Yet their flight together on July 16, in what was supposed to be a routine series of flights, ended in tragedy.
Rothenberg, 83, of Bethesda had been trying to earn recertification, for which he needed a flight instructor.
“So I called Frank, and he was available. And he got killed.”
Schmidt, 79, had planned out a series of roughly 10-minute flights at the airport, which has a runway about 25 feet wide and about 2,000 feet long.
“If you can land and fly at Davis, you can do it pretty much anywhere,” Rothenberg said.
Rothenberg named the numerous checklists he and Schmidt reviewed outside of the 1964 Beechcraft Musketeer, inside it, and again after they started it up.
“I’d been flying for a long time, and I’ve never had an accident,” Rothenberg said. “And I attribute that never having an accident to using checklists.”
The first and second flights went according to plan, and the pilot and flight instructor continued to pay rigorous attention to the checklists.
On the third attempt, the plane reached the necessary 65 to 70 mph for takeoff and began lifting off the ground.
“And as it starts to lift off this time, it doesn’t go all the way up,” Rothenberg said. “Instead of going all the way up to where it did before, it bounces back down. And after that bounce, it goes up in the air again, and I’m flying it again.”
They needed more altitude.
“I don’t know what went wrong, but we obviously did not have enough power to get past those big trees at the end of the runway.”
Rothenberg can describe the last moments before they hit the trees but does not remember the crash itself.
“I remember turning to the right. I remember Frank trying to reach for the controls at that point. And then it kinda goes black.”
Rothenberg would wake up on his back, unable to get up. He said he could hear kids screaming and shouting.
“I thought I was hurt, but I didn’t feel badly injured,” he said.
Schmidt was lying on the floor of the plane near Rothenberg, who began shaking him and calling to him, but he could not get a response.
At that point, emergency personnel members had reached him and pulled him out of the plane, the top of which had been pulled off, “like a can opener almost.”
An emergency services worker “was trying to get a pulse on Frank, but I never heard whether she did or not,” he said.
Rothenberg had not escaped the crash unscathed. He had received a serious cut along the underside of his jaw, his lower teeth were loosened, the hand that was on the throttle was badly swollen and he had broken a couple ribs, among other injuries.
“The plane touched down on the runway and then took off,” said Dennis Stiles, a mechanic who witnessed the flight practice.