An airline pilot gets his general aviation fix

In one’s airline career the monotony of pressing an autopilot button and monitoring systems for the next several hours is fairly tedious and the tendency to regress somewhat in your personal flying skill is raised markedly.

I have flown with many GA pilots who are exceptional with their hands, yet awful at situational awareness and recognising risk, thereby analysing and dealing with a threat. Conversely, I’ve flown with many an airline fellow and had quite the opposite: a highly professional regard for getting someone else’s large and expensive machine from A to B, sometimes C, yet just plain average once the autopilot is disconnected.

A great many of my friends of the same training era are now flying with multi-national airlines and most of them on heavy jets, each having followed separate and different paths to the same goal, however. All of them are highly specialised and can operate their respective vehicles efficiently and safely, the primary requirement of the airline and passengers.

Not all of them are GA current any longer and with that, I wonder how their personal flying prowess has either suffered or improved?

Jay and Rich
Airline flying pays the bills, but GA flying is still the most fun.

As it was to happen, my good friend Jason arrived in Cape Town on an overnight with his airline and very large twin-engine jet. He normally comes to stay and we catch up over a steak, talking rugby and fishing – you know how it goes. This time was to be slightly different in that I mentioned to Jay that there was a club outing to Saldanha on Saturday and would he like to go. He was very excited and hence we awoke early the next morning to pre-flight the Yak.

Now Jason has a long pedigree in GA, having flown Cessna 210s for many hours on overnight bank runs between wherever and somewhere else. He has also flown myriad other light machines which means his basic skills should still be there; there is also legend that this gent has a great pair of hands anyway. He has, however, worked for two major airlines and as we all know they love to knock the flying out of you in order to better train a systems manager to accomplish a safe line flight in accordance with the SOP they provide. It had been ages since Jay had flown a light aircraft and his vim to get going was palpable.

I explained the start sequence to him, which in the Yak makes provision for pilots with eight hands, a push of the starter, last prime of the cylinders followed by a turn of the magneto switch in order to tempt the M14P orchestra into life. I jest because, in all my short time behind the wheel in this aircraft thus far, I have not had it miss a start yet.

Up and running, we taxied away to a takeoff position and from there into the air and set the track to Saldanha Airport. The route took us over Atlantis towards Yzerfontein, up the coast keeping clear of the national park and over the harbour to join the pattern. All pretty simple stuff save for the extra vigilance for other traffic. You see, Morningstar Airfield has a very active club and these fly-aways are well supported by all makes of aircraft and all types of performance margins.

Boerie roll
A boerie roll – the South African version of a $100 hamburger.

We landed and made our way to the clubhouse of the Weskus Klub where the typically warm and welcome folks helped us to a boerie roll and cup of coffee for not a lot of money.

Our stay was not to be long as there were errands to be run at home. Jay was offered the leg back to which he jumped at with elation. I was thrilled he didn’t back away because he was to join me later in the year on the tour of Zimbabwe and his flying zest will be required then.

I chatted him through the engine start and takeoff once more, which he adjusted to with consummate ease, and soon enough were in the circuit back at Morningstar and touching down in his first light aircraft flight for many years.

What a lovely morning out and I was blissful in the delight on his face yet more in fascination that he still possessed the silky hands I’d heard about after some years out of the GA saddle. Is it muscle memory, is it a professional attitude or are some pilots just possessing of the aptitude required for the game?

Either way, we both had a blast and flying was probably the eventual winner and that’s the reason we all keep at it.

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