As long as I’ve been involved in general aviation, there’s been gloom and doom about the expense, about student starts, about user fees and about how “all this is going away.” In response, I often point out that, like any industry, GA goes through changes. Yes, GA “as we know it” is changing, but the romanticized taildragger on a grass runway and everyone helping each other out still exists—you just have to look harder for it. Sometimes, it comes to you.
Earlier in the year, I found myself headed toward Albany, N.Y., to visit a long-time pilot-friend and play with airplanes. I was flying a second friend’s airplane, IFR, and being vectored for a visual approach through a cloud deck. All of a sudden, I can hear ATC, but they can’t hear me. So I reached down between the front seats for the handheld mic—but there is no handheld mic. There’s a bracket, but nothing on it.
Next, I reach around behind me—the airplane I was flying doesn’t have an autopilot and is about as easy to fly straight and level as standing on a greased bowling ball—grab the spare headset, plug it into the copilot’s jacks, put it on and mash that side’s PTT. Nothing.
The controller quickly figured out I was Nordo, and we used my transponder’s ident button to acknowledge clearances. I landed safe and sound, without even a light gun. But I was somewhat stranded. Thankfully, Albany is a great place to have a (slightly) broken airplane.
The next day, I called an on-field shop to see if they had a handheld mic I could use to check the system. By the time we got there, a barely used Telex handheld was waiting for us. We tried using it to check the plane’s radios, but the handheld mic jack didn’t work either. After noticing the spotless work areas and well-equipped hangar this shop was in, I threw myself at the technician’s mercy and asked if they had time to diagnose the PTTs and, if possible, repair/replace them.
He found both PTTs were bad, for different reasons. He had a replacement for the pilot’s side in stock and repaired the copilot’s switch. It took him a solid 1.5 hours, probably closer to 2.0, plus the new switch. So, at least a $250 job. But he refused payment.
Turns out the person I was working with to get me back in the air is the shop owner. Although we introduced ourselves early on, he didn’t know me from Adam. He certainly didn’t know I have this little bit of space I can use to thank and commend people who live up to those ideals we all think are gone from GA.
His name is Jamie Hildenbrandt, and he’s president of Hildt Aviation, on the ramp just down from the Million Air FBO at KALB (which was another great experience). I’d take my personal airplane to him in a heartbeat. If you’re based nearby or are ever in the area and need some aircraft maintenance, I highly recommend him.
Thanks again, Jamie.