Collision Avoidance

Collision Avoidance


The Greats - Alan and "Grandma Hayley" Chaulk

My great-grandparents were Newfoundlanders - "Newfies" - and proudly so. I am the namesake of this man, my father's grandfather. Besides our names, we have this in common: each of us took a ship across waters of the Atlantic, though mine was of a form and function quite dissimilar from his.

If he knew the entirety of that difference, all that would entail in my life, I think he'd be flat-out amazed. But perhaps harder to fathom would be knowing that he and my great-grandmother can now be seen worldwide on this new-fangled "internet" thingy.

Photo by Author

Gordon Chaulk, Grandfather

My granddad began the generational migration away from the family's sea-faring heritage that had been firmly anchored in Canada's eastern maritime region. Eventually, he went to work on the railroad where he honed his skills in the technical trades, specifically working on boilers, the heart of any steam-powered transportation system.

I like to think that this kind of hands-on work inspired my father's interests which went on to inspire mine. Here, he is pictured with a cod fish which proves there's only so far you can remove a Newfie from the sea.

Photo by Author

Lewis Chaulk

Whatcha thinkin' Daaaad??
This picture of my father, who seems lost in thought, only tells one side of the story. Yes, he was smart, clever, and gifted with mechanical things, but never was he too busy or self-involved to discourage my curious questions about whatever he was working on.

He was also a sportsman, though I was somewhat less impressed by his fascination with amateur boxing promotion!

Photo by Author

Norma Jean Chaulk

There were almost "two pieces of flying Chaulks," Mom being the other one. When she was considering a career as an inflight hostess, the qualifications were strict and, by today's standards, medieval. She was trained as a nurse, however, and that otherwise prepared her well for that job description. There were at least two reasons why she didn't continue to chase her dream: one named Paul, and the another named Alan.

Photo by Author

With Paul, my Older Brother

Paul is about five years my senior. Today, that gives me an advantage (I guess) but when this shot was taken, in 1958, it was a much different story.

"Little Darlings" (of the Back Row)

Like most younger kids trying to match wits with older siblings and cousins, I was busy playing "catch up" - but never did until it didn't seem to matter. In this picture, Paul is wearing the red shirt standing next to the other members of the A Team. I'm wearing the blue shorts in the front row with the rest of the B squad.

In case you are wondering, my cousin George isn't in this picture and I can't remember why!

Photos by Author

Fifth Grade

I was already fascinated with airplanes by this time and never really considered anything other than aviation when imagining my future. I've always believed that those who "just know" what they want to do from an early age have a leg up on kids who have a hard time figuring it out.

I don't claim any credit for deciding early; it came naturally. While it did simplify some parts of my preparation, the eventual cost of flight training, by itself, more than made up for it. That was to be a huge hurdle, as it is for most who come up through the civilian ranks.

Photo by Author

Vicarious Pilot

I got to be pretty good at building models, airplanes, of course, and a few ships. If you think flying a plane like this isn't nerve-racking, you probably haven't put all your eggs in one basket hitched to a set of balsa wings and a screaming, gas-fueled engine.

A memorable flight in one of Hawaii's most iconic places - Diamond Head crater - was steeped in knee-knocking gravitas, an event for me akin to launching a moon rocket.

Photo by Author

High School Graduate - 1974

OK, hot shot, time to start putting some teeth into this "aviation career planning" business. There were a number of options, but which was the smart move? I didn't know, so I set about finding someone who might.

I didn't have to look very hard or very far. A resource was practically at arm's length and he proposed a strategy that wasn't on my radar.

Photo by Author

Fellow Travelers

I met Drew (center) at tech school and we became fast friends. Both of us were chasing a path with but one final destination: the front left seat of an airliner, the captain's chair. This is what Drew's father had done and his example had provided an intoxicating incentive. That's him, Captain Andy Peterson, on the right.

It is clear from this picture , taken at a time when Drew and I were well-established along that pursuit, that none of us could see the future and the dangers that lay ahead.

Photo by Author

New Opportunities in New Mexico

As Dad chased work with the Lab, I found ways to tag along and gain experience to help make the long, slow climb up the aviation ladder. I got hooked up with a Fixed Base Operator (FBO) that kicked my mechanic career into high gear while also providing opportunities to fly - and get paid for it.

Once, as a mechanic in a compromised position on a blazing hot day, I had an epiphanal moment spurred by the sight and sound of a pretty 20-something. With my head on the rudder pedals and my feet slung over the pilot's seat of a Cessna 172, I heard her excited giggles as she and her instructor walked past, en-route to another plane for a flying lesson. As I struggled to install a filter in the vacuum pump, I swore - first at the newly opened gash on my arm and then to myself - that I was going to find a way to trade up.

A couple of months later I earned my Instructor rating which would eventually lead to hours for my logbook and an interesting encounter with a good looking student of my own.

Photo by Author

Shop Talk

Pilots are notorious for for gabbing about flying any time and anywhere: libraries, birthday parties (theirs or yours), anniversaries, at the movies, etc. And if they can't get a non-flyer to discuss it, they are perfectly happy to talk amongst themselves. In this case, there is a willing victim - my father, a fellow techie who had several flights aboard the Liki Tiki and expressed enough general interest to be admitted to "the club." Here is chatting with Andy Peterson while I mug for Drew's camera.

While this picture might serve as an indictment that aeronauts are far more interested in their own stories than in fashion (which is generally true), I'd like to point out that this photo was taken in the 1970s. No man alive at the time was immune from the plague of "style sense" common to that lost decade.

Photo by Author

Mary - Almost a Near Miss

In a book about escaping collisions, it's perhaps a fitting irony that intersecting paths can sometimes be a very good thing. The night I met Mary, I had almost bailed before I got the chance. I was looking for the exit from the local watering hole when it seemed that I had attracted the attention of someone for whom I had no interest. But it was a case of mistaken identity, as if I had picked the wrong person out of a lineup.

Mary is seen here around the time of her graduation from the police academy and a bit before our meeting. She was a reserve officer in Albuquerque but more or less my full time partner from that night on. She forever changed my life by bringing both companionship and balance to what had been a single-minded focus on aviation.

Photo by Author

The Honeymooners

We weren't exactly a modern day Ralph and Alice Kramden, though there were some similarities. Pilots sometimes refer to themselves as "drivers" and air travel has become so commonplace that we dryly remark that airliners often seem like airborne busses, so there's that. And, a few of Mary's and my escapades would have made great TV story lines for how seemingly innocuous circumstances could quickly spin out of control and end with "Baby, you're the greatest..." We also had our share of lean times and tight spaces so maybe we were more alike than I thought!

Here we are on our honeymoon somewhere near the Grand Canyon. That fantastic, technicolor vista is one that every American ought to see at least once. Looking back to this place where time and erosion changed the landscape forever, I think about the parallels between nature and the human experience. The meanderings of the Colorado river, at times serene or upending like life itself, eventually expose what lies beneath the surface. The results can quite unexpected in both content and character.

Photo by Author

Repatriation Rendezvous

KLM had been a port in the stormy days of the airline careers of 40-some NWA pilots. Two years later, it was safe to come out again and return to the US. If we look relieved, it's because we were - it was time to become ex ex-pats.

Some of us, including partners, assembled for a group dinner to celebrate our camaraderie and impending re-entry to a life and career back at Northwest Airlines. I think most of us would have expected things to be smooth sailing after our time in the Netherlands, but in the airline industry, like on almost any long duration flight itself, pockets of turbulence would spring up due to events well beyond our control. It's simply the nature of the beast.

As for me, seated at left, this would not be the last time I was in Amsterdam with visions of an en-masse return to the States, though the ground rules for that would be quite different.

Photo by Author

Brian and Mom - Big Sky, Small World

These two people played large roles in advancing my career upward from rung to rung. Mom provided some key information that got me over a medical hurdle when I was just getting started and always had an interest in what was going on in the airline biz. At the same time, she possessed insider information of great importance that would only be revealed years later. She was not the only one who knew.

Brian and I bonded early from the shared experiences of our early training at Hawaiian Airlines. In terms of progression, we would follow each other around until fate intervened to set us on diverging paths. What a lovable character, this guy...I only wanted to choke him twice!

You hear some strange stories about people who re-connect on airplanes so I guess it isn't too surprising that a day might come when Mom just happened to be in or out of Maui on a plane that Brian captained. One pilot I knew ended up working a trip with a lead flight attendant that had been his high school Spanish teacher! Neither of those guys had seen or heard about each other for nearly 20 years.

Photo by Author

Amy and Drew Peterson, Two Favorites

Sometimes you get lucky in life, and sometimes you find yourself up against it. One of the best things to happen to me was that random room assignment at Northrop that put Drew and I together. Oftentimes I've felt that what I learned there was of less importance than who I got to know. It was that way with Drew.

One of the fortunate turns in his life was meeting Amy, a woman of devotion and character who would be tested in ways few people will ever have to experience. When the chips were down, she didn't fold - she invested everything she had.

Drew and Amy Peterson, pictured here on one of their Navion trips somewhere in the beloved Southwest, made an indelible imprint on my journey. For his last departure, Drew "flew west" much too young, much too soon. For this reason I thought it only fitting to dedicate Collision Avoidance to him, immesurably more than a fellow pilot to me, and a precious soul to all who knew him.

Photo by Author

Topic of Cancer

Dad was a WWII veteran in the same way that other non-uniformed combatants were, each fighting battles against an enemy no less determined than ones faced by troops in the field. In his case, the objective was to liberate knowledge held captive by ignorance, the lack of scientific understanding.

High energy physics and human biology - his - were locked in a valiant but deadly embrace against the drumbeat of wartime. The Holy Grail of this frantic effort was radar development, giving electronic eyes to Britain with which to detect the lethal threat of invading Nazi airpower.

This picture, taken on Maui with my father near the end of his life, is a reminder that the risks and scars of war are wide ranging and long lasting. Seeing him in this way I was convinced that his condition was rooted, at least in part, in sacrifices he made to advance the technology that helped to defeat the evil of tyranny.

Photo by Author

Check back often, more pictures added each week!