Round-the-World Flights

Calvin Pitts RTW flight commemorating the 1931 RTW flight of Wiley Post-Harold Gatty

Page 7dd (rev: 1004)

Logo Pilot/Plane Fry & Pitts Flight Cover Composite Photo
Pix #1 Pix #2 Pix #3 Pix #4 Pix #5

	In 1981 Calvin Pitts made a round-the-world flight commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Post-Gatty RTW Flight in 1931.
        The flight was sponsored by the Oklahoma Air & Space Museum to give honor to Oklahoma aviator, Wiley Post.
        Here is Calvin's "first-person" commentary of his flight round-the-world ........
        Calvin Pitts Round-the-World Itinerary & Commentary:
                      "Re-living it afterwards, especially after all these years was the greatest adventure of my life."

        NEW YORK, NY:  Scheduled to depart from NY, but ATC controller's called a strike June 22nd, the day before our departure.
        (Remember the massive firing?)
        MANCHESTER, NH:  Departed June 23, 1981, the day Post & Gatty left NY after a 2-month Atlantic-weather delay in NY.
                            Co-pilot:  Joe Cunningham (had to return to Oklahoma for personal reasons)
                            Co-pilot:  Jerry Kuzia  (FAA Inspector who helped plan the flight but ran out of vacation time in Germany)
                            Co-pilot:  Emmett Fry (Engineer and co-worker at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, my own home base)

        MONCTON, CANADA:  Custom's clearance
        ST. JOHN's, NEWFOUNDLAND:  Fuel and Atlantic flight plan filed.  

        MANCHESTER, ENGLAND:  Our King HF radio failed over the Atlantic due to a hidden, broken antenna wire (as we found out much later).
        Remainder of position reports piggy-backed through overhead airliners.  This caused British officials to become suspicious, who met
        us in Manchester.  After determining that the failure was legit, they cleared us to continue with repairing the HF.  Three days of
        searching for a technician found no one.
              The FAA in Frankfurt offered to allow their radio technicians to attempt a fix.  Cleared to Frankfurt.  After taxiing out, we were
        sitting on the apron, engine running, waiting for takeoff clearance.  Controller said:  "British controllers have just called a strike.
        We can't clear you for takeoff."  After some moments of explaining, and pleading, they had us wait while they called the military
        controllers . . . who offered to take us across the North Sea to Germany.  

        FRANKFURT, GERMANY:  Cleared to the FAA facility.  It took 2 weeks for them to find and fix the problem, causing our 48-hour-window
        for clearance across Siberia to be canceled.   A Russian escort pilot was waiting for us there, but we were grounded in Frankfurt
        due to the requirement of an HF radio over Siberia.  For mechanical reasons, he was "stood up."  Not good, but couldn't be helped.
        That came back to bite us.  A trip to the Embassy in Dusseldorf, and much negotiation through AOPA's reps resulted in a revised
        clearance across Siberia.   However, and here's the big but . . .  
              The Russian aviation officials were unhappy about keeping their pilot-escort waiting in East Berlin, so what to do with those
        Americans?  They kept face by restoring our clearance, but stuck it to us by adding a new caveat -- our last fuel stop would be Moscow,
        with no other fuel stops allowed over Siberia.   Being unable to comply with such a long distance without a fuel stop effectively
        canceled our clearance, which obviously was the intent.  We were being punished ... with a smile.
              Back in Frankfurt, we re-planned and re-routed our flight south to Australia and across the Pacific, a mere 10,000 miles further.
        Getting a clearance out of Frankfurt on a week-end is a story too long to tell.  Only "turbines" and larger planes were allowed to
        depart on week-ends, our 3rd attempt and 3rd day of trying to legally get out of Frankfurt. Testy and disgusted after 3 days, I
        replied, "What do you think the "TC" stands for in "BE36TC,"  the designation which was filed on the flight plan. The A36 was
        turbo-charged.   Forced to think quickly, I passed the "T" off as a turbine, else we would still be in Frankfurt.  Legal?
        I just wanted out of Germany.   Regulations were strangling us.   How do people live under such tyranny?
        EAST GERMANY to BERLIN: (Templehof Airport of WW-II fame) -  Unforgettable.  Classic airport constructed in 1927 went through
        massive reconstruction in the mid-1930s, under Hitler's direction and Speer's design. Flying the 15 mile-wide corridor across East
        Germany into Berlin, with absolutely no deviation allowed (We were reminded of a Cessna 310 recently shot down when it deviated
        due to weather), was a test of nerves as we approached a massive thunderstorm cell directly in front of us.  "Do we dare deviate?"
        "No, don't think we should."  "Better to risk getting shot down than take our chances inside that black beast?"  "Don't know."
              As we approached the ugliest black cell on earth, which I can still see today, it slowly began to separate.  Is this embellishment?
        It is not.  We ended up flying between two cells, believe it or not.  What came to mind? The parting of the Red Sea.  That's what
        it looked like.  Ten minutes earlier we were seriously worried.  Now we were smiling and watching the unbelievable.  The FAA in
        Berlin gave us the red carpet treatment, one of the few times.

        ATHENS, GREECE:  After fueling the wing tanks, tip tanks, leading edge tank, and two ferry tanks, we were ready for the next long
        leg.  Taking off with flaps 15, when I tried to retract the flaps, they would not budge.  Advising ATC that we needed to return,
        they asked if we were declaring an emergency.  Heavens No.  We weren't looking for an education in Greek paperwork nor Greek
              Landing 38% over-grossed was interesting but uneventful. The plane was under experimental category due to the
        experimental winglets which I designed and had installed for research work I was doing with NASA, meaning, there was no problem
        with the over-grossed weight.  The long legs required that much fuel.  
              After calling Beechcraft in Wichita, we cut a small hole in the floor of the cockpit in order to reach the flap motor.  It had
        burned out, and required turning a flywheel by the tip of our fingers for several hours in order to retract the flaps.   But it
        was not that simple.
              An armored tank on rubber tires brought 8 armed military men to tell us that it was illegal in Greece to work on your own plane.
        We would have to hire a mechanic.   We were ordered to the terminal building and offices.  It was there that the President of
        Greek Air heard me talking to an official, and privately offered to help.  He loaned us one of his mechanics while we did the work.
        The rest of the trip was made without flaps. 
LUXOR, EGYPT: We did not realize that we had arrived in Egypt during their holy season, Ramadan. They were not allowed to sell us fuel during holy days. But that was not the least of our challenges. We were required to pass exit-clearance through several different offices. The first office had an armed guard sitting with a military machine gun on his lap pointing our direction. The official, who spoke broken English, kept rubbing his fingers together. The signal for money must be in the international lexicon. When I asked how much, he just raised his shoulders and shrugged. I said I didn't have small bills, only $20 bills. He said, "That's OK." When I calculated $20 times 10 offices, I told him I didn't have that much. He got up and left. An hour later he returned, again rubbing his fingers together. I shook my head. He left, and returned later. The Egyptian stand-off was wearing me down, so I told him I wanted to see his supervisor. He pointed to himself. I shook my head, handed him $2 and walked out. The guard was still sitting there. I expected to get arrested, but I turned to him in anger and said, "I'm going to call the authorities in Cairo and tell them you're bribing pilots." Something must have registered because he said nothing. The bullet in the back never came, so we took a taxi to a hotel-of-sorts. This was once the greatest and most powerful country in the world? Looks like a fourth-world country to me. When we finally got to a hotel, an Egyptian met us who was one of the controllers that had heard about our ordeal ... and was laughing about the "stand-off." He gave me the name of the top aviation official in Cairo, with a phone number, and suggested I call him. When I did, and explained who we were and how we had been threatened and bribed, he said he would take care of it. He did. After a trip to the Valley of the Kings and the Luxor ruins, we later returned to the airport. When we first arrived they refused to sell us fuel. Now they asked how much we needed, and said there would be no charge. From bribes to "bless your sweet American heart" ... all because of 1 phone call !! Amazing transformation. They had been told to give us whatever fuel we needed ... free, as an apology. ABU DHABI, UAE: USA oil money at work. We've built a futuristic city there. No flight problems.
MADRAS, INDIA: Thinking our worst challenges were behind us, we headed for India into worsening weather. The instruments said we were over Bombay, but it was solid weather with imbedded thunderstorms. We had a good mickey mouse radar in the right wing, and it showed nothing worse than some rain. But as I turned inland to cross over to Madras, things got blacker and rougher than the radar indicated. Before I knew it, we were climbing with the nose pointed downward. It was impossible to maintain altitude. We were inside a cell which was visible, neither by eye nor by radar. I stabilized the yoke with my elbows securely on the arm rests, and took the unexpected Disneyland ride of my life. Our gyrations were at least 60-80 degrees in both directions. The plane was so totally out of control that I think I heard a few prayers being uttered next to me. Whether it was 30 seconds ... or 60 ... or more, it felt like an eternity. I wondered how our crashed remains would be reported back home. If my head had not been pressed back against the headrest, a broken neck might have resulted. It was a fairytale ride ... all free of charge. The red-tape in Madras was longer and more insane than in Egypt, but no bribes were demanded. Tired and stressed, we stopped by a counter for a cup of coffee. A local man saw the far-away look in our eyes, and asked if there was something he could do to help. He spoke perfect English, so we described our situation, and asked for a recommendation for a place to stay. Typical of India, he said he had an extra room in his home, and invited us to join his family for dinner. The hospitality and meal were great ... but, we learned a cultural habit which was new to both of us. After dinner, I asked for directions to their bathroom, so our host asked his 21-yr-old sister -- a beauty with the red spot on her forehead -- to show me to the facility. "Just tell me which hall, and which door ..." I thought. "I don't need a beautiful girl escorting me to the restroom." But there was no hall, and there was no door. The facility was outside. It was a half-shed with a back wall, 2 partial sides, a roof, but the front was open. Not a missing door ... the whole front was open. And there under that half-shed were 2 tile-lined holes in the ground, with special places to put your feet. I looked at the holes, then looked at her. She just stood there with no expression on her face whatsoever. She wasn't embarrassed. She was simply being polite and gracious, standing there in case ... In case? Have you ever tried doing your business ... squatting ... with a beautiful girl watching? Then I noticed that she was holding paper to hand to me when needed. Strangely, I didn't need it. I lost the urge. Later, after dark, I snuck outside where I had some privacy. This was a mild culture shock, for sure. UBANGDANG, INDONESIA: The headwinds en route to Australia were much stronger than forecast, which meant that about halfway there, a serious decision had to be made. Press on and hope to make it with minimum fuel, or make a precautionary landing in Indonesia to a place to which we were not filed? (Three days later when we were released, the Omega failed within a few miles south of where we made the earlier decision to divert for fuel. In hindsight, too late to reverse the decision, I suspected that the Omega was losing its triangulation signal, and was giving us false information, creating an unnecessary diversion. But look what we would have missed.) The concern for safety prevailed, but it opened the door to another challenge. Due to the fact that our flight plan had us going direct to Darwin, Australia, we were placed under house arrest. "Why did you come to Indonesia?" "Because we love the people ... because we're looking for a wife ... because we're spies ... because we're hungry. Maybe because we need fuel. I don't know. Why do people ever go to Indonesia?" I sent a message back to our home base in the States ... "Precautionary landing in Indonesia for fuel. Very strong headwinds. We're OK." At least that was supposed to be the message. When we got home, the message which had been sent was ... "Crash landed in Indonesia big winds we are OK." We didn't know it, but at the time of the message, the home folks thought we had crashed. Just a minor mistranslation. They were glad we weren't hurt. I was glad we weren't shot.
INDONESIAN OUTPOST: The Indonesian officials said we would have to go through Customs and get a new clearance at a different Island. Finding it on the chart, we headed there, wanting to obey the law. That airport was at sea level, down in a large volcano, with high terrain surrounding the airport. The officials there demanded a very expensive bribe, which we couldn't afford to pay. Delay ... delay ... delay. The sun was setting, and I knew we needed to get out of there while we could still see the surrounding mountains. So, we were required to return to the original Indonesian airport to explain to those senior officials. I still refused to pay the bribes because we were running short of money. I had hidden only so many $20 bills in the rear fuselage of the plane, and they were running out. But we agreed to explain to those officials. After takeoff, I changed my mind. "Why don't we just write them a letter of explanation when we get to the States? Let's head for Australia, and file a flight plan en route via the HF radio." "Think we should" "Well, what's Indonesia going to do? Arrest us again? Unless you want to go back and stay there, I'm going to friendly territory" Not a word was said to us in Darwin. Guess they don't like Indonesia either. DARWIN, AUSTRALIA: Short, sweet, friendly visit. No time for a trip to the Outback. But the fuel was ... I think ... over $5 a gallon. Credit card bill over $1000. In double-checking my memory, I looked it up. Here is one comment from an official source: "While petrol prices have risen steeply over the past two years, in real terms they are still below the record levels reached in 1980." Our luck continued to hold good -- a RTW flight when gas prices are at their highest. How much better does it get? PORT MORESBY, NEW GUINEA: Flew over the outer reef which was beautiful. Arrival in New Guinea was after dark with very tall mountains just beyond the airport. But their VOR was working very well, so the approach and landing was without incident ... until the next day. Since my father had been there in combat during WW-II at Milne Bay, I wanted to visit the site of many of his stories. The next day we took a local flight from Port Moresby to Milne Bay. Asking for information about local regulations, we were instructed by New Zealand officials to call when on the ground at the jungle airport next to the Bay. The country was so rugged and beautiful that we weren't looking for traffic. There couldn't be any other planes in such remote territory. But there was. A mail pilot was flying a C-310 on an "unannounced" 50-mile approach to the jungle strip. We made an announcement about being downwind to land, but apparently he was not on the guarded frequency. He didn't hear our call, and we didn't see him on a final approach which started 50 miles earlier. I turned in front of him from an "announced" base leg. But he was from New Zealand and didn't understand English ... until he got on the ground. I thought he might cut us up and eat us on the spot. We caused him to have to make a go'round. I apologized, and asked why he wasn't monitoring the radio. That did it. Had there not been witnesses, I would have lost my head. Now let's see ... where did my father say his jungle camp was. I looked at the map and saw where he had described the camp which was bombed nightly. After a coke, we took off, flew low next to the beach as I re-lived all his interesting stories. Then we proceeded to another WW-II site, Goodenough Island. Landing on a WW-II airfield which had not been maintained gave us less than a smooth surface, but doing a low, slow fly-by showed no craters, so we landed. We had only been out of the plane for a few minutes when a native with 9 wives walked up out of the bush. Our bushman friend spoke pidgin English, so I tried my hand at it, having practiced a little the night before with our waiter. Strangely we were able to communicate until I asked if I could buy one of the handmade bone necklaces which one of his wives was wearing. He thought I was trying to buy his #9 wife, and for a price he was willing to sell. "No, No, not your wife. The necklace." I thought I was making myself plain by pointing at it hanging from her neck, forgetting the minor fact that she was only wearing a grass skirt. What he thought I was pointing at was not her necklace. When I realized my mistake, causing him to think I was trying to buy something else, I decided I could do without a primitive souvenir. But he wanted to sell something, so I made another attempt while diverting my eyes. I used my own neck to illustrate what I wanted to buy. I was lucky. He only wanted $10 for a $.50 necklace. But I bought it just to stay out of his cooking pot. When we walked back into the bush, we found the wreckage of a WW-II plane. This was stuff dreams are made of. Enjoying the moment, we decided not to push our luck. It was not yet mealtime, so we thought we should get out of there before our friend got hungry. Flying low along the beach, many of the natives waved at us. Never before, never since. I could hardly wait to tell my father. As we were thinking about leaving, a NZ-FAA inspector said he would like to chat with us. "Are you fellows planning to leave soon?" "Tomorrow, perhaps." "Good. You know how many NZ regulations you have broken?" "Tell me." "You landed at night which is illegal for a single engine plane. You landed on the wrong runway. You failed to make necessary position reports on the way to Milne Bay. You cut off a C-310 on a straight-in approach. And what else?" I started to say ... "If a single engine plane doesn't have enough fuel to hover all night, what should he do? ... I distinctly heard 'Cleared to land' when on final approach, and I was the only plane within 100 miles ... I made every call back to Port Moresby which I was told to make ... and the C-310 made no calls, so he cut me off ..." But I didn't get my tongue moving before one of the local NZ flyers interrupted: "Hey Bob, why don't you tell these gents what you did last week." "That's enough." "No, they would find it amusing that you failed to check your fuel before takeoff (broken regulation), you ran out of fuel in the air (broken regulation), and you had to make a dead-stick landing (broken regulation). Tell them that before you tell them about how they broke all our silly Regs." Inspector Bob wasn't amused, and told us to leave and not come back. Yessir. GUADALCANAL, SOLOMON ISLANDS: This was my final dream-come-true. My favorite movie as a child was "Guadalcanal Diary," and now here I am. We rented a car and explored many WW-II sites. Wreckages of P-38s, Corsairs, B-17s, Zeros, Betty bombers. We drove up to Bloody Ridge and found shells and parts of Jeeps. It was as if the Marines had just left. Then we found abandoned tanks with 40-yr-old trees growing up through them. And lots of shells buried by the trunks of coconut trees. The "Hell Hole," an ammunition dump, was still off-limits. Lots of other war stories and people we met. On takeoff, early in the morning, I didn't know until months later what almost happened. While there, we met a young missionary couple who were there flying supplies into the back-country. They were at Henderson Field to see us off. The takeoff was long, due to our load, but otherwise uneventful. I remember seeing a gas truck out of the corner of my eyes driving parallel to the runway as we were cleared to go. All else was normal, except for ... months later we visited our new friend, David McRoberts in Boulder CO. It was then that he told us he thought he was watching a fiery crash about to happen. Just as I lifted the nose, the fuel truck which was to our right, which was now out of sight, turned to cross the runway. Obviously he did not see us, nor with the nose raised did I see him. David said that as he turned in front of us, we cleared him by mere inches. What one doesn't know doesn't hurt them, I guess. But it made me weak to think about it. Guadalcanal was the greatest.
TARAWA, KIRIBATI: WW-II memories weren't over. En route to this remote island, we ran into some of our worst weather, worse than in the East German Corridor. There was a Pacific storm system cutting diagonally across our flight path. With chart in hand, I kept close track of where we were using old-fashioned Dead Reckoning. Reason? Our Omega Nav system which had been loaned to us failed to function many miles back due to the lack of triangulation above and below the equator. It was somewhere around Indonesia that the Omega conked out on us, and we didn't get it back until long after leaving Tarawa. Finally, I knew we would have to turn 90 degrees left and drive through the ugliest system I had seen in a long time. Black, mean-looking clouds. Couldn't afford to set down and wait it out. Descending to 3000 feet, I set up a penetration cruise speed, and told my buddy to hold on. Within 30-40 miles we were through the worst of it. Not nearly as bad as India. Calculating our location on the chart, I turned toward Tarawa and climbed back to 9000 feet. It was here that I began to think of Amelia Earhart. We would be approaching the same general area as Howland Island, and how could one not think of getting lost. When we looked down at the ocean, there were 10,000 small puffs of white clouds. Each one looked like either a postage stamp or an island-lagoon. They call them "atolls." Never understood why until trying to find one under these conditions. Once the tide rises, concealing the sand, you can't find them atoll. It was absolutely impossible to find a small island among so many white cloud-balls. How would we ever spot Tarawa, a series of very small atolls in the middle of cloud-islands? The ADF had been previously set to Tarawa's frequency, but there was no guarantee that the ground facility would be turned on. We had been told that often they do not transmit. But at a hundred miles or so, the needle began to quiver, then come alive. The next thing which happened boggled my mind. Our time and distance told me we should have visual sighting of Tarawa. It was supposed to be down there, or else we were in another universe. We were both looking ... intensely. Nothing. "Do you see anything?" "No." "Me neither." Looking ... looking ... looking. Nothing. And then the ADF needle swung 180 degrees. We were directly over the station, but neither of us had visual contact until I began circling. It was scary to realize that without the ADF, we would have flown right over it without seeing the island. Did a similar thing happen to Amelia? A same-size cloud was sitting right on top of it, and the shadow of the cloud below kept us from seeing it at an angle. We borrowed a motorbike and began exploring. Went to Batio Island, site of intense fighting. Jap bunkers and long-range guns were still on the beach. The boy in me had not gotten enough at Guadalcanal. I climbed all over those guns, and remembered the movies I had seen. We met an American who invited us in for tea where we watched the sunset of all sunsets. How was such spectacular beauty possible? Say that again: 'There is a God.'
HONOLULU, HAWAII: Beautiful Hawaii was dull compared to what we had just seen. We slept, got fuel and a weather briefing, and laid out our plan. There were 2 huge low pressure systems between Hawaii and California, the nearest one lying just right (south) of our course, and the next one lying just left (north) of our course. This meant that the first half of our 2450 mile flight (16 1/2 hrs) would create an unwanted headwind, but the last half, if the second low didn't drift south of our course, would give us a significant tailwind. The fuel calculations showed that without the projected tailwind, we would be landing at Moffett Field on fumes. If the second low did drift and remove our tailwind, we could always turn back. Simple. But sometimes simple things are not that simple. After we climbed out through a raining dark night, we followed the VOR radial outbound for the first 100 miles. During this time, my co-pilot was seriously trying to set the Omega up for navigating through the headwinds, crosswinds, and tailwinds which were projected. No success. What had happened? I tried, and it would not hold the numbers. It kept dropping them. Finally, a few seconds (literally ... literally) before we lost the VOR signal, the Omega began to work. It was usable for the next 1100 miles. Approaching the halfway point, our fuel calculations with the groundspeed showing on the Omega, told me that the tailwind had to materialize in order for us to have reserve fuel when we got to the mainland. Without a tailwind, we would be flying on pure sweat. There. The tailwinds were showing up on the Omega. A new set of calculations. We would make it with at least :45 of fuel on landing, maybe more if the tailwinds picked up, which they were doing. I breathed a deep sigh of relief, looked up at the instrument panel, still dark in the rain, then looked back down at the Omega. What? 888888. Not again. The Omega had conked out for the umphteenth time. And it didn't work again until we got within range of the mainland. For the next 8 hours it was dead-reckoning again in the rain. We droned on and on, keeping our course straight ahead, with a very slight correction to the right. I wanted to hit the mainland south of San Francisco, which was the location of Moffett Field and San Jose. Some 15 1/2 hours after takeoff, it was daylight, and we saw that beautiful sight of a strip of land in the distance. We had run our ferry tanks dry, were on the wing tanks, and they were showing that we would have less than 1 hour of fuel when we landed. But at least we were in sight of land. Then the skyline of SFO began to materialize. I corrected a little more to the south. We were H-O-M-E . . . well, almost. Vectors and clearances and Moffett Field was in sight. The continental US still had to be crossed, but that seemed like a piece of cake now. Armed military men, house arrests, machine guns, threats, demands for bribes, broken English, bullish controllers, pompass officials, weather, fuel calculations, mechanical and electronic problems, all now seemed like something from a past dream. We were flying out of a tornado back into Kansas ... or was it California with the Wizard of Oz. Our good fortune amidst a mountain of challenges had brought us 22,000 miles in 148 hours. (plus 2,850 miles & 19 hours). But we still had 2,850 miles to go. No sweat.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA (MOFFETT FIELD): Home at last, home at last, thank God Almighty we're home at last. That's how it felt at the time, but wouldn't have missed the party for the world ... that is, "round the world." We spent hours visiting and eating with friends among whom we lived and worked at the NASA Ames Research Center. Told them some of the stories ... many more than here. Quickly checked some mail, then headed East. LEXINGTON, KY: This was where my father lived, so we timed our last fuel stop to connect with him. As with Manchester, Frankfurt, Berlin, San Jose, and various other places, the Press was there for interviews. Then we paid our respects to friends among whom we grew up, and pressed on for the last leg.
MANCHESTER, NH: ........... August 25, 1981 - The next event will sound like embellishment, but what happened ... happened. About an hour out of Manchester NH the engine began to run rough, very slight at first, then a little rougher. Tried "tweaking" fuel/air mixture, EGT temps, power settings, switching fuel tanks, anything we could think of. It was not bad, but the 300-horse Continental engine which had run so smoothly over water and mountains, through rain and ice, and through day and night was no longer running smoothly. After landing at Manchester, accepting a few greetings from people who had helped send us off, we had the Platinum long-life plugs pulled. They were fouled. Surely it was not the last load of fuel we took on. At any rate, the timing was uncanny. Had this happened at night over the Pacific, 8 hours from land, it might have caused a bead of sweat or two. I had designed a reserve oil tank with a pump installed so that we could throw a switch and add oil in flight. I was pleased with this and 29 other modifications which we had added to the plane just for this fight ... just in case. But I forgot to install a Genie who could pull and replace fouled plugs while flying. Didn't even think of him. Well, that's what happened . . . on what was originally intended to be a quick flight over a pre-arranged course with pre-arranged clearances. Nothing could possibly go wrong on such a quick, short flight. When contemplating the Divine providential hand which was with us in life-and-death situations, it is enough to humble anyone. The half has not been told, but for a time my life was defined by BRW, "before RTW '81" and ARW, "after RTW '81." The end result was an acquaintance and friendship with some of Wiley's family members like Mae Post, Gordon Post, Jimmie Post, and many of his friends like Ernie Shults (his mechanic), Marie Shults (Mae's close friend), Jimmy Doolittle (friend and confidant), Jimmie Mattern (competitor), Clarence Page (friend and supporter), "Red" Grey (close friend & flying buddy), Mrs. Joe (Lillian) Crosson (friend who fed him his last meal), Sam Pryor (former Pan Am VP and confidant of Lindbergh when Wiley was trying to get hired by Pan Am), Fay Gillis Wells (good friend who arranged his fuel in Russia in 1933), Robert Harris (oilman and son-in-law of Winnie Mae after whom Wiley's first plane was named), and various others. Thirty years plus of research and story-collection, and two visits to the lagoon where Wiley & Will were killed, have uncovered so many details that I wondered what I should do with this bundle of information now as I approach 80 summers. That last number shouldn't be real, but it is. It is as impossible to believe as the flight which I have just partially described. So what to do? For a while now I have been writing and re-writing, trying to put the bushel of information into readable form so as to tell Wiley's story from an "insider's" view. It is so overwhelming with detail that I often wish for help. But perhaps someday "RIDE THE HIGH CLOUD" will see the light of day.
Calvin Pitts (Capt, retired) AFTERWORD: The red tape and political regulations cancel out any technological advantage modern pilots may have. Our original flight had been tediously worked out and planned, with approvals. But once the HF delay caused the 48-hour-windows to close, we had to re-invent the wheel in Europe without proper contacts. At the time it was mind-boggling. But all ended well, and brought many new friends with hours of interesting conversation.
"Would you do it again if you had the chance?" "At this age, I'll ... Wait. Are you making an offer? Let's go." "Re-living it afterwards, especially after all these years, was the greatest adventure of my life."

RETURN to Home Page.