top of page

Flying on Autopilot Part II

“Sarah, I told you this trip would be different. No more plane crashes for this guy, especially since the FAA temporarily suspended my license,” said Frank.

“Frank, you know I’m a Private Pilot now so you don't have to worry about whether you can fly or not. I'll let you have some stick time, so don't worry, you’ve been good to me. As far as a temporary suspension, I think you should lower your expectations.” said Sarah.

“Yeah, I think I'm a little worried still; you just got your ticket last week and now we're going to rent an airplane from Block Island and fly over water. Our luck isn’t the best, you know?” Said Frank.

“Our luck, Frank, that’s all on you buddy.” Said Sarah.

Frank and Sarah were making their way on the Montauk-Block Island ferry to Oyster’s Marina and Resort, a 2-star dream vacation on Block Island. Frank never let his Sarah down when it came to lavish vacations and adventure tours. If Rhode Island was like the little brother in the Union, Block Island was its well-kept, penned-in backyard.

Frank was perched top-side on the ferry. He preferred to be up where he could watch over the rest of the boat, like the Captain he once was. Airplane Captain, that was. Frank boasted a Member’s Only jacket and a slick looking pair of Aviators. He admired Sarah’s beauty below as he watched the wind blow through her hair.

Sarah was on top of the world. She loved her hapless Frank more every day. Despite his poor flying and trouble with various Federal agencies, his handsome looks made up for many shortcomings. As they entered the harbor now, she thought to herself, this is really going to be something special. I’ve got my Frank, her eye-candy, as she sometimes called him, and a new pilot’s license in my wallet. Block Island State Airport, here we come.

The ferry soon moored on the weather-beaten docks of Oyster’s Marina and Resort. Being the first stop for Long Island’s finest tourists, Oyster’s staff waited with full excitement for the big spenders from the west. As Sarah surveyed the accommodations, her smile faded and she turned slowly to spot Frank. Her look said it all, you did it again, she thought. As she gazed up at him, he spotted her with a big smile on his face and put his thumb up as if to say, uh huh, I promised you a good one. Sarah muttered SMH, to herself, which was surely lost in the wind.

“Welcome friends!” said a young dock-hand.

Sarah didn’t wait for Frank to descend the white metal steps of the ferry’s port side. She was angry. She knew that by the looks of this place, Mr. Big Spender Frank would surely screw the rest up too. The transportation he arranged, the restaurants he had reserved in advance, the plane they planned to rent from the FBO. Oh geez, I bet he screwed that up too, thought Sarah.

“Hey Sarah, wait up!” Shouted Frank.

Sarah pressed on as if she arrived alone. Maybe she could find some alternate accommodations and just tell Frank she’ll meet up tomorrow. She isn’t feeling well, etc. Well, heck, I guess I’ve come this far with the big lug, I may as well give him another chance. He was handsome after all, Sarah thought.

“Frank, hurry, I’m right here waiting, honey, I can’t wait to see the inside.” Said Sarah.

Frank and Sarah soon found themselves stowing their simple wares in their even simpler cottage, as the staff called Room 13 of Oyster’s Marina and Resort. One Queen bed, one dresser, one chair, one bathroom, one more time Sarah trusted Frank to book the accommodations. When would she learn, she thought to herself. She forced a smile and scrunched her forehead as Frank elegantly directed her across the threshold as if it was the Presidential Suite at a posh palace on the English countryside.

“Honey, you can have the side next to the window.” Frank said.

“Ah, thank you, Frank. Does that window open?” Asked Sarah.

“Oh, sure, honey, let me do it for you.” Said Frank.

Frank strowed two steps forward, which was all it took to reach the frosted plastic apportionment which more resembled a port hole than a window. He jerked the sash with determination but the port hole wasn’t to be opened that day. Frank turned awkwardly back towards Sarah and changed the subject rather quickly.

“Hey Sarah, you know I heard they have the most amazing oysters here. It is the Oyster’s Marina and Resort after all. How about we forget about the room and go down to the lobby restaurant. They’ve got some great reviews on Yelp.” Said Frank.

“Okay.” Muttered Sarah.

“I’m sorry folks, we're all out of Oysters today. You can try back tomorrow.” Said the Waitress.

It was now getting more difficult for Sarah to hide her discontent. Frank was really just proving yet again that he couldn’t be trusted with the important things in their relationship. Well, things should be better now that Sarah was the Pilot in Command. He could screw up all the details of their lives as long as she was master of her aircraft.

She was more than a little worried about Frank’s ability to not be a back-seat flyer. He had to trust her. He had to leave that part to her. She had logged 350 hours after all, soloed after only 200. Frank liked to deconstruct all her lessons and re-teach her after they left the FBO back in Jersey. He knew some things and often corrected her Embry Riddle instructors’ mistakes. Frank told Sarah that if he had not oversaw her training the way he did, she may not have even soloed yet.

For Sarah’s part, it didn’t matter how she got there, just that she had arrived. Tomorrow would be the first time she took a passenger up, and what a joy that it would be her handsome man. The 2500-foot strip at BID Airport was more than enough for the C-150 that Frank had called ahead to reserve for his Sarah Bear. It was a beautiful, hot Summer day outside, 93 degrees and oddly not a breeze on the island. Sarah almost forgot her tummy was rumbling now as she imagined the majestic day tomorrow would surely prove to be.

“Frank, honey, I’m starving. Feed this girl, will you?”

Frank dutifully tended to his girl’s request and rented some beach cruisers from the hotel lobby.

“Come on Hun, there’s a great Donut shop up the road, I’m told.”

Frank and Sarah ventured out and soon smelled the decadent flavors of Mike’s Island Donuts. Their sign read ‘Mike’s Island Donuts, Their Greasy – But So are We’. This forced a doubletake between the hungry couple. Sarah quickly interjected her concern for their poor grammar and Frank worried that since there were no cars in the parking lot, they must be out of sprinkles. Sarah, again, shaking her head pressed forth.

With that snack stop not quite quelling their appetites, they ventured further down the road and realized they came upon the Block Island State Airport and Olga’s Airport Diner.

“Oh my, this sure is perfect, Hun. We can get a fine meal and check out the airplane.” Said Frank.

The pair from New Jersey let their beach cruisers fall against the window ledge and quickly entered the humble establishment. Frank’s girl was starving and he was going fix that, one way or another.

“Welcome to Olga’s, smoking or non-smoking? Inside or out?” Greeted the Hostess.

“Anything will do, we’re starving.” Said Sarah.

Frank gave Sarah the seat facing the tarmac. He always preferred to sit facing the door, to protect her back, he always said. So there it was, a meal was finally upon them. Sarah perused the menu while Frank gazed upon the varied patrons of Olga’s Airport Diner. Sarah began reading some choices for Frank as he all too often never knew what he wanted. Aside from the dozens of chicken wings Frank’s been known to gobble up, he was all over the map, like his life of late.

“There’s the Piper Pita, the Centerline Dog, the PAPI Salad, the Hundred Dollar Tuna Melt, how about some Carburetor Chips and Dip Dip with a Cirrus Shake?” Said Sarah.

“I don’t know Hun, do they have any wings?”

“Welcome to Olga’s, my name’s Svetlana, are you ready to order?”

Frank and Sarah shared a happy glance and smiled at Svetlana.

“Do you have any wings?” Asked Frank

“Sir, I can bring you an order of Cantilever Wings, would you like 6 or 12?” Said Svetlana.

“Cantilever Wings, huh, I’ll have 12, please.” Added Frank.

“And for you Ma’am, what may I get for you today?”

“Hmm, I’ll have the Spin Burger, Medium, with a side of Waypoint Fries and a Lenticular Lemonade, please.” Said Sarah.

The food was oddly named but ultimately familiar to the vacationing pair. They both gobbled it down as if there was none in all of New Jersey. Frank was chewing the chicken when the wooden door with the cow bell affixed to the inside of Olga’s Airport Diner suddenly swung wide opened. Frank took note of two men dressed in similar fashion. White golf shirts with an Avemco logo over the front left pocket. They were in navy blue dress pants and seemed a little stiff for a hot sunny vacation spot like the island. Avemco, he thought, I know that.

“Hey Hun, have you ever heard of Avemco?” Asked Frank.

“Sure Frank, that’s our aircraft insurance company. Come to think of it, we’ve been getting several letters from them back home this past month.” Said Sarah.

“Ah hah, okay, did you happen to open any of those letter, Sarah?”

“Well, no Frank, they were all addressed to you, Captain Frank in bold type they read.” Said Sarah.

Frank thought it best they finish their meal a little quicker and move over to the flight school inthe next building. The two Avemco fellows had sat two tables over from Frank and Sarah and all the while Frank heard them talking about this guy they were going finally catch up with. Their conversation wasn’t fully audible, however Frank swore he heard mention of an aircraft accident and this will be the end, and something else about the new federally mandated aircraft rental background check system or FMABCS getting a hit.

“Okay, Svetlana, we’re all done, thank you very much, just a check please.” Said Frank.

“Frank, slow down, I still have half my lemonade left.”

“Okay, well, let’s take that to go, Sarah. I think I just heard a C-150 taxiing out and I want to take a look with you.” Said Frank.

Frank swiftly passed the table of odd fellows and paid their check. Sarah poured her lemonade into the to go cup that Svetlana had provided and they were off just that quick. Again, Sarah shaking her head at Franks erratic behavior. They made their way towards the next building over and did in fact spot a C-150 departing the parking area for the short taxi to Runway 28 at BID. They would require a back-taxi for Runway 28 as Frank recalled. He always did his homework when it came to flight planning and checking NOTAMS or notices to airmen.

“Uh, Frank, I sure hope that’s not the airplane you reserved for us.” Said Sarah.

“What, what’s wrong, Sarah?” Asked Frank.

“Well, aside from the cardboard in place of the passenger’s side window and the chipping paint and the fuel leaking from the bottom of the engine cowling, nothing, I suppose, she’s a beauty.” Said Sarah.

“Sarah, listen, you know that I know airplanes, right?” Asked Frank.

“Oh yea, Honey, you’re top notch when it comes to airplanes.”

“That’s right, now stop worrying about the plane. I’m sure they’ll have it all fixed by tomorrow. I mean, I told them who I was. I said listen here now, I’ve got hundreds of hours of flight time, just no license at the moment. It was a clerical error I said. My partner will be the PIC for the rental.” Stated Frank.

“Frank, did you give them your name?” Asked Sarah.

“Of course I did, you wanted a nice plane, didn’t you?” Said Frank.

“Okay, Frank. Haven’t you ever heard of the FMABCS? They probably came up with a hit in the new federally mandated aircraft rental background check system database and now we’ll probably have some problems tomorrow.” Said Sarah.

“Nonsense.” Said Frank.

Frank and Sarah were now more aggravated with one another despite their full bellies. They both determined to just leave and go back to their beautiful room at Oyster’s Marina and Resort and take a nap. It had been an awful long day so far. As they exited the ramp through the chain link security fence between the restaurant and the FBO, they noticed those two oddly dressed Avemco insurance fellows making their way between the two buildings as well. Frank, again let his face hang lower than usual and exited quietly, almost letting the gate slam back into Sarah’s face.

“Jeez, Frank, what was that all about.” Asked Sarah.

“Didn’t you see those guys, the ones from the insurance company? I’ve been meaning to give my statement regarding our accident last year and I just keep putting it off. I know that James Tannis, the owner of the plane is at fault, I just can’t prove it yet.” Said Frank.

The two pedaled hurriedly away from the airport and back down the gently sloping access road towards ‘Mike’s Island Donuts, Their Greasy – But So are We’ and Oyster’s Marina and Resort. They didn’t speak much as Sarah knew to give Frank his space when it came to the touchy subject of the suspension of his pilot’s license. He was such a proud Captain of airplanes and industry alike.

This plane crash really weighed heavily on him and even Sarah’s instructor, an Embry Riddle graduate said, according to her description of the events, Frank has a very good case of getting his license back from the FAA after the matter is fully sorted. He even pointed to Page 532 of Chapter 69 in Embry Riddle’s Accident Investigation Manual for the New Safety Minded Inspector, where it stated unequivocally that the maintenance of an aircraft is the responsibility of the owner or renting facility. Sarah’s instructor was super smart and he said that Frank could rest his whole case on that fact alone.

The following day Frank and Sarah began with imitation Oyster Omelets and home fries in the lobby restaurant. Frank requested a side of Pork Roll and got pretty angry when they claimed to have no idea what that was. Despite the rocky start, the sun was blazing already at 0800 local time and the coffee was good.

The hotel agreed to drop them off at the airport that morning due to Frank’s complaint about a noisy bicycle chain the day before. Frank smirked as they pulled up to the Block Island State Airport and reminded Sarah that it was incredulous they would have rented him a bike like that. Someone’s head should role because of that non-sense, he thought.

Frank held the door to the FBO for his Sarah and they filed in a few minutes ahead of their scheduled rental period. Frank had already told Sarah that he chose that FBO at that airport because no one in New Jersey or New York would rent them an airplane without a rigorous checkout period of at least 1 hour of flight and 1 hour of ground review. Frank knew that to be utterly stupid and he was quite proud of happening upon this school on this island.

At the FBO counter stood those fellows they saw the day before. Same white shirts, same navy blue pants, same bureaucratic look to themselves. This time they held clip boards in their hands and they seemed quite self-assured that morning. Frank spotted them first and turned around before the door even shut behind them. Sarah had a big smile on her face and said good morning to the lady behind the counter and incidentally to the two men in front of the rental counter too.

“Good morning, Ma’am, what can we do for you today?” Asked the associate.

“Yes, thank you, my name is Sarah and I have your C-150 scheduled for this morning for a few hours.”

The two men perked up and now and stepped forward a little closer to Sarah. The associate wasn’t quite sure what to make of the pair of serious looking fellows.

“Hello Sarah, my name is Theodore Burns and this is my partner Andrew Whitcock. We’re from Avemco insurance company and we are wondering if you can tell us where Mr. Captain Frank is.” Said the taller of the two fellows.

Sarah turned and looked over her shoulder at Frank, only to realize there was no Frank to be found. She turned back with a half a smile on her face now and said, “Well good morning, fellas. Who did you say you’re looking for?”

“A Mr. Captain Frank, ma’am. Yes, that’s the name.” Said Theodore Burns.

“I’m sorry, do you have a last name, perhaps?” Asked Sarah.

“Uh, yes ma’am, it’s a Mr. Captain Frank. Mr. Frank, yes.” Said Mr. Burns.

“I’m sorry, I’ve never heard of him.” Said Sarah.

Meanwhile, Frank scurried around the front of the FBO back to Olga’s Airport Diner and ordered a bottle of Pellegrino and quickly flipped Svetlana a fiver for her service. He accessed the ramp from their side door as they had just yesterday. Frank ducked as he passed by the windows of the FBO and made his way towards that horrific looking C-150 they had seen yesterday. When he got to the plane he quickly slid inside. In fact they hadn’t fixed that passenger side cardboard insert yet. Maybe it was in the works.

Sarah had completed a couple minutes of paperwork and proudly provided a copy of her temporary airman certificate as well as her Basic Med credentials. This was her day, she had arrived. She worked very hard with her Embry Riddle instructor and Frank alike to achieve this milestone in her life. Her first passenger flight today, but where is that Frank, she thought. The Avemco employees were dumbfounded. They were sure they would finally catch up with a one Mr. Captain Frank that morning, however, apparently it was not meant to be. Perhaps the federally mandated aircraft rental background check system or FMABCS had failed them. This would be highly unlikely Mr. Theodore Burns said to his partner, Andrew Whitcock. This isn’t like a government program such as that one, he said while shaking his head now.

Sarah saw a popcorn machine in the corner of the FBO. She filled two large paper bags with the buttery goodness and proceeded out the ramp door to N138BS, that not so nice looking C-150. As she rounded the corner of the terminal and spotted her aircraft, with its cardboard passenger window, she laughed out loud. Looking into the front of the bird answered one question. There’s my silly fool of a partner. Oh my, he’s so crazy. What do I see in him, she mused.

Frank smiled as Sarah walked around the aircraft and conducted a solid preflight check. As she climbed into the small aircraft, all she could do was laugh at Frank.

“Oh my, I forgot to check the weather with all this excitement.” Said Sarah.

“Oh, no problem, let me check the weather App on my iPhone. Okay, it shows Sunny and 95 degrees.” Added Frank.

“Hmm, okay, well that’s good, I guess. Check.” Said Sarah.

Sarah taxied to Runway 10 that morning as the wind sock was limp, but aiming slightly down that direction. With a smooth runup and after completing all of the checklist items, Sarah pressed the mic button and with a confident smile she said, “Block Island Traffic, Cessna N138 Bravo Sierra departing Runway 10.”

Sarah lined up and checked her compass with her directional gyro as she rolled forward along the runway. “Boom!” She Said.

She pushed the throttle smoothly full forward and slid her feet down from the brake petals. The aircraft, with its chipping paint began a sluggish roll down the runway. The powerful C-150 was quickly at the halfway point of the runway as Frank found it necessary to continue to teach Sarah a few items that he forgot to mention in her first 350 hours of education. He mentioned the use of the rudder petals, and there was the control deflection, although he stated that she didn’t need to worry about that today as there was no perceivable wind, and then there was the checking of the engine instruments such as the oil temperature and pressure and the RPM gauge. The aircraft was now rolling past approximately ¾ of the runway length available as the airspeed indicated 35 knots.

Frank suddenly blurted out a reminder about the trim setting. Had that been set? Yes, he acknowledged as he panned his head down to the trim wheel, it appeared to be in the take-off region. All the while, Sarah had never felt more nervous for this first takeoff with a passenger on board. She knew this plane type. She had done this hundreds of times before. Why was she so nervous?

Frank mentioned the need to use a little right rudder after they lifted off the pavement. Sarah felt uneasy as the end of the runway seemed to be quickly approaching, but not quick enough as the airspeed still only read 40 knots, well short of her rotation speed. Sarah knew she was with a real pro; Frank had said as much just that morning at breakfast. Yes, they were eating oyster omelets and Frank was talking about all the hours he had and that she would be fine for her first passenger carrying flight.

Sarah was now more uncertain than ever before during a takeoff. She queried Frank about this seeming anomaly of a lack of airspeed and not enough runway remaining. As she realized he was quiet all of sudden, she peered to her right and there he was, her champion, Captain Frank was stuffing his face with the buttery popcorn she gave him. He had dropped several puffs and was picking them up from his lap and the not too filthy carpet between his legs. She began shaking her head as she made one last check of the airspeed indicator and then in front of the cowling at the end of the runway now fast approaching.

She slammed on her brakes, and then changed her mind and pulled back on the yoke to lift above the runway end lights. Her heels back on the floor again as she hoped the yoke would solve her problem. “No, it’s no good, hold on Frank, brace yourself!” She hollered.

“Huh?” Frank Said.

The mighty Cessna 150 only left the asphalt as it careened off the end of the runway. Sarah’s feet were smashing on the brakes now, yet they seemed to be doing nothing for them. The tires were now sliding over top of grass and dirt and they quickly traversed the perimeter road and down into a small gully that served to stop the airplane abruptly. Frank and Sarah’s bodies lunged forward with this sudden stop. Frank hit his head on the instrument panel as he failed to secure his shoulder harness earlier. It would have prevented him from collecting the popcorn he was apparently already dropping as Sarah taxied.

Meanwhile, several restaurant patrons, most of them pilots themselves as well as those two Avemco fellows had witnessed this overrun. They were now running toward the downed aircraft to assist. First to arrive was a one Mr. Theodore Burns from the Avemco Aircraft Insurance Company out of Toledo, Ohio. After surveying the situation and not feeling any undue danger, he approached the right side of the aircraft and was able to quickly extricate the man and move him away from the craft. Sarah was able to unbuckle herself and after closing the mixture and turning off the ignition and master switch she abandoned ship and joined Frank and Mr. Burns on the side of the embankment.

“Frank, Captain Frank! Are you okay my darling?” she hollered.

Mr. Burns, still with his clipboard in hand looked once more at the document affixed.

“Hello Captain Frank, are you okay?” Mr. Burns said.

Frank wearily gazed at Sarah and realizing she was okay, he said, “I knew this plane wasn’t safe. I said it before. I’ve got to talk to that lady behind the counter.”

The End

William Stephenson

Recent Posts

See All

Thank You, Vortex

Serving as editor in chief of the Vortex, the storied publication of the Jersey Aero Club, since 2021, I am excited to pass the task over to the capable hands of Elias Zwillenberg. Throughout my tenur


bottom of page