It was late July in the year of Covid that I had the opportunity to do some flying in Las Vegas. The town was only half open but I wasn’t there for the usual Vegas shenanigans. I was there for a two day Corvette Owners Driving School in Pahrump that was being heavily subsidized by the folks at GM. I took the opportunity to fly in (commercial) early so that I could do some other things while in town. And by other things I mean flying.
I had been to Vegas before but had never taken the opportunity to see the usual tourist sites like Lake Mead, the Hoover Dam, or the Grand Canyon. I did some digging and found All in Aviation, a local Cirrus Partner. I enquired via email and was pleasantly surprised to receive thoughtful and thorough responses from Tess Bridell, Director of Business Operations. Long story short, we arranged three days of instruction in the SR20 and I was going to knock out some of my transition training while also seeing some of those sights that I have always wanted to see.
Naturally, I was full of anticipation as all my flying up to this point has been well east of the Mississippi River and north of the Ohio. I found myself going back to their website, exploring all that they had to offer. I became obsessed with the SF50 listed on their website. I learned that for a handsome sum, they’ll give you some instruction behind the controls of a jet!
I showed up at Henderson Executive eager for the first of 3 days of dual instruction in the SR20. My instructor, Broderick Orr, had recently returned to the Las Vegas area from Salt Lake City. We hit it off immediately and after a thorough flight briefing at 6 am, we set out to see how well I would handle flying in the desert. It was hot, 100+ hot. I was anxious about the mountains and unfamiliar with Henderson Executive procedures. As a result, my comms were a bit shaky but once we started to taxi, I settled down with only the excitement of anticipation for the upcoming flight remaining.
The takeoff went well but we experienced moderate turbulence on the climb as we headed south to the practice area. The cruise wasn’t too bad but we continued to experience turbulence as we practiced the usual maneuvers. Even so, I felt I did pretty well. It seemed like you could see forever and the mountains were a much different view than the green fields and concrete jungles of central Ohio. We could see some weather developing so we decided to head back to HND even if a bit early. You could see the rain falling but not reaching the ground.
We started to get tossed around pretty good, or pretty bad considering we were in a light GA plane. In truth, I have never experienced turbulence this rough in a GA plane and certainly never when I was at the controls. Again, I felt I was doing a good job but it was still unnerving. The Cirrus parachute was reassuring, even if only a little. We started to do a 180 to get out of the weather—keep in mind that it was still 100% clear VFR, but we were being tossed about like a kite. Up, down, sideways, and every which way you can.
Broderick took the controls and I was grateful. I also appreciated his display of confidence. Just a month before, I was in mildly turbulent air near LHQ with another instructor that made me question my lack of crippling fear while flying a Cessna 172. He was acting as if the wing would fly off at any moment. This air made that air seem as if it were glass. If you have flown in a Cirrus, you know they have grab handles near the visor that you can use for assistance for ingress/egress. That handle was put to different use that day.
As we were unceremoniously tossed out of the weather to the south of HND, I asked if we were going to land at the airfield near the practice area from which we had just come. He said, “Let’s give it one more shot.” So we got our bearings as they say and started back to HND. We were fortunate enough to avoid the severe turbulence but instead navigate the moderate all the way to the tarmac. It was an adventure to say the least. Broderick said that he would be doing ground for the remainder of the morning or until weather improved. This was reassuring as I was beginning to feel like I was overreacting to the rough air. All in all, I was grateful to be on the ground. I was also hoping that tomorrow would be a smoother ride.
After Broderick concluded the lesson and gave me things to prepare for the next day, I asked about renting the Cirrus Jet. He referred me to Tess, who said she would arrange the flight lesson. Let me just say, the people at All In were the most friendly, helpful, and downright nicest people you would care to meet. Let me qualify this with saying I’ve yet to meet anyone that has been less than helpful or even rude at any of the few airports I have visited. From my first lesson at Fairfield County (LHQ) Sundowner Aviation, my current flying home at the Ohio State University (OSU) Capital City Aviation, or the legendary fun stop Sporty’s at Clermont County (I69), everyone has been kind, welcoming, and generous. Must be a GA thing.
Tess told me to come back after lunch for the flight lesson in the jet. I was thinking that I must be crazy to spend so much for so little time, and yet I was incredibly excited for the chance to realize a dream. I met Paul Sallach at 1 pm and we started to discuss the flight lesson. After a thorough walk around, we stepped inside 895JK. Paul walked me through the checklists and let me fire up the turbine-driven Cirrus. It was AWESOME. The main problem at this point was that my cheeks were starting to hurt from the ear to ear smile I was sporting.
We finished the remainder of the preflight on the taxi to 17R. After we received our clearance, I made the turn to 17R and goosed the throttle. Visions of Top Gun were in my head. This is a jet and I am flying it. To be clear, I wasn’t flying as smoothly or efficiently as Iceman but I wasn’t struggling like Cougar either. Smooth acceleration to rotation, then climb, and then pulling it back to the detent for cruise climb. Shortly after takeoff we made a left turn to climb over the mountain on our way to the Hoover Dam. This thing was incredible.
As we flew by Lake Mead, Paul had me put the jet into another left turn that brought the dam into clear view through the windscreen. A picture of something that I’ve seen dozens of times but never one that included me at the controls of a jet. We continued on up to 14,000 ft., where I set up the jet for an emergency descent. Another wild ride, although much different than the turbulent flight earlier. We were suspended by the four point harnesses while plunging toward mother earth at the edge of Vlo. At this speed there is nothing in the windscreen except the ground which was coming up at 5500 feet per minute. And I was still at the controls.
We finished the short lesson with a cruise over the Grand Canyon observation deck for another photo op. The turbulence in the afternoon was still there, but nothing like the morning flight in the SR20. All too soon, we were headed back to HND. I was coached through the pattern to a butter smooth landing. Paul said it was as good as it gets. And on my first flight! What a day. I left All In Aviation with a huge smile on my face, my wallet significantly lighter, and the memory of a lifetime.
I came back the following two days for more instruction in the SR20, a great plane but no Vision Jet. Still, it was some great flying over desert mountains, into Kingman and Bullhead City, with memories galore.
I’m not a rich man, and thanks to my infatuation with aviation I likely never will be, but I still consider this money well spent. If life is all about the journey, then I believe we owe it to ourselves to journey at the controls of a jet. Even if only once.