“Hey Dave, I’m getting my Mustang type rating next month at FlightSafety. Would you ride right seat in the simulator and mentor me for the class?”
While I have heard this request before, it has never come from an astronaut – and an impressive one to boot. Charlie Precourt, a veteran of four shuttle missions, a former chief astronaut for NASA, a guy who has flown over 100 airplane models with over 10,000 hours in his logbook, wanted me to teach him something!
“Well sure,” I said a little intimidated. I forgot to mention that Charlie is also the chairman of the Citation Jet Pilots Safety Committee and flies his own CJ1+.
I had a little prior experience with Charlie, however. A year ago, I invited him to fly right seat in my Mustang on a leg from Houston to Dallas. On that trip, he hand-flew the entire time. “Dave, did you notice that your airplane is slightly out of trim?” “Well no,” I replied. “I’ve been flying this thing for 18 months and haven’t felt it.”
Charlie touched the aileron trim button for a fraction of a second. “Now it’s perfect,” he proudly pontificated. I proceeded to mutter something under my breath.
Charlie’s landing, his first in a Mustang, was of course flawless. You know, the kind where you don’t ever feel the touchdown. As we taxied off the active, I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “It’s okay Charlie, just keep working on it and your landings will get a little better each time.”
Charlie was not doing much for my ego.
But now I found myself at FlightSafety in Wichita with this model of aviation perfection. By the third sim session, Charlie was way better than me, even after my 10 years of bi-annual recurrents.
Then it dawned on me: Charlie’s brain is much larger than mine. This is clearly visible from the displayed photo. He was simply born with an unfair advantage. That night at dinner, Charlie went on and on about phi-to-beta ratio, Q alpha feedback and something called Delta P. I nodded as if I understood. During dessert, my phone rang. It was my wife, Patty. “Are you still the best Mustang pilot in the world?” she asked.
“Absolutely, positively,” I shot back. “I have told you that for years. Nothing’s changed. But Charlie is getting dangerously close. And I think he is mad at Delta airlines.”
For several days, I simply watched and learned from the guy I was supposed to be coaching. But I used every opportunity to impress him with my non-aviation acumen – like the closest fast food locations to the training facility.
“You’ve never been to Chick-fil-A?” I asked. “Never,” he said.
I breezed in and instructed him on how to order. He seemed confused. “Do we take a number or do they bring it to us?” “Just watch me,” I said.
Now I had a purpose – a mission. Not in space. But in chicken.