The idea of humans flying is potent stuff. It's an urge that's existed probably as long as people have paced the earth. Ancient scrolls talk about flying in religious tones. Medieval times saw people jumping off towers and drawing fanciful flying machines. But controlled flight of the merest form — balloons aside — didn't come until the end of the nineteenth century, when Otto Lilienthal made his famous glider flights.
What most probably don't realize, however, is that Lilienthal's first aerodynamic concepts leaned heavily on bird flight. In this sense, Otto fell victim to what had been an ages-old affliction: the idea that man could fly if only he could properly imitate the flapping action of bird wings. Before he hit on the rigid-wing glider designs he's famous for, Lilienthal even went so far as to study each and every known bird, looking for relationships between wingspan and weight, and number of flaps versus distance of gliding flight.
It wasn't until the Wright brothers came along that we first began to truly understand how to make an aircraft fly. As it turns out, nature does provide some aerodynamic guidelines and parallels, but flapping wings sure aren't one of them. Airplane structures, such as rudders, stabilizers, and strakes, however, do have functions analogous to those performed by the caudal, dorsal, and pectoral fins of most fishes.
In your first pilot training sessions, you're bound to learn about the four forces that act on an airplane in flight. These four forces are lift, weight, thrust, and drag. Too bad the old-timers didn't know what you'll know after just two hours.
Lift is produced by the wings and acts in an upward direction. Wings are able to create lift by accelerating air over their top surfaces, which are curved expressly for that purpose. As the oncoming air — called the relative wind — strikes a wing's leading edge, it splits and travels aft until meeting again at the trailing edge. The airfoil's curve guarantees that the air flowing over the top surface travels faster than the air passing beneath the wing. It's this extra speed that creates a zone of low pressure air — suction, if you will — atop the wing. Meanwhile, the air flowing beneath the wing is of relatively higher pressure. And it's this pressure differential that generates the airplane's lift. It works the same way with bird wings, but there's a big difference that we'll explain shortly.
As a child, you've probably conducted a crude experiment that illustrates the principle of lift. Who hasn't thrust an outstretched hand out a car window, palm down, with thumb and forefinger into the onrushing wind, and felt the hand rise? Here, there is also a relative wind (created by the car's forward motion) and an airfoil (created by the tapered thickness of the hand).
Weight acts against lift and works in a downward direction. To stay in level flight, you have to keep enough air moving over the wings to exactly match the weight you're lifting — the airplane itself, plus its occupants, fuel, and any baggage.
Thrust is created by the propeller or, in the case of a jet, the outflow of a turbine engine. Drag is thrust's enemy, so the pilot has to apply enough engine power to overcome it. Drag comes in many forms, and it can add up quickly. There's the drag caused by the airframe itself (form drag), the drag caused by air turbulence at the fuselage juncture of the wings and tail (interference drag), the drag caused by cooling ducts (cooling drag), drag caused by antennas and other protrusions (parasite drag), and drag that's even caused by lift (induced drag). So it follows that the draggier the airplane, the more thrust will be required.
In steady flight, lift, weight, thrust, and drag all balance each other. If you want to climb, descend, or turn, you simply make adjustments to the four forces using cockpit controls.
Let's say you want to climb. You add back-pressure to the control yoke, which raises the elevators at the tail's trailing edge. Then you add power, which increases thrust. Both these actions increase wing lift above the value needed for level flight. Now you have more lift than weight, so up you go.
Want to descend? Reduce power and use the elevators to lower the nose slightly. Now there's not enough lift or thrust to maintain level flight, and the resulting added weight and drag make the airplane lose altitude.
Turns are made with the help of ailerons, which create differential lift and drag. These control surfaces are at the trailing edges of both wings and are connected to the pilot's control yoke or stick. For a right turn, turn the yoke (or pull the stick) to the right and the right aileron deflects upwards; the left aileron moves down. The upraised right aileron creates drag on that wing. This slows the right wing's travel through the air. The extra drag on that side causes the right wing to drop slightly, and the airplane rolls to the right. Left turns work just the opposite. When flying straight and level, the ailerons are in trail and even with the wing trailing edges.
The art of flying, then, is learning how to smoothly manipulate engine power (thrust) and the aircraft control surfaces to make the airplane go where you want it to go. Back to the question: How come flapping flight won't work for us? Flapping wings on the downstroke would create lift, but on the upstroke, the drag penalty is ferocious. Add the weight of the articulation system, and even the most furious flapping would be futile. Birds solve the problem by having a built-in, super- lightweight articulating system that guarantees airflow over the top of their wings at all times.
Preserving adequate airflow over the upper wing surfaces is very important for both birds and airplanes. If high-velocity air can't make the journey across the top of the wing, an aerodynamic stall will occur. In other words, the wing stops producing lift. It "stalls" — stops flying — and the airplane will descend. However, it doesn't necessarily fall out of the sky. All that's needed to recover from an aerodynamic stall is to get a sufficient quantity of air moving across the wing again.
To recover from or, better yet, avoid a stall, you'll be taught several tactics. One of them is to maintain enough airspeed so there's plenty of air moving over the wing. Like riding a bicycle, flying an airplane means having enough forward motion to ensure a stable, controllable ride.
Come to think of it, learning to fly an airplane is a lot like learning to ride a bicycle: Once you learn, you never forget. Maybe the Wright brothers were the first to discover this truism. After all, they started out in the bicycle business.
BY WILLIAM L. GRUBER
Earning your private pilot certificate is one of the most rewarding endeavors you will undertake in your lifetime. In and of itself, it is worthwhile. With your fresh pilot certificate in hand, you'll find new destinations to visit, give nephew Nathaniel and aunt Gertie their first airplane rides, enjoy weekends flying out for $50 hamburgers, and spend priceless evenings with your wife, husband, or sweetheart, cruising through smooth air near your home field, watching the golden sunset fade to dusk.
Sooner or later, however, you'll ask yourself the question every private pilot asks when weekend jaunts start to become routine: What next? One of the great things about aviation, though, is that it always offers up new challenges, new horizons, to the pilot looking to explore different facets of flying. Here's a rundown of just some of the ways you can expand your portfolio of piloting skills and experiences well beyond the private pilot certificate.
The private pilot certificate, which allows you to carry friends and family into the wild blue, does not have to be a stopping point. While some pilots fly quite happily and safely for years and perhaps always with the certificate, many pilots opt to delve further into aviation esoterica with additional certificates and ratings. Although many types of flying will broaden your experience and help you get more enjoyment out of aviation, there is a pretty standard set of advanced ratings that virtually all would-be professional pilots pass through on their way to a flying career. Less glamorous than, say, float flying or aerobatics, these ratings can't be surpassed for increasing the utility and versatility of your flying. Even if you intend to fly only for fun, you may well decide to go after a rating in what we call "The Basic Four":
The instrument rating, which equips you with the exacting skills needed to fly in the clouds and under conditions of reduced visibility, is the most frequent "next step" taken by private pilots seeking to advance their aeronautical education. If the private pilot certificate is the airman's bachelor's degree, the instrument rating is graduate school.
Although some instructors advocate moving straight into instrument training after earning the private pilot certificate, others suggest waiting awhile until you have built up flying time, solidified your skills in the airplane, and gained the confidence as a pilot to tackle instrument training with assurance. There are no steadfast rules. It's really a matter of your own comfort level. Pilots on a fast-track training program for a career in aviation undoubtedly will move right into instrument flying. Others may want to concentrate on improving their fair-weather flying skills before adding the complexity of weather flying to the equation.
While the instrument rating is widely considered one of the hardest to attain — a tough written exam and hours of rigorous dual flight instruction stand between the new instrument student and the rating — it also is among the most rewarding. Intended to prepare pilots for flying in poor weather, with reference only to the instruments inside the cockpit, the rating also hones all basic flying skills to tighter tolerances. Simply put, instrument training makes you a sharper pilot.
Most important, with the instrument rating in your wallet or purse, light airplanes truly become practical transportation tools. No longer will you be troubled by the cloudy conditions that keep non- instrument-rated pilots on the ground. With the help of the same air traffic control system that guides airliners, you will be safely and confidently on your way.
To find out more about instrument training, first talk to your instructor. Peruse the ads in your favorite flying publications. There are lots of ways to go about earning the instrument rating. You can study at your local flight school at your own pace or go away to a full-time, intensive training program. Some companies will even send the instructor to you. Choose the training method that makes you most comfortable and that allows you to learn at your own best pace. The cost of earning your rating can vary pretty widely, as can the number of flying hours it takes, depending upon how you decide to pursue it. Like any other flight training, if you go about it sporadically, it probably will end up requiring more total training hours and costing you more in the long run. And larger, better-known flight academies usually charge more than the hometown airport. Generally speaking, you should expect to fork over about $3,000 and spend several months in training, flying about three times a week totaling more than 40 hours of instruction. Your progress will depend a lot upon your own aptitude and how diligently you keep at it.
Another common upgrade to the private pilot certificate is the multiengine rating. This qualifies you to fly "twins," or airplanes with two engines. The multi is a virtual necessity for pilots planning a career in aviation. To others, it's still a fun and interesting challenge to undertake. Some people fly twins — which tend to be faster and carry more than singles — for personal and business use. Twins also offer the reassurance of a second engine, especially when flying at night, in poor weather, or over water or mountains. Be advised, though, that most companies won't rent a multiengine airplane to you unless you also have an instrument rating.
The multiengine rating is one of the quickest and most economical add-on ratings for pilots to pursue. If you're willing to spend $600 or $800 and a weekend at an intensive training course, you can walk away with a multiengine rating attached to your pilot certificate. No written exam is required. A quickie course is fine if all you want is the rating — but if you really want to become a safe and proficient multiengine pilot, you should take your time and follow a thorough training program. Twins are complex machines. They are very safe in the hands of a skilled and competent pilot but can be unforgiving with an inexperienced beginner at the controls. If one engine fails, for example, *asymmetric thrust* can cause the airplane to yaw severely. Much of the multiengine flight training curriculum centers on handling such emergency situations.
Chances are, you can work on your multi at the same flight school where you earned your private. You should be able to earn it for less than $1,500 after about eight hours of instruction. Ask your flight instructor. And again, you'll find multiengine courses advertised in most flying publications.
Even if you don't plan to fly for a living, working on your commercial pilot certificate can be a good idea. Like the instrument rating, the commercial hones basic flying skills.
Essentially, you do a lot of the same things while working on your commercial that you do for the private — you just have to do them better. The margin for error on the commercial check ride (a sort of airborne driving test) is much more narrow than on the private check ride. The written exam, although similar in many ways to the private pilot test, is more difficult and covers added areas pertaining to commercial aviation. The candidate for a commercial certificate must perform additional types of maneuvers and generally fly with more smoothness and precision than a private pilot. He or she also must demonstrate additional flying experience, including substantial cross-country flying time to airports other than home base.
Although it is a standard check-off for the person planning to fly for a living, the commercial certificate also is a good way for the recreational flier to gain increased confidence and become more professional in the cockpit. It can be earned in a few weeks for around $2,000. Talk to your instructor to learn more about what it takes to gain this worthwhile rating.
If you do decide that you want to fly for a living, chances are you will start out as a certified flight instructor. It's in the cockpit of cramped trainers that most civilian-trained professional pilots pay their dues before moving on to corporate aviation, commuters, and — holy grail to many would-be professional pilots — the major airlines. Ask most instructors where they picture themselves several years hence, and they are likely to get a gleam in the eye and recite some fantasy about the left seat of a Boeing 747...the New York-to-Bangkok route....
Although considered a flight-time-building occupation by many ladder climbers on their way to an airline job, flight instructing is arguably the most important job in aviation. The future of the industry — and the safety of the skies — depends upon the people who train the pilots. Your first instructor will make impressions upon you that will last throughout your entire flying career. Fortunately, nearly all instructors are intimately aware of the gravity of their jobs.
You may choose to work on your flight instructor certificate right at the local flight school or go away to a flight academy or college program. It will cost you another $2,000 or so to become a CFI. To find out more about becoming a flight instructor, first discuss it with your own instructor and other CFIs at the local school, then contact the National Association of Flight Instructors in Dublin, Ohio, at 614/889- 6148.
William L. Gruber is a writer and pilot living in Venice, Florida.
BY WILLIAM L. GRUBER
Earning your private pilot certificate is one of the most rewarding endeavors you will undertake in your lifetime. In and of itself, it is worthwhile. With your fresh pilot certificate in hand, you'll find new destinations to visit, give nephew Nathaniel and aunt Gertie their first airplane rides, enjoy weekends flying out for $50 hamburgers, and spend priceless evenings with your wife, husband, or sweetheart, cruising through smooth air near your home field, watching the golden sunset fade to dusk.
Sooner or later, however, you'll ask yourself the question every private pilot asks when weekend jaunts start to become routine: What next? One of the great things about aviation, though, is that it always offers up new challenges, new horizons, to the pilot looking to explore different facets of flying. Here's a rundown of just some of the ways you can expand your portfolio of piloting skills and experiences well beyond the private pilot certificate:
If you like roller coasters, you will love aerobatics. That is, of course, a bit of a simplification. But the thrill of riding the world's best roller coasters is the closest ground-bound humans will ever come to the exhilaration of piloting a capable aerobatic airplane through loops, rolls, spins, and the like. The great thing about riding the aerial roller coaster, of course, is that you are in control; you design the track as you go along. The thrill of movement is combined with the freedom, beauty, and sense of accomplishment that comes with all human flight. Master aerobatics — a contraction of aerial acrobatics — and not only will you have the time of your life, you'll have gained a difficult skill that few pilots can lay claim to.
Contrary to common perceptions, most light aircraft aren't designed to do the sort of maneuvers we're used to watching airplanes perform in movies and on television. It takes a special kind of airplane and a specially trained pilot to fly aerobatics safely — and legally.
Airplanes certified by the Federal Aviation Administration as aerobatic must be able to withstand plus-six and minus-three Gs, which means six times the positive force of gravity and three times the negative. Aerobatics can put some real strains on an airplane, and you want to be flying a rugged machine designed for the job.
Although no additional pilot certificate is necessary to fly aerobatics, pilots normally enroll in a formal course of training. Companies that rent and insure aerobatic aircraft virtually insist upon it, and it's downright dangerous to attempt "self-taught" maneuvers. Ten hours of dual instruction is the norm to attain basic aerobatic skills that will enable you to fly spins, loops, and rolls. As you progress as an aerobat, however, you probably will seek additional instruction. As in all types of flying, you never get to the point where you have learned it all.
A minor point, but one frequently asked about, concerns air sickness. Although Sic Sacs are standard equipment in aerobatic airplanes, most pilots find that they quickly get used to the unusual sensations of watching the horizon spinning about the airplane. Some never experience any queasiness at all. But aerobatic flight can be strenuous, and pilots with bad backs or in poor physical shape should use caution.
Aerobatic training can't be beat for building your confidence in the cockpit. For information on the sport of aerobatics and training programs in your area, contact the International Aerobatic Club in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, at 414/426-4800.
Silent flight — only sailplanes allow us to experience flying the way the hawks do, held aloft by the very air itself, accompanied only by the sound of the wind in our wings. It is flight at its most basic and, some would say, at its most beautiful.
The common term for flying sailplanes and gliders is "soaring," a graceful word that seems to embody the sensation of motorless flight. This art is taught at soaring centers around the country, many in bucolic settings with grassy green runways, others alongside powered flight operations in more populated areas. Some people choose to start their flight training in sailplanes. Others, recognizing the greater utility of powered aircraft but drawn to soaring as a form of peaceful recreation, work on their private pilot certificate first, then study soaring as an added skill. A glider certificate is an enjoyable add-on rating that may be attained by powered-airplane pilots with relative ease over a long weekend, although further training will be needed to become truly proficient at it.
Whether you choose soaring as an adjunct flying activity or decide to head straight for the local soaring center and become a die-hard glider pilot, few experiences in life can rival the tranquility of soaring on silent wings.
For information on soaring, contact the Soaring Society of America at 505/ 392-1177.
Taildragger is the term pilots use to describe an airplane with a small wheel under the tail and the two main wheels up front. In the old days of aviation, that was the common setup, and such landing gear still is referred to as "conventional gear." But the convention nowadays is to put the small wheel in front and main wheels behind — the "tricycle gear" design that engineers discovered to be much more stable on the ground. You'll hear more about conventional and tricycle landing gear early in your flight training, and it all may sound a bit arcane and irrelevant. That is, until you fly both types of aircraft.
Taildraggers simply are more demanding to handle during takeoffs and landings than their trigear counterparts; that's why they were largely phased out of production. But paradoxically, that also is why pilots continue to fly them and several companies still build them. Because taildraggers are more challenging to fly, their pilots consider themselves a cut above their tricycle-pedaling aeronautical brethren. And their traditional designs keep pilots in touch with the seat-of-the-pants roots of aviation. Most tailwheel airplanes tend to be more traditional in design than trikes. Many have joysticks — the classic control stick coming up from the floor — instead of the car-like steering wheels found in most airplanes today. Virtually all biplanes, for example, are taildraggers. And most bushplanes are taildraggers, thanks to their superior performance on rough airfields.
A sign-off from a qualified instructor is required to pilot tailwheel airplanes. But you needn't wait until you've earned your private pilot certificate to taste this kind of old-fashioned flying. Many student pilots even start their training in taildraggers where such instruction is available. If you are used to flying trigear airplanes, a few hours of dual instruction should bring you up to speed for a tailwheel sign-off, although regular practice will be necessary to stay proficient. Because tailwheel airplanes are no longer the norm, the availability of tailwheel flight instruction can sometimes be spotty. The best way to seek it out is to ask around at the local airport, and check the ads in any of the regional aviation publications you find on the coffee table at your flight school.
Nothing quite impresses the neophyte helicopter flier like the hover. To be cruising along in a helicopter and then just stop.... You look past your feet, and there's the ground down below, and you're just sitting there on this invisible cushion of air. Intellectually, you know that helicopters can do this, but the first time you hover, it is an odd sensation — and an incredible blast. Most people are hooked on helicopter flying after that first hover.
Whether you start out in helicopters or add a helicopter rating to your fixed-wing private pilot certificate, you are sure to be challenged by this fun and growing branch of light aviation. The only catch — we might as well just spit it out — is the cost. Although enough people can afford helicopter flying to make it a booming segment of aviation (More Robinson R22 light helicopters were sold last year than any other piston-powered aircraft), it is hands-down one of the most expensive kinds of flying to get into. Dual instruction in even the smallest, most economical helicopter will run you in excess of $100 an hour. That's because helicopters are complicated machines that are costly to maintain and operate.
Helicopter flying offers unmatched versatility, utility, and enjoyment. From putting down in remote areas and shooting nature photos to landing in your own backyard (where permitted, of course), helicopters offer fun flying that is challenging to master, usually with great visibility outside the aircraft. Even if you can't go all-out for a helicopter rating, most people can scrape together enough money for an introductory flight or two. It's well worth it, if only for the rush of that first hover.
Look into helicopter flying the way you would fixed-wing flight instruction. Start with the Yellow Pages in your area. If you don't find anything nearby, contact AOPA at 800/USA-AOPA for more information on helicopter flight schools.
Wouldn't it be great if you could combine the barefoot fun of boating with the travel opportunities and airborne enjoyment of flying? You can with a seaplane rating.
Floatplanes allow you access to some of the most pristine wilderness areas in the country, and you take your boat with you in the form of your airplane. Imagine landing on a remote lake, dropping anchor, and casting for a lunker trout, bass, or pike. And although their popular image is as the bush pilot's traditional conveyance, floatplanes also can be operated out of many metropolitan areas. An added advantage is that for float pilots, every river or pond offers a handy emergency landing site — floatplanes can even be landed on dry ground or highways in an emergency. Airplanes equipped with *amphibious floats,* which have retractable wheels, have the added advantage of flying from airports as well as water. And although some waterways are off-limits to seaplanes, most states offer extensive possibilities to the floatplane pilot.
None of which brings out the most important point: Floatplanes are a heck of a lot of fun to fly. There is just a different feeling to taking off and landing on water that you have to experience for yourself. Imagine speeding along the surface of a crystal-clear lake, with the spray flying back from your floats, only to lift off smoothly and soar above the evergreens on the far shore. There's nothing quite like it.
Although an additional rating is required to fly floatplanes, it is considered one of the easier — and more enjoyable — add-on ratings to obtain. No written examination is required, and the necessary flying can be accomplished in the matter of a few days. It's the sort of thing you can accomplish on vacation or a long weekend. By their very nature, floatplanes will put you near the other types of recreational activity usually found in waterfront areas.
Many light airplanes were certificated by the Federal Aviation Administration with the approval to be equipped with floats, although it can be hard to find floats for some models.
Floatplane pilots make up a close-knit, laid-back community. You just know these people love to fly floats. To look into joining their number, contact the Seaplane Pilots Association in Frederick, Maryland, at 301/ 695-2083.
William L. Gruber is a writer and pilot living in Venice, Florida.
BY MARC E. COOK
It's been said that all you need to fly is the desire and the skill — oh, an airplane helps, too. Some pilots prefer the elemental: just a set of wings, the sky, and some free time. Yet there are those who believe that accessories make the scene complete. Hence our intrepid piloting couple, decked to a fare-thee-well with add-on gadgetry and firmly imbued with the American Express philosophy — don't leave home without it.
Go ahead, ask the question. Do you really need all this — well, what can you call it — stuff? Not really, but once the initial fantastic rush of flight has become familiar, you will find yourself wanting for the extras. These are the accessories to the lifestyle, items to make flying tasks simpler — therefore safer — and more pleasurable.
In order to fully equip our pilots, some catalog raiding was in order; in this case, the source is Sporty's Pilot Shop, the venerable Batavia, Ohio-based purveyor of all accessories aeronautical.
So just at what are we looking here? Our lady pilot has begun the ensemble with a leather bomber jacket; once the suit of necessity for World War II bomber pilots and crews, this long-lived design still offers comfort and convenience for civilians. She's also wearing a captain's cap, perhaps to remind her partner of the rightful owner of the airplane's left front (or captain's) seat. A pair of Ray Ban sunglasses and a silk aviator's scarf complete the look.
For function, she's wearing Sony's DR-6010 headset combo, which positions small speakers in each ear and a microphone at her lips; this keeps her hands free during flying. Strapped to her leg is what's known as a kneeboard; a small clipboard to hold, in this case, an instrument-flying chart. Under her arm, our pilot is carrying a Sporty's Private Pilot video course, which offers on-screen preparation for pilot training, and a paper logbook, the place where you keep track of air time as well as jot down memories of flight.
In her other hand, she's carrying a Trimble Flightmate Pro Global Positioning System navigation receiver. Literally a handy supplement to charts and traditional navigation devices, these portable units make use of a constellation of satellites to provide amazingly accurate position information. Also in hand is a "Remove Before Flight" streamer, which may be attached to any of a number of devices to protect an airplane when it is parked. And, so that she may carry some of these accessories to the airplane in style, she's got a Flight Gear headset case, which, of course, can be filled with a pair of full-coverage headsets or a nice picnic lunch — your choice.
On to our male pilot, who is apparently taking his instrument- flying training seriously, because he has donned two forms of view- limiting devices. One's a baseball cap with a long visor, and the other is a pair of Foggles, which are like sunglasses with some segments of the lenses frosted. Both aids aim to restrict a pilot's view outside the airplane to simulate flight in clouds. (You'll notice she's not wearing such an apparatus, because she'll have to be looking outside the airplane for him.)
He's also wearing a set of David Clark H10-13.4 headsets, which are the full-coverage, noise-attenuating type. As with her Sony headset, the David Clark unit allows hands-free communications and, when connected through, as these two are, a Sigtronics portable intercom, talk between pilot and copilot. Headsets and an intercom give all those aboard the airplane a quieter ride and a more convenient way to talk.
We can hardly argue with our pilot's sartorial style, decked out as he is in an AOPA cotton mesh polo shirt and sporting an AOPA Cross pen. He's holding in his right hand a Sporty's E6-B computer, which simplifies the task of figuring out aircraft speeds, at-altitude wind velocities, and conversions. On his hip, you'll find a Bendix/King KX 99 hand-held communication and navigation transceiver; this is a very popular accessory, because it can act as a backup to radios permanently mounted in the airplane as well as offering ground communications without having to turn on the aircraft electrical system. Not to be outdone, he's got a Sporty's lighted kneeboard secured faithfully to his leg.
Perched in the Sporty's original flight bag on his shoulder is a Sony Air-8 receiver (great for listening in on aircraft channels and getting your low, gravelly pilot voice in training), an oxygen mask (which, with a supply of breathing oxygen, is necessary for long-term flight at and above 12,500 feet), and a small timer for assistance in completing instrument approaches.
Because their hands are full, they had to set down the Sporty's leather flight case, their inflatable raft (necessary for those long overwater flights), a collapsible tow bar, a Garmin portable GPS receiver similar to her Trimble unit, and a plotter used for determining distances and bearings from aeronautical charts.
Let there be no doubt. These two are real pilots, if a bit over- accessorized. You won't need all of this stuff, but you may find some of it helpful as you progress through your training and later in your own flying. And one of these days as you lug your ever-growing flight bag out to the airplane, you'll realize that if you donned all you're carrying around, you might indeed look like one of these intrepid aviators.
BY LANE E. WALLACE
Five minutes after the telephone rings, Deputy Lawrence Hardiman is spooling up the turbine engine on the Port St. Lucie County (Florida) Sheriff Department's Bell 206L LongRanger helicopter. It is 2 o'clock in the morning, but the forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensor and the SX-16 "Night Sun" 30-million-candlepower spotlight on the helicopter allow it to operate as effectively at night as during the day.
This call could be to airlift an accident victim to a local hospital, a search-and-rescue mission, a hunt for stolen property or a crime suspect, or a request to support a Coast Guard, Drug Enforcement Agency, or Customs operation. The inherent maneuverability of a helicopter and the special equipment on the Florida sheriff's department machine allow it to perform a wide variety of services.
Flying the high-tech helicopter is only one of Hardiman's duties, however. Six hours after rolling the LongRanger back in the hangar, Hardiman may be in the air again — this time doing a low-level patrol of the Florida beaches in a stock Cessna 172, looking for sharks, swimmers in trouble, or drug shipments that washed ashore during the night. Later, he may climb into the left seat of the department's twin-engine Cessna 421B to transport prisoners or law enforcement officials to some other location in the state. It might sound like a lot of work, but Hardiman thinks he has one of the best flying jobs around.
Hardiman remembers wanting to be a pilot since he was very young. His father was in the Air Force for 20 years, and Hardiman spent many childhood hours watching Air Force jets take off and land and dreaming of becoming a fighter pilot. He joined the Air Force after high school, but he was medically discharged less than a year later after injuring his knee.
Still hoping to become a corporate pilot, Hardiman got a construction job and started taking flying lessons on the side as money permitted. His first 19 flight hours took him two years to accumulate. In an effort to focus more on flying, he moved back home to Florida in 1978 and began flying at Tilford Aviation at Palm Beach International Airport. Hardiman was able to use his veterans' benefits to pay for some of his advanced ratings once he had his private certificate. He paid for his primary training by working nights fueling airplanes at Tilford.
A week before he got his private certificate, a friend gave him his first helicopter lesson. "I kind of got the bug for helicopters then, but they were so expensive that I really didn't think about flying them," he remembers. For the next couple of years, Hardiman concentrated on building flying hours toward his advanced airplane ratings, but he occasionally got the chance to fly with helicopter pilots based at Palm Beach.
The more he flew helicopters, however, the more hooked he got on them and what they could do. "Helicopters give you a sensation you don't get with anything else," he explains. "You have control over all axes, much more so than in a fixed-wing aircraft. You can be stationary or fly up, down, and backwards, and you really feel suspended in the air. A helicopter will also do a lot of jobs a fixed-wing just can't do."
Hardiman finally decided to pursue a commercial helicopter certificate along with his fixed-wing ratings. He got a better paying, but less interesting, job and moved back home with his parents to save money. One year and $8,500 later, he passed his commercial helicopter check ride. For the next couple of years, he spent all his spare time at the airport, taking advantage of every opportunity to build flying hours. Many of the helicopter pilots Hardiman knew worked for law enforcement agencies, and he became an auxiliary for the Florida Game and Fish Commission so he could fly in the Bell 206B JetRanger and the Cessna 172 the agency kept at Palm Beach.
Hardiman soon discovered that he enjoyed the diversity and nonstandard operations of law enforcement flying. Unfortunately, there weren't very many jobs open, and police departments preferred hiring pilots who were already certified police officers. So Hardiman enrolled in the police academy and became a patrolman for the West Palm Beach Police Department. All his spare hours were still spent at the airport, however, flying small airplanes with friends and getting precious extra helicopter time. He earned his commercial certificate and completed his instrument and multiengine ratings, figuring that the more ratings he had, the better his chances of being hired.
Finally, in June 1989, he was hired by the Port St. Lucie Sheriff's Department. Hardiman acknowledges that the road to a job as a law enforcement pilot was a long one, but he says it was well worth it. "I get paid to do something that I really enjoy and that most people pay to do," he says. "And doing the kind of work I do, every day is different."
Although he enjoys all the flying he does for the sheriff's department, Hardiman says that the medevac flights are especially rewarding. "You feel like you're really doing something worthwhile when you get someone to the hospital in time and realize you helped save their life," he explains. Now that he's a father, however, he notes that "it's harder when the victim is a small child, because my own son is two and a half, and it hits me that it could easily be him."
In his spare time, Hardiman still goes flying with friends whenever he can, and he has plans to buy his own airplane as soon as the money is available. He's also working toward an instructor certificate, so he can teach on his days off. "I've had such a long road to travel to get to where I am that I'd like to pass some of that on to someone else," he explains.
Flight instructing would also allow Hardiman to spend even more time in one of his favorite places — the sky. "Flying gives me a kind of freedom I can't get on the ground," he says. "The society we live in today has a lot of restrictions, but when I'm up in the air, there are very few restrictions on me. I can pretty much go where I want."
It was a combination of this love of flying and a lot of determination that got Hardiman where he is today. It wasn't easy, and he takes a lot of pride in what he has achieved. "The flying I do, especially some of the helicopter work, takes an incredible amount of precision and coordination," he says. "There are also not a whole lot of people who fly both fixed-wing and helicopters. The feeling of accomplishment that gives me is something nobody can ever take away."
Lane E. Wallace, AOPA 896621, is an aviation writer and private pilot who has been flying for more than seven years. She owns a 1946 Cessna 120 and is restoring a 1943 Stearman.
BY BRUCE LANDSBERG
When someone considers learning to fly, the question of safety invariably comes up. How safe is flying in a light airplane? How safe is driving a car or boat? It depends on the circumstances.
Compared to automobiles, general aviation — defined as all kinds of flying except for the airlines and military — has about one-tenth as many accidents on a per-vehicle-mile basis, and the accident rate has dropped steadily since 1980. There are several reasons why the safety record is as good as it is. Training for a pilot certificate is much more rigorous than it is for a driver's license. Mandatory ground and flight training, along with written and practical tests, help to ensure that pilots have achieved a basic level of proficiency. Periodic recurrent training helps to maintain and improve skills.
The environment in which aircraft operate is much more closely regulated, as well. The regulations have evolved over the years to address accident prevention, and most pilots prefer to use regulations as a minimum guideline to exceed in their own flight operations.
Perfect safety is unknown in transportation and probably in most of life's endeavors. Our expectations have been based largely on the airline safety record. By almost any measure, commercial air travel is probably the safest mode of transportation. This is because of the tremendous emphasis that is placed on the reliability of aircraft, air crews, and the air traffic control system in which they operate.
General aviation uses many of the same procedures as the airlines to achieve a good safety record. It is not quite as good as the airlines' record for some of the same reasons that pleasure boating is not as safe as traveling on an ocean liner. The aircraft are different, the pilots are different, and the objectives are different. But just as the diligent and cautious boater can operate safely while recognizing the limitations of his or her craft, so too can general aviation pilots. Pilots who develop and maintain their skills can fly with exceptional safety and derive maximum pleasure from this exciting activity.
How do student pilots stay safe while learning? Pilots learning to fly are placed in a system that provides checks and balances to ensure that they aren't exposed to dangerous situations before they have been given the necessary knowledge to cope.
Prior to flying alone, student pilots must complete a written examination and have demonstrated proficiency in all activities relating to local flying, including emergencies. So when you take the airplane up for the first time by yourself, you will have been drilled many times in what to do in case something doesn't work as planned. Essentially, the same approach is followed prior to going on long solo trips, called cross- country flights, away from the airport. The objective is to keep new pilots under the watchful eye of an instructor until they have gained the experience and knowledge to go out on their own. That supervision process continues until the student pilot becomes a private pilot.
What happens if the engine quits? That may be the most-asked question of pilots since the age of powered flight began. First, it should be noted that aircraft engines very rarely quit. Most pilots will fly their entire lives without a major engine malfunction. The engine is designed with dual ignition systems and two spark plugs per cylinder so that, if one system fails, the engine will continue to run on the second system.
But anything mechanical can fail, and if it does, what can we do about it? The aircraft is balanced so that it becomes a glider. The nose of the aircraft will dip slightly below the horizon and assume a stable attitude. Although the engine may have stopped producing thrust, the wings are still producing lift, so a typical training aircraft can glide as far as 9 miles from an altitude of 6,000 feet above the ground. The pilot has full use of the flight controls to turn and descend. The only thing that can't be done is to continue climbing. While a forced landing seldom happens, pilots are trained to look for safe landing sites, such as an open field, just in case that one-in-a-million malfunction occurs.
Aren't most aircraft accidents serious? There is a common misconception that most aircraft accidents are serious. In reality, about three quarters of all aircraft accidents result in minor or no injury to the pilot or passengers. A great deal depends on the type of accident and how the aircraft was handled.
Just as with automobiles, certain types of incidents are more serious. A head-on collision in a car, although not common, is usually serious. In aviation, weather-related accidents are usually serious, and we'll discuss them in detail momentarily. Fender benders are much more likely. The aviation equivalent to the fender bender is the landing accident. These occur at relatively low speeds, and injuries — other than to the pilot's ego — are quite unusual.
A typical scenario will be a windy day where the wind may not be blowing right down the runway. The crosswind will cause the aircraft to drift off the side of the runway if the pilot doesn't make a correction. Landing in the rough will generally cause some damage to the aircraft. These kinds of accidents are easily prevented by developing and maintaining proficiency in handling crosswinds and by choosing runways more aligned with the prevailing winds.
What about weather accidents? You have probably taken trips on the airlines when a flight was delayed because of thunderstorms, fog, or snow. No mode of transportation is immune to the weather. In general aviation, we see it firsthand through the windshield and take precautions before any difficulty arises. In addition to being a necessity for safe flight, it is a fascinating opportunity to observe and learn about the natural weather phenomena that affect our lives on the ground as well as in the air.
Occasionally, you may read or hear about an aircraft in the local news that crashed in bad weather. The news media are sometimes less than accurate in the portrayal of an aviation accident, frequently because of their haste to provide an instant story. Aviation is a technical business, and quick analysis doesn't necessarily take in all the facts that would explain why a particular accident occurred. In most cases, a "weather" accident should be more properly called a "pilot" accident because the pilot was not properly qualified to fly in bad weather and exceeded his or her own limitations and those of the aircraft.
Pilots first learn to fly under visual flight rules (VFR). This generally requires a minimum flight visibility of 3 miles and a certain distance from any clouds. Most pilots will choose much better weather conditions to give themselves more margin. Fly into a cloud, and you will lose reference to the outside horizon, just like driving into a very thick fog bank. In flight, humans can't tell which way is up when outside reference is lost, so we must rely on the flight instruments to determine the flight attitude. As a student pilot, you will be given some basic instrument instruction that is intended for use only as a last resort. Deliberate instrument flying requires additional training and forms the basis for the next typical step, the instrument rating, which then qualifies a pilot to fly in the clouds.
A VFR pilot who gets into the clouds is clearly in over his or her head, and the results usually make headlines. This is easily preventable. Student pilots are taught the basics of weather forecasting and interpretation. Books, videotapes, and magazine articles on the subject abound.
Prior to all cross-country flights, conscientious pilots get a weather briefing from the flight service station by telephone, personal computer, or in person. This provides actual weather reports from airports along the route of flight, a forecast of what the weather is likely to be, and, sometimes, pilot reports of actual weather from aircraft enroute. In the majority of "weather" accidents, the pilot was warned that VFR flight was not recommended.
Just as boaters have to keep an eye out for weather, pilots must look for adverse conditions, but unlike many boats, an aircraft can outrun storms. Problems develop when the warning signs are ignored, and the pilot presses on. Sometimes the clues are subtle, but as the risk increases, they generally become pronounced and then just a little good judgment can save the day.
What about midair collisions? When you start to fly, your instructor will invariably advise you that a midair collision will ruin your whole day. You'll be instructed always to look for other aircraft. In a typical year, there are about 25 midairs nationwide, and because they are rare, they do make the headlines. The majority of these occur on clear days within just a few miles of an airport.
To avoid close encounters with other airplanes, there are some elaborate precautions taken to keep aircraft from tangling. At busy airports, particularly with airline traffic, a control tower will provide takeoff and landing instructions by radio. All flights in the area maintain contact with the tower to coordinate their movements.
At smaller airports without control towers, standard traffic patterns are established, so pilots will know where to look for aircraft entering or leaving the area. A common traffic advisory frequency, or CTAF, is available at most places. This is like a telephone party line where pilots advise their intentions on that radio frequency, and other pilots listen in to know what is going on.
The Federal Aviation Administration has an extensive air traffic control system whose sole purpose is to keep aircraft separated. In high- density terminal areas, all flights are tracked by radar and are under positive control. Any aircraft flying in this airspace has a device called a transponder that allows controllers to identify the aircraft positively and its speed, direction, and altitude. Prior to flying in one of these areas by yourself, you will receive training on the proper procedures.
Obviously, it's important that aircraft be reliable mechanically. What's the record on this? Aircraft are perhaps some of the best examples of over-design in engineering. A factory-built airplane must meet rigid FAA design criteria and performance specifications. Each design is tested throughout its flight envelope, and a safety margin is then built in.
For example, the structure of a typical training aircraft is certified to withstand 4.4 positive Gs. This means that if the airplane and contents weigh 2,000 pounds in normal level flight, the structure can safely handle up to 8,800 pounds in turns and pull-outs from dives, where the weight increases from centrifugal force. In routine flight, a pilot will usually not exceed 2 Gs.
There are very, very few accidents caused by an aircraft just coming apart, and this is easily prevented. The leading cause is where the pilot overstresses the aircraft in a pull-out or exceeds the top (redline) airspeed. In an automobile, if you over-rev the engine or take a corner too fast, you've exceeded the car's envelope. The vast majority of drivers know the limitations of their cars and never have a problem. The same principles apply to aircraft, and pilots who adhere to the operating limitations will never have to worry about the aircraft structure.
The other prevention area is in maintenance. All aircraft are required to have an extensive inspection each year, conducted by an FAA certified inspector. The engine, controls, and airframe are given a thorough inspection, and any problems that are found are corrected. The inspector must sign his or her name in the aircraft logbook, attesting to the airworthiness of the aircraft.
Aircraft that fly for hire, such as the ones you would most likely be renting for training, have an additional requirement. These airplanes must, in addition to the annual, have an inspection every 100 flight hours. In the case of a busy trainer, this could be as often as once per month. Any damage or corrosion is spotted long before it can weaken the airframe to the point of failure.
As a result of this emphasis on continuing airworthiness, actual mechanical problems are identified in only about 10 percent of the accidents.
What about getting lost? Almost every pilot has been los...er...disoriented at some point, usually fairly early in their flying career. (We seldom admit to being lost — it's just that the landmarks don't quite match the chart momentarily.) As usual, procedures and training keep this from becoming a serious situation. As a student pilot, the planning for every solo trip will be carefully scrutinized by your instructor. The weather forecasts, navigation calculations, flight log, radio navigation, fuel consumption, communication frequencies, and, yes, procedures to follow in case of "disorientation" will be reviewed.
When you are first taught to fly, navigation by pilotage or reference to ground landmarks is explained. This is followed by radio and possibly even satellite navigation. In most parts of the country, pilots can call on the emergency radio frequency, 121.5 MHz, which is monitored by all FAA facilities, to ask for help. In many cases, you will be guided by radar vectors to a nearby airport.
What about running out of gas? This should never happen to a pilot because of the emphasis put on planning. Prior to every flight, a prudent pilot will always ensure that there is far more than enough fuel to get where you're going.
Unlike a car, running out of gas in an airplane is likely to be more than just a source of embarrassment or inconvenience. Every year, a number of pilots push their luck by trying to stretch fuel reserves. We recommend a minimum of one hour of extra fuel upon landing at your destination. If the wind is stronger than you planned or you got momentarily "disoriented," the margin is there to find the closest airport and refuel. By following such a simple procedure, you can eliminate this concern entirely.
How does one stay up-to-date on the latest safety information? In aviation, more time is spent on safety-related areas than anything else. Just as one must review regularly in professions such as law, medicine, and business, pilots have a wide range of materials to help them stay current on safety procedures and regulations. AOPA members receive the association's magazine, AOPA Pilot, every month to keep them abreast of the latest happenings.
The function of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation is to promote general aviation safety through education, research, and training. As a nonprofit charitable foundation, we conduct more than 180 free safety seminars all over the country each year to teach pilots new techniques and to review research on safety studies and accident trends.
The foundation also runs the leading flight instructor refresher program in the country. Instructors must renew their certificates every two years by regulation, and the foundation offers a comprehensive program to help all instructors maintain proficiency.
We publish numerous low-cost pamphlets, safety reviews on specific aircraft, and videotapes and provide other materials to make the education process interesting and enjoyable.
Additionally, many groups, such as the FAA, flying clubs, and aviation-industry-sponsored organizations, offer lectures, seminars, and materials to help the education process.
Proficiency in any endeavor, recreational or professional, requires periodic review and refresher training. General aviation is no different, and pilots who practice regularly and seek competent instruction should enjoy an excellent safety record.
Bruce Landsberg is executive director of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.
BY RICHARD L. COLLINS
Travel in light airplanes is like nothing else. Compare it with airline travel, especially over longer distances, and it may seem slower. Compare it with cars, and it is almost always a lot faster. There's more to it than the numbers, though. The biggest difference is in what you see and how you move about with total flexibility.
In the years that I have been flying, I've crisscrossed the United States many times, and this has left me able to visualize just about any spot in the country. I've seen it not through the porthole of an airliner or the limited view from the road, but from the expansive view from my airplane. Every bit of it is beautiful, though large areas of the country are, well, stark — stark beauty.
Even though a person might use an airplane for business, that doesn't mean you can't look out the windows and savor what you see. There's also aerial touring in a light airplane, a fine thing to do with family and friends. We have a group of congenial people that we tour with, and it's honestly a lot of fun. Because we are all on the East Coast, most of our tours are there, concentrated in the Southeast. In recent times, we have flown as a group to Ocracoke Island, North Carolina; North Key Largo, Florida; Asheville, North Carolina; Pensacola, Florida; and Charleston, South Carolina, to name a few places.
Whether you tour with a group or by yourself, or enjoy the pleasures of flying when on business, there are some sights not to miss. Let's take a few flights, so you can see what I mean.
The mountains of the West are particularly beautiful, and most eastern pilots choose to go touring in the West in the summertime. My first trip out West, more than 30 years ago, was memorable. I had been flying for 10 years in the eastern half of the country, and this trip made me wonder why I hadn't gone west sooner.
I started in Vero Beach, Florida, with a brand-new Piper Cherokee, a 120-mile-per-hour four-seater. The purpose of the trip was to deliver the airplane to its new owner in Portland, Oregon. The first day's flying was up the Florida peninsula and then diagonally across Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and into Oklahoma. I spent the first night in Tulsa. That first day, I flew routes I had flown many times and didn't see a lot new.
The next morning, the territory would be familiar as far as Wichita, then I'd be seeing new things. Because of some inclement weather along a direct route, I elected to fly a more northerly route. That's one of the assets found in flying light airplanes. Plans can change as often as you wish.
The Great Plains stretch for endless miles, flat as a pool table, and are always quite a sight. The first stop for fuel the next day was North Platte, Nebraska, and after that, I really started seeing new sights. On the north side of the North Platte River, the terrain was dotted with only occasional ranches and small ponds. At one point, I didn't feel like there were more than 200 people within my field of vision, and the visibility was unlimited.
The first of the Rocky Mountains that I saw was Laramie Peak. Its elevation is 10,272 feet. I was flying at 6,500 feet a safe distance away, but the mountain was most impressive anyway. At Sheridan, Wyoming, which is just on the east side of the Rockies, I must have looked like a country boy getting his first peek at the Empire State Building. I just wandered around on the ramp and took in the view while they pumped fuel into the Cherokee.
After Sheridan, the destination was Helena, Montana. There were some clouds around, so I wasn't going to be able to fly the straight-line courses I had been. One technique available in such a situation is to follow rivers — just make sure the valleys are wide. My plan was to follow the Yellowstone River and then fly through Bozeman Pass in Montana and then on to Helena. If clouds obscured the pass, I would simply turn around and make a new plan.
Flying down the Yellowstone River Valley from Billings, Montana, to Livingston, just east of Bozeman Pass, was a beautiful ride this day. The clouds, white puffy ones, were broken at about 2,000 feet over the wide valley floor. There had been rain in the area, and the valley floor was a rich shade of green. The patches of sky were a deep blue seldom seen in the East. Years later, I can still visualize the sight.
I got to Helena that evening and spent the night there. I liked the area so much that I've gone back, taking my family on one trip and treating them to a flight into the wilderness area northwest of Helena, where the U.S. Forest Service maintains some landing strips. Pilots are free to use these, but they must be used with caution. The best way to prepare is to get an instructor-pilot who is familiar with the area to check you out on the strips that you wish to use. Then you can go commune with nature on your own.
Helena at the time was still using silver dollars as normal currency, and I could not resist leaving with a real pocket full. I still have them.
The next day was one of the prettiest I have ever flown. It was partly cloudy. The clouds were relatively low, and I made my way carefully to Portland, stopping frequently and seeking the advice of local pilots. In every case, their advice was good. As I flew through the Columbia River Gorge, just north of Mt. Hood, and was treated to a spectacular view of Multnomah Falls, I thought that this is about as pretty a sight as you can see.
That was as nice a three-day trip as you could have in a light airplane. I flew from the lower right to the upper left of the country, 2,937 miles in 23 hours of flying.
Another out-west trip that stands out is one from Long Beach, California, to Kalispell, Montana. Once the Los Angeles area and the desert are cleared, the route goes over the Sierra Nevada, a really spectacular sight from a light airplane. The mountains are as rugged as they come, and on a clear day, you can literally see forever. Farther north, the route affords a view of the Idaho primitive area north of Boise and then goes on into Kalispell, which is just north of Flathead Lake.
More recently, I had need to get some video footage of Mt. Rainier one summer and spent an hour on a calm afternoon flying around the mountain, taking its picture. It is a beautiful sight and looms large and high above, even with the altimeter on 12,500 feet. A few months after flying around it, my wife and I were in Seattle on business and drove a rental car down to the mountain. Seeing it from the ground gives perhaps 10 percent of the feel you get for the mountain and the area from an airplane.
Another thing that strikes you as you fly any of the routes west is the dedication of the folks who made the trip in wagons. In many areas, it is hard to imagine how they found their way through the mountains, and while we know that a lot of people made it through, a lot must have failed along the way. I recall sitting in a bar atop a hotel in Las Vegas and asking the bartender how the town happened to develop in this location. His answer: "This is where the axle on the wagon broke." Most of the towns and cities in the Rockies must have come to be simply because of reasons like that.
There's plenty in the eastern United States to see, and folks from the West have as great a time with aerial discovery as we do in their part of the country.
It's across the border, but Toronto, Ontario, Canada, has a beautiful small airport right on the lake, with customs and everything else you need, including a ferry to the mainland. It's a nice city to visit, too.
We went with some nonflying friends to Block Island, Rhode Island, one weekend. Yes, an airplane is the best way to get there or to Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard, as well. We were flying back to New Jersey, where we lived at the time, and I asked the air traffic controller in New York if we could have a scenic tour of the city. He wasn't busy and let us cut across Manhattan, over Central Park, and then fly south down the Hudson River, all at about 3,000 feet. The only way I have seen New York prettier was on a night flight from La Guardia down the East River and on to New Jersey, at a level even with the tops of the buildings. I grew up in New York City and worked there for a number of years, and believe me, it is much more beautiful from a light-airplane cockpit than it is from the streets.
New England is filled with great places to fly, including the famous Sugarbush ski area where, in the summer, you can learn to fly a glider. Just across the Green Mountains, Basin Harbor, on the banks of Lake Champlain, offers beautiful views and high living. There's much to see and do all along the East Coast, as well as the rest of the country.
One of the earliest fascinations with flying has been the transcontinental journey, and when you learn to fly, it will just be a matter of time until you take on the whole country on one trip. It has been done many ways, one of the most innovative being in 1929. That year, the Pennsylvania Railroad teamed with Transcontinental Air Transport (the forerunner of TWA) to offer a 48-hour coast-to-coast combined train and airplane ride, lopping 36 hours off the fastest train trip. The train left Pennsylvania Station in New York at 6:05 p.m., and the riders ate and snoozed their way to Port Columbus, Ohio, where, the next morning at 8:15 a.m., they boarded a Ford Trimotor airliner and flew to Waynoka, Oklahoma, with stops in Indianapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Wichita. The Waynoka arrival was scheduled at precisely 6:24 p.m. The sleeping car on the train was ready for occupancy at 8 p.m., but the car wasn't attached to the train and rolling until 11 p.m. The switch back to the airplane the next morning was at Clovis, New Mexico, and the landing at Grand Central Air Terminal in Glendale, California (near Los Angeles), was at 5:52 p.m.
A footnote to this bit of history is that the old air terminal in Columbus where the transfer was made is still there, at the southeast corner of what is now called Port Columbus International Airport. One hangar at Central Flying Service in Little Rock, Arkansas, where President Clinton parks his airplane when he goes home, is the very same one they put the Ford Trimotor in at Waynoka, Oklahoma. The hangar was moved to Little Rock in the 1930s by the government's Works Progress Administration, a job-creating scheme during the Great Depression.
One of my favorite trips in a light airplane now is to do a coast- to-coast trip in one day. It takes an airplane that will cruise at 180 mph, and even then, it is a long day. It gives, though, a feeling for the country that you can't get anywhere else. Because the prevailing winds are west to east, the trip is easier from the West Coast to the East Coast, with a tailwind; though I have done it in the other direction, as well. For now, let's fly from west to east.
Start in southern California, and once you clear the urban area, there's desert. Those of us who live in the East tend to forget that the whole world isn't crabgrass and swamp maples; flying for hours over the desert is a good reminder of the great variety that is our country.
The flying is a bit different, too. In the major areas, there is constant jabber on the air traffic control radio frequencies. It gets pretty quiet in the wide-open spaces.
My favorite route is one that goes over the Grand Canyon and then just south of Monument Valley. Both are spectacular, and unless the lighting is identical each time you fly by, you see something new. Early morning and late afternoon are the best times because the low light accentuates the beauty.
My most memorable flight over the Grand Canyon came one day with my son. He was flying, and I was using the airborne weather radar to avoid some thundershowers in the area. Because we were navigating primarily to avoid the clouds, I wasn't aware of our exact position in relation to the canyon until we flew into a clear area. My son said, "Gee, Dad, look." We had flown out right over the middle of the Grand Canyon. It was clear over the canyon, with billowing cumulus to the north and south — spectacular.
Flying on east, I always fly out of the Rockies with a tinge of regret. There is so much to see, and I suppose you could use all your days poking around out there and never see it all.
Having left the bustle of a big city, the first stop for fuel is always interesting because it is strictly at small-town America, places like Lamar, Colorado; Garden City, Kansas; or Childress, Texas. The folks are friendly, and the service is good. I always wonder what it would be like to live in one of those towns, literally hours by car from the nearest larger town.
Flying east after the fuel stop, the pace quickens on the radio. There are more airplanes out there because the urban areas are closer together and are lined up along the route — Wichita, Kansas City, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Dayton, Columbus, Pittsburgh — like a string of pearls if you happen to fly it at night.
From southern California almost to Kansas City, you look down on few trees. At least there are no forests down there. To the people who live there, though, it's God's Country, and that is what counts.
Little towns are fun to examine from a light airplane. It's like looking at a detail map — three stores, a gas station, and a school. There is no question that basketball is the biggest sport from Texas to Ohio because the gym is the largest building in town. Fly by a college town, and the football stadium dwarfs everything else.
Where my little airplane looked substantial on the ramp at the small-town stop, it will be parked among the big airplanes belonging to the Captains of Industry if I select, say, Indianapolis for the next stop. More air traffic too, with the air traffic controllers busy getting all the airplanes in a line and feeding them to the runways.
The accents of the air traffic controllers change as you fly across the country, but their excellent service does not change. In California, they had neutral accents; in the middle, there's that good old twang; and when you get to New York, they talk rapidly but clearly.
The sun usually sets somewhere around Columbus, and on a clear night, the ride on into the Northeast is a real treat — South of Pittsburgh with Cleveland but a glow on the horizon to the north. Then Washington and Baltimore and Philly become visible, all lined up and seething with activity. The glow on the horizon is the real Big Apple.
Wonderful — a purely wonderful way to spend a day. Close to home, a friendly air traffic controller might ask where I came from today.
"Wow, that's a long way."
"Not so far and a lot of fun. Beats a wagon, too."
In fact, it is a true magic carpet.
Richard L. Collins has written numerous general aviation books and articles. He is a former editor in chief of AOPA Pilot.