First time flying a long, memorable road

Farm Forum

This time of the year takes this old pilot back a few years — well, actually, a lot of years!

Like the time when I applied for a job as a pilot for Northwest Airlines. After being told I was too old (32), I got a call one day from one of my old Navy Reserve buddies who asked me if was still interested in flying for Northwest. I told him I was and he said if you go down tomorrow to the NWA general offices in Minneapolis and see C. Randall Breeze, I would get hired.

I did, and I did, but some revealing events took place. The first thing was a stringent physical at the Mayo Clinic. After that two-day affair, I had to come back to Minneapolis to take the Stanine test. It was quite a test, lasting nine hours! All kinds of mechanical questions, some social questions and then a really weird test.

I had a keyboard in front of me that was reflected on a mirror. Lights would turn on and it was up to my tangled mind to think in reverses to press the correct key to extinguish the light in the mirror. As soon as I finished that long test, I called Mary Ann back in Aberdeen and told her to take the house off the market because there was no way I could have passed that grueling test. But a few days later I received a letter saying “congratulations.” I had passed both the physical and the Stanine and they offered me a class to begin my training.

Now my mindset was: I read a book, get a check out in the cockpit of an airplane and — voila! — I am off to the blue skies.

Wrong! My ground school training began on June 3, 1968, and I didn’t finish until mid-August. It turned into a real chore for sure. After this grueling six-days-a-week ground school, I had to have an oral exam by a check airman on the Boeing 727 as a flight engineer. So much for beginning as a pilot. Soon I was in the simulator learning how to sit sideways in the cockpit and run this giant panel of switches and gauges.

Thus, I began a real lesson in humility as I was relegated to reading checklists for the pilots, throwing switches, taking readings from dials, giving reports to company radio. Sort of an aviation flunky.

It was only a few short months later that I was ordered to check out in the giant Boeing 707, again as a flight engineer. But my experience as a flight engineer came to an end about a year and a half after being hired, when I was suddenly thrust into checking out as a real pilot as a co-pilot on the Boeing 727. It was an exhilarating experience for sure. It was an indescribable experience to actually take the controls of this giant air machine, put throttles forward, then roar down the runway, pull back on the yoke and leap into the air. And then to get this beast back on the ground safely was a real euphoric high. Walking out beside this airplane after a flight, it was surreal to think I actually controlled this behemoth.

Nuff said.

Gerald “Jerry” Krueger is a retired educator, coach, commercial pilot and farmer. Write him at His column publishes Mondays.