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It was late in the afternoon, actually early evening. I pulled the airplane onto the end of the runway. I made my radio call, "Ottumwa traffic, twin Cessna seven-six kilo tango, is holding for departure, runway 2-2 Ottumwa."
I did a check of the instruments and gages on the panel. I double-checked the fuel selector levers; both were on the main tanks. I placed my hand on propeller levers, feeling the smooth contour of the knobs. I did the same with the fuel mixture levers. Then I moved my hands to the throttles and began advancing them while holding the brakes. The turbochargers whined as they spooled up; the engines were at twenty-five inches of manifold pressure.
I made another radio call while simultaneously releasing the brakes and easing the throttles full forward. "Ottumwa traffic, seven-six-kilo-tango (7-6KT) is rolling runway 2-2 Ottumwa. Will be departing to the north."
The airplane picked up speed, rolling down the runway. Looking out the side window, the wings were bouncing with rhythm as the wheels crossed any bumps in the pavement. Each tip tank holds fifty gallons of AV-gas; that's three-hundred pounds each. It's always amazed me the wings can carry that much weight - just hanging there on the very end.
At 90 knots, I pulled back gently on the yoke, raising the nose wheel, and held it steady until the airplane lifted off the runway on her own. While climbing, I tapped the brake pedals to stop my wheels from turning, then raised the lever to retract the landing gear.
I banked the airplane to the left, climbed to 1,500 feet, circling around back to the runway I just took departed. "Ottumwa traffic, 7-6KT is on final for 2-2 Ottumwa - will be a low pass only." Lowering the nose and applying full power, I was picking up speed. Dropping down to about fifteen feet above the runway and I buzzed the entire length of the field, at over 170 miles per hour, then pulled the nose up and turned right toward the sun. I adjusted the engine settings and climbed to 2,500 feet.
The air was cool and smooth; the airplane was running very well. It felt good to be flying again. I switched the radio to 118.15, "Good evening, Chicago Center, 7-6 KT is with you off Ottumwa, climbing through two-five-hundred for three-five-hundred feet."
The traffic controller answered, "7-6 KT, are you looking for flight following?"
"Yes, sir. 7-6KT," I replied.
He instructed, "7-6KT, squawk six one zero five and ident. What is your destination?"
"Just going up to Oskaloosa tonight," I told him.
A few seconds later, the controller called back over the radio, "Twin Cessna, 7-6 Kilo Tango, radar contact, three miles west of the Ottumwa airport at three thousand one hundred feet." I replied, "Altitude checks, 7-6KT."
The controller gave an airliner an altitude change, then the frequency was quiet. I called "Chicago Center, 7-6KT. Do you have time for a comment?"
He answered, "Go ahead, 76KT."
"Chicago Center, I've been a pilot for 33 years. For the last 32 years, I've been flying with Ottumwa Flying Service. The city decided to pursue a different fixed-based operator and terminate their business relationship with Ottumwa Flying Service. I think they've made a big mistake, but only time will tell. This is the last time I'll ever fly the charter plane for OFS.
"Over the years, the men and women of Chicago Center have tracked my flights' hundreds of times under blue skies. You've stayed with me all the way to the airport in some nasty weather, too.
"I just want you to know you've been a good friend and a darn good co-pilot for the past 33 years. It's important to me that you know how much we've appreciated you and all that you do for us!"
There was a pause, then the controller replied, "7-6 Kilo Tango, thank you. I appreciate that very much." He sounded a little choked up.
I reported, "7-6KT has the Oskaloosa airport in sight. I didn't really need flight following today; I just wanted to hear you release me one last time."
"No problem, sir." Then, with respect, he paused and said what I've always loved hearing them say, "7-6 Kilo Tango, I see no traffic between you and the field. Radar service is terminated, squawk VFR, one two-zero-zero. Change to advisory frequency is approved."
I repeated, "7-6 Kilo Tango, squawking VFR and changing to advisory frequency" Typically, this would have been the end of our conversation. In the old days, pilots and air-traffic controllers exchanged a salutation unique to aviation. We never said goodbye.
Affectionately, I said, "G'day Chicago Center, thanks again for all your help."
"G'day, Seven-Six Kilo Tango, I wish you well, sir." I must admit, that got me, and my eyes welled up. I couldn't land yet.
I wanted to keep flying forever. I banked the airplane in a steep 60-degree turn, away from the airport, and descended to 1,800 feet. Flying over Ottumwa's northside, I could see my parent's headstone not far from the bell tower in the cemetery.
Turning a full circle, I looked down the wing toward the ground. "Come on, Dad. Get in, go for a ride with me. After all, you're the one who got me into this flying business in the first place."
Feeling my father's presence, we flew together over our radio station building, then out over the radio tower site. I could hear Dad giving me instructions: "Keep your wings level, watch your altitude, stay on your heading. You may need to crab into the wind." I smiled. Oh, how I miss those days, flying with him. Dad would have been so proud of me for being a charter pilot. Together we flew back north of town and circled over our old farmhouse on Angle Road.
I reminisced days long ago, how much Dad loved living there, watching the airplanes flying low, coming into land – our house was on the approach to runway 3-1. Every time Dad heard a plane coming, he'd look up.
Blocking the sun by holding his open hand like a visor toward the sky and squinting, Dad would announce the make and model of the aircraft passing overhead. Most of the time, he could name the pilot, too. Sometimes, he was inspired to say, "I think I'll go out to the airport. Do you want to ride along?" I never turned down that offer - it meant we were going flying.
As long as I was in the area, I decided to make a final pass over Ottumwa's runway, then climbing out, I turned the airplane toward Osky.
The setting sun before me was bright and warmed my face as I descended to the runway. The tires squeaked softly as they settled gently onto the pavement. It was a perfect landing. How appropriate, landing into the sunset on this, the final flight I would make for Ottumwa Flying Service.
I taxied to the ramp, then pulled back both fuel mixture levers. The engines shut down simultaneously. As the propellers came to a rest, I said, "G'Day OFS. So long, Seven-Six Kilo Tango. You've all treated me very well."