No More Happy Landings
Flying|August 2021
When a pilot no longer feels up to that title
DARCY VERNIER

In fall 1967, I was a Marine second lieutenant and completed my first solo in a Navy T-34. After a couple of times around the pattern, the instructor got out, slapped me on the helmet, and told me to make three touch-and-goes and come back to pick him up.

In fall 2017, I completed my last solo, this time in a flight school’s Cessna 172. Between the two, a lot of gas went out the exhaust as I chased flying jobs.

After that first flight, I went through VT-2 at Whiting Field in Florida, flying the magnificent T-28C/B. Having requested jets, F-4s or A-6s, I found myself in North Carolina at New River Marine Corps Air Station, flying the CH-46 Sea Knight—a helicopter later called the “Phrog,” but in a loving, respectful way.

For me, flying Marine helicopters in Vietnam was the ultimate adventure. The job itself was simple enough: take care of the “grunts” on the ground, regardless of weather or the fact you were regularly being shot at. I loved it. I flew for a year, came home with a bunch of medals and, after a tour in the training command, was unleashed on an unsuspecting civilian world.

I ultimately wanted to fly for the airlines, but airline hiring has more ups and downs than a pork-bellies futures chart. I interviewed with the “spooks” but wanted an accompanied mission of some kind. I talked with Air America but found the same problem: no families included.

A few years later, I was on the Hawaiian island of Maui, still not flying, but I was bartending and having a lot of fun. I realized that I couldn’t do that forever—that I should go flying, which I could do forever. After sending out a batch of résumés to various companies in Hawaii, I was picked up by Aloha Island Air, flying de Havilland Twin Otters around the islands.

After three years with Aloha Island, and a lot of library time searching for operators in Africa, I was hired by Air Serv to fly Twin Otters out of Lokichogio (“Loki”), Kenya. Loki was on the border with Sudan, which was embroiled in its continuous civil war.

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