Flying has always been part of my life. Whether it was building and flying model airplanes as a child or attempting to become an airline pilot during college or my career after college, it has always been part of my life. My father had a lot to do with this as he was an avid U-Control “pilot” and later an RC pilot with some nice sailplane trophies to show, including a few from the Nationals in Muncie, Indiana. He taught me how to fly both U-Control and RC planes, neither of which I was particularly good, at having crashed his pristine Corsair at an early age as I recall. Maybe I should try to fly an airplane instead of just trying to control an airplane remotely?
After obtaining a private pilot certificate on my 17th birthday in Peoria, Illinois, I felt like I was on my way to becoming a real pilot, with aspirations to fly larger and more capable aircraft. While I was not able to achieve the dream of becoming an airline pilot, I was able to have a long and successful career at McDonnell Douglas and later at the Boeing Company to follow my two passions: aviation and electronics. I flew a few hours in St. Louis after graduating from college and starting a job at McDonnell Douglas but something about flying underneath large, fast jets just didn’t seem safe to me with a new family as I recall. The lyrics from a John Lennon song (“Life happens when you are busy making other plans”) come to mind as I write this.
Fast forward 35+ years and I was once again inspired by my father to get back into aviation, this time as a result of an agonizing four hour road trip to visit my parents (now in their 80s). I wondered if it would be easier to fly instead, so I purchased my first airplane in the fall of 2017, a “new to me” 1966 Piper Cherokee 180! Always a Cessna guy, I’m not sure how I ended up with a Cherokee. I asked my instructor on my first flight, “what is this fuel pump switch for?”
After a ground school refresher attended with my son, an AOPA Rusty Pilot seminar, and about 10 hours of instruction, I was checked out and ready to fly by myself once again. I asked my instructor how many hours he had acquired and he replied, “I’m not sure, I stopped keeping track after 20,000!” I had a lot to learn.
Since then I am proud to say that I have visited my parents on seven different trips to northern Illinois, all uneventful except for the unexpected growing cloud deck over Bloomington on one bright, sunny day VFR over-the-top (with my son). We did find our way back down (around the clouds) which prompted me to start on my path to my instrument rating. I successfully completed the written last October and I continue to fly with my instructor and several generous safety pilots to acquire my new instrument skills with plans to obtain my instrument rating by the end of the year.
As a side note, for any recent private pilots out there that are not exactly sure how to use their newfound freedom, I would encourage you to consider working toward your instrument rating as a good next step. If I can do it, anyone can do it! It is essential to have a “mission” each time you fly to stretch yourself. It is also important (and rewarding) to have a longer-term mission, whether to visit your parents or friends, fly to a special destination, or obtain a new rating. The journey is the reward.
My most recent cross-country took me to beautiful Crawfordsville, Indiana, to visit my father-in-law and his wife, followed by an additional one hour flight to visit with my parents and back home to Spirit Airport in St. Louis – all in the same day. Over five hours of flight time, all with Flight Following services provided by very professional controllers from St. Louis Approach to Chicago Center and several in between.
On my last visit to Illinois, I asked my dad if he wanted to go for a flight. To my surprise, he said, “sure, let’s go!” Not what I was expecting but kind of hard to say no, since I had asked the question. So, off we went into a beautiful, sunny Illinois sky. First a touch-and-go in Pontiac, Illinois, followed by some fly-overs of some recognizable landmarks to both my Dad and me. The landing at the local airport was as smooth as I have made, having learned to fly so many years earlier at the same airport with a very narrow runway in Dwight, Illinois. Now, if I can only get my mom to go for a flight….