Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"Whirly Birds" and Presidents: The Story of Mr. Martinez

Manuel O. Martinez, Retired LtCol Marine Corps

It’s no surprise that Hemet-Ryan Flight School owner, Joe Martinez, developed the aviation bug after sitting down with his father, Manuel.  Mr. Martinez Sr. served in the United States Marine Corps as an aviator for 23 years, earning a Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star, and no less than 14 Air Medals.  He has over 2000 combat hours and 20,000+ total flight hours under his belt.

Had he not been the youngest of his high school class, Mr. Martinez would have joined all his friends and enlisted during the Korean War in 1949.  Instead, he was forced to stay behind and decided to get his degree in order to be qualified to sign up for Marine Corps flight training in Pensacola.  Flying became his first love-affair.  He was ready to serve our country as an aviator….just when the war ended!  He remained in Pensacola and was put to good use as a flight instructor.

After Korea, fixed wing pilots were not getting any flight time due to cutbacks.  The demand for aviators in the service shifted and Mr. Martinez had a choice:  either switch services or learn how to fly these new “whirly birds.”  It was a no-brainer- anything to keep flying.  He had no idea that switching from fixed wing to helos would start his next love-affair. 

This Vietnam rescue mission story retold by Joe is particularly amazing.  Mr. Martinez disregarding the Flight Commander's orders to abort a dangerous mission, leaving U.S. soldiers in a hot LZ.  Mr. Martinez flew back and loaded his H-34 (capacity of 8 troops) with 15 troops and managed to get them a mile out of the combat zone, while ignoring the chopper's warning systems screaming at him, red lights blaring and the engine all but failing.  Instead of facing backlash, that heroic stunt earned him a Silver Star.

After many harrowing rescue missions and supply drops, Mr. Martinez found himself back in the U.S. in 1966 with orders to head to the HMX-1 Squadron in Quantico, Virginia.  He was asked to fly co-pilot Marine One with President Johnson to a Latin American Conference in Punta del Este, Uruguay.  Upon their return, for undisclosed reasons, the Full Bird got relieved.  For the next four years, he became the trusted Marine One pilot for President Johnson and his family, and even got invited to attend a Presidential Sunday barbeque.  

He once got orders to pick up former President Eisenhower.  Mr. Martinez learned that former President Eisenhower very specifically did not like to be known as an ex-president; he liked to be known as a Retired General.  The plaque on the side of the helicopter had to be switched out quickly to remain on Eisenhower's good side. 

Mr. Martinez’s humble manner of speaking and downplayed war stories are in truth nothing but heroic and unbelievable.  I listened, captivated by story after story of rescue missions in thick enemy fire in the jungles of Vietnam.  It was clear that Mr. Martinez was recognized as a brave, steady pilot who selflessly did whatever it took to bring back as many American soldiers as his choppers would carry.  We thank you for your service for our country!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Love At First Flight: Ed Matthews

"It's not your aptitude, it's your attitude that will determine your altitude." 

I had an opportunity to sit down with Ed Matthews, an experienced pilot with 46 years of flight behind him and many more to come.

Ed is the go-to guy around Hemet-Ryan Flight School.  The frequent unquestioned response to many young pilots questions is "because Ed said."  He has earned the reputation as a local authority on all things aviation, with a wealth of knowledge he is happy to share.  One glance at his copy of the latest FAR/AIM speaks for itself...

When did the itch to fly begin for you?
Ever since I was a little boy.  When I was 12 years old I started building model airplanes.  As soon as I was old enough, just turning 15, my dad took me to the glider port in Pear Blossom, CA and I started flying.

"Watching an airplane take flight is second in satisfaction only to actually flying...the beauty of flight...it's just a cool thing."

I fly remote control models now.  Trim an airplane perfectly, let it go and watch it fly.

Do you remember your first solo?....were you scared?
Sure, there are a lot of fears...the fear of crashing, the fear of making mistake and letting your instructor down, the fear landing off the field in the glider. 

I love flying as much now as I did in the very beginning.  It is always interesting and challenging.  As an instructor there is always something new- different planes, different students, different destinations.

What is the most rewarding part about flying?
Teaching; seeing students grow.  I enjoy the psychological aspect of helping them get them through their fears.  It's very satisfying when my students get the hang of it and become aviators. 

Making a good landing is always very rewarding.  I've got pages and pages in my logbook of touch and goes.

What do you think about when you are up in the air?
There's the feeling of getting away from the normal stresses of everyday life.  You get a different perspective up there.  All the little things that are going on down on the ground, you seem to be separated from them...you are in a different world almost.  You fly right over bumper to bumper traffic and you're glad you are not down there in that mess!

What's your favorite airplane to fly?
Well, they're all pretty darn good.  Our Cessna 83E - as far as a great teaching airplane, it's hard to beat.  She's easy to fly; enjoyable to fly.

Do you have a need for speed?
Nope.  Speed is directly proportionate to the dollars.  "No bucks, no Buck Rogers."
It's not lift that makes an airplane fly, it's money.  Cruising along at 100mph is good enough for me.

What are some characteristics of good pilots?
Your success is largely based on your attitude.  Things that don't mix well in aviation are having an ego and making excuses. 

"Complacency is a pilot's biggest enemy."

You have to give 110% to be successful.  You gotta slow down, prioritize, think of safety, and have a good attitude.

Advice to newbie pilots?
Challenge yourself and stay focused. 

"Take the time to feel good about your accomplishments as they come."

We take it in phases.  First study everything about the airplane.  Understanding your airplane is so important.  Study the manual.  Focus on one thing at a time so it doesn't get overwhelming.  Then your instructor will guide you to additional reading to venture into.

It's expensive these days, but if you can fly once a week or even once every two weeks, you will reach your goals.  Don't worry about how long you think it will take, just keep plugging along and it will happen.  It could take a year, it could take 5 years.  Baby steps.

What is the first step for someone interested in aviation?
Come out to the airport. Express your interest, talk to instructors, talk to pilots, watch planes take off.  Sign up for a Discovery Flight.  It will give a feel and go from there.