Inspiration.

One of the most important elements of my flight training was inspiration. Now, back in 2013, when I went for my initial flight training I was pretty inspired. I had been flying in airplanes since age four, as both my grandfather and father were private pilots. I grew up knowing I wanted to fly but I didn’t really have the resources to do it until I was in my mid 40s. It was after both of the pilots in the family had passed, and right after a very fun flight on a Delta flight from MSP to SYR (we did two go-arounds due to windy conditions), that I made the call to the local flight school to start my flight training. I had my Private Pilot’s Certificate at the year mark with just over 62 hours of flight time.

A main element in keeping focused and committed to that goal was my flight instructor. From the initial discovery flight with Chuck in the Cherokee 140 I knew that I would be comfortable learning how to fly with this guy. He kept me on my toes, challenged me, learned my pacing, and quickly figured out my idiosyncrasies. Plus, he put up with the GoPro in the cockpit.

Chuck and I continued to fly as friends and safety pilots for one another after I passed my check ride and we worked on my instrument training together. We also the round-trip to Oshkosh two years in a row. Since moving to Chicago back in 2017, I have to admit that one of the biggest things I miss about Upstate New York is flying with Chuck and my other flying buddies at KRME.

Being a private pilot while living in the city of Chicago comes with some other challenges. First of all, it’s not like I can rent an airplane at O’Hare and take off amongst the 747s, A380s, MD-80s, and the like. I need to get out of the city limits and up to either KPWK Chicago Executive or KUGN Waukegan National. For either airports it can be anywhere from 45 to 105 minutes, depending on the time of day, and the traffic on the expressways. If the gapers are slowing down for no reason on the Kennedy or Edens, the drive in itself can be exhausting. But after a too-long hiatus at the end of last year, I have been making the regular drive to KUGN to work on getting checked out in the DA-40, and knocking rust off my aviator skills along the way.

One of there resources that I need to remember to use is flight videos available online. I also attend as many safety seminars and other flying club presentations as my schedule allows. Balancing a software developer career, expressway traffic, family obligations, and flight time can be tricky. Sometimes I wonder if it’s all worth it. But then I do “aviation things” for a few days in a row and I feel like I’m back in the groove.

This evening I attended a safety seminar hosted by the Chicago Executive Pilots Association out near Chicago Executive Airport. I’m a member of CEPA and I appreciate the organizations like this are available. Tonight the presentation was given by Jason Schappert, the pilot behind MZeroA.com. Jason has an infectious way of presenting aviation and tonight’s seminar was no exception. He has a solid 21st century approach to his presentational style that still feels very comfortable, even to the older pilots in the audience. I had the opportunity to meet him in person at Oshkosh last year.

Tonight we answered questions around various aviation scenarios using a web browser on our mobile devices. He could see answers from the crowd in real time up on a big screen. The marrying of technology to decades old aviation scenarios was engaging and inspiring. I’m thinking of attending one of his aviation seminars later this year.

The most important element of my aviation career is education. I never want to become complacent. I want to keep learning, try new airplanes, and earn more certifications.

And nights like tonight certainly keep me inspired.

Landings.

As a private pilot it’s important to fly often. It had been three weeks since my last flight and it took me a couple of trips around the pattern to get my wits together this evening. By the end of the night I felt like I finally had a handle on how to land the Diamond DA40. I’m looking forward to flying again on Saturday to finish up my checkout process.

Then I’ll have to fly often to keep my skills sharp.

Flying gives me such joy, even when I’m knocking rust off my skill set. I just need to keep it up and not let too much grass grow under my landing gear.

Mood.

I went to the airport tonight for a monthly safety briefing with the flying club. We spent the evening reviewing what to do in the event of an in-flight emergency. It was a good review of the basics and it’s always interesting to discuss with other pilots various approaches to dealing with non-standard events while flying an airplane. I learn a lot just by talking with other pilots. No matter how many certifications I earn during my aviation career, I will always be a student pilot because one should never stop learning.

As I was visiting with my fellow pilots, I couldn’t help but think about how “avgry”, or “angry due to lack of aviation”, I have been for the past couple of months. I’ve been super surly and didn’t even realize the depths that I was feeling this way.

I’m scheduled to fly this weekend and the weather is looking promising. I’m determined to earn more ratings and to get checked out on a couple of different aircraft this summer.

The “avgry” mood will dissipate soon.

Wing.

I posted this on Facebook earlier today.

When I introduce myself to other pilots I tend to say, “I’m a third-generation Private Pilot. With the last name ‘Wing’, you kind of have to be.” Some will say, “oh, you’re a pilot like your Dad.” All of this is true, and while my Dad and I never flew together with me in the left seat, I’m sure he would approve of my aviator abilities.

On one hand, we are very similar pilots: Like him, I like smaller airports, I like seeing things fairly low and slow and I share his appreciation of the older GA aircraft that populate the skies. But in other ways we are somewhat opposite in our approach: I think the new technology is cool, I like low-wing (he did not), I like talking to ATC (he avoided towered airports) and while he wanted to build airplanes (and ended up building or rebuilding three of them), I have absolutely no talent nor interest in doing so. I want to continue my aviation path to CFI and maybe beyond, he was happy flying VFR in an open cockpit.

The one thing that is definitely common amongst all three generations of us Wing pilots: we have a big smile from beginning to end of each flight. In the photo of me standing next to the Archer III I’m wearing my Dad’s flight jacket. I wear it once in a while. It makes my smile even a little bit bigger. And I count my blessings for having a spouse that loves to fly with me.

Passion.

I’m a pretty lucky guy. I’ve made it into my late 40s relatively unscathed. I met the love of my life at a fairly young age and we have a good, albeit non-traditional, little family with Jamie. My career is going well and I enjoy my job. I get to work from home. We have a nice home.

When I rediscovered my passion for aviation a few years ago, and subsequently began the path of a pilot, I immediately knew that flying an airplane was meant to be my second love. If I was 10 or 15 years younger, I’d definitely be pursuing a new career as a pilot, or at the very least, an air traffic controller. This is not to diminish what I do as a Software Engineer. I like my job a lot. I don’t dread going to work in any way. This is the best tech gig I’ve ever had.

But it’s not flying.

One of the distractions about working from home (and I’ve mentioned this before) is that we live directly under the approach for the local airport, Griffiss International Airport (KRME). While Griffiss is not a commercial airport in that we don’t have passenger airlines coming in and out all day long, it does get quite a bit of air traffic for the repair facilities on the field. The runway at Griffiss is one of the longest in the Northeastern U.S. (it’s over two miles long) and because of this, military aircraft from the bases (Fort Drum, Stewart AFB, McGuire AFB) visit on a nearly daily basis to do their practice work up here. Long story short, we have a lot of airplanes that fly over the house every day.

IMG 1755

As a quick aside, whenever I fly over the house in one of the club airplanes as I make my way to runway 33, I send Earl a text message that says “Beep Beep!”.  If it’s at night I’ll flash the landing light at him.  He responds with “Toot Toot!”.

I really like going outside to just watch the airplanes and helicopters fly over the house and I really wish I was up there flying those airplanes.

My passion really is aviation. Twenty, thirty, thirty-five years ago I would have called it a “strong interest”. Back in my pre-pilot days, Earl and I spent many afternoons sitting at the end of a runway or in an airport observation area watching airplanes do their thing. In the back of my mind I knew that I would get to fly (non-commercially) at least three, four times a year with my dad as he was a private pilot. It wasn’t until after my dad died, when I was standing in the receiving line at his calling hours, that I realized that I could not leave my feet on the ground for the rest of my life. It was then that my strong interest sparked into a full blown passion, and Earl can attest to the fact that aviation, and more specifically, flying an airplane, has taken over my life.

I am so lucky that I married the man that I did. He refuses to be a ground-based pilot’s spouse and wants to fly with me as much as he can. The man has to be a saint.

With plans to earn more ratings and further my aviation career, I’m finding that there’s no denying that I’ve become a Pilot Obsessed. I have no plans in changing my official, income-generating career, because as I said before, I like what I do.

But I definitely know what my passion is.

 

 

Captain Caitlyn.

1604p_pilots
Photo courtesy of Mike Fizer at aopa.org

Caitlyn Jenner is a pilot. Before today I didn’t know that she was a pilot.

AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) writer Barry Schiff recently featured Caitlyn in his regular feature on pilots and predictably is getting some flack for the feature. There’s usually some flack from the sidelines when something new or different is introduced in a traditional atmosphere (and aviation is steeped in tradition). This is sad but true. I took a moment this morning to send a message to Barry thanking him for his inclusion of Caitlyn in his column.

While I believe that a lot of what Caitlyn does is publicity driven and I don’t agree with some of her political leanings, as a fellow pilot I can’t help but smile when I think about her flying her 1978 Beech Bonanza V35B. Good for her! If our paths were to cross I’d shake her hand and ask to see her airplane. It sounds fantastic.

Accomplishment.

One of the things I’ve been wanting to do as a private pilot is land the Cherokee on a grass strip, just like my grandfather and father did all the time. My path to becoming a pilot was different than the rest of my family members’ in that I learned to fly at a towered airfield with a really long hunk of concrete that we called the runway. My dad and grandfather learned on grass strips that were basically mowed sections of grass alongside a farmer’s field and as best as I can remember, they never talked on the radio. I know neither even had radios in their homebuilt airplanes.

This weekend, the Recreational Aviation Foundation worked in conjunction with their owners of the Boonville Airport, located in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, to host the annual pig roast at this small airport. Located about 30 miles from home, this is the airport’s way of reaching out to the community to let folks know what goes on at and around these two strips of mowed grass in the woods. I like community involvement like this.

Lsat year Earl and I drove up and had a lot of fun with our fellow pilots and friends. This year I decided it was time to fly the Cherokee up there and land there myself. Since I had only simulated soft-field take-offs and landings on a hard surface, I asked our friend Russ, who is a flight instructor, to go up with me and shoot some landings and take-offs from the grass strip so I could ramp up my comfort level and get in and out of there safely. Mother Nature decided that she had better plans, and Russ and I scratched three planned flights last week due to weather. On Friday I decided that I was going to break out of my comfort zone and figure it out on my own, sort of the next step in confidence building and playing around with the airplane.

Getting in and out of Boonville Airport on Saturday morning turned out to be an very enjoyable adventure. I brought the airplane down onto the grass strip with ease. Russ encouraged me on the radio a little bit and my fellow pilots from the flight club were alongside the runway watching my first landing on grass. All turned out very well and I felt great. When it was time to go, my short-field take off went equally as well and I decided to go play around with the airplane in the local practice area before heading back to home base, where I had another beautiful landing on the familiar hunk of concrete. It was like a butterfly setting down ever so gently on a hot tin roof.

Every time I fly I discover something new about myself, something new about flying the airplane and something new about flight in general. I never tire of it and I often find myself daydreaming about the next time I can go flying.

I’ve started working on the next step of my piloting career and have started studying for my instrument rating. I hope to be flying in the clouds before the end of 2016.

Life is full of adventure and I intend on not missing a minute of it.

1 Comment

Whew.

So I mentioned a few days ago that I was studying for my FAA Written Exam to become a Private Pilot. I probably should have taken this test a month ago but I wasn’t feeling as confident as I felt I needed to be to do well on the exam, so I delayed it until yesterday. I spent the weekend studying hard and doing nearly two dozen practice tests. On Monday and Tuesday night I was consistently scoring in the mid 90s on the practice exams so I felt confident going into the exam yesterday.

Various sources on the web warned to expect a five to ten point drop from your practice scores. They attributed the drop to a couple of things, mainly test anxiety and the fact that the FAA no longer publishes all of the questions that can be pulled from the bank and presented to you. So while many of the questions that I had on the exam yesterday were quite familiar to me, there were a couple of new ones in there that had me thinking. When all was said and done, I scored an 87 on the exam, which, when you figure in the hypothetical 5-10% drop from test anxiety and such, is still pretty good. I completed the exam in a little over an hour and I even went through and redid all my math and checked my answers before letting the test proctor know that I was completed. All in all, it was a great experience in that it helped boost my aviation confidence considerably and I learned a great deal from devoting myself to the books to feel really prepped for this exam.

The next step in my aviation career is the combination of the oral and the practical portion of the exam. I will be spending the next few weeks with my instructor tweaking and refining my piloting skills. I have all the basics down and most of my maneuvers are well within the standards prescribed by the FAA, but I have some things here and there where I need improvement and I more importantly, I just need to ramp up my personal comfort level so that when I take the examiner on an airplane ride, I don’t think of him just as the examiner but rather as my practice passenger.

I feel really awesome. This is definitely a dream come true for me.

Solo.

So on Sunday I went on a solo flight that wasn’t part of my official requirements to becoming a Private Pilot. Any flight time where I’m Pilot In Command is good and I’m always looking to get all the hours I can get, but the purpose of this trip was special to me. I wanted to fly into a Fly-In Breakfast this year and I wanted to go to the airport where my Dad belonged to the local chapter of EAA.

My instructor and I flew to KFZY, or Oswego County Airport in Fulton, a couple of weeks ago together so he would feel comfortable with my performance and endorse my logbook so I could make the flight solo as student pilots have restrictions when they’re flying the airplane alone. The flight to and from KFZY went without a hitch and I was given the endorsement to make the flight solo. I was very excited and barely slept the night before, though I felt great that morning and was more than ready, willing and able to make the flight.

The flight was awesome. The weather was perfect, there wasn’t a bump in the sky. The airplane handled wonderfully and I felt very confident behind the controls. One of the new experiences of this flight was the I was flying into a non-towered airport; in these instances, the pilots talk to each other on a common frequency and everyone works together to keep the area in and out and around the airport safe. The only caveat to this is that at smaller airports, some of the airplanes don’t even have radios, so you have to just kind of watch out for them. The important thing is that everyone is doing what is expected of them and that keeps things predictable and as safe as possible. Being predictable is an important part of training to become a pilot.

If you want to get a sense of what the traffic going in and out of the airport was like, I made a video of the experience. It’s rather long clocking in at 14+ minutes, but it gives one the sense of what I was hearing and watching for.

Earl was kind enough to drive back and forth to the airport so that we could have breakfast together. I told him that he shouldn’t have to drive to meet me for much longer because once I get my license we’ll be flying everywhere together. I am really looking forward to that day, but only if it’s as safe as possible for the both of us.

The flight in and out of the “non-home” airport was a good challenge for me and ultimately went well. While I was there I spoke with some other pilots and even showed one the photo in the office of my Dad standing next to his AcroSport II.

It was an amazing experience and just confirmed for me that becoming private pilot is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

IMG_0473Busy breakfast line. Delicious food served up by the Civil Air Patrol.

IMG_0482Posing next to the airplane before departing back home.

IMG_0485A shot of Interstate 81 as it crosses over the eastern end of Oneida Lake between Central Square and Brewerton. No, driving a vehicle and flying an airplane are not the same and while I don’t have a habit of using my smartphone while flying, I had the airplane at a point where I could snap this quick photo without anything startling happening.

Onward and Upward.

20140112-121429.jpg

Earl, Jamie and I are sitting aboard United flight 5986 headed to Dulles. I’m sitting in seat 20A on this Embraer EMB 145. Ironically, the seat is a 1/2 inch wider than the seat I will be in on the 737 from Dulles to Orlando.

This is the first commercial flight I’ve been on in nearly two months and it’s the first commercial flight I’ve been on since starting my training for my Private Pilot License. While as a passenger I have always paid close attention to what is going on in and around the plane, this is the first time that I’ve paid super close attention to runway markings, taxiway signs and the like. Back in the day when I was a passenger with my dad, the small airstrip had lights on each side of it and two numbers made out of embedded cinder blocks. That was it, other than the markings of runways 16 and 34, it was a mowed out hayfield. Learning to fly at Griffiss Airfield is much different than the environment that my dad learned to fly in. One is not better than the other, it’s just different, and this is where my path and goals of becoming a pilot are different than my Dad’s.

My flight instructor and I talked about this a little bit when we met on a Friday. Many of the student and certified pilots fly like my dad did: they love to fly, they want to fly around the local area a bit and they might want to build a plane or two. I think that’s awesome. I know that I spent many hours flying with my dad under these intents and it is what fueled my love of flying. However, my goals of becoming a pilot are a little different. In addition to loving being in an airplane, I want to explore as a pilot, much like Earl and I do in the Jeep. We will be flying to airports we’ve never been to before. We’ll fly to weddings and family reunions and all that. If the weather is good, we’ll fly if we can and the thought of this makes me so amazingly happy.

I have no desire to build planes. The type of craftsmanship involved is something that I did not inherit from my dad or my grandfather, but Earl knows that I absolutely want to own a plane someday. I see us flying in a Cessna 182 or a Piper Cherokee 180. While waiting for our flight this morning, I told Earl that maybe I won’t ever retire and instead I’ll fly tourists around in the summer months and give them a tour of the 1000 Islands or something. After the brief shock of dollar signs flying above his head, Earl smiled.

I have tried many different ideas during my 45 years in this life, and if I allow myself to have one regret, it would be that I didn’t pursue this passion soon enough. The emotion, rather the _elation_ I feel when I fly is something that I can’t adequately put in words. It’s kind of like the elation I feel as a married man.

I’m the luckiest man in the world for finding my passion and being able to pursue it. Onward and upward.