To fly around Australia was not an idea that happened upon me overnight. It was an idea hatched in childhood, and ultimately flown solo decades later. Eight months in planning and eighteen days in execution, I suspect the planning would have been somewhat quicker if it had not grown into such a public exercise with such a genuine, interested following.
I hope that this story can serve to encourage other aviators to stretch their wings and horizons by expanding their comfort zones, to see and experience things that are unavailable to our earthbound neighbours, and to share these with others, whether they are other pilots, your friends and family, and anyone else that needs to see what general aviation has to offer.
My wife, April, and I flew over 11,000 miles in our Cessna 206 last summer. We pretty much circumnavigated the lower 48, with a couple of “great loops” to boot. Our mission: to take our daughter’s used Ikea furniture and household items from her Houston apartment to Bangor, Maine, where she was working on assignment.
When planning this Bavarian vacation, I wanted to include some flying, perhaps an hour of dual with an instructor at a local flying club. Searching online, I came across the website of a company called Classic Wings Bavaria, offering scenic flights in a 1957 Soviet-built Antonov An-2 biplane. Here was the unique flying opportunity I was looking for, even if it did not involve actual stick time.
This little adventure is about two old pilots checking an item off their bucket list. One of the trips we have talked about for the last few years is flying to Death Valley and landing below sea level to watch the hands on the altimeter recede counter-clockwise past zero. This trip is best flown during colder months of the year because Death Valley is usually over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in warm months.
I am a very average pilot. I got my Private Pilot’s license in 2008, my instrument rating a year later and have since been “working on my Commercial/CFI.” But in 2013, my cousin, John, talked me into flying to Alaska. I became drawn to Alaska’s vastness and rough and natural beauty.
In the grass of Harvey Young, an airport tucked just south of Tulsa International, there appeared a beautiful 1946 Cessna 120. I couldn’t buy it, but I convinced my buddy that this was the airplane for him. Tulsa, Oklahoma to Boston, Massachusetts: a 1500-mile trip in a 30-year old airplane with no nav radio, a com radio that just barely worked, no gyro instruments except for that needle and ball, and a wet compass. This was adventure!
This past July, we joined the Alaska Airmen Association and Circumpolar Expeditions on a group flight from Nome, Alaska, to Provideniya, Russia. The trip served two purposes: one as a goodwill mission to the Chukotka region of Russia and the other to keep the route between Nome and Provideniya open.
Jim and I talked further about ferry procedures, the probable route and the likely departure date. I was grateful then, when at the end of our lunch, he agreed to accompany me on the trip. I had about two thousand hours of over-water time by then, but all of it was with four engines at high altitude.
With 30 hours of taildragger time in Brian’s logbook and 25 hours in mine, we focused in on an early model 150 hp Decathlon, and in January, found a promising 1975 example for sale. Challenge number one: we live in Surrey and Langley British Columbia, Canada, and the Decathlon was located in Kitchener, Ontario (CYKF), some 2,000 miles as the crow flies.
The purpose of the trip was to see the prize that waits at the end of a hard journey. To show my son how all the work and effort will pay off. At school. With flying. In life. And, to spend some time alone, just the two of us, before competing pressures and the passage of time naturally pull us physically apart.
“I think I might fly the BE-18 a few minutes next week. If you want a sneak peek, the left seat is yours…” Dan said in a Facebook message to me. It didn’t take long for me to say that I’d be there if I could. You know, as long as the world didn’t end or something.
Sometimes life lets you make the most of an opportunity. With my friend’s new house near Chino Airport, I could offer this trip in about two and half hours total travel time, with two of those hours in the air in a Piper Arrow II. There was the opportunity: a trip made-to-order for a VFR pilot.
A Piper Cub is the essence of seat of the pants flying, with a stick, a throttle, and practically nothing else (OK, there is a tach, altimeter, magnetic compass, and airspeed indicator if you can see them through your instructor). It’s as close to being a 1920s barnstormer as I’ll ever get!
Our trip started off at Hampton Roads Executive Airport (KPVG) in Chesapeake, Virginia. This adventure was planned as a father-daughter trip for some much needed bonding time. Plan A was in effect, which was to be gone nine days and visit some very prestigious locations or a pilot’s bucket list of places to fly to.
Dawn lit the eastern sky as the Skyhawk’s engine came to life. I was about to begin a journey that would be as epic for me as the flight across the Atlantic had been for Lindbergh. At age 61, I was flying from Galion, Ohio (GQQ) to Winter Haven, Florida (GIF).
“We never fly too much above 500 feet around here,” Michelle said as we began the climbout from the grass strip at the Kosrue Aero Club. “I know it seems low but remember we don’t have any mountains to worry about.”
Last May, three of us decided to hike from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the South Rim in one day. Now this is a 25-mile hike, down about 15 miles and 6000 feet to the Colorado River and then back up to the North Rim another 10 miles and about 5000 feet; a challenging hike at the best of times but the real difficulty is the temperature.
Sometimes only an airplane of your own can make a trip possible. My wife Christine and I proved this a few summers ago when we took our Cardinal on a whirlwind tour of half the country.
Now that I have decided to allow my license to run out of hours and not renew, old pilot’s reminiscences come to the fore in flying circles. But none of my subsequent flying has, for me, the excitement of my time over Africa.