Whatever the state of Howard’s health and drug dependency, it hadn’t curbed his desire to fly. On March 21 and again on March 29, Jack Real met with Howard in Suite 901 of the Inn on the Park to set up a program of flying. The release from the burden of the TWA judgment seemed to breathe a new spark of life into him. Flying was the one thing that was meaningful in his life, and his mind became sharper and a bit of humor crept into his personality when he took the controls of any aircraft. With Real’s assistance, Howard flew on at least three occasions in England: June 10 and 27, and July 17, 1973 (Real 139-51).
According to Real, Howard’s return to the skies was a component of a much larger issue. He considered replacing the Fokker F-27, short range, turboprop aircraft at Hughes Air West Airlines with the British Hawker Siddeley HS-748 aircraft. He wanted to lease an HS-748 and flight test it for the airline and himself. This presented a major problem, since Howard did not have a valid pilot’s license. He could neither renew his American Federal Aviation Authority license nor apply for a British license without being photographed, which he refused to do. Tony Blackman, chief flight test engineer for Hawker Siddeley, came up with the solution. The HS-748’s flight manual required two pilots to fly but said nothing about both pilots being licensed. Howard was a pilot by anyone’s standards, and Tony was a pilot with a valid license. The problem was solved, and Howard was now Blackman’s copilot, or vice versa (134).
Sunday, June 10, 1973, was one of those rainless summer days in England, when the beauty of the countryside is particularly apparent. Tony Blackman was at home engaging in the popular British hobby of gardening, when the call came that Howard wanted to fly. Right now. The accommodating Blackman climbed into his personal de Havilland Dove light aircraft and flew down to the Hawker Siddeley Aerodrome at Hatfield to meet Howard, Jack Real, and Hughes’s aide Levar Mylar. Howard’s leased Daimler automobile was out at the time, so George Francom rented a Rolls Royce from an agency, which sounded elegant but turned out to be decades old and a borderline wreck, for transportation to Hatfield Airport and Howard’s long-awaited adventure (139–40).
For the better part of three hours and ten minutes, Howard took the controls for his first experience in the pilot’s seat in thirteen years. He flew to the Hawker Siddeley Aerodrome at Bitteswell, about forty miles away, and performed a number of touch-and-go landings and takeoffs. This is not surprising for a man with Howard’s experience, but it is shocking for a man who has been repeatedly described as mentally and physically incompetent.
The plan for the second flight was to cross the English Channel to Ostend, Belgium, make sure the authorities knew Howard was on the plane, and return to England. Mother Nature does not always go along with the plans of men, and the weather in England on June 27 was particularly foul, with the visibility down to virtually nothing. Things were further complicated because Howard didn’t want to fly in his own plane; he wanted to keep it new. They had to charter the only HS-748 available, which was very inconveniently located in France. The charter craft was late, and the whole operation had to be postponed twelve hours. Blackman wanted to call it off completely because of the weather, but Howard refused. Against his better judgment, Blackman took off to make a scheduled stop at Stansted, England, where visibility was zero. He found the runway with the aid of the airplane’s Instrument Landing System (ILS) and autopilot, and to Howard’s amazement, the aircraft came out of the fog perfectly positioned on the runway (145–49).
Feeling lucky that they had gotten this far, Blackman made another appeal to common sense and requested they cease tempting fate in the inclement weather. Howard again refused. Blackman demanded a back-up pilot fly in the second seat instead of Howard, and they were off to Belgium. Once there, Blackman performed a touch-and-go landing and declared a hydraulic emergency. The “emergency” was logged by the tower, thus proving that the plane with Howard on it had actually been in Belgium and that Howard had left the U.K. for a period of time, resetting the clock on his allowed stay in England. The return to Stansted was uneventful with the weather less miserable when they landed at dawn. When the whole ordeal was over, Howard admitted it was the worst weather in which he had ever flown.
Satisfied with the performance of the HS-748, Howard next set his sights on a nine-seat business jet, the Hawker Siddeley HS-125. Jack Real arranged for a low hour aircraft, and Tony Blackman was once again engaged to be Howard’s co-pilot. The flight took place on July 17, 1973. Real reported that Howard was particularly happy and conversant during the flight. He made a number of touch-and-go landings and takeoffs and generally enjoyed himself thoroughly (150–52). The charming Howard appeared when he had to, or when he was genuinely happy, as he appeared to be then. Blackman, despite some of the unnecessary thrills, was pleased with his experience with Howard. He said he couldn’t get over what an average, down-to-earth guy he was (141). Howard, the pilot, was back.
By August 1973, Howard decided he wanted to return to Nevada and begin flying every day. Real dutifully telephoned Howard’s attorney Chester Davis to make the arrangements and received a discouraging reply. “Tell Howard that when he left, he had twenty lawsuits against him in the United States. Now he has forty lawsuits. I don’t know if he will ever be able to come back” (160–61).
It’s true lawsuits seemed to be as integral a part of Howard’s life as breathing. For as pleasant as this escape to London seemed to have been, no period of Howard’s life would be complete without a certain amount of legal drama. In April and May 1973, word got out about another contribution from Howard to his old pal, Richard Nixon. It seems that the president agreed to allow a Hughes Air West takeover that was legally questionable. The approval was granted on the same day Howard agreed to give the president a $100,000 campaign contribution. Many people remarked on this interesting coincidence!
Additionally, charges of fraud and stock manipulation were brought against Howard by a Las Vegas grand jury, further putting him under scrutiny. The Watergate Scandal heat remained on Nixon as well. As difficult questions continued to be directed at the president, he responded with at least the illusion of a political housecleaning by firing aides, H.R. Halderman and John Erlichman in April. This would turn out to be too little too late.
Still, according to Jack Real, the summer of 1973 was most enjoyable for Howard. In fact, he felt it was the best he experienced in years. The escape from the TWA mess and the ability to take to the skies relaxed him and kindled a desire to resume his once-active life with an optimism that had been missing.
Real felt Howard “had come back to living,” which may have been true, but as one Howard was coming back to life, the other was dangerously close to departing it.
The Howard who left Miami in December as a drug-addicted derelict and supposedly made a total recovery to become the articulate Howard by February, was having another health crisis. On August 9, 1973, “Howard II,” the derelict, the stand-in, fell in the London hotel, broke his hip, and was carted off to a local hospital in pathetic condition. His muscles and organs were barely functioning. He was attended to by Dr. William Young who reported that “Howard’s” skin had a parchment-like quality, he was emaciated, and he had long fingernails and toenails. In case anyone didn’t get the picture, he likened Howard to “a malnourished prisoner of war” (Barlett and Steele 492). This is clearly not the type of individual one would have wanted to see at the controls of a jet aircraft only a month before.
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