Business or pleasure – why choose?

In times past, the company you worked for didn’t care as much about how you got there as they do today. If you took your airplane and asked for car mileage back and forth, they didn’t ask questions; they just reimbursed you. Not so any longer, unfortunately; as I’m sure many readers know, most insurance companies tell their corporate clients that they do not know, and do not care to know, how to cover employees flying their own aircraft. Your company passes that on by asking that you not utilize your aircraft. Companies make it harder to “just take your vehicle.” One popular way is to insist that for driving trips longer than some short distance, you’re supposed to rent a car. So, back to the good old days…

Jim Densmore by 180
This 180 has been in the family since 1960.

In January of 2004 I was asked at the last minute to travel from my home in Colorado Springs to Phoenix to perform some consulting for a client. We had also long since planned to be at a six-day training session for my company taking place in Las Vegas the following week. The 10-day weather forecast looked amazingly good for January, so rather than go home on the weekend between the two events, I concocted a scheme to do some sailplane flying at Estrella on the weekend, including the use of Estrella’s lodging facility – fabulously cheap bunk beds only soaring aficionados could love. I was saving the company money! Yes I was indeed, at least technically, by taking a single trip instead of two. Obviously this would require the use of my airplane; yes, the very same 1956 Cessna 180 that my parents had acquired in 1960.

The trip out was uneventful. Business was conducted in Phoenix, and at Friday noon the team broke up to head to the airport. I headed to a different airport. The flight to Estrella from Deer Valley is less than 40 nm, although you do have to traverse the Phoenix Class B airspace. We had a bonfire Friday night, a fly-out to Chandler for breakfast, and some excellent gliding on Saturday (alas, absolutely no lift, so I can’t say it was soaring). Sunday morning I headed back to Deer Valley for breakfast with some colleagues also flying to the meeting in their airplane, and we launched later in the day for the hospitable North Las Vegas airport. And there sat our airplanes for the week while we got all trained up and knowledgeable!

At the Friday evening wrap-up dinner, we received word that the large size of our training conference combined with the large number of other conferences that had been in Las Vegas that week was actually going to be a problem for the Las Vegas security screening folks. Perhaps you’d think they could see it coming from the airline schedules, but apparently the attendees from the several large conferences concluding on the same evening were going to swamp them. “Get there early!” they said. And as I learned later, it was a proper pummeling, with wait times for security screening in excess of three hours for nearly every McCarran passenger that morning.

Jim and Michelle by 180
Introducing friends to the joy of general aviation – it’s one of the best parts of being a pilot.

My colleague. John, who still lives nearby me in Colorado Springs, leaned over to me and whispered, “Did you bring your airplane?” I nodded in the affirmative.

“Can I go home with you?” Absolutely.

Another colleague, Michelle, one of the conference organizers, leaned in and added, “What? You brought your airplane?” I nodded again.

“Oh. Wait… I’ve been here two weeks. I have this huge piece of luggage. It will never fit in your airplane.” I assured her that it would. I proudly reminded her that I had a Skywagon, but of course as a non-pilot, this had no effect on her.

“You need to see the bag. It’ll never fit.” Ladies and gentlemen, indeed, it was an enormous piece of luggage. It would never fit through the baggage door, I decided. However, I was confident that it would go into the baggage area by folding down my rear seat and inserting the bag from the front.

I said, “Bring it on,” and though she looked at me like I was crazy, we were set.

Next morning dawned a crisp and completely clear winter day, with stunningly clear and calm weather all the way home. I’ve rarely before or since had the weather cooperate so magnificently for a flying trip. The weather would yield a triple pleasure, since I would get to introduce my two colleagues to the joys of small aircraft flying and the route home was over some of the most scenic land our planet has to offer.

Canyons of Arizona
The views from the cockpit of a small airplane are truly unforgettable, especially over the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead.

We grabbed a taxicab out to VGT, loaded up with not a single airport security officer in sight, and departed for Page, Arizona. This first leg took us over Las Vegas, of course, then Lake Mead, and then a deviation through Dragon Corridor so that we could overfly Grand Canyon. My two passengers were completely mesmerized, and for that matter, consistent with mandatory focus on the flying tasks at hand, so was I; it was a truly beautiful day. Upon landing at PGA we took a bus into town for some Mexican food at a local diner.

Back at the airport, we paused for a few photographs of the occasion, needlessly rechecked the gorgeous weather, and took off once again. This time we flew up the lake as low as the recreation area allows. We managed a photograph of Rainbow Bridge as we flew up the lake. We headed east to fly over the spires and buttes of Monument Valley, then a little more northerly again to fly through the high, snow-covered valley containing Telluride, and up to the Gunnison River to view the scenery in Black Canyon. Then we hopped over Monarch Pass, on our way to the Centennial Airport to drop off Michelle. Finally, John and I contentedly flew to my home base at Meadow Lake Airport in Colorado Springs, arriving just after sunset. The entire ride was smooth as silk with endless visibility.

There’s no way to describe the joy of this experience. My two colleagues were, and remain, good friends. John had been in my airplane once before I believe, but neither of them had much experience with general aviation. So many stars aligned that it’s still hard to imagine that they all could have. The scenery we experienced truly is a collection of gems from our great nation’s Southwest, and we saw each place at its level-best. As always, it seems, our aerial pictures captured bright sun and failed to do the scenery justice, but the trip and its amazing, beautiful scenery remains in our minds and will forever link three good friends who had a very, very good flying day.

Oh, and the monster pink silly heavy girly bag actually did fit through the baggage door. Slipped right in with 1 mm to spare. John had his left elbow on top of additional luggage strapped to the left rear seat position but it all went in smoothly. Gaw-durn, I love my Skywagon!

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