Pilot logbook
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Fifty years ago, I soloed a Cessna 172.  The FAA Wright Brothers Awards notwithstanding, it wasn’t really fifty years ago – yes, 2023 – 1973 = 50 – but it was only 49 years ago, and I flew on the 49th anniversary of first solo. But let’s call it fifty.

One October back in ’73, my instructor and I flew from Hanscom Field, outside Boston, to Lawrence, Massachusetts. Actually, I thought I was ready the lesson before, and I flew better on that lesson, but he didn’t solo me then.

There was no pre-solo endorsement in my logbook, nor for the instrument and commercial flight tests the next year. None were required. In fact, none of my logbooks have any endorsements for any flight test.

Pilot logbook

None of my logbooks have any endorsements for any flight test – they weren’t required.

For radios, the 172 had a cabin speaker and a hand-held mike. Headsets were virtually unknown, and if I paid close attention, I could differentiate my flying skills if I held the mike in my left hand or my right. Foam earplugs were a blessing when I discovered them.

Back at Hanscom Field, the taxiways had names. There was the State taxiway (don’t know where that name came from) and the MIT taxiway that went by the MIT Lincoln Labs hangar. Good luck to the transient pilot.

Shortly after I soloed, the Boston Class 1 TCA was initiated, redesignated years later to Class B airspace. That later idea was that all airspaces would have a letter designation, but we know how that turned out!

Good old N79042, that Cessna 172 that I soloed in, is now in Maine somewhere, but back then, she had the latest and greatest in avionics. There were two mechanically tuned King KX175B nav/comms, same as the 170 but TSO’d, an ADF, and a transponder. Some planes still had vacuum tube radios, but the KX175B was solid state.

I remember turning off the radios individually before shutdown, and turning them on individually after engine start. Radio master switches came later.

The marker beacon was incorporated into the audio panel, but these days I don’t even know where the nearest working marker beacon is, nor the nearest still working non-directional beacon to tickle an ADF needle. But it was satisfying on an ILS to watch the ADF slowly change indication and figure out how far you were outside the marker.

Switching frequencies was clunky, but nobody knew any better. To go from using Comm 1 to Comm 2 took three steps: turn off the Comm 1 audio, turn on the Comm 2 audio, and change the transmitter from Comm 1 to Comm 2. It was seemingly miraculous a few years later when audio panels had an AUTO feature which turned on only the receiver corresponding to the selected transmitter.

Flight Service Station

Sometimes you could talk to Flight Service by transmitting on 122.1 and listening on the VOR frequency

Sometimes you could talk to Flight Service by transmitting on 122.1 and listening on the VOR frequency. That didn’t work for all VORs, though, and was replaced years later by Flight Watch on 122.0. I still don’t understand why some bureaucrat/idiot shut down that very easy to use service.

Holding patterns were interesting. I suppose I knew how to fly holding patterns using only the ADF, but I remember the sadism of doing an intersection hold with a single VOR, changing frequencies and IDing the VOR with each frequency change, and setting the radial. At least back then I could do it.

There were other things I could do back then. While I was training for my instrument rating, my instructor taught me what real partial panel was. No skid ball, that was easy to lose. No attitude or directional gyro, simulating a vacuum failure. Vertical speed didn’t mean much, so it got covered up, and who needs airspeed when you can set power and hear feel what’s going on. Besides, the altimeter is still there, along with the turn needle and the LOC/ILS.

With this extreme partial panel, my widely admired CFI-I, Harold Barnes, had me fly the ILS to touchdown. I didn’t land on the centerline, but I did land on the runway. And he had me do it again on another flight.

I’ve never been able to do that since.

You didn’t need a sign-off to take a written exam, and they were free at the FSS. One day I decided it was time to take the private written, so I hopped on the subway and went over to Logan Airport and took the private. Being a high-powered MIT grad student, it only took an hour. What they hey, I’m already here, so I took the commercial written, another hour. What they hey, let’s take the instrument written, even though I’d not studied for it at all. I passed private (not with a 100 like I wanted) and commercial, and almost passed instrument, getting a 66 when 70 was needed to pass.

There was one day, maybe right before Thanksgiving, when the weather all up and down the east coast was 1,500 or 2,000 and forever. After talking things over with Mr. Barnes, I hopped in the 172, across the sound to Long Island, west to New York city, then over the New York harbor to an airport near where my parents were living at the time in New Jersey. Lotsa fun, and when the New York controller told me to hold outside the TCA, I flew a genuine holding pattern. I was still a student pilot.

Then again, I’d flown an ILS to minimums before solo, an ugly, ugly, ugly approach that ended up at minimums with needles crossed. Those few hours in the simulator obviously helped.

That Thanksgiving flight was also my first (and only) encounter with freezing rain, right in the middle of New York harbor. Fortunately, not a big deal, but after landing, it was curious to see very thin sheets of ice that gracefully slid off the wing. After I got my private, there were other trips to North Carolina and similar, but I never flew to Vermont or Maine, the last two states I now need to have visited all 50, and my states landed in count is now at about 45.

Flight planning

Cross-country flight planning started with the paper chart.

Cross-country flight planning started with the paper chart – they had gone to two-sided by the time I started flying but I still had a few one-sided charts with miscellaneous information, unpredictably different for each individual chart, on the back. If your origin and destination were on different sides of the chart, it got interesting, trying to establish a straight line between the two. The next step was to choose checkpoints every five or ten minutes apart and write up a flight log with distances.

An advantage of the paper charts, since lost, was that with the course line penciled in, it was easy to observe the lay of the land, things to look for and to look out for, alternatives, all that really good situational awareness stuff. As a child of the magenta, I no longer do that. And I should.

According to the FAA, you should calculate the time on each leg based on winds aloft forecast, but that seemed too much work. That opinion was reinforced by one FAA written test, don’t remember which one, which required you to calculate the time enroute for a multi-leg trip. I calculated the time as something like 2:42, and the two closest answers on the multiple choice test were 2:41 and 2:43. On the second calculation? 2:42.

My approved inflight technique was to guesstimate each leg based on the time required for the previous leg, doing the math in my head, and soon I was hitting all my waypoints within a minute. (Yes, I was a geek..)

And as I got to know the airplane, I could estimate the fuel burned on a trip within a gallon. Leaning was done by pulling out the mixture until the engine got rough. It was much later when the fancier planes got EGT gauges, and decades after that with EGT readouts for each cylinder,

After two years of flying from the Boston area, graduation and first job took me out to Silicon Valley, where I flew for 23 years.

Initially, I flew taildraggers and aerobatics from Amelia Reid Aviation in San Jose. (She’s in the Flight Instructor Hall of Fame.) I flew her L-2s with no electrical system and battery powered comm radios that sort of worked, aided by a sympathetic control tower.

There were also occasions to fly fancier planes with the King KNS80 RNAV, a box that worked in conjunction with the VOR and internal DME. This slick device worked by creating a “phantom VOR” at a distance and radial from a nearby “real” VOR. The phantom VOR was put where you wanted to fly to, and it was slick. It would fool you, though, if you left the unit in RNAV mode when you thought you were navigating off the real VOR.

That KNS80 was handy one dark and stormy evening when I had to divert to Albuquerque due to thunderstorms. All was well till ATC announced that they had lost their radar. After a few seconds of bewilderment, I grabbed the book of Jeppesen approach plates and moved the Albuquerque VOR from the final approach fix to the airport and flew direct. It was one of those occasions when I didn’t see the airport till I was right on top of it.

Speaking of Jepp charts, Jeppesen used to publish approach plates, STARs and SIDs to fit into three-inch binders. Every two weeks, an envelope would arrive in the mail, and it was time to start updating, never a fun task. Back then, the Jepp format was much easier to use than the NOS charts, but Jepp eventually lost market share for two reasons. One was that the government charts closed the gap by copying Jepp ease of use features, and the second reason was that Boeing bought Jepp and increased the gap by increasing the prices. A similar price inflation might be happening to ForeFlight now that Boeing has bought it.

For you namephreakers, there was a time when the Jeppesen senior vice-president in charge of charts was Jim Terpstra. (TERPS is the nickname for the FAA Terminal Procedures, the Advisory Circular with all the rules, regulations, and formulae for creating instrument approaches. It still exists, but GPS approaches are specified by a different AC.)

Sometime around then, flip-flop radios came into being. Those were (are) so cool, going from one frequency to another and back with just the push of a button. This was nicer than the AUTO function on the audio panel, but somehow Collins didn’t get the message. Their system was not really two frequencies, more like one and a half – I don’t remember the details, but after a flip, you couldn’t flop back. (Years later, I worked at RockwellCollins and some of my questionable coworkers did nothing to improve their credibility by exclaiming what a wonderful radio that one was.) But the Collins nav did have a digital VOR radial readout like the fancier King radio.

Along came Class II TCAs, called Airport Radar Surveillance Areas, or ARSAs, now known as Class C airspace. The FAA had very little idea that the existence of TCAs and ARSAs only made a difference to “non-participating” traffic, meaning GA, and that IFR traffic (airliners) didn’t care where the boundaries were. This didn’t stop the FAA from defining airspace boundaries on DME distances, a stupid implementation philosophy, given that the fanciest single engine aircraft at the time had two VORs and no DME.

At one point, the FAA-proposed San Jose ARSA had an extension to protect airline traffic on Runway 30, a good idea that my working group originally proposed. However, the FAA decided that the extension should be based on the Oakland VOR, and that had two problems, as I recall. One is that some ARSA boundary altitudes were too low to receive OAK VOR. The other problem was that the extension was something like 4° wide, and the FAA representative was surprised to learn that a VOR could be within IFR tolerance with a 6° error from an inflight check. In other words, a plane could be on one side of the extension with the book legal VOR showing that the ARSA extension was on the other side. The FAA representative was stunned, open mouth and the whole bit, when he learned at the public meeting that there were no VOR accuracy requirements for VFR flight.

Some time around this time, Keith Potts was in charge of FAA airspace. He arrogantly boasted that he was the only one who understood all the airspaces. The California Pilots Association took care of that, starting a petition for his removal. That petition went nationwide and he was out.

When T. Allan McArtor was the head of the FAA, he made statements about wanting to get the children off the freeways and make the airspace safe for the airliners. His previous outstanding career notwithstanding, he managed to disdain the GA community to his discomfiture. At one public GA meeting, sheets were handed out to the audience with “Twenty Questions for T. Allan McArtor,” questions that lampooned his job performance while carefully avoiding personal attacks. The then-head of AOPA handed him one of those sheets, telling him that it showed what members were thinking. McArtor paled visibly when he read it, I’m told. The point, however, is that whenever he addressed a GA audience from then on, he had a copy of the Twenty Questions in his coat pocket. I still have a copy on my computer, but in an obsolete format, no longer readable.

Finally headsets came into vogue, and they were an improvement — at least for the first hour of flight until the pressure on the wrong muscles would cause a headache. Affordable noise cancelling headset were still years off.

Many of you know about the later introduction of GPS and the tower of Babel that GPS interfaces devolved into, and other changes in that game of Trivial Pursuit known as the FARs. In fact, an FAA attorney once testified under oath that the FARs were “a monument to vagueness.”

Two weeks ago, starting my fiftieth year of flight, I rented an ancient Cessna 172 for a two landings to celebrate the occasion, as the RV-9A was still awaiting an A&P okey-dokey after soot incursion and corrosion from a fire in a nearby hangar. The 172 was kind of familiar but not really, maybe ten landings away from full competency, one gorgeous landing notwithstanding. But the avionics… I’d have my hands full flying real world IFR in it.

Cessna 172

starting my fiftieth year of flight, I rented an ancient Cessna 172 for a two landings.

But on that anniversary flight, I realized how much I had missed big old, readable round dials, and that feeling that the airplane itself was more worthy than knobs and touchscreens.

Ed Wischmeyer
6 replies
  1. Rick
    Rick says:

    I got my private in ’76 and a lot of what you wrote about brings back memories. On my long solo crosscountry–Bangor, ME to Berlin, NH, to Portland, Me and back to Bangor, I got disoriented near the White Mts. I talked on Comm 1 and had to listen on the VOR. That was tricky, as you mentioned. No radar available, but got straightened out and landed in Berlin. The rest of the flight was uneventful, but it sure was different then. Nice article, thanks, Ed.

  2. rwyerosk
    rwyerosk says:

    Wow Ed…..your article brings back memories…..Got the FAA Wright Bothers award in 2019. I miss those days…..it was fun ……..


  3. Richard
    Richard says:


    I too received my private license back in 1976. Thanks for the walk down memory lane. We’ve come along way, baby! LOL

  4. Stuart Sibitzky
    Stuart Sibitzky says:

    What a wonderful recap of a marvelous career. I read and recalled all of those wonderful additions to our world of aviation. I soloed (PA-12 Super Cruiser) on May Day 1960 with a Student Pilot License issued by the CAA (Civil Aeronautics Administration) and progressed forward to an ATP back in 92. Spent the years 97-2019 flying in Alaska. Yours was a wonderful experience of all that we treasure.

  5. Peter Temesvary
    Peter Temesvary says:

    Ed, thanks for the great memories! These days I often wonder how on earth we ever flew with only 2 VOR’s and without a moving map! Probably one of the most memorable lessons I learned from you was at PAO on a particularly crappy, gusty day, landing RWY 12, and after one circuit you said “this weather isn’t getting any better and we’re not having any fun, so let’s call it a day and come do it again some other time.” That’s been drilled in my head for 30+ years: if you ain’t having fun, then what’s the point of being in the air?!

  6. Fuerst Larry
    Fuerst Larry says:

    Soooo many memories while reading your article. Obtained my license in 1960 in the C-150, interesting radio set up back then. Now after retiring of the B-777, the radios & instruments were a tad different. Yes, I was awarded my Wright Brothers Award in 2020. I felt very honoured. Thank you for a read down memory lane!
    Larry Fuerst


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