Wednesday, February 22, 2012


In 1987 (two years after my father passed on) I soloed in a Cessna 152. I had promised my father not to solo until he passed on. He had already lost his brother that permanently traumatized his whole family. Because the brother that died was a 6 foot 2 inch blue eyed extremely handsome and lovable fellow in the family and none of the family got over his death between ages 22 and 24 years of age. So, I had promised my Dad I wouldn't solo or get a pilot's license until he had passed on.

So, two years later I began working in earnest to solo. I had about 10 hours piloting a plane between ages 16 and 39 when I started flying to solo in 1987. I had started a flight book flying out of Carlsbad Airport near San Diego now (CLD). There I flew low wing planes which handle a lot differently than a high wing plane like a Cessna 152, even though low wing planes usually fly faster and so can take higher wing stresses from winds and buffeting(bouncing around in the air) while traveling at higher speeds than most high wing planes. Most high wing planes tend to fly in their cruising speed slower than 150 mph whereas most low wing planes might fly from 175 to 200 or even 210 mph or faster depending upon how they are designed. But if you want to get an economical license flying something like a Cessna 152 (2 passenger which means pilot and one passenger high wing plane) or around that is the most economical in getting your license. To learn more about that plane here is likely my most popular article ever: Cessna 152

You have to get a medical check up with a certified Doctor for becoming a pilot somewhere along the way to flying. Likely the first day the instructor (if they still teach this way) will ask you to take off the plane. If there is no cross wind don't worry about this because taking off is the easiest part of flying and landing is the hardest. So, just remember this: "Any idiot can take off in a plane but it takes some real skill to land one so you can walk away from it." The reason for this is that often you have to deal with other planes, crosswinds, landing patterns etc. Also, you might be dealing with fog, clouds, strange weather and situations as well.

So, though taking off can really lift your spirits and make you think you will make a great pilot just be prepared for just how difficult it is to land. Flying a plane is not at all like driving a car or riding a motorcycle or anything else. For example, if you have to pee after you take off you can't just stop and open the door and go pee. You might have to wait 1/2 hour or much longer (depending upon the circumstances before you can do that unless it is your own plane and you brought something to pee in during long flights. Another thing if you start coughing or get an eyelash in your eye and you are the pilot you just have to tough out whatever it is until  you get on the ground because you will jeopardize your life and every other life on the plane. So once you are airborne your life and the lives of everyone else on board are in your hands just like a captain of a ship or a sailboat on the sea. So, in this sense it isn't like a car where if something goes wrong you can always just pull to the side of the road in about 30 seconds or less and just stop. If something serious goes wrong with either you or the plane there likely is a 50 50 chance that you will survive the day. And if you need to land often it will take 1/2 to 1 hour or more before you can land. (Though you might be able to land in a real emergency on a freeway, road or beach or even open field)

When you are young not thinking about all this might be okay. But if you are married with a family not thinking about all this just isn't fair to your family or your friends.

One day my flight instructor said I was ready to solo. I had really mixed feelings about this but I had gotten really good at landings and getting into the landing pattern behind the lineup of planes to land and then landing when it was my turn. (There was no control tower where I soloed). So, the first ones you do alone are usually called "Solo touch and goes". So, I was asked to take off and immediately get in line to land in the landing pattern at the airport and to do this three times. So I did what he said and prepared for three takeoffs and three landings before I taxied over to the tie-downs.

The takeoff was easy but I wasn't expecting the rush of being up in the air all alone without an instructor sitting next to me. It was about 10 to 50 times more intense than the first time driving a car alone on the streets after getting my driver's license. I was pretty happy up there until I got into the landing pattern for the first time and a lady cut into the pattern in front of me barely missing my plane with hers. This sort of put me into white knuckle territory so I bit my lip to experience enough pain to stay focused on what I was doing. So I forced myself to land and to take off a second time and then a third time. However, when the ladies plane almost hit me trying to cut into the landing pattern in front of me it stopped being fun and the whole thing became onerous. So, after I landed that time for the last time I found I had lost interest in being up in a plane alone. Now, if you are single and have no responsibilities to your family, business interests or friends you might have a different reaction to all this. When I had these kinds of experiences in a car or motorcycle I would just laugh about stuff like this when I was under about 25 or 30. However, I was 39 years old and my father had  died 1 1/2 years before with a wife and 3 kids, and a business and relatives to think about and the whole thing stopped being fun for me to think about flying alone with "kooks in the sky on drugs" flying next to me even if they were just adrenaline junkies who lived for danger. So, though I have flown planes since then my main desire is not to be flying up there alone but rather just being in the air flying around exploring which is what I like to do.

The other thing that I and other people fantasize about flying is being up there all alone. Well, unless you are somewhere really remote that isn't going to happen these days. So, most of the time you have to be worrying about Any other plane (jet, prop, helicopter, glider etc.) running into you from a direction you can't see them coming from. For example, in a high wing air craft you are blind to anything underneath you or behind you or above you behind the top of your windshield. In a low wing aircraft you can see everything above you and back quite a ways to the right and left but you cannot see anything below you at all. You cannot see anything down and to your right or left like you can some with a high wing aircraft. So, if you can't see them and because they are ascending or descending they cannot see you it is possible that neither craft will see the other until it is too late. When you are driving a car it is more two dimensional in the sense where you don't have to worry about someone hitting you from underneath or on top like you do in a plane. In a car all you have to worry about is front back and sides. But in a plane you worry about something coming at you from anywhere 360 degrees front, back, up and down and sideways and that is the problem in a plane.  And the more traffic there is in the sky the more likely there are going to be people too spaced out sharing the view to notice that you are there. So, if you can't be a defensive flier someone might die. So, just flying and spacing out like in the movies doesn't usually happen much except way out in the country and even then it takes only one plane or helicopter to ruin the rest of your life. So, pilots that survive aren't spaced out looky loo's they are very focused and looking for threats of all kinds all the time.

One of the biggest killers of pilots in small planes is water vapor in the wing tanks. Even if a tank is full, if it is left during a rain storm or someplace there is a lot of moisture in the air, one of the most important things you need to check is for water in the gas. It might not get you on takeoff but also later. Likely water in the gas likely is what killed my step brother and wife and dog in Idaho. He likely got a bad tank of gas and didn't check for water in it before he took off. So, when he got up into the mountains the engine started sputtering and he and his wife died along with their dog trying to land on top of a mountain in a small meadow there. They might have survived if they hadn't put the wheels down because the wheels caught on a tree limb so they nosed in quickly and that was that. So, if you are a pilot, especially at higher altitudes like around the Rocky Mountains or Sierras or other mountains you may encounter all sorts of conditions you aren't used to but if you aren't prepared for these unusual conditions  it might cost you more than you are prepared to give.

No comments: