas. I suppose the people in the towers can get bored and if they are slightly inclined to have fun with us "new" pilots they could arrange a little surprise. Las Vegas had a commercial runway that is 13,000 feet long. But they had a 5000 foot field for little put-puts just on the north side of town. I had to cross the commercial runway to get to the small private one. There was no apparent traffic and as I was crossing the path of incoming planes I checked in with the tower, He acknowledged me at 4500 feet and six miles from the end of the commercial runway. Then he said, "Do you see the 747?" Since I was right in the flight path for the runway, I grabbed the mike and shouted, "No, where?" He said, "It's parked down here on the ramp and I wondered what it looked like from up there." Yeh sure, he wanted my opinion. He was just trying to rattle a "occasional pilot".
12/19/70 At the onset of the environmental push the County was visited by Mr. George Brower of the "Friends of the Earth. I was asked to give him a ride around the County and I did.
11/1/72 The California Secretary of State, March Fong Eu, had agreed to stay late one Saturday instead of returning to Sacramento to support some local candidates at a pre-election function. But she needed a quick ride to Oakland afterwards. Someone called me and, yes, I flew her to Oakland, around midnight. She sat in the backseat and slept for the entire trip. Probably part of her incredible success in California politics was knowing when and how to sleep!
7/19/77 My sister, Helen, was in the
hospital and we were advised to come quickly if we wanted to visit. I got permission for the club
members to take to take the plane for two weeks, a standard perk!
I had installed a low frequency antenna with a connection between the front seats that was also available to the people in the back. I bought three portable radios for my wife, Sauny, my son Dan (13) and my daughter, Marit (5). I had made antenna connections with an alligator clip so they could connect to the external antenna. Their reception was great! And they each could pick their own pleasure. Sauny, in particular, was pleased. She said the flight was the most enjoyable for her because of the earphones. The cockpit noise had always been a severe problem to her very sensitive ears. And further, this was the first time she understood the two-way conversation I had with the various ground stations. Since I was so close, I came in regardless of the station she had set but she could see what station I was tuned to, set her radio there and she got both ends of the conversation for the first time.
We took off around 2:30 PM from San Luis Obispo Then I took off, headed for the Sierra and this beautiful little airplane went right over these 14,000 for mountains to Tonapah NV. They had my candidate for the worst runway I ever encountered. Then we flew to Provo UT and arrived about sunset. My flying guide said they had food! Yeh, sure. They had a sandwich vending machine. So we made do, rolled out our bedrolls and went to sleep under the wing.
The next morning we flew up and had breakfast at the terminal in Salt Lake City. The next stop was Casper WY, then Rapid City SD and finally my original airport, where I learned to fly in 1942 Hector Airport in Fargo ND.
While in Moorhead MN (twin city to Fargo ND), we had a time to
wait. My grandfather was in the Civil War and his first assignment in August 1862 was to Fort
Ridgeley MN, along the Minnesota River. The Indians had decided to take back the State of Minnesota
while many of the men were away in the war. The attack was fought off and the Fort is now a State
Park. I had always wanted to see it. But we didn't have the time to drive and stay in motels and all
that so I decided we could fly. Besides, I wanted to. But we needed transportation when we got
there. So I called the nearby New Ulm newspaper and offered them a human interest story in return
for transportation and they agreed.
My son, Daniel, and my nephew, David Holsen, went with me. There was an obelisk there with a bronze plaque with the names of the soldiers that were there for the Defense of Fort Ridgeley . It was a bit eerie to see the names; my great grandfather Daniel Dills, his brother Charles Dills and Charles Henry Dills, my grandfather.
Yes, my sister died and I told Sauny to stay with our brother-in-law and our kids as long as she thought he needed her, I would fly back alone. Helen's daughter, Linda Leach, was married to a man that worked for the City of Moorhead and was interested in flying. He asked me if he could go along and, of course, I said yes. So he made a Saturday night phone call to his boss and told him he was going to be gone till probably Tuesday. We took off and flew to Bismarck ND, gassed and took off for Billings MT. We slept under the wing of the plane, got up and went on our way early in the AM. We flew to Idaho Falls ID and landed with a somewhat low ceiling. I wanted to keep going but the weather was bad. I was checking the weather reports and thought it was possible to get to Pocatello so we took off. Dumb, dumb, dumb. We were never in danger but it was very uncomfortable. I had hoped to get there, closer to the weather front, land and wait for it to pass over us. But I think it was already there. We had to fly low enough that I was having a little trouble with my bearings and the tower had to talk me into the airport. I felt really stupid but we were OK. A bit later it cleared enough to continue and we went to Twin Falls ID and then to Boise to stay the night under the wing. Then on to Carson City. We enjoyed the view of Crater Lake and the Presidential Range. And from Carson City we went to San Luis Obispo. We got a good look at Yosemite from the air. When we got to San Luis Obispo I took him to the airport, he made a reservation to go back the next day. I think he really enjoyed the trip.
8/13/81 Two friends of mine lived in Oceano
CA, downwind of Diablo Canyon. They were very uncomfortable about this and wanted to move somewhere
else. So they asked me to fly them to Crescent City.
We flew to Santa Rosa and gassed up. Then we flew to wild little airport called Gasquet CA. It was in a valley surrounded by mountains. I had to use a right hand pattern, coming in on the base leg and then got it down quickly. We stayed in a motel overnight and their realtor took them around. The we went back to take off. We headed west toward some mountains, socked in by clouds, turned around to the left as we gained enough altitude to cross the hills/mountains on that side. We gassed at Red Bluff on the way back.
9/81 About a month later they decided to
visit Bandon OR. Again we went to Red Bluff and gassed. Next we flew to Medford and turned west over
the coastal range to Bandon. Again we stayed overnight and traveled around with the realtor. It is a
small but pretty place. I spent some time with my camera down where the river runs into the ocean.
There were redwood stumps big enough to build a small house on.
On the way back there were clouds over the coastal range. Being in a single engine plane with no parachutes, I betrayed my "chicken" character by climbing to 7000' before crossing the clouds. I wanted enough altitude to be able to glide to either side should anything happen. Again we gassed at Red Bluff and the went home.
6/7/86 Dr. ***************, Professor of
Biology at Cal Poly and member of the faculty flying club had built a Rutan Vari-Eze aircraft. He
flew it quite a bit and decided to attend a fly-in at Merced CA. He was a good pilot but perhaps a
bit too cooperative. When one enters the pattern at a well-attended fly-in, one gets in a long
almost formless snakedance. The airspeed is usually around the average approach speed of many
planes, around 70 mph. This a bit slow for a Vari-Eze which is more comfortable around 80. But
Richard tends to be cooperative and tried to fit in. He was approaching the ground when he ran into
some turbulence, probably from the plane ahead needing a burst of power to make the runway. He was
already a bit slow, the controls were probably somewhat soft and the right wing dipped. The
projection at the bottom of the right wing hooked one of the light standards at the end of the
runway and he probably overcorrected, stalled and crashed on the left side of the runway.
He was very seriously injured, losing an ear, shattering both ankles and in a coma for a time, at least a week as I remember, He finally started to recover, regained consciousness but had considerable trouble with speech.
When it came close to the time he was to return home his wife was telling me how much ground and air ambulances cost. I told her to ask his doctor if we could bring him back in our Cessna 170. We could take out the back and co-pilot seats and stretch him out on the floor. The doctor was a pilot and said it would be all right. So when the time came, the backseat was already out to be recovered. His son rode in the co-pilot's seat to drive his mother home in the car. We removed the co-pilot seat and laid down a 30 inch wide, six inch thick and six feet long piece of polyurethane foam I had borrowed from an upholsterer friend. The seat belt was still there, attached to the floor. The ambulance came and the doctor supervised the loading and fastening of the seat belt.
I started the engine, taxied and took off to the north. Once in the air it occurred to me that in the excitement I had forgotten to file a flight plan. This was not required but I always did. I called the tower and asked to file a flight plan in the air, a permitted procedure. It turns out that the tower operator was the one on duty at the time of the crash. He said, "We have you covered, " and gave me a frequency. I called it and it was Castle Air Force Base. I told them that we might have a little trouble because I was not going over 1500 feet because I didn't know if his ears could take it. They agreed to follow me.
I had some 3 x 5 cards already prepared saying things like "too hot", "too cold", "ears hurt" etc. just in case he showed any distress.
Castle AFB handed me off to Avenal and they in turn handed me off to Los Angeles. They were very nice to me although they usually are short with private pilots because they have bigger fish to fry. I told them that I wasn't going in a direct line because I didn't want to be over the mountains if anything happened. I told them I would follow the highway to Paso Robles and then "take highway 101" to San Luis Obispo. They acknowledged. A bit later, after turning south at Paso Robles, I approached our airport from the north crossing Cuesta Grade. I told Los Angeles that I had the airport in sight and thanked them for following me.
I made a wide gentle turn to approach the airport, landed smoothly, let it roll up to the tower where an ambulance was waiting. They unloaded him onto a gurney. He had not made a peep during the whole flight. As he passed me on the gurney, he reached up and grabbed my arm and said "You did good, Charley".
He was in a down mood when he got home. I poured some concrete to create a wheelchair ramp at the front door. I went over to his house every night for over a month to talk and try to cheer him up. He eventually got well enough to go back to teaching. But he soon reached retirement age. They moved soon after over to the Fresno area and left without saying goodbye.
One time a photographer for Time Magazine wanted some aerial photos of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant because of a threatened massive "invasion" of protesters. I took him out and positioned the plane where I thought he would get the best picture. I was pleased later when of all the photos he took, the one I suggested is the one that got published.
We encountered a good deal of weather in the Idaho portion of the trip.