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Some time ago, I wrote a little story about my sad experience with a DeHavilland Chipmunk. Friend John Dicker offers his own recollection of an interesting day (21 Sep 62) in which the "Chippie" nearly gets the upper hand at RCAF Station Centralia while he was undergoing flying training.

John Swallow, Editor, Vernon BC Flying Club Newsletter, March 2014.

An RCCS Pilots First Solo

To the best of my recollection, the weather that Friday was ideal for flying: a sunny, not too warm Western Ontario fall day, with light westerly winds. The previous day I had completed Lesson Plans 8 and 9 in Chipmunk 020 with my Instructor, F/O Vern Peppard. It was entirely possible that today could be the day I went solo for the first time ever. You knew that you were getting close to solo time by the number of hours flown up to that point in time and how well you thought things were going in general. The decision to send you solo was, of course, totally up to your Instructor.

Off we went in 071 for an hour of dual, after which I would have a grand total of 9 hours and 15 minutes flying time. Having completed the hour of dual, I was instructed by Vern to land, taxi back to the ramp, but, not to shut-down. I knew right then and there that today was the big day!

I pulled into the hangar line, stopped and put on the brakes. Vern opened the canopy, climbed- out, secured the back seat harness, closed the canopy half-way and, before jumping down off the wing onto the tarmac, said to me: "away you go: one circuit only and then bring her back and shut her down" (one circuit was the rule at PFS for a first solo).

18020 in US livery

I was now completely alone in the aircraft and about to go flying solo, as Pilot-in-Command, for the first time in my life. It is hard to describe one's feelings at a time like this, so I won't try. I will leave it to your imagination.

"Centralia Ground, Air Force 071, taxi, OVER" "Air Force 071, Centralia Ground, you are cleared to taxi Runway two two, winds two six zero at five, altimeter two niner niner six. Call Tower on one twenty six two when ready for take-off". "Roger, Air Force 071". And away I went, to the run-up position at the end of Runway 22-the shortest and narrowest of all the runways on the airfield! Having completed the run-up, I switched to Tower frequency and obtained take-off clearance. The moment had arrived! With 071 perfectly lined up with the centre line, I opened the throttle. Flying speed was reached quickly and off she flew. I was airborne! The first thing I did, as I'm sure most other first-time soloists did also, was look back at the empty back seat only to see no one there! That's when it really strikes you that you are now "it" and the only way you are going to get down again is if "you" land the aircraft.

A youthful 2Lt John Dicker in 075

Normal circuit procedures followed with clearance to land full-stop being given on turning final. I was high in altitude at that point and I knew it, so I lowered a notch of flap. At this point I should have realized that if I continued my approach at my present speed and rate of descent, I would touch down well past halfway down the runway. Nevertheless, I continued at the same speed and rate of descent, determined to land 071 on my first attempt. I should have overshot at this point, but foolishly I continued on. Finally I touched-down, about three-quarters the way down Runway 22. Much to my horror I could see the end of the runway approaching very rapidly.

It was too late to initiate a touch-and-go and I was going too fast to effectively apply the brakes without nosing over. I decided to execute a "controlled" ground loop (what I prefer to call it when telling the story). This was done through the judicious (knowingly or otherwise) application of brakes and rudder. The aircraft juddered around in an arc to a halt, in a cloud of dust, just to the left of and pointing back down the runway. The next thing I remember is the Tower asking me if I was OK, to which I happily replied 'Yes". I was then instructed to taxi back to the ramp and shut down which I gratefully did.

Centralia in 2009

Although time has faded my memory on this point, I believe the traditional post-solo congratulatory "soaking" was administered by the other members of my course as I made my way to the Blister to sign-in after shutting-down.

What I did not know at the time was that it was traditional for the Instructor to watch the student's first solo from the Control Tower. No doubt Vern and the Controller watched my first solo landing attempt with great anxiety and serious doubt as to its successful outcome. Great credit is due to the Controller that day for not instructing me to shut-down after landing and for not dispatching a crash truck, as he was well within his right to do under the circumstances. To have done so would surely have shattered the confidence of the student pilot and no doubt have an adverse effect on his performance for the rest of the Course. Notwithstanding, it was indeed fortunate that the aircraft did not sustain any damage whatsoever due, in all likelihood, to the fact that the ground loop was in fact "controlled" and no damage was done to the wing tip, propeller or undercarriage. This the Controller would have observed from the Tower through his binoculars after the dust settled and before he instructed me to taxi back to the ramp. I often reflect on that Controller's insight and wisdom in the actions he took that day, and credit him in no small way with the success I ultimately had in completing the Primary Flying Course at Centralia in Dec 1962.

So, to my PFS Flight Instructor, F/O Vern Peppard and to the Centralia Air Traffic Controller on duty in the Tower that day, I say "thank you" and often think about how you so professionally handled my "incident", thereby contributing in no small way to my ultimate success in earning my Army Pilot Wings the following Apr at the Army Aviation Tactical Training School, CJATC, Rivers Camp, Manitoba.

Below, Chipmunk 18071, now rebadged as N4KV, is currently owned and operated by Flight Research Inc (FRI), located in Mojave California. President of FRI is Nadia Roberts, an ex-Canadian Armed Forces Captain (AERE). N4KV is currently used for formation and spin training in conjunction with courses run at FRI's sister organization in Mojave, the National Test Pilot School (NTPS). Photo was taken in March '08.

My first flying instructor at PFS RCAF Station Centralia, Vern Peppard. Picture was taken 21 Sep 08 at Vern’s residence in Ottawa ON, 46 years to the very day of my first solo in Chipmunk 071.

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