I never did get to do that solo, with my Dad stepping out of the J-3 as we had planned. In fact, 40 years passed until I was able to get my pilot license. Since then I’ve built my hours and experience, added an instrument rating, reconnecting in a very deep way with my earliest memories, and to the things that my Dad taught me.
Looking to my right, there is my regular flying companion, my late father, or my sense of him. I talk to him now and then, but he seldom answers. Today, I want to ask him why aviation came to be such a central part of my thinking and my life, despite my never having made a dime with an airplane, or been an especially skilled pilot, or having grown up in a flying family.
Twenty one years ago, while on a skiing trip out west and after watching “Super Cub One and two” about 100 times, I took a side flight to Cub Crafters in Yakima, Washington. At that time, Jim Richmond, the CEO of Cub Crafters, was restoring Cubs. I purchased a 1979 Super Cub from Jim, which he flew out to Maine the following spring. That began a 21-year flying experience for me… all in the same Cub.
Owning an airplane pretty much obligates one to always be looking for the next chance to use it. The worst thing for an airplane (or a pilot) is to stay on the ground and never fly. Therefore when my son indicated an interest in seeing the launch of Exploration Flight Test 1, I seized the opportunity.
It started out as no more than a lark in 1999. Fly through the midnight of the old millennium into the new. Our family would view the public and private fireworks displays ushering in Y2K from a different perspective – through the windows of our Cessna 172.
I’m a recently-minted private pilot with about 70 hours, and a little over 3 hours into tailwheel endorsement training. Interestingly enough, the tailwheel endorsement has been my big goal, perhaps even more so than the PPL! But there is an order to things, and these days the PPL checkride is mostly tailored to the Cessna 172.
It had been one of those perfect fall days, a day when you could see forever. The light had a clarity one only sees in the fall, and then only rarely. It was the kind of light that painters dream of. The night was still, without even the whisper of a breeze.
So I taxied to the threshold following a “Follow Me” jeep as I could not see the taxiway. Meanwhile my Flight Commander went to the tower to watch. Maybe he expected a spectacle – but as it happened he gave me good advice and by all accounts he got a spectacle too!
“Lights, camera, action!” I recite to no one but me. It’s my final mantra before takeoff in my Cavalier. Nav and strobe lights on, transponder to ALT, and power up to go. Gladys, my instructor, taught me that.
I was excited at the opportunity to complete a real cross-country trip with my wife to visit family in Tennessee for the Thanksgiving holiday. For weeks prior to the trip, I passed the time planning the flight and picking out the best fuel stops. The plan was finally set. Preflight inspection now complete, we were ready to fly!
In my last article I told you what it took to get my wife in the air. As much as that short flight over La Jolla (San Diego) was fun, the goal was always, and forever will be, to use the airplane for family flying. So after years of airport hopping, $100 burger runs (by myself I might add), and oh so many touch and goes, it was time to take the family on a real trip.
Since I began taking flying lessons, about 5 years ago, our dream was to fly to Fort Collins. I mean, after endlessly flying over the featureless flatlands of the Midwest, how cool to see the freakin’ Rocky Mountains filling your windshield!
Before the engine blew, it was making a repetitive cyclical type noise; it wasn’t high pitched, it was kind of like the sound of a card flapping on a set of bicycle spokes, going fairly rapidly, getting painfully louder and louder to the point it seemed like my headset was not muffling the noise at all as the big end of the number 2 rod broke and the piston was beaten against the crank case.
Our drop mission was weather-dependent. It required smooth conditions in a layer up to 1500 ft above ground, to stay below radar, with at least a minimum off-shore breeze of 10 knots. The drop had to be done half an hour before sunset in cloudless, though not necessarily clear, conditions. In fact, a little obscuring haze up-sun would help the stealth nature of the task.
Can general aviation really be used for transportation? This pilot says yes, and a recent trip from Seattle to Wisconsin proves just how effectively it can be done. It was 30% less travel time than the airlines, and a lot more fun.
As soon as I lifted off, the engine started coughing and sputtering! Something was not right… obviously. I set the ship back down (it most likely settled itself back down due to the lack of power and diminishing rotor RPM), and the engine sprang back to life. What?
The smell of fresh-cut grass on a warm spring evening. You walk around the little aeroplane, checking a bolt, kicking the tires, moving the surfaces, touching it. You climb into it, and inhale that special aeroplane smell.
The relationship with my 1946 Aeronca Chief often segues into a world of strangeness. Owning and maintaining and flying an old fabric-covered taildragger is analogous to using a 1951 MG-TD as your personal car. But one learns to take things as they come, and most of all, to keep a sense of humor.
For those of you who do not fly out of the Northeast, the NOBBI5 Standard Terminal Arrival Route leads you into Westchester County Airport. KHPN is where my 1980 Mooney 231 is based. It’s the last stretch home. When the weather cooperates, there’s plenty of opportunity to look down from 7000 feet.
Last September I broke something important to me. The cause was more an abundance of caution than of carelessness, and I took comfort in that. Still, I wished I could fix it. Sitting at the kitchen counter one morning in June I thought I saw a way to make it right.