For pilots to be interested in space and science fiction is only “logical,” but few of us personally experience the interface.
I met Chris Barton when he was executive director of the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra.
He was intrigued by piloting, so we launched on local flying adventures. Even while savoring the controls, my friend was captivated by Meteor Crater and the unearthly volcanic landscape where Apollo astronauts trained for moon missions.
Our friendship and Chris’s flying were interrupted when he joined Florida’s Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra as executive director. So when he phoned recently about returning to Flagstaff for a concert, I offered to retrieve him from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport by Flying Carpet.
Navigating a Class B airport requires planning, but it’s always a kick. Phoenix controllers welcome light aircraft, and Cutter Aviation offers complimentary airline shuttles.
My first minutes with Chris were consumed by departure and taxi clearances. He oohed and ahhed as we swooped over futuristic clusters of docked jetliners on early turnout. Only after escaping congested airspace could I ask, “What’s new?”
“Actually, you won’t believe it!” exclaimed Chris…
Ever wonder if you’re the only one apprehensive about launching on your first long light-plane journey?
A pilot buddy recently launched on a 1,000-mile cross-country.
Like most of us, he greeted his first extended light-plane journey with both excitement and trepidation.
He studied route and airspace, calculated fuel and weight-and-balance, took two written tests, and checked out in a Diamond DA-40. Although initially apprehensive, he phoned me exhilarated following solo landing practice.
“That was so much fun I can’t believe it!” he said, detailing each successive landing like a newly soloed pilot. “Now I’m stoked to fly that cross-country!”
My friend and his family live in southern New Mexico, 10 hours’ drive from relatives. When he mentioned that private flying would be perfect for such trips, his wife encouraged him to join the local aero club. This first mission would be to collect her and the kids from visiting her folks in Dallas…
Flight tests are a bit like weddings. Everyone wants theirs to go perfectly, but sometimes problems or distractions, when successfully resolved, add richness to the experience.
Although each of these life events usually goes smoothly, you’ll occasionally hear horror stories. Jean and I once attended a wedding reception where the restaurant caught fire, forcing the bridal party and guests onto the lawn with firefighters.
As with weddings, you can never know whether pilot checkrides are “good,” or “bad,” until afterward. The obvious measure is whether you pass or fail. Common wisdom says that sooner or later every pilot fails a flight test – fortunately that’s not the blot on one’s record pilots often worry about. But it’s not always that simple. Sometimes a failed test teaches valuable lessons. My own worst flight test was not the one I failed, but one I passed.
On my instrument practical years ago, I confused my position on an instrument approach, turned, and started down at the wrong fix. The examiner’s questioning helped me figure it out, but afterward I pondered if and when I’d have caught the error on my own. Although I learned the relevant lesson, it seemed at the time I should have failed so there was little joy in taking the new rating home. The experience haunted me until I got more instrument flying under my belt.
Colorado pilot Tom Fuller is well qualified to contemplate good checkrides versus bad. A 10-year Air Force veteran, Tom earned his private three years ago and is working toward a pro-pilot career.
“I passed the oral portion of my initial Flight Instructor Practical Test last month, but did horribly on the flight portion. This came down to being at an unfamiliar airport, having little recent time in the Cessna 182RG I tested in, general checkride jitters, and fatigue. Any one of those I’d have probably been able to deal with, but all three was too much. Live and learn. So I rescheduled the flight portion for two weeks out, and committed to flying the RG as much as possible until then, which ended up approaching 20 hours…”
Based on the number of questions I get, I thought it worth explaining US Part 61 vs Part 141 pilot training programs.
Training under Part 61 is virtually unregulated except for meeting the specific objectives defined in the FAA regulations — that boils down to covering required maneuvers, aeronautical experience, and meeting test standards, pretty much however a given flight instructor sees fit.
Part 141 programs, on the other hand, are individually FAA approved, meaning each flight school must develop a detailed pilot training curriculum including lesson-by-lesson syllabus and extensive record-keeping requirements, and submit it to the FAA for approval. Part 141 programs must by definition be highly structured to be approved by the FAA. As a result, they are one-size-fits-all, meaning that every student must be trained precisely within each flight scool’s approved syllabus. Part 141 programs theoretically can graduate pilots in slightly fewer hours than under Part 61 (35 vs 40) and are required for those seeking government funding of their training, most notably to qualify for VA benefits.
My longtime-CFI buddy Jim Hackman likes to observe that “the best and the worst pilot training take place under Part 61 [because instruction quality can vary across the spectrum], while Part 141 trains for the lowest common denominator.” These days Part 61 programs increasingly incorporate some of the best Part 141 features such as written syllabi and stage checks.
Incidentally, well-run Part 141 programs are great places for beginning instructors to cut their teeth because rigorous syllabi and standardization help them learn to structure training for their students.
What a kick, for Mary Katherine Jackson to experience her dad piloting an airplane. Sure, she knew his credentials, but their previous father-daughter flight was nearly beyond memory, when she was just six years old.
Richard Jackson crafts exhibit prints for fine-art photographers. The day we met, he was printing National Geographic’s iconic, “Afghan Girl,” cover photo for famed photographer Steve McCurry. Only when we later began working together did I learn of Richard’s aviation background. As a US Air Force combat photographer in Viet Nam, he documented military action from such legendary aircraft as the F-100 “Thud,” C-130 Hercules, and Chinook and Huey helicopters.
Following his tour, Richard qualified as an instrument-rated commercial pilot. He’d accumulated 1,100 hours and was training for his CFI when personal and career pressures derailed his flying during a busy period of his life.
Then, 2½ years ago, Richard and I flew from Flagstaff to Phoenix to proof some prints. Remembering his piloting background, I offered the controls as we taxied out. He never returned them.
Seven years after his previous flight, Richard expertly took off, negotiated traffic and radar vectors to Sky Harbor International Airport, and landed, all from the right seat. Based on the joy in his eyes and his virtuoso performance, I urged him to get current again.
“One of these days, I will,” he replied. While Richard’s piloting passion and skills clearly survived, the requisite resources, motivation, and time had yet to converge. More concerning was something unspoken. Experience tells me the confidence to go back to piloting erodes long before the competence does. Flight proficiency usually returns quickly even after a long hiatus; the bigger obstacle is turning the key and driving to the airport. And the longer pilots are away from flying, the less likely they’ll return to it…
Friendships blossomed, and some Southwest-area members recently proposed our first-ever fly-in rendezvous at Lake Havasu City Airport, Arizona (KHII). I asked along student pilot Victoria Coleman, who’d recently celebrated her first solo. When Victoria boasted of her husband Paul helping her study, I invited him too.
Victoria and I agreed that rather than make this a “lesson,” we’d share piloting duties as equals: she’d handle the radios and navigate while I flew. Once aloft, Paul enthused about his wife’s newfound skills.
“We recently bought property in Pagosa Springs,” he said. “Victoria will be able to pilot us there!” Although Victoria was yet to start cross-country training, she’d thoroughly scouted our route and destination airport, and compiled relevant radio frequencies. And though new to aerial navigation, she precisely tracked our location via outside landmarks. It turned out she’s always loved maps, and as a child aspired to be a cartographer.
“You’re a natural at this!” I said.
“I felt that way, until the other day,” Victoria replied. “I recently had a great solo day in the pattern. But last time I flew, there was a light crosswind. I wasn’t sure I could handle it, so I landed. Now I’m nervous about mastering landings, and about flying by myself…”
Photo: Members of Greg’s “Student Pilot Pep Talk” Facebook Group rendezvous at Lake Havasu City Airport, Arizona. L-R: Mike Hardison, Ken Meyer, Bijan Maleki and Miranda Rydstrom, Brian and Theresa Farley, Paul and Victoria Coleman, Paul Meehl, and Shari Meyer. SEE MORE PHOTOS HERE.
“Authors Greg Brown and Laurel Lippert write to those who are considering flight training, specifically to answer frequently asked questions about it, and at the same time entice more people into exploring general aviation.”
There are no strings attached. My coauthor Laurel and I, along with the good folks at our publisher, ASA, felt that offering this book for free would be a worthy contribution to get more people into the air to experience the joys of flight we so treasure.
You aviators out there, please share this with your friends who have always dreamed about becoming pilots but didn’t know where or how to start — now they can take that long-awaited first step with some guidance.
“Why would anyone want an airplane like that?” queried my then-teenaged son about the weathered Cessna 150 parked across from us.
“Simple,” I replied, “the owner can afford to fly it anytime he wants. We see him out here all the time, right? Suppose you could have that airplane and fly all you wanted — would you take it?”
“My own airplane? Sure! I’d take it in a second!”
As we walked away, both a bit more respectful of the ancient Cessna’s owner, I pondered whether we aviators adequately educate new pilots on affordably continuing their flying adventures once training is over.
My son is certainly not alone in his desire to fly something sexy — pilots naturally lust over sleek and fast airplanes gracing airport ramps and magazine covers. But how many have realistic expectations of what they can afford? Most pilots strive for the most advanced aircraft they can imagine themselves flying, and as a result often conclude they can’t afford to fly, or financially suffer after buying beyond their means. Either way we lose them from our aviation community.
The fact is that most anyone who can manage flying lessons is within reach of owning an airplane, or part of one, anyway. Our challenge is educating pilots that the best plane for them is one they can easily afford to purchase and operate.
Among the challenges is that prospective pilots often assume they’re gonna go out and buy a new airplane like they’d buy a new car. For most people that’s dauntingly expensive for sure. But right now you can purchase an older but still capable airplane for a song. Look at it this way: if everyone thought they could only be a driver by owning a new Mercedes or BMW, far fewer people would drive. But most of us start with older used cars and work our way up. Better that pilots invest in a well-used steam-gauge 150 and upgrade as circumstances permit, then to buy a speedy new Cirrus before they can afford it and we lose them as pilots forever.
Part of the problem is that airplane ownership cost is far more complex than just the purchase price. Similar dollars will buy anything from a new Skyhawk to a long-in-the-tooth King Air turboprop. Novice buyers often tend toward the higher-performance end of that scale, with an eye toward faster and more glamorous travel, at “the same price.”
But operating and insurance costs for various aircraft vary across the spectrum, so given a similar budget the 172 buyer may fly all she wants at a cost she can easily afford, while the King Air owner goes broke a month after buying it. Aiming too high is why so many people conclude, “I can’t afford to fly.” What they actually can’t afford is to fly beyond their means, which unfortunately is what many pilots try to do.
We need to be more creative and helpful in keeping our new pilots aloft, if we want to retain them among our ranks. That means educating them to all the options for independent flying, with the “American dream” of ownership topping the list. That’s not so tough as it sounds. A friend of mine recently sold a serviceable Cessna 152 for $18,000. Legendary flight instructor Bill Kershner did most of his teaching in 150s and 152s, and noted aviation author and speaker Rod Machado flies one for his personal airplane.
Sure, you might need to forego glass cockpits and the smell of new, but given the choice, who wouldn’t rather fly a nicely-aged 150 or Cherokee or 172, than sit at home reading about jets?
Photo: Legendary flight instructor Bill Kershner’s Cessna 152 Aerobat, on display in the National Air & Space Museum.
PS: A great place to begin investigating used aircraft models is via Aviation Consumer. (~$70 per year.) Subscribers can instantly download their thorough and unbiased used-airplane reports covering virtually all ages and models at no additional charge, including breakdown of features and design changes by year of manufacture.