Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear (Episode 6): Day of Infamy

As the middle of November ’67 approached, Brandon decided it was time to go for my license. There were two parts to winning your wings. Part one was the pre-flight test, where you went through the entire procedure with your Instructor. Part two was the actual flight test, which you did with Buttonville’s Chief Flying Instructor, or a Department of Transport Examiner.

I wasn’t worried about the pre-flight with Brandon, but I was very worried about the actual flight test. Years of catholic private schools had left me with a pretty healthy terror of “authority figures,” and I had little doubt that I would blow the actual in-flight exam.

When I confided this to Brandon, he just snorted off my concerns and said, “Before you worry about the exam, why don’t we see if you can pass your pre-flight test?” I was now so calm around Brandon, I snorted back, “Piece of Cake, old boy. Let’s go do it.”

My pre-flight test lasted only an hour and was some of the best flying I’d ever done. We spent a lot of the time laughing, and Brandon tried to make the whole thing seem as real as possible by marking every manoeuvre as if he truly was the examiner.

As we neared the end of the exercise, I knew he was going to kill the engine—but after living through a real engine failure, the simulated emergency was going to be child’s play.

Sure enough, after trying to distract me by pointing out a landmark through my side window, Brandon pulled back the throttle and I immediately went into my emergency procedures. I put the nose down while I pulled on carb heat, got the right glide speed, turned into wind, and picked a perfect field. On the way down, I kept up a running commentary on the decisions I was making.

When we were about fifty feet over the field, Brandon said, “Okay. You would have made it,” and pushed in the power. I was feeling pretty good about myself as we climbed away, then Brandon said, “Two questions …”

“Okay,” I answered nervously.

“Number one—how come you didn’t check to see why the engine had quit?”

“I knew why it quit,” I answered. “You pulled out the throttle.”

“Well, yes,” said Brandon, in an annoyed voice. “But you were supposed to tell me what you would have done.

“I think I’ve already shown that I know what to do,” I replied. “Remember the real engine failure on my solo cross-country?”

“Hmm. Valid point,” said Brandon.

You had two questions?” I asked.

“What? Oh, yeah. Question number two is … why did you pick that particular field?”

Brandon’s question mystified me.

“Because it was the best place to land,” I answered.

“Really?” said Brandon. “What about the runway next door?”

I looked down in horror and discovered the field I’d picked was right next to Markham Airport.


En route back to Buttonville, Brandon had me show him power-off and power-on stalls, and though my heart was pounding, I managed to get through them without problems.

“Great,” said Brandon. “So now all we need is the spin, and you’re done.”

I believe my heart actually stopped.

“Um … a spin?”

“Yup,” said Brandon.

“Uh … Mike … you never showed me how to spin.”

“I didn’t?” said Brandon.

He thought about this for a minute then said, “Oh—well—this is how you do one.”

And with that Brandon chopped the power, pulled the nose halfway to heaven, then—just as the wing stalled—stood hard on the left rudder pedal.

As the nose pitched down, the left wing dropped, and I experienced the single most sickening sensation of my life (to that date).

From my point of view, the little Cessna appeared to have rolled inverted and was now spinning vertically towards the ground.

OH …

MY …


Brandon calmly recovered from the spin, saying “Opposite rudder to stop the spin …” (which just about made me lose my breakfast), “Release back pressure …” (which made us go even more vertical), “Then pull out of the ensuing dive” (which created so much “G load,” my body felt it was going to be pushed right through the seat).


As we returned to straight and level, Brandon said, “And that’s a spin. Now do one just like that and we can go home.”


I was ready to get out and walk home right there and then …

But I had to do a spin.

So I did do a spin.

It was pretty awful.

And that, I assumed, was the end of my pre-flight test.


After we landed back at Buttonville, Brandon didn’t say a word. He just sat there, adding up the various totals on the Flight Test forms.

“So … how bad did I blow it?” I asked.

“Shut up. I’m trying to concentrate,” came the grumpy response.

“I’ve failed haven’t I. Was it because I missed Markham Airport?”

“No. You were an idiot for missing it—but you picked a good field and we would have got down safely, so—I’ll give you that.”

“Well, was it because I forgot my checks on the way down?”

“What? No. You pulled on the carb heat and the rest of your weird rationalization kind of made sense … so, I’ll give you that one as well.”

“So, it was the spin.”

“The spin was pretty bad, Pre-pubic. But seeing as how it was your first and you didn’t kill us … No, I’ll give you that one too.”

“So what are you saying?”

Brandon was trying to add up columns of numbers and my distracting dialogue was starting to annoy him.

“Will you shut up, Pre-Pubic.”

“No, I want to know. Am I ready for my Flight Test?

Brandon finished his calculations, looked at me as if I was a complete idiot then said—


Actually, that reminds me of a story. Right about this time, there were rumours going around Buttonville that certain overly-anxious students were given an amazing break when the time came for their Flight Test. The school’s CFI would let their Instructor take the student on a pre-flight test. If the student did well—really well—the Instructor would shock the hell out of his charge by saying something like:

“Why would you want to take another Flight Test—” … um “—student?”

Then he’d hand the student some papers and say, “Congratulations. You’re a Pilot!”

When the stunned student pointed out that a regular Instructor couldn’t issue a Pilot’s License—um—the Instructor would say, “I can’t. But he can.”

The student would follow the Instructor’s pointing finger and see Buttonville’s Chief Flying Instructor grinning through the terminal building’s window.

Great story, eh?

Mind you, I have no way of knowing if it was true …

And while I can’t seem to remember the details of my own Flight Test (probably because of that “authority figure” phobia,) my log books (complete with legal CFI signature) tell me I passed my Flight Test on November 20th, and was issued a Private Pilot’s License on December 7, 1967 … “A day that will live in infamy.”


 Watch for Episode #7 of “Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear” on Sunday, May 8th.


About the Author

Glenn Norman is a Co-Founder and the Editor of Why Fly. Learn more.

One Comment

  1. My “Brandon” was named Kevin Healy. Thank God (or insert suitably respected person here) for generous, passionate and “knowing” people in this world. (of aviation)

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