By Gilbert E. Davis
Avaiator Test Pilot
After rebuilding the Starship Alpha I flew again March 31, 1989. Before
this flight, I had found the reason my Flying Wing had to be ditched in
the Snake River. The new air filter had a big chrome cover that caused
the hot air from the engine compartment to be pulled into the
carburetor. Thus the engine lost power. Proof, I put the old air
cleaner on the engine and it flew just fine.
On the 9th of May I flew my 300th flight. I flew from Nampa to Jump
West to see if I could get my parachute repacked. I had a forced
landing because of a total failure of my reduction belt. I had flown
low and slow to see if the runway was good enough for me to land on.
The runway wasn’t good so I banked toward Nampa when the belt
disintegrated leaving me with no power. I had my parachute on but I was
only 100 feet up and my chute wouldn’t have had time to open. If I flew
to the left there was a hill, if I went toward Nampa I would have hit a
house. The only choice I had was my 3 o’clock, which was a field full
of rocks and a barbed wire fence. I banked to the right and was able to
clear the fence by about one foot. As soon as I cleared the fence I
banked to the right and in the last second saw a hill. I pulled back,
but as I pitched up all I could see were the sky and the floor of the
airplane. Then I hit the hill about 3 feet from the top. I hit at 50
mph and some 20 G’s. The back pain was excruciating and all feeling in
my legs was gone. I shut down, as there was danger of a fire. In just a
few minutes the cockpit was getting hot. Opening the cockpit cooled
things off but now I had to get out. To take my parachute off and get
out of the cockpit took two and one half hours. Now, I was on the
ground and in the shade of the wing.
The hard part was waiting for some one to find me. I prayed to be
found. Then I prayed I could die. I was in great pain all the time.
This went on for eight and a half hours. I thought I heard someone.
Yes, finally I had been found. The man that found me had come to Jump
West to see if it would be a good place to fly his model airplane. He
said he didn’t know why he came over the fence that day. I said it was
because I needed an answer to my prayers. He called on his radio in his
truck and the Life Flight helicopter was on the way.
The Paramedics slid me on a big board and then for some reason pushed
down on my knees. It felt like someone had poured gasoline on my legs
and lit it on fire. The pain was excruciating and if I would have had a
gun I would have shot them both. I kept asking for morphine and they
kept saying they would get some for me. They left me in pain for one
and a half hours before my back operation.
The next thing I remembered was Sue in my room and Channel 7 TV crew
with their camera for an interview. They ask me if I would fly again.
Sue and I both said I would. Then I asked them, if you crash your car
do you drive again?
I spent time at the Elks’ to rehabilitate as much as possible. It was
hard without the use of one’s legs. When George from the Elks’
Rehabilitation Center came to the house, he said more or less the
split-level design of the house wouldn’t work. I’d learned to use my
wheelchair, sliding board, and how to drive a car with hand controls.
Finally it was time to go home.
The children, Sue and I were all living in Clair’s old home on Maple
Grove Road. It was a very bad arrangement for me, as I couldn’t go up
the stairs with my wheelchair. Sue was very helpful after I came home
from the Elks’ and we all did the best we could. Sue and the children
spent most of their time upstairs so I started to read books like
Caribbean, Chesapeake and Source by James Mitchner. Most of the time, I
spent by myself. We finally got a battery powered stair climber, this
helped but I couldn’t use it by myself. My love life was over, I
couldn’t work, I couldn’t play with the children, didn’t have a car I
could drive, my airplane was damaged, and I was in pain all the time. I
couldn’t work so we had to use church welfare, state welfare, and help
We Sued Gates
As soon as I filled out the National Transportation Safety Board report
on my accident I found that the belt that disintegrated was in use for
only 2.4 hours. The belt had to be defective. I talked to Lynn Luker
and he contacted Don Lojek who was a pilot as well as a lawyer. Sue and
I thought we could have the suit over in six months, but it took six
years. We won the suit and got $2,000,000.
I had to work with Vocational Rehabilitation so I could attend B.S.U.
My first classes were in the fall 1991, about two and one half years
after my accident. My GPA was 3.50. After the spring of 1992 my GPA was
3.6, which put me on the Dean’s List with honors.
In the fall of 1992 it happened! I started out fine
and then about a month after school started I went manic and flunked
Brilliant Madness (1992)
When you are manic everything is in a different world. Some of the
people that had the same bipolar disorder I have were Charles Dickens,
Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Michelangelo, and Patty
Duke. Money has no meaning; you don’t need much food or sleep. You get
angry. It is difficult to stay on one subject. I had times of
grandiosity-exceptional confidence. My action was impulsive and I had
many creative ideas but never followed any of them to completion. It
was a never-never land and I sold everything I could carry out. I cut
up and mixed up parts off four motorcycles and my flying wing Gemini. I
mixed up and lost parts to an O-320 Lycoming aircraft engine worth
$1,000. Then it was worth nothing. In the end I had destroyed some
$30,000 worth of aircraft parts, tools and books.
After about three months in the hanger with my cat, Steve came over and
took me to the hospital in Nampa to get my morphine pump filled. The
doctor never filled my morphine pump but had me taken to a room
upstairs. I wanted to leave and they wouldn’t get my wheelchair. I slid
to the floor and crawled down the hall. I ask the cowboy where the
elevator was. He didn’t answer so I got mad and tackled him. He went
down with a crash. I found out later that I had tackled the sheriff of
I ended up at the hanger again and got the bright idea to shoot at a
picture of German and Japanise airplanes. I was shooting at them with a
50 caliber cannon. I ran out of cannon balls so I used a rivet set and
a large load of powder. Just as I was ready to shoot the cannon, Col.
Bernie Fisher walked in the door. Boom, the cannon fired and the cannon
smashed into the refrigerator and broke its oak carriage. The rivet set
flew toward the picture of the airplanes on the wall, hit a steel WW-2
army helmet blowing a hole in the front, ricocheting off the back of
the helmet, hit the floor and flew up and hit me in the chin. There I
was with my ears ringing, standing in a cloud of smoke with blood
running down my chin. I felt like a first class fool.
Salt Lake City (1993)
I still needed my morphine pump filled so Steve took me to the bus for
Salt Lake City. I then took the city bus to the University of Utah
Medical Center. My morphine pump was filled and then they took me to
the psychiatric unit on the 5th floor. I fought all of them and ended
up with a big net over me for the night. While all of this was
happening, Mary and Alan were married.
Strange thoughts started coming to my mind. I just knew I was going to
be the prophet king, one of the 144,000, leader of the Tabernacle
Choir, etc. When none of these things happened I was very depressed and
I started taking my lithium.
Pain and Depression (1994)
It took more than a month for my legs to heal. About the time they sent
me home Jaren Walker was born. Now they sent me home to Boise. I spent
most of my time in the downstairs bedroom. Since I hurt in all but a
few positions, I would lay and read almost all day. I’d play games with
the children and read all the books of Church history. My depression
bothered Sue so much that she had me moved to Valley Plaza in Nampa. I
was still in pain and more depressed. Why couldn’t I stay with my
family? I now had lost everything I ever had. In the next three years I
was in mental hospitals seven times.
Not Manic Just Mad as Hell
In 1994 I had just come back from Intermountain Hospital when I went
before the judge. The judge said I was free to go. He said I was
noncommittal. The very next day the police came and picked me up and
took me to the Nampa Airport. They said that I was disturbing the
peace. I was put in a small airplane and flown to Orofino and Hospital
North. Yes I was mad. I was mad as hell. I learned to be mad, mad at
the system. A system where they lock you up, piss you off, medicate
you, and let you go. When you get out you are no smarter than you were
when you went in.
After a week of being locked in the hospital I saw a notice on the
bulletin board. It had a telephone number for those who felt their
rights were being violated. I called the number and got a lawyer. We
talked for a couple minutes and he said, “I know who you are, you’re a
famous pilot.” We talked about airplanes and such for about 20 minutes.
Then he said, “You’re not crazy. I’ve talked to enough people to know.
You’re just mad as hell. I’ll get you out.” He came up the next day and
said, “They should let me go now. However it would make them look bad.
They will let you go next week.” A week later they flew me back
to Boise on the turboprop.
Being a millionaire should have solved my problems. Not so, I never got
the money or at least only $40,000 of it for my airplane. That is, I
would have had $40,000 if I sold my van and collected Bacon’s $10,000
note. Sue had control of all the rest. I was trying to build wing molds
on too little money, living in a house I didn’t like, had a shop far
too small, and had to sleep in a separate bedroom from Sue.
Picture of Christ (1996)
One night I had Levi hang my picture of Christ on my bedroom wall. The
next morning Sue came in and snapped, you hung that picture too high.
She tore into me like I was a four year old who wet his pants. It made
me so mad that I had Levi take the picture down and put it in my van. I
took Levi to school and then decided to just drive until I wasn’t mad
anymore. I should have gone back and talked it out with Sue but I
I drove all night and now I was in Washington. I was still mad. The
loss of sleep was catching up with me. I was starting to become manic.
I was trying to find Buzz Gothard’s airport but I thought I’d get a
couple of drinks first. Oh well, why not get drunk. I tried coca cola
and rum, then wine, and finally martinis. When I finally went looking
for the airport I found the interstate highway. When I stopped a
trooper came over to my van. I was still mad at Sue and here came a
woman trooper to my van. If it had been a man I wouldn’t have run. As
it was, I rolled up my window, locked the door and pushed the
accelerator to the floor. I was going up the highway at 100 mph. After
going up the freeway for about ten miles I saw a roadblock. They had
the two lanes blocked off. I couldn’t take the ditch and the other side
was a steep 40-degree bank. I thought, what would James Bond do?
According to the laws of physics my momentum would keep me from rolling
my van. I went up the steep bank like a shot. I ran their roadblock
without putting a scratch on my van or on a police car. Their roadblock
hadn’t stopped me; hell, it hadn’t even slowed me down. The police
finally got me because I turned down a dead-end road. The next day Ken
Bacon and his wife came to take me home (Boise) from the mental ward.
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The Teen Years
Young and Single
The Wheel Chair