Michel Gordillo – Born to Fly
Michel Gordillo is a a commercial pilot who is no stranger to flying long distances. In 1998 he flew his Kitfox Model IV from Madrid, Spain to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, USA for the annual Experimental Aviation Association fly-in.
In 2001 he built an MCR01 experimental aircraft and flew it from Madrid around the world east to west.
Here in Michel’s own words is his story:
I can only say that I am a lucky man.
And it is so, because I knew, since very early age, what I loved, what I wanted to do.
Maybe life made an error and put my soul into a human body instead of doing so in an eagle, but now, it is difficult to change. So, now some 60 years ago, I was born into a very special world and at a very special place: French Cameroon.
Close to the equator, in a really beautiful country, I was born at Douala, at the base of a huge volcano called Mount Cameroun, and stayed there for some seven years. Then my parents moved to the capital, Yaoundé, just at the independence moment when it was really difficult for white people. In fact, my father was carrying two guns and my mother one. There were many killings at that time.
Yaoundé is built on top of many hills, surrounded by deep forests. A really nice place to stay for a seven years to 12 years boy.
And then I bought my first magazine: Le modèle reduit d´avion, a model aircraft magazine that I still keep. Altogether with a flight in a light airplane and I was done.
Living like a crazy boy, hunting birds and doing bad things, and being a bad student, a new change in my life happened: we were to move, first into Cannes (France) and then, finally to Spain.
Just before that, I was given a control line Air Cobra airplane, with a .049 engine that actually I was never able to start.
In Spain, I became a good boy. Maybe a little offset from the boys at Madrid, but almost OK. And then, I became fully involved with aircraft models, starting first with U-Line models, mainly with .15 engines (combat and aerobatics). I entered the Aeromodelling School (a program of the General Franco time) and shifted into free flight models (the ones over you don´t have control once released), starting with gliders and going into powered models called FAI F1C (International Aeronautics Federation: F1 stands for free flight and C fuel powered engines)
At the same time, I was becoming a better student and had very clear in my mind, that I would become a pilot.
I asked, when I was seventeen, for a glider training but I had no chance in getting one of those glider type C courses.
When I completed school, I entered the Spanish Air Force Academy Selection Group. That was via a public examination. Then, I spent one year at Granada were we fought to get a place for becoming an Air Force Pilot.
I worked hard and I can say it was the worst year in my student life.
But it was worthy and I did it. I entered he Spanish Air Force as a future pilot (not to say that I am and was somehow a little bit stubborn). At San Javier (Murcia-Spain), I went through a military training and after two years, I started the flying formation. First aircraft was a Beechcraft T34 Mentor, were we flew ¨solo and also received aerobatics training.
Also I flew Beechcraft Bonanza planes were I received navigation training (both visual and radio navigation).
Last year at AGA (Academia General del Aire), I received advanced training flying Texan T6 aircrafts. I was a beautiful airplane to fly and see, with its huge radial engine. I still remember that we were not trained for inverted flight, so when I flew the T6 solo, and was assigned a geographic area for the training, you can imagine what I tried first.
Of course, when gravity started to play, I was in the middle of a dust cloud and even a piece of an apple (yes, I know…) and went into the hole, with an unpredicted dive. Fortunately I started the inverted flight at 10,000 ft.
When I completed the full formation, that included formation flying, aerobatics, combat flying and IFR flying, I got my fighter pilot aptitude, but unfortunately, I was the number 20 of 24 and the fighter school just took the 18 first numbers.
So I went one year into the IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) multiengine training, at Salamanca (flying Spanish designed CASA C 212 Aviocar airplanes) and then, was assigned to the P3 Orion antisubmarine warfare aircrafts (yes, in Spain they are Air Force, not Navy). So I became a fighter pilot, but a ship and submarine fighter.
I spent seven years flying P3s and become crew leader. Then I learned a lot about the difficulties to find somebody in the water (we were also Search and Rescue Airplane) and that is why I am so concerned in survival for my flights.
During my stay in the P3, I was assigned one year training in the US Air Force: Undergraduate and Advanced Navigator training, where I got excellent results and learned a lot about pure navigation. It is a pity that Mather Air Force Base is no longer existing the way I knew it, at Sacramento (California). Also during my P3 stay at Jerez (Sherry for wine drinkers), I was able to enter a glider school.
My first training was at Monflorite (Huesca). I flew Blanick glider type three or four flights and the upgraded into pirate type glider. My flight number was 8 and I flew 5.5 hours so I qualified for Silver C. On flight 9 I got Silver C distance and Altitude and finally I flew the flight number 10, to actually receive the C glider rating together with the Silver C glider rating, something that no one ever had done in Spain.
That flight number 8 was really silly. I was a flight mixed with some prayers, trying not to descend into a valley I entered by pure mistake. Thermals were just too weak to escape from the closed valley. Finally I saw a vulture and told myself – “follow him!” And that vulture saved my flight and took me away from that valley. Once out, I headed straight to the field, but not a single thermal was there, so I descended and descended. I saw a small slope (at that time I flew a lot slope soaring radio controlled airplanes), and tried to stay aloft there, but after the first turn, I was already too low.
I decided to land in the next area and when I was to pull the airbrakes, at some 50 or 60 feet, (and praying and promising many things) I received a kick in my back so hard that I decided to turn. The lift was so hard that a few minutes later I was 3000 ft. higher and soon flying overhead the gliding training field. I was received almost like a hero and of course, I kept my secrets for myself. Those 5.5 hours flight time were not a voluntary act, there were a no choice.
After my assignment on P3 Orions, I was assigned into the 45th Air Force Group. That is a ¨wing¨ using jets for VIP people, like the King and his family, Ministers and so on. I flew Falcon 20 type aircrafts and soon it was time to become a Major in the Air Force and, let us say, somehow stop flying. So I had a choice to take: keep flying in airlines or stop most of my flights to become Coronel or General, as my mates are right now. I decided to take the airline way.
By the end of year 1987, I entered Iberia Airlines.
At that time, Iberia was the flagship of all Spanish airlines, a place where I could fly many different airplanes, where safety was the most important word, and where a pilot could be happy. In fact, at that time, as Iberia said, only the aircraft were receiving more attention than the passengers.
But time changed that whole world, and now Iberia is a private airline. Cost savings have leaded to a poor maintenance. A lot of pressure is put on the pilots to fly marginal airplanes and also salary and work conditions have been spoiled. Many pilots are fleeing the airline, something that was never expected.
But as I have told, the times have changed now but for many years, I enjoyed a wonderful work at Iberia.
I began to fly DC-9s, as copilot and soon, I was one of the first to train to fly the MD87 aircraft for Iberia at Los Angeles.
What an aircraft! I loved it! Then it was time to fly long range aircraft and I trained again on the brand new four engine Airbus 340. That was at Miami.
In 1998, I was promoted to Captain, and assigned to fly twin engine Airbus 320s, and later, Airbus 319 and 321 (shorter and longer versions of the 320).
But it was not a matter of love with those aircraft. Airbus planes fly nicely and work properly when everything is going fine. But when emergencies arise, it is difficult to proceed, because the pilot has to follow the procedures, but pilots don´t have to follow the procedures…a very tricky game. That sounds strange but it is the way I feel it.
Also those are airplanes where the pilots don´t have the aircraft throttle input at the hands (the Auto throttle is not auto throttle, it is auto thrust and that means that the throttles don´t move when in automatic mode). The pilot doesn’t know how much power is on the engines, unless he looks at the engines displays for that information. But if you look at the engines displays, you don´t look outside…..and that is not nice when flying visual in, for instance, wind-shear conditions. Also the flight controls (ailerons and elevators) are special. Captain and Copilot flight sticks are independent, and when you are training a new pilot, you don´t know what that pilot is doing just by feeling his stick inputs, because your stick doesn’t move…
But otherwise, when everything works properly, the planes fly right, even in hard conditions.
That time in airlines provided me a very good experience and also, the chance to fulfill my dreams.
Since I was in the Air Force Academy, I wanted to build my own airplane.
The low incomes and the heavy work did not allow me to start that dream, but when I entered the airline, I was then able to build my first real size aircraft. And that was a Kitfox IV a beautiful and nice airplane, with an 80 hp Rotax 912. A very good aircraft to fly low and slow.
“Madosh” (Madrid to Oshkosh) was born around 1996, because of course, I had to fly into Oshkosh the Mecca of experimental aircraft builders. But I wanted to take a different approach and fly east, into the sun, instead of flying west, from Spain. The Spanish Air Force and Iberia provided me the full support and the dream became true.
Later, I wanted the Air Force to build a replica of a Comper Swift and fly it into Manila, but finally, that was not possible. I built, with the help of two friends, an MCR01 aircraft with a Rotax 912S engine and changed the Manila´s flight into a round the world Flight, called “Into the Sunrise.”
Again full support of Iberia and the Spanish Air Force, I was able to complete the flight in year 2001 and arrive at time at Oshkosh (in 1998, I arrived one week later, but I was the first to arrive for Oshkosh 2002!)
And then, after letting everything setting down, I was able to build the plane I always wanted to build and fly: an RV-8 from Vans Aircraft. The study of the black carbon contents in the atmosphere, and the convenience for the project of an aircraft like the RV-8, bonded together and flying around the world over the Poles, is now altogether, another dream and a huge scientific study.
Right now, I am retired and enjoying the freedom of time to make dreams and projects true.