Flying with Eddie and the Cessna 195!
Eddie could fly any airplane ever made! At least he thought he could. "Eddie" is Eddie Culler, one of the two Culler brothers that played significant roles in the growth of Piedmont Aviation, the parent company of Piedmont Airlines.
Piedmont Aviation operated a large fixed base business under its name. Joe Culler, Eddie's younger brother began working part time for the fixed base operation. He later went into sales, became a corporate pilot and, after a successful business career he returned to his first love . . . flying . . . and to eventually become president of Piedmont Aviation's General Aviation division. Eddie worked many years as the manager of the maintenance department of the fixed base operation and one of his many duties was to test fly (if required) any of the planes his shop worked on.
Today was one of those days; the plane to be tested was a Cessna 195. The Cessna 195 was a high wing, all metal four-seater monoplane. In 1958, when this flight took place, the Cessna 195 was already an old airplane; however it was much in demand as a high altitude photo plane. Its radial engine was very well suited to high altitudes required for the photo jobs mostly for commercial surveying and map making.
Although efficient in many aspects, the 195 had a couple of peculiar characteristics. First, it was a tail dragger (tail wheel in back) and most of them had "cross-wind" landing gear struts. Simply described ... the cross wind struts were single pieces of "spring like" steel extending from the fuselage with a wheel attached. There were no braces as the gear struts were designed to "give" during landing, particularly during cross-wind landings.
Riding with Eddie today was Bill Sebastian, one of the two Airline "radio" technicians assigned to the Fixed Base maintenance shop. Eddie never flew alone, some said he feared" crashing alone" ... whatever that meant. Since Bill had completed a radio instaHation on this A/C while it was in for routine maintenance, he was the logical person to ride shotgun. Unfortunately for Bill... this was his first flight with Eddie, and just a little later, Bill
thought maybe it would be his first and last flight.. .forever.
Today was a perfect day for Eddie to show his stuff, particularly with the gusting cross wind pulling and pushing the little plane as Eddie taxied slowly toward the runway. For those not familiar with the 195, the nose up attitude while the tail wheel is on the ground is pretty extreme. One feels kinda strange, sitting back and looking skyward out the windshield. Bill couldn't see exactly what was going on, but felt like the little plane was zigzagging on the taxiway.
Finally, Eddie gets to the runway end and completes the engine run up, swapping
mags, checking controls, and whatever other pre-flight procedures he remembers. He looks over at Bill and says, "tighten your belL.this might be a duzy," and calls the tower for takeoff approval. The tower transmits "four -nine -two Charlie cleared for takeoff have a nice day." Eddie answers "Roger" and revs the engine. The plane moves a few feet...but angles toward the side of the runway. Eddie slows the engine...eases the aircraft back into a "straight down the runway line" position and again revs the engine. This time Eddie is ready for the cantankerous airplane and applies a little left rudder - now the airplane heads for the opposite side of the runway. Eddie again pulls back the engine power and applies the brakes.
All during this time Eddie hasn't said a word to his alarmed passenger. But Eddie has a plan, he will slow1y bring up the engine power, try to slightly aim the nose of the A/C into the cross wind. He thinks this will "trick" this airplane, which seems to have a mind of its own, into going down the runway. Just as he thought he had outwitted this monster, it again heads for the side of the runway. Eddie again applies the brakes. Suddenly, the cabin speaker blared out a crisp FAA control tower radio transmission, "four -nine -two -Charlie, are you going to take off or not? I've got an inbound and another soul behind you, wanting to take off.â€
This really teed off Eddie and he answered, "Yeah I'm taking off just as soon as I get this danged piece of crap lined up down the runway." "That's a roger on the crapper," replied the tower. (This rf!ally got Eddie's goat). With that said, Eddie poured the coal to the engine and started down the runway weaving
from side to side, pushing the rudder pedals frantically and moving the ailerons. Finally the airspeed picked up, the aircraft straightened up, and then shortly became airborne.
After takeoff and a safe altitude was reached, Bill asked 'What was that all about ... is there something wrong with this plane ... should we have stayed on the ground?" "Nah!" Eddie replied, "I'm just not familiar with this cross wind gear." "Well it is pretty gusty today," Bill said, "What's it going to be like when we land?" Eddie replied, "Don't know, we'll just have to fight it landing like we did on takeoff." Bill hopes for a long test flight, thinking maybe the gusty wind would soon die down.
Needlessly to say, Eddie and Bill made it back to the ground safely. In later weeks and months, Bill again experienced the "joy" of riding with Eddie.
And yes. there are many more stories to tell!
Eddie retired as Piedmont Aviation Vice President - General Aviation. Eddie took his final flight West on Thanksgiving morning, 2008.
WE (Bill) (Sebo)Sebastian - May 2009 email@example.com