I wrote a blog post recently about how to enjoy yourself while doing a mundane task such as driving to work. Unfortunately that blog post wasn’t backed up on my computer and the server on which this blog is maintained…crashed. D’oh! I guess I need to seek out a method to back up my blog posts on my local hard drive…
Anyway, what’s the purpose of this post you might ask? Well…lately my mind has been occupied by my life-long love affair with aviation (and if you know me you’ll understand that this is one of my reoccuring ‘phases’). I’ve been incredibly fortunate to grow up surrounded by airplanes, airports, maintainers and pilots alike. Heck, my father put in 20+ years as an aircraft mechanic (specifically egress systems/ejection seats) for the USAF, having worked on a bunch of different aircraft during his career, including (but not limited to), B-66s, T-33s, F-100s, B-57s, T-28s, A-37s, F-101s, F-4s, B-52s and F-111s. I consider my childhood incredibly blessed, not many get the opportunity to grow up in an environment surrounded by these magnificent machines and the people that flew and maintained them. To this day the smell of an old hangar along with the smell of Jet-A/JP-5 takes me to another place…instantly! Now don’t get me wrong, I still love my cars, motorcycles and just about anything automotive related…however there will always be a special place in my heart for aviation.
I tried following that itch to fly…actually a couple of times now. The first time I had the opportunity to fly was in ’96 shortly after my brother began taking lessons. He went on to earn his pilot’s license he was afforded the opportunity to fly F-16s for the New Mexico Air National Guard (aka the revered ‘Taco’s’). Seeing his success really inspired me to follow suit and obtain my license. Since I was barely making above minimum wage working for one of the local banks, I borrowed some money from my mother to help finance the flying lessons. My instructor, Scott, said I was a natural ‘stick and rudder’ guy and before too many hours I was making landing bets with him (which I won more than I lost). I had a whopping 3 hours in the Cessna 152 (N1684Q) and 6.2 hours in the Piper Warrior (N5857V) when Scott instructed me to land, pull to the terminal and leave the engine running. He jumped out
Photo Credit: Frank Moody
I don’t know how to adequately explain what happend next. I was anxious, scared, even a little overwhelmed, but Scott helped clear all of that up when I was taxiing out to the run-up area. He called out over the Common Area Traffic Frequency (CTAF) and told me to do the run-up as usual and to make sure to check for traffic. Hearing his voice eased some of my apprehension. After the run-up and a final check of the pattern, I lined up on runway 22, took a deep breath and pushed the throttle to the firewall. The speed came on faster than I anticiapted and before I knew it I was lifting off the runway. I remained focused on my climb speed and once I reached 500′ began my crosswind turn. Normally I made this turn out over a farmer’s field, however this time I had just cleared the departure end of the runway. This caused me to meet my downwind/pattern altitude really early so I ended up crusing for a little longer than normal so I didn’t crowd the runway. It wasn’t until I was on the downwind leg that I was able to reflect on and comprehend the situation. It was the first time I’ve truely experienced total freedom…it was one of the most sublime experiences of my life up to that point. I was only able to reflect for a moment as I quickly reached the point I needed conduct my pre-landing check and start my descent. Before I knew it I was lined up with the runway centerline on final approach. One thing I didn’t anticipate enough was how much longer it takes to reduce airspeed and I ended up in ground effect longer than normal, causing me to touchdown further down the runway than I wanted. My goal at that moment was to not repeat the oversight and make good on the next attempt. I’m happy to say that by my third time around the pattern, I had figured out my approach marks and speeds for picture perfect landings.
I pulled N5857V onto the ramp and tied it down, Scott was standing next to the wing with a pair of scissors in-hand. The shirt-cutting tradition is something just about every general aviaiton pilot has experienced. You get the back of your shirt cut off and you get to decorate it to commerate the moment. I don’t think I stopped smiling for weeks.
I ended up running out of money during my solo cross-country flights and quickly found myself surviving off of student loans while attending Texas Tech University. During that time I was farily broke and flying took a backseat. Once I graduated and commissioned in the Air Force, I thought I would have time and money again to finish my license (for anyone in the military, you understand how the best laid plans, more often than not, do not succeed). I made my second attempt to obtain my license when I was stationed in Cheyenne WY and flying with a small outfit down in Fort Collins, Colorado. I aced my exam, knocked out the physical and quickly obtained my student certificate to find myself soloing again. The sensation was the same…sublime, complete freedom! The dream of finally finishing my license quickly died as I received orders to Baghdad, Iraq. Once I returned from my deployment my attentions were diverted elsewhere (again) and soon we found ourselves near Cocoa Beach Florida. I remained focused on my job of launching rockets and the dream of flight faded into the background. One day I will pick up the torch again and finish my license. Recenly I attended the annual Cub Fly-In at the Lompoc CA Regional Airport and found my eyes pointing to the sky and my heart throbbing the flying tune again. More to come…