Logbook Stories

from my "Standard Pilot Master Log"


Lightning Strikes and Gets Pilot a Tip

August 5, 1977

In my day the pilots of charter flights weren't tipped by their passengers. This is the story of the one flight where my passenger tipped me at the end of the flight. And how it came about he thought my skill as a pilot was worthy of a gratuity, whereas from my point of view, it was all just in a day's work.

I was scheduled for a single-engine charter to take a gentleman from Clinton to Marshalltown. Per FAR Part 135 regs in those days, single-engine passenger charters were VFR only. The departure point was the primary base of a two-base FBO for which I worked. That's important to the story, because that base is where the FBO's owner was in residence. The owner was a gentleman I could only best describe as an "old coot" who, it wouldn't surprise me, had taught Charles Lindbergh how to fly. I had received my weather briefing, and per the briefing I advised my passenger that there was a line of thunderstorms advancing toward Marshalltown that would get there before we could get there, and so I thought he should reschedule his trip for another day. "Reschedule" to the old coot meant probable "lost revenue", (besides which, in his mind, his pilot is a young know-nothing, and I doubt if he even checked the weather), and so he told the customer that the weather was fine and that it was OK to go. The customer was another older gentleman, whose life experiences had probably inured him somewhat to danger. However, in line with my usual departure philosophy - if it's safe to "go take a look", then go ahead and depart and take a look - because often a mission can be accomplished anyway once you get going, regardless of forecast. It's not my dime if we don't get there. So I acquiesed to the old coot and the wishes of the customer, and we departed.

As we droned VFR westward toward the destination the cloud bases got progressively lower and darker, and the forward visibility less and less. Flying lower and lower and getting closer and closer, but not yet there, I contacted Marshalltown unicom and was advised of thunderstorms in the vicinity. At this point we were down to around eight hundred feet AGL, with forward visibility something less than three miles. When I reckoned we were four or five miles from the airport, with darker and lower cloud bases ahead, there was a brilliant stroke of cloud-to-ground lightning at about two o'clock and not more than two miles away. I looked over at the passenger, and I could see he was getting pretty uncomfortable. So at this point, I said, "the hell with it", and did a 180 to get the heck outta there.

Waterloo wasn't too far away and to the east, away from the advancing line, so I got a Special VFR clearance into the Waterloo control zone, landed and taxiied in, shut down, and advised my passenger to find himself a rental car and to drive to Marshalltown to conduct whatever business he had there. Which he did. By the time he got back, the thunderstorms were no longer an issue, though the weather was IFR. I said "to hell" with the single-engine rules, filed IFR, and completed the remainder of the trip smoothly in the clouds and without excitement or incident. When we got back home, the passenger was apparently so happy to still be alive and to be home in one piece that he tipped me $20. Which I'm ballparking is the equivalent of about $100 in today's money. The only tip I ever got. Though, to be quite honest, it would have meant so much more to me if he'd just said that he was going to tell the old coot to stop second-guessing his pilots.



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