Leaving Las Vegas with Cirrus Jet time in the logbook

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.

Hoover Dam
Seeing these famous sights from the air is worth the effort.

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.

SR20 over desert
Weather in the desert changes quickly, and usually not for the better.

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.

Flying Cirrus Jet
The biggest problem with flying the Cirrus Jet: the smile!

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.

Grand Canyon from jet
Worth it.

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.

17 Comments

  • Pete, thanks for illustrating one of my favorite aspects of the flying hobby. While most of us can’t afford the cost of purchasing a jet, not to mention the significant costs of maintenance and inspections that go along with the purchase, most of us are just crazy enough to take advantage of “one time” flying experiences, as you did with the Vision. Be it a flight in a bi-plane, a P-51, a helicopter, an L-39, a hot air balloon, a Beaver on floats, or a jet flight, like yours, they are all great “bucket list” experiences never to be forgotten.

    • It was my pleasure. Recalling the event and memorializing it in the written word was a selfish endeavor. Every time I recall that week, the smile comes back.

  • Let me qualifying this by saying that no company will never treat anybody less than helpful when the fee is handsome. There’s nothing new on this scenario. The challenge is for the flight school or any business entity to be more than helpful to the students or its customers. We long ago lost the initiative, as a nation. International flight students take advantage of our educational system, while behind our backs, they bash our culture and country. Then, 85% of the flight instructor’s community are dumb and immature. Flying airplane is more than a skill… it’s serious business.

    • Can’t tell you how grateful I am that my instructors have all, without exception, fallen into the 15% that are knowledgeable, helpful, and concerned with my safety as a pilot. I find their concern doesn’t stop when the ‘meter’ turns off.

  • To Wagner; you sound like sour grapes as I have been a flight instructor for over 45 years with more than 25000 hours of pilot time! We are probably not the smartest people around but I don’t think we are dumb !

  • I thoroughly enjoyed reading your jet time experience story. I got to sit in the left seat of a Sabreliner for an hour or so on a flight from KPDX to KONT. It must have been a week before my face splitting grin subsided.

    Having spent most of my 30 flying years living in the western third of the US, when I have flown in the mid-west, I’m impressed how mid-western pilots know where you’re at without any mountains to provide reference.

    Well told story. Thanks for sharing.

    • It’s much easier when flying during the daytime and it’s also helpful to have grown up in the area. Still, it took a good 3-4 flights for me to find KOSU on the return legs of my instruction there (thank you Olentangy River and SR 315!)

  • The beauty of flying in the Midwest is that when you are uncertain of your position, you can overfly the water tower in the next town and read the town’s name. Didn’t need GPS back in the day.

  • Mr Wagner I take offense to your statement about the international student / flight instructors and our country that lost it initiative long ago.
    Our country taught the world how to fly and the universal language is English ! you mentioned that these students/ instructors go back to there country and bad mouth our country, maybe some do but I would bet 99.9% would rather be here enjoying the freedoms we have.
    Mr Wagner why don’t you step into one of international flight schools ( UND, EMBRY RIDDLE ) and meet / talk with these high caliber and very motivated instructors, I believe you’ll be very surprised. I don’t know where you’ve come up with the figure of 85% for the dumb and immature because that statement for sure is not in the Fundamentals of Instructing. I’ve been a current flight instructor for 45 yrs with over 29000hr of flight time.
    With the current state of the Avaition community experiencing this down cycle and so many pilots loosing there jobs this is serious business and your bias ill will statement is not warranted. Captain Mike

    • I echo your comments. These international students are grateful of the opportunities afforded to them in the USA. They return to their country of origin and, without exception, marvel at the structured simplicity and freedom of our system. Reading his comments I can only feel sorrow for what must have been a terrible encounter with a bad apple basket that led him to a skewed conclusion. His views on business customer service also seem a little harsh as my personal experience has been one aligned with the author’s. Two scoops of chocolate ice cream for Mr. Wagner and he will fly above the overcast.

  • I had to stop and start my flight training. I went thru a lot of instructors and airplanes ranging from rattletraps to ‘Cadillacs’ before I got my ticket: some CFI’s quit teaching to fly commercial, some moved away, school closed, etc. I can say that all but a couple of them are courteous, safe and professional. The issues mentioned might pertain to FBO owners. One owner was flabbergasted when the CFI and I brought the plane back mid-lesson (safely I might add) due to a fuel leak. I smelled my sweater sleeve in the left seat and said ‘yeah, it’s 100 low lead’. You’d think I tried to sell off his first-born.

  • Pete,
    Your story didn’t make much sense. I don’t know if you are aware but most jet training is done in a simulator. Starting out in an actual airplane seems like a waste of time and money. Also, you didn’t give the reason for the “wild ride” emergency decent. Anyone who has flown a pressurized jet or turboprop will tell you that if you are hanging from your belts you might be doing something wrong.
    Does the Cirrus require a special inspection after it has encountered severe turbulence? Many airplanes do.

    • K. Urban,
      My intent was to entertain by telling a story from my perspective. That perspective would be having grown up in poverty, although I didn’t know it then, and yet being able to realize a childhood dream of flying an aeroplane. To top off that feat, flying a jet. At my age, it is unrealistic to believe that I will ever have the opportunity to fly an airliner filled with people. It is even more unrealistic to believe that I would be able to afford flying a jet for pleasure on my dime. I have found a way to afford training in a Cirrus SR20 and will likely fly (rent) that plane 100 or so hours per year. When I had the opportunity to satisfy my curiosity of what it would be like to fly a jet, I seized it. I don’t regret it one bit. I also believe it is safe to say that a simulator would not have had the same sense of accomplishment attached to it. I’m sure it would have been less expensive but in this particular circumstance, saving money wasn’t the priority.

      As for the emergency descent not being done properly, I would have to defer to the CFI who accompanied me on that epic flight. While seeing nothing but the ground in the windscreen might not have made other more seasoned pilots feel uncomfortable, the experience for me was well beyond pedestrian.

      I know I have a lot to learn. I hope to continue to have that privilege for many years to come.

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