There’s nothing quite like that first flight as pilot in command. For David Booth, it was extra special because he was flying his adult children. The view of Melbourne from his Robinson R44 helicopter is great, but even better was “the surprise and amazement when they found out that their father had learned to fly.”
In the grass of Harvey Young, an airport tucked just south of Tulsa International, there appeared a beautiful 1946 Cessna 120. I couldn’t buy it, but I convinced my buddy that this was the airplane for him. Tulsa, Oklahoma to Boston, Massachusetts: a 1500-mile trip in a 30-year old airplane with no nav radio, a com radio that just barely worked, no gyro instruments except for that needle and ball, and a wet compass. This was adventure!
At 6500 feet without any engine power, I calculated my glide slope back to the airfield and knew straight away I could not make it, not even with this freshening tailwind. I had to prepare to land in a farmer’s field or find a nearby airstrip. I didn’t panic. I acted as I had done in training so many times.
The question is: can you spend the night in your own bed and fly tomorrow, taking off at 9am EST (1400 UTC) for the PDK to FXE flight? Or do you get in the car and start driving? Your 2015 Cirrus is well equipped with a Garmin glass cockpit, datalink weather, autopilot, and more. You’re also experienced and proficient, with over 2,500 hours total time and plenty of recent IFR flying under your belt.
In the past year or so it has become very, very expensive to insure a light jet flown by a single pilot, particularly an owner pilot. In some cases the single pilot may not be able to buy coverage at any price. This is significant because the light jets provide our only glimpse into the risks of flying solo.
That first long cross country flight is always a memorable experience, and for Kevin Cook it was even better – just look at that sunset. But what he remembers most are the helpful controllers throughout his flight. As he says, “We truly have an amazing ATC system in place in the US.”
Structural ice is a known flight hazard and there are plenty of forecasting products to help a pilot avoid it. Curiously, there is another type of icing that has sent its share of airplanes to the salvage yard, and pilots to the graveyard. Because it is mainly an affliction of low-performance aircraft, it doesn’t receive as much attention.
The “field of dreams” from the Kevin Costner movie is located near Dyersville, Iowa, and it’s worth a circle or two if you are flying over. However, if you are antique airplane enthusiast you know that Iowa’s real field of dreams is Antique Airfield in Blakesburg. Antique Airfield is home of the Antique Airplane Association, founded by Robert Taylor in 1953 and the AirPower Museum.
Datalink weather has made flying both easier and safer. If you don’t believe that, read this fascinating article from 70 years ago. Legendary author Wolfgang Langewiesche explains why the weather information pilots had in 1949 was so limited, and what could be done to improve the situation. Many of his wish list items have become a reality.
The most famous decision pilots make happens before we even get airborne: to go or not to go? But after a busy summer of flying, I have learned that this is actually one of the easiest decisions in aviation. Saying “no” may be stressful when you’re on the ground, desperate to fly, but it’s much harder once you’re in the air. Call it plan continuation bias or get-there-itis; whatever the name, it is a worthy opponent.
The good news is technology like datalink weather has made it a lot easier to manage convective weather. With ADS-B on my iPad or SiriusXM on my panel, it’s fairly simple to avoid the worst weather; it just takes patience and discipline to go all the way around it. Since most of my cross country flights are IFR, those long deviations require a lot of coordination with Air Traffic Control.
Flying, something we both love to do, is much more than just a weekend hobby. It’s our version of playing catch in the back yard, a shared experience laden with meaning. Of course we do talk when we fly, but I’ve realized the most important words between father and son are unspoken.