J-3 Cub on floats
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There are no good reasons to fly.

Flying is expensive, but then again, it has always been expensive. Perhaps you too have had enough of the touch-and-goes, and the “$100 dollar hamburger” flights to your favorite non-towered field. The thought of cruising the beach once again does not exactly motivate you to race to the airport with a gleam in your eye and arms waving. As for cross country flights, it is a known fact that a C150 can hover and stand still while traveling from point A to point B.

But I do it—fly that is, for several reasons. The first reason is because it’s fun!

The second reason is that it is an adrenalin rush or a way to obtain a natural high. In the 1930s, Ann Morrow Lindberg described this sensation as “a heightened existence.”

The third reason is the view. Don’t tell me you have been overlooking the view. Every time you see a rainbow from the air; or a lighting bolt leap from cloud to cloud; or when you are cruising above an overcast that suddenly breaks open revealing severe clear condition below; you can say “What a great day, what a great day to be a pilot!” The view is arranged for you personally, and only you.

Yes, all that is true. So what?

Let’s say you have just graduated from C150s to C172s. Flying has become boring. Remember, fun is of the primary reasons you decided to do this in the first place. Your instructor recommended getting an instrument rating or a many motor (multiengine) rating. The many motors rating might be fun to do. You discover, however, that you are not qualified to rent the airplane after you complete the course and obtain the mulliteengine rating.

The instrument rating, which is no fun at all, will make you a better pilot, but may cost you as much as a used car. Not to mention that it is the toughest the FAA has to offer. Someday you must get that rating, but not just now. Now it’s time to have some fun.

Here is what to do. Yes, it will cost money, but it will be fun. You can proceed into three areas: soaring or gliding; seaplanes; and my personal favorite, aerobatics.

First, the good news. There is no written exam involved in obtaining these ratings. While seaplanes and gliders are actual ratings, only an oral exam and the flight check (practical exam) ride are required to acquire what is known as an “add on rating.”

Glider on tow

For takeoff, you will be towed into the air by another aircraft referred to as a tug or towplane.

Gliding – Glider training is usually conducted in a Schweitzer 2/33 or two-place model number 33. In flight the 2/33 is a docile old beast and very well-mannered. The aircraft has a roll rate best measured with a calendar. She stalls around 32 mph with so much warning and buffeting, if you miss it, you are fighting mental health issues. Only 10 solo flights are required for an “add-on” glider rating. The difficult tasks are takeoff, referred to a launching, and landing. For takeoff, you will be towed into the air by another aircraft referred to as a tug or towplane.

Your glider is more aerodynamically efficient than the tug so you will be leaving the runway first. The tug, pulling you aloft, requires more runway to get airborne. You will have to stay just above the runway following the tug helping him gain airspeed to lift off the runway.  Climbing too soon after you lift off in the glider will hinder the tug from taking off and climbing. This will cause the tow pilot to not only utter bad words, it may also cause the tow pilot to disconnect the tow rope. Yes, he can do that.

Just to add more fun into the program you will be required to demonstrate a “rope break procedure.” This emergency procedure requires you to release from the towplane to simulate a breaking tow rope at about 200 feet AGL. After the break, you will then execute a 180 degree turn and land downwind.

Yes, I know it is heresy in “powered” aircraft when experiencing a loss of power on takeoff to execute a turn, of any kind. The FAA dogma is to proceed straight ahead into oblivion (see a previous story, An Engineering Approach to the Impossible Turn.)

Landings are another story in a glider. Obviously, you cannot add power and go around for another attempt. All landings are accuracy landings, and you will be required to demonstrate if you can can land within 20 feet of a designated point. How to stop besides good planning and airmanship? Gliders have speed brakes on the bottom of the wings and spoilers on the top of the wings. There is a sliding control lever on the left side of the cockpit. The more you pull aft on the control the more of the effective the lift dumping devices become. On touchdown pulling aft will deploy them fully and activate the wheel break.

Remember, I said we are going to have fun!

J-3 Cub on floats

Seaplane flying really is the most fun you can have in an airplane.

Seaplanes – Single engine seaplanes are just plain fun (sorry for the pun). Get ready to take off your shoes and play in the water. Seaplanes come one of two ways: amphibian and float. However, this makes no difference to the FAA. If it can land on water, it is a seaplane. No, you cannot fly a seaplane without a seaplane rating even if you never intend to land on water. The FAA is very firm on this point.

Specific skills are required when operating on water. Normally, it’s preferable to takeoff and land into the wind. In the past, you had ATC to assist you in this, sorry, that’s gone.

Welcome to the shadow areas of aviation. Your instructor will require you to land and depart in the same area. Here, again, you will learn how to read the water. You will also be required to “sail” the airplane with the engine off. Fear not, a seaplane, by its very nature, will turn around, face into the wind, and sail across the lake. You will master several takeoff procedures used in flying seaplanes. The takeoff procedure depends on the sate or condition of the water you’re departing from, as does the landing phase. Both conditions require you to read the water and wind conditions.

The only mystery in seaplane operations is why every bass boat on the lake finds it necessary to race you on takeoff.

While you can find various places across the country to train on seaplanes, there is one ultimate test to determine if it is where you want to spend your money. Ask about the possibility of renting the seaplane after you’ve obtained the rating. If the answer is yes, you have found a home. If the answer is no, keep your money in your pocket and keep looking.

Citabria in roll

Flying aerobatics will do more for your confidence than any other type of flying.

Aerobatics – Aerobatics is not a rating but lots of fun. You only must demonstrate your ability to the local CFI and meet the basic flight requirements. On a side note, most aerobatics are flown in conventional gear (taildragger) aircraft. Not everyone flies a taildragger and they are somewhat of a novelty. Taildraggers are not difficult to fly – different, but not difficult. This will be also a great time to also obtain you tail wheel endorsement.

Basic aerobatics consist of maneuvers that produce confidence in vertical and horizontal flight. The first maneuvers will usually begin with spin training. While in days long gone spins were required for pilot training, only pilots training for a CFI are required to have a spin endorsement. Not all modern aircraft are “approved for spins.” That does not mean they won’t spin, but it means recovery is not likely. Why Spins?

Spins will acquaint you with the unusual attitudes and forces you may not have yet experienced. Additionally, a spin will be your escape maneuver if you screw up more advanced maneuvers. After all, you will be flying both the aircraft and you towards the “edge of the envelope” you have heard about. Other that the instrument rating, flying aerobatics and expecting G-forces will do more for your ability and confidence than any other type of flying.

Yes, there is a lot more to that once around the pattern and cruising the beach. Its time to get off your tail boom, do some real flying, and have some fun!

Skip Stagg
6 replies
  1. Gregg Bender
    Gregg Bender says:

    I’ve been on a couple of dual sailplane lessons. (I have the plain vanilla Private licence). I loved it. Every pilot should try it at least once. It will definitely improve your landing skills, as well as “reading the air.”
    Sad to say, my health has permanently grounded me for solo flying, but I still intend to fly dual once in a while.

  2. Duane Mader
    Duane Mader says:

    Good discussion. My brand of wasting money if I can afford it after corporate flying might include some kind of open air light sport like a Kolb. Recently I was leaving Lake Havasu early in the morning and a bunch of guys were heading out in trikes and ultralights while back home was way below freezing. Looked pretty fun.

  3. Mike
    Mike says:

    Instrument flying may not be fun but its very satisfying flying from point A to B and not seeing anything till you break out on short final and the runway is exactly where it is susposed to be.

  4. Pavol Varga
    Pavol Varga says:

    This article must come from the Promised Land of GA, where mortals can land on any lake which is not prohibited (in Europe exactly vice versa) and aerobatics being easy to obtain. Still, if I was not a pilot already, I would run towards the nearest flight school to enroll. Beautiful.

  5. Karrpilot
    Karrpilot says:

    I also went up the ladder. From a 152 to a 172, and now in a 182 RG. My instructor told me that after I got into the 182, I would never want to fly a lesser airplane. He was bloody right. Yes, it’s expensive. But this is my hobby. Not motorcycles, nor boats, or fancy cars. This is it.


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