Monday, July 20, 2009

My Absolutely Best Flying Story- J.R. Hauptman Guest Post

J.R. Hauptman is the author of the murder, mystery, action novel, The Target: Love, Death and Airline Deregulation. I am very excited to have J.R. Hauptman do a guest post on my blog. I think that you will find his post to be an interesting tale. At least I did. Enjoy

My Absolutely Best Flying Story
by J.R. Hauptman

When folks discover that I have been a professional pilot for nearly a half- century, they often ask me what was the most exciting and dangerous incident for me to experience and survive. Although there have been very few to approach the level of excitement of Captain Sully’s landing in the Hudson, I tell them that the story I like to share, is the one I consider my most “interesting.”

I had spent barely a year as a pilot for one of the major airfreight carriers and my son-in-law, let’s call him “Bradley,” was winding down his professional football career by recently signing with the Los Angeles Rams for the last few games of the season. His early career had been star-crossed, rewarding him with a berth on a championship team and two Super Bowl rings. The hapless Rams were not very good that year and this was definitely a demotion for him. I managed to attend two of these games by using my airline jumpseat privileges and the final one was in Seattle against the Seahawks.

I rode the jumpseat from Denver to Seattle on one of the non-stop flights and arranged to spend the night before the game with an old friend from my last tour in Viet Nam. Brad provided us with complimentary game tickets and we managed to spend some time with him and a few of his teammates that evening. It had to be a short evening due to an early bed check and Bradley seemed to be suffering from the onset of the flu.

As anticipated, the game went badly for the Rams; they came out flat and Brad, who should have stayed in bed, more that once found himself flattened on the Astroturf of the old Kingdome. We got to see him briefly after the game, as he boarded the team bus and took a seat next to the head coach, who would be fired the very next day.

I spent the night with my war buddy and early the next morning, he dropped me off at Sea Tac Airport to catch my flight back home to Denver. My chances to get on board appeared a bit chancy as there were several pass riders and jumpseaters standing by, but the rules were very generous back in those days and my luck held. I even managed to sit in first class with several others who were pass riders from that airline.

We took off without delay and the first thirty minutes of the flight. Shortly after the aircraft leveled out at cruise altitude, the chime rang and the head flight attendant picked up the interphone to the cockpit. She listened intently for a few seconds, then lowered the phone, a serious but unperturbed look on her face. Switching the phone to public address, announced, “Any doctors or paramedics on board, would you please press your call buttons.” She strode purposely to the rear cabin, as there were two dings in reply.

Within a minute, two young gentlemen, as requested a doctor and a paramed, marched not altogether anxiously back up the aisle, herded along by the first flight attendant. The cockpit door of the Boeing 737 opened to a knock and my view was temporarily blocked by the small crowd of people now at the entrance. The crowd then shifted rearward as the doctor and paramed lifted the copilot out of his seat and laid his body across the threshold, his feet and legs still inside the cockpit and his face the color of battleship grey.

The medics began working on him as he lay there and as the flight attendant again scurried to the rear, I turned to the passenger across from me and asked, “Are you a pilot for this airline and qualified in this airplane?”

“Uhh, well,” he answered, “I’m a simulator instructor in this bird down at their training center but I’m not one of their regular line pilots. He returned to his magazine, obviously not anxious to volunteer.

By now the head F/A was on her way back to the front door where they had dragged the copilot to the floor of the alcove. I stopped her and told her that I worked for the airfreight company and that although I was not qualified on this aircraft, I had flown the Boeing 727 and that I would do anything to assist the Captain. She stepped over the victim and after a brief parley in the cockpit, she returned to where I sat.

“Captain wants you up front right now,” she stated tersely. “Here, take these with you; you’ll need ‘em,” she added, handing me a fistful of paper towels. I became the seventh person in the small space between the entry alcove and the copilot seat as the F/A attempted to clear debris and remnants of his crew meal from the cockpit floor. The right seat was somewhat wet with mostly coffee as I daubed at it with the towels. By this point there were nearly five people in the tiny cockpit as the doctor and flight attendant attempted to converse with the Captain and the air traffic control center blared over the loudspeakers.

As I tried to make my way into the seat, an awful thought crossed my mind. Food poisoning?? Had the copilot gotten food poisoning from the crew meal or what he might have eaten earlier? Worse, was the Captain about to fall victim to food poisoning if he had eaten the same kind of meal? And the worst thought of all, “Would I have to fly this airplane by myself if he is incapacitated too??!”

Since Viet Nam, I have a developed a little device I use on myself when I get into a tough spot. I take about three deep breaths and work myself into a controlled adrenal state. My emotions soar, almost to the point of tears but my mind is completely clear and in cold focus. I thought of my son-in-law and almost audibly said to him, “Brad, you play in big games and Super Bowls, but this is just a jet and this is what I do!”

My mind focused, I squeezed into the seat, plugged the copilot’s earphone and introduced myself to the Captain as he welcomed me aboard. Air Traffic Control was still yammering at our flight, wanting to know if we wanted to declare an emergency and when I asked him for guidance, he looked at me directly and said, “You handle it!”

That settled, I took over the copilot duties and without further incidents we proceeded to Denver and some two hours later, we made a normal approach, landing and arrival there. Now I think that by itself, that makes a pretty good flying story but the story is not yet over and it is far from the best part.

After being greeted by the FAA and the local chief pilot, I called my own chief pilot and my wife to keep them informed and not to worry if the news media got hold of it. I also decided to call our daughter Laura, who was in LA with Brad and I told her the whole story. Excited, she thanked me and added that Brad was still in bed with a bad case of the flu. For the time being, the story ended there for me but here is the best part.

When daughter Laura hung up the phone, she ran to the bedroom where Bradley dozed fitfully.
“Brad, Brad,” she shook him. “You’ll never guess what happened to my dad when he jumpseated back to Denver.”

“Yeah,” he answered drowsily. “I had a dream a couple of hours ago and it woke me up, it was so real. The copilot got sick and your dad had to help fly the airplane.”

This is a true story. My son-in-law is a realist who doesn’t go in for this spooky spiritual or ESP stuff and to this day, he will not discuss it.

YOU figure it out!

J.R. Hauptman (pseudonym) has been a professional pilot for nearly a half century. Barely twenty years old, he began as a military pilot and for almost two years he flew combat support missions in the Viet Nam War. Upon leaving military service he was hired by a major airline and was initially based on the West Coast. His flying career was interrupted by the turmoil that racked the airline industry during the early days of deregulation. In the interim, he worked as a travel agent, a stockbroker and even trained dogs and horses. In the late nineteen-eighties, he returned to aviation, flying jet charters and air freight. He concluded his career flying corporate jets and now lives in Florida. He is completing his second work, a non-fictional social commentary and surfs every day, waves or not. You can visit his website at

I would like to thank J.R. Hauptman for sharing this story with us. My review of Hauptman's book The Target:Love, Death, and Airline Deregulation will be posted on August 20. It should be a good read.

Happy Reading

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