My friend Greg Colyer is a really great guy. He took my dad and I on a cool tour of the Air Traffic Control Center in Fremont which was amazing. Then about a month later we went up to meet him at the incredible Davis Flight Support where he keeps his T-33 called "Ace Maker". I got to check out that amazing airplane. Then we went for a ride in his Decathlon and we did some aerobatics, I got to fly most of the time, and I did the landing! He's a CFI and said I flew really well! (How cool is that?!)
After that, we sat down and I got an interview with him. I hope you like it!
Greg, when did you fall in love with flying and how?
"Well, as far back as I can remember, I've always liked airplanes, I'm not saying I was in love with them because I hadn't flown yet but I knew I liked the idea of flying. I mean my earliest memories were like looking at birds, and I just wanted to be a pilot. My mother worked for an oral surgeon in San Francisco when I was small, and when I was about six or seven years old I took my first flight and he let me fly the plane - and that was it. I was hooked then. What I thought I loved I knew I loved! I got my pilot license when I was 18 years old in the Army.
So were your parents okay with you flying?
"Yes, my parents supported me, and were okay with it, my mom worries a lot, whether I'm on my bicycle, sticking and fork in the toaster, or my motorcycle, but they're all okay with that and so is my wife - she supports it 100% which makes it all good. Even though she doesn't like flying at all - she tolerates airliners - but she knows it's my passion and my love and she supports me doing it. So I'm lucky there!
What helicopters did you fly in the Army?
"I learned in TH-55, and then I went to a UH1 - otherwise known as "slicks”, at Fort Ord in Monterey, then I flew an OH-58 which is like a military version of the Jet Ranger.
So do you think flying helicopters helped you master flying jets?
"Yes. You know, when I was in high school I wanted to be a fighter pilot really badly. In fact, a Navy fighter pilot or Air Force possibly, and that's what I wanted so bad and then in high school I had applied for the Army program and right before I started college I got accepted to fly helicopters. I thought so I can fly now, so I could skip college which I ended up going to later. Helicopters were a lot more fun than I thought they would be because you’re flying low-level and its tree tops stuff, and they are very maneuverable.
"To answer your question it does help with flying jets because what helicopters you have to have a very soft touch on the controls, you can't be ham-fisted you have to be really smooth and that translates well to fixed wing flying, it helps to have a soft touch with that. So it helps a lot especially with a T-33 with all its hydraulically boosted controls.
How did you get your T-33?
"How did I get my T-33? Well, I'll tell you the story of how I got into flying jets. When I got out of the Army, I went to college and I got my A&P license to work on airplanes. All my best friends were pilots and they were all going to go to SkyWest and they all wanted to go to the airlines and so did I. In 1985 I had taken that test to be an air traffic controller and when they offered me the job I said, 'Oh no I'm going to be a pilot.' Well, two years later I’m married, have a baby, and I couldn't survive on eight dollars an hour trying to fly for a living, so I took the air traffic controller job. Once I did that I would I would fly a whole bunch for couple of years then I wouldn't fly for a bunch of years then I would fly a bunch and then I wouldn't fly for a while. And then about six years ago my best friend I went to high school with, who flies for United Airlines, he called me up one day when he was in Russia and he said, 'Greg did you buy that Stearman?' I had just come back from going to Seattle to look at a Stearman I was thinking about buying. I wanted to buy a Stearman or a Yak 52, something I could do aerobatics in. So I'd flown that and I was back at the airport and my phone rang and it’s my friend Scott and he's like, 'Hey Greg, did you buy the Stearman?' I said now I'm not sure what I want. He said, 'Hey you want to buy a Russian jet fighter?' And I said, 'Where are you?' 'I'm in Russia and I'm sending you some pictures.' I had my laptop with me so I opened it up and sure enough, there was an e-mail with a picture from this flight line full of jets and then he said it was $8000 so I said I'll take one! I went home and told my wife, and wired the money. It was an L-29 Delphin jet. So I got that over here and we put them together and I flew it. I put 300 hours on it in three years. And then I got checked out an L-39 which is the model that replaced the L-29 and then I thought I wanted an L-39. 'Oh this is a real airplane! It's fast!' Then I made the mistake of flying a friend's T-33 and I'm like, 'Now this is a real airplane!' A piece of real US history, our first operational jet fighter, that and the P-80, and that's what I had to have. So I was lucky enough to sell my L-29 and my friend who had the T-33 knew where this one was and the guy wanted to sell it so I took it off his hands. One year ago yesterday!
Greg's L-29 - the yellow one
Please share some cool flying stories with us.
"Let’s see cool flying stories.......... today was one good flying story; I let you land the plane all by yourself! You did awesome!
"You know what, every single time I go up in the airplane whether in the Decathlon or the T-33, or in an L-29 it's incredible. You know what, every moment that I get into an airplane I think how lucky I am to get to do something I love. And to get up in the peaceful sky you know, but I don't have any super cool stories. Every flight is different in some way and I learn something every single time I fly an airplane. If you go in with that attitude you tend to be safer and live longer. You have to be humble when you're inside an airplane. I think flying formation with my friends was one of the funest things to do with the jets and chase each other!
"Actually, I do have one story for you. I had flown with this friend of mine, she's a pilot, but about 10 years ago we flew down in a T-34 to Long Beach for the helicopter convention and on our way back I get a weather briefing. Everything was good so were flying up the coast and the weather starts closing in and they told us. This plane she was flying was not IFR equipped and I was navigating, so we turned inland and was below overcast layer but over these valleys and mountains in the middle of nowhere so there are no landmarks and its all dead reckoning. I had the chart out and I was looking at it and timing with my watch and a whiz wheel. I knew we flying this heading for 15 minutes and guesstimated and after about a half hour of flying in one direction I said, "hey start flying this way now and if everything is right we should end up over San Luis Obispo in an hour. And sure enough, the rain was coming down now, the weather was moving in, and we were right there over the airport.
Have you had any close calls?
In the Army I was in an accident where I had a mechanical failure in my helicopter and we went down. I was just flying over the trees and an output shaft sheared, lost power and we auto rotated into the trees and that was it. I tore my knee up a little bit other than that we were all okay.
Once in my L-29, I was flying with my son and the nose gear wouldn't come down. I tried all the emergency procedures in the book and nothing worked. I did a fly by over the runway to let people on the ground tell me if it was down or not and they said it wasn't down. I tried the emergency accumulators to blow it down and that didn't work either. Finally I had to come in as I was low on fuel now, so my last chance was to bounce the plane on it's main gear really hard and try and "unstick" the nose gear. Well I hit the mains down really hard while keeping the nose high and it worked. The nose gear came down and locked before I lowered it down to the runway. That was a close call!!
So tell us about the CJAA and Jet Blast.
The Classic Jet Aircraft owners Association and it’s kind of like the EAA but they just concentrate on ex-military jets and they help protect our rights and regulations so we can operate our planes safely. There are safety briefings and rules and they help with all the regulations so we are able to have the privilege to keep flying these airplanes. The Jet Blast is when we all get together here at the Yolo County - Davis Woodland airport on May 15th, 16th, and 17th. So far we have about 12 jets confirmed coming and hopefully more. A lot of different types, T-33’s, L-29's L-39's, a Mig 17, a Vampire and some other stuff so there will be cool classic jets here at the jet blast.
I'm checked out and ready to fly!
That's me shooting the landing!
Be sure to check out Greg's new website and the videos too!