Strangers in the Night

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This page last updated on 07/08/2017.

Copyright 2001-2017 by Russ Meyer


On August 26th, 2000, I decided to go flying.  I wanted to fly east to Commerce, Texas.  There I planned to do some touch-and-gos, then work my way further east to Mount Pleasant before returning to Addison.  The second half of the flight would be at night.  I decided to leave my GPS at home and navigate the old fashion way, by pilotage and VOR.

My young daughters, Serena and Katie, wanted to tag along as co-pilots, which was fine by me.  I prefer having company.  It would let the kids and I spend some time together and give Jane a little break too.  We piled into the plane and took off at about 6:00 PM.  The air was hot and bumpy.  About half-way to Commerce, Serena said she was feeling sick.  I opened the windows and climbed several thousand feet to cooler, less bumpy air.  She started feeling better after about 15 minutes.  By this time, we were approaching Commerce, and if I was going to land there, I would have to start my descent.  I really didn't want to go back down into the hot, bumpy air near the surface, especially after getting Serena's tummy settled down.  I decided to skip the Commerce landing and headed for Mount Pleasant.  The remainder of the flight to Mount Pleasant was fine.  Serena eventually fell asleep, but Katie was awake, bouncing around, looking out the window, and singing to herself.

At dusk, we landed in Mount Pleasant, taxied up to the FBO, and tied down.  We went in the office and got a coke.  I strolled around the airport looking at airplanes and all the interesting junk piled in hangers.  The girls entertained themselves by poking around in mud puddles where some water bugs were swimming about.  After stretching our legs for a while, we were ready to go.  We went back to the plane and consulted the sectional.

I really didn't feel like heading directly back to Addison.  As long was we were this far out from Addison, we might as well do a little exploring and hop over to a couple of other airports.  I looked at airports south of Mount Pleasant.  There were a couple of candidates down there, Gladewater and Gilmore.  I asked Serena which one she wanted to go to.  "Gladewater!" she exclaimed, so Gladewater it was.  We took off headed south into the last gasps of twilight.  I was a dark night; no moon.  The flight to Gladewater should take about 30 minutes.  After 25 minutes of flying, I began to get a little disoriented.  We should have been right up on top of Gladewater by now, but the landmarks were not tagging up quite right.  Triangulating off of a couple of VORs seemed to indicate that we were still 10 or 15 miles north of Gladewater.  I suspected the south wind we had been bucking had picked up and impeded our progress more than expected.  Just then an airport became visible about 5 miles off our nose and to the left of course.  It could be Gladewater, but might also be Gilmer.  I wasn't sure.  I decided to land there to get my bearings.  Gladewater or Gilmer, it didn't really matter that much.  I set up for a landing.

In the pattern, everything seemed normal, right down through final approach.  We arrived over the approach end of the runway about 5 feet in the air.  Just as I began to flare, WHAM!  The airplane slammed down on the runway and bounced back into the air.  I added a bit of power and touched down pretty hard the second time, but at least the plane didn't bounce again.  It was by far the worst landing I had made since I was a student pilot.  What happened?!  We pulled off and stopped on the taxiway.  I was shook up and felt kind of stupid for making such a bad landing.  The kids had zonked out right after takeoff and were still asleep.  Wow...I don't know how they slept through that.  The airplane seemed OK...no blown tires, nothing bent or scratched.  Man these Cessnas can take abuse!  I sat there with the engine idling, trying to regain my composure.  After a few minutes, I taxied off.

The landing light swept past a hanger with "GILMER" painted on it.  Ah ha...so we were in Gilmer.  I decided to take off right away and headed for the end of the runway.  As we taxied along, I looked to the right and noticed an odd looking hanger.  It was large and had huge translucent hanger doors.  The doors were open about 10 feet, and between them emerged the nose of what looked like a DC-3.  The interior of the hanger was filled with a glowing pink light.  I marveled at this sight as I taxied by...it seemed very unusual.  I taxied past a row of small hangers.  As I did so, I looked right again, trying to see around them to get another glimpse of that weird pink glowing hanger.  I was startled to see silhouetted against those big pink glowing doors, about 30 men standing silently in the darkness between the little hangers.  They were standing very still watching us taxi by.  My first thought was, "Oh great, a big audience was on-hand to watch the worst landing I've made in ten years!"  The group stood there motionless apparently transfixed by our passing.  That's weird, they're not waving, moving, or anything.  I saw two cars parked behind the group, but that was it.  I wonder how they all got there.  Well, it was either totally innocuous, or they were up to no good.  I wasn't interested in hanging around to find out, I just wanted to get out of there.

I got to the approach end of the runway, and discovered it was 5-10 feet higher than the rest of the airstrip.  It sloped down rapidly, and the remaining 4/5ths of the runway was relatively flat.  That explained why I slammed down so hard.  In the darkness, I couldn't see the slope of the runway.  All I could see coming into the flare was the flat part of the runway ahead; seemingly still five feet below the wheels.  In reality, I was only a foot or two off the ground at that point.  The optical illusion had fooled me into delaying my flare too long.  Very tricky.  We taxied onto the runway, and took off.  As we climbed out, I stole a last glance at that pink glowing hanger and the odd group of silent strangers standing in the darkness.

We took up course for Tyler, where I wanted to do a few stop-and-gos to refresh my night currency.  We arrived at Tyler, and got into the pattern.  The tower cleared us for stop-and-gos, and those we did.  My landings were not very good...I just didn't feel quite right after that hideous landing at Gilmer.  I don't know if I was kind of tense or what; I did feel less alert than normal.  After a few stop-and-gos I threw in the towel and departed for Addison.

We arrived back at Addison.  I gathered up the sleeping kids, transferred them to the car, and headed home.  The end of an unusual flight.