Captain Mike Daciek’s stories

Captain Mike Daciek’s stories
Captain Mike Daciek’s stories

I met Mike Daciek July 5th, 1967. Above, is a ‘selfie’ Mike took sittin’ in the front seat of my Stearman a few years ago. It musta been before our flight. If he took the photo after our flight he’d be smilin’ and he most certainly would have bugs on his teeth!

Mike was the senior new-hire in our fledgling pilot class at Frontier Airlines. I was the most junior. …just a kid!

Mike was 33 years old and I was almost a decade younger! I never felt the age difference. Mike is one of those unique fellows who gets along with everyone. Joan, his wife and immediate supervisor insists on good behavior.

Regardless of it being to Mike’s or Joan’s credit, I’ve enjoyed my friendship with “The Polish Prince” for well over a half-century. I’m proud of our friendship and place a high value on it.

As I write this, while reflecting back five decades, I’m amazed. It was five minutes ago that Mike and I began our airline careers! Seems like!

Mike was separating from the service as a major in the United States Air Force. This would have been June of 1967. His next stop, as with me, the airlines.

Mike had flown a number of USAF aircraft. Primarily, he flew the ubiquitous Lockheed C-130. He was right at home in our Convair 580 ground school. Essentially, both aircraft utilized the same engine power with Aero Products propellers so complicated it’s designer likely ended up babbling in a psychiatric ward somewhere…

Captain Johnny Myers hired Mike. That’s Johnny looking out the Frontier DC-3. He hired me as well. In fact, he hired everyone in our nefarious class of fledgling co-pilots. I’ll introduce you to our fellow Classmates later.

Mike’s C-130 had Allison T-56 engines. Four of ’em. The CV-580 had two of the very similar civilian version, 501D13’s.

Frontier’s 580’s had the 501D13H. The “H” denoting water injection. It earned the subsuquet “Mountain Master!” The “580” was every bit a Mountain Master!

Flying in and out of mountain valleys with airports exceeding seven thousand feet above sea level, the extra power during take-off was quintessential!

More on Mike’s and my Convair 580 flying to follow. But, the urge to put the original Frontier Airlines glorious history first seems like the right thing to do.

Frontier flew four decades as the safest airline in the world-wide history of civil aviation. Consider the fact that Frontier flew mostly older airplanes (DC-3’s and Conviars) in an out of black holes and mountain valleys SAFELY.

Frontier flew into Canada, flew into old Mexico, and flew coast-to-coast, SAFELY! In its forty year history, Frontier lost a single fare-paying passenger when a DC-3 lost a battle to low-level icing in a thunderstorm near the Miles City, Montana airport in 1964.

Based upon the most stringent measure, that of the number of take-offs and landings, I don’t see how any airline can approach Frontier’s phenomenal safety record. Frontier had as many as 21 stops in a single day. I flew 17 per day, day in and day out for several years when I was based at Salt Lake City, Utah. Now, if a flight crew flies four legs in a day they’ll likely scream for union intervention.

Captain Mike Daciek has a gift. He is a wonderful author/a marvelous story teller. If you have read any of his writings you know this. If you haven’t you are in for a pleasant journey.

Each of the following stories has it’s own story title. I hope you enjoy ’em!

There is a beak between each story and, at the very end, is a way to contact Mike if you’d like to correct spelling and grammatical errors. Or, if you like to give him a pat on the fanny for his literary efforts!

DOOLITTLE

Greatest Aviator Who Ever Lived

By

Michael R. Daciek

We landed our Frontier Airlines Convair 580 at Riverton, Wyoming. I bolted from the cockpit and rushed into the terminal, salivating at the thought of eating one of their freshly baked cream pies. Passengers were milling about shoulder to shoulder, talking in a high state of excitement reminiscent of a high school reunion. The small restaurant was packed, standing room only. Bad news, I thought, looking at the empty pie trays. 

“I’m sorry,” the harried waitress said following my line of sight, “There’s not a piece of pie in the building.”

“What’s going on?” I asked. “Is the town being evacuated?”

She placed a pencil behind her right ear, wiping her brow with a tissue. “It’s the annual Antelope One-Shot contest. This place is full of movie stars, astronauts and politicians. I even heard the governor talking to a general. At least he called him general.”

I hurried back to the boarding area wondering who the general could be. 

There stood “Jimmy” Doolittle in animated conversation with a distinguished- looking gentleman.  

Backtracking, I approached the Frontier gate agent. “Is Doolittle going to Denver on my flight?”

He nodded. I gave him a thumbs-up sign.

“Wonderful, just absolutely wonderful,” I said out loud as I slowly walked back to the airplane.

Deep in thought, I recalled some of the accomplishments of the greatest aviator who ever lived. The leader of the “Tokyo Raiders,” Lieutenant Colonel James Harold Doolittle led sixteen Mitchell bombers off the pitching deck of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet in 1942 to bomb Japan. Certain that they had been discovered by a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft, Doolittle’s Raiders elected to execute the mission many miles short of their original launching point knowing full well that every aircraft would run out of fuel before reaching their landing bases in China. 

At age sixteen, he built his first glider from a 1910 magazine plan. He became a military aviator in 1918, excelling in gunnery and flight instruction. In 1922, he served as an experimental test pilot. That same year he was the first to fly across the United States in a single day.  He performed the first outside loop in a Curtiss P-1 pursuit plane. I chuckled over that one.

In October 1925, in an airplane fitted with streamlined single-step wooden floats and designated the Curtiss Navy Racer, RC3-2, Doolittle won the Scheneider Cup–the World Series of seaplane racing–with an average speed of 232.57 mph. The next day on a straight course in the RC3-2 he established a world speed record of 245.7 mph. This was the fastest a seaplane had ever flown. 

In 1929, he was the first pilot to take off and land with no outside references, the first “blind flight” in history. 

During WWII he commanded the US Air Forces in North Africa and in 1944 commanded the mighty Eighth Air Force in England during the invasion of Europe.

Medal of Honor recipient, Lieutenant General Doolittle left active duty on January 5th, 1946, but remained active in numerous Air Force duties, retiring in 1959.

In 1985, however, General Doolittle was promoted to four-star rank following President Reagan’s nomination and Senate confirmation, thus becoming the first person in Air Force Reserve history to wear four stars.

Along the way, Doolittle had earned a Mining Engineering degree from the University of California, an Aeronautical Engineering degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a Doctorate in Aeronautical Science at MIT, had been awarded the National Aeronautic Association Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy, and had been inducted into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame, and the Aerospace Walk of Honor.

The captain and I sat in the cockpit, watching the boarding passengers cross the ramp to the base of the stairs. As we guessed at the names of the astronauts, stunt pilots, and politicians, I finally spotted Doolittle and pointed him out to the captain. Now I knew what I was going to do.

I waved my folded flight chart at the captain. “When we’re established in cruise flight, I’m going to go back and ask him to sign this number seven & eight, September 1975, Jepco Aviation chart.” 

The captain laughed, shaking his head. “I hope he doesn’t embarrass you. I wouldn’t do it.”

Minutes later at cruise altitude, I unstrapped my seat belt and pulled up from the seat. “It can’t be any worse than being refused a dance. Back in a flash.”

Our fifty-passengers Turboprop CV580 was full. Doolittle was seated on the left side about five rows back in an aisle seat. He was talking to an astronaut who was seated next to the window.

I cleared my throat, and Doolittle turned toward me, “General Doolittle, I’m Mike Daciek, your First Officer on this flight. May I talk to you for a moment?”

All the passengers nearby turned their heads to listen.

He nodded. “What’s up?”

“There’s nothing wrong.” I said it loud so all could hear. “Besides flying commercially I’m an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel flying with the Colorado Air National Guard. I flew the Mitchell B-25 in pilot training in 1957.”

“Great aircraft!” he said, nodding his head. “How did you like it?”

He’s very receptive, I thought, which immediately put me at ease,   “Very stable and easy to land, sir.”

“Yes, it was a fine airplane. However, I liked the A-26 Marauder even better, more maneuverable, flew like a fighter.”

“That was the ‘Widow Maker,’ wasn’t it?”

“Yes, but undeserving of that name. It had a 100-mph landing speed and stubby wings which made it tricky to handle. After the pilots received the proper training it became a favorite.” 

I looked back toward the cockpit. “I have to get back to the office but I would like you to know that every time I flew the B-25 I thought of you. I’m very familiar with your history and admire you very much.”

He looked me right in the eye as though trying to figure where I was going with this. I looked at his companion for support. He nodded his head with a friendly smile showing his approval of my behavior. I think he knew. The time was now.

“Would you please sign my flight chart?” I blurted out.

General Doolittle gave me a wide grin as if relieved. “Certainly.”

He unfastened his seat belt and started to stand up. I lightly placed my hand on his shoulder and said, ”You don’t have to get up, sir. I have my chart right here.”

He laughed and started walking toward the cockpit. He stopped and opened the Blue Room door.

Now I laughed. “I see where you’re going.”

He motioned for my chart as the Convair 580 entered some light turbulence.

I handed it to him with a pencil, offering my left hand as a platform while holding the door open with my right hand. He paused, waiting for a steady airplane. 

I felt very awkward in that position and blurted out. “Did you get an antelope?” 

“No, my team didn’t, we missed.” We entered some smooth air and he autographed my chart. 

“Who was on your team?”

“Jack Hilger and Bill Bower,” quickly scanning the cabin looking for his hunting buddies. “They’re both on this flight.”

Damn, I thought, here I am talking to the number one “Doolittle Raider” and there’s two more on my flight. I think I’ll just stick with the General.

“Where did you hunt?”

“We were given a guide who led us to a section of land near Lander.”

“Did you each have a shot?”

“No, just one per team. Bill took the shot.”

“Was there any penalty for missing?” 

“Oh,  yeah! We had to suffer the indignity of dancing with the squaws. It’s an old Indian custom.”

With an impish grin he handed back my autographed chart and said, “Now I suppose we both have urgent business to take care of.”

This was a general talking. “Yes, sir, thank you, sir.” 

I rushed to the cockpit door, then slowed my pace, entering casually with a somber face.

The captain turned to study my expression. I remained silent as I fastened my seat belt and adjusted my seat.

He shook his head. “You didn’t get it, did you?”

“Of course I did,” basking in my success. “We’re both Air Force pilots.”

The autographed chart has been offered to the “Wings over the Rockies” aviation museum located in a preserved Lowry Air Force base hangar, Denver, Colorado.

Note: “Doolittle’s Raiders” – Flying lead ship number one, Doolittle’s crew bailed out successfully. Bill Bower and Jack Hilger flew first pilot on B-25 aircraft numbers twelve and fourteen, respectively, both crews bailing out over China, all surviving. Jack Hilger and Doolittle have gone “West.” I see Bill Bower once a month at our Daedalian meetings at Buckley AFB.

Other passengers: (but not absolutely sure) Astronauts Jack Lousma and John Swigert. Stunt pilot, Frank Tallman (The Great Waldo Pepper) and Ex-Governor John Love of Colorado.

END Mike Daciek STORY #1