May 2014

Wicked Cool.

It’s not everyday that Air Force One passes over your house when you live in these parts, so I was very excited to see Air Force One on its approach to the very same runway that I use on a regular basis. So, there’s been a lot of stuff going on at the airport in anticipation of the event. I got to see Air Force One!


On Saturday I went to the airport for our weekly safety meeting. I always find this enjoyable; I learn something both during the briefing and during the socializing with other pilots. Learning is good.

After the briefing I decided to go over to the hangar to check the status of the airplane; we were expecting some work to be done late last week and I wanted to see if it had been completed. I swiped my badge at the electronic checkpoint and pulled on the door to the big, corporate hangar. I couldn’t get in. As a sanity check, I tried again. The security mechanism was unlocking the door, but something else was holding the door in place. I figured there was a reason the door was locked and decided that I would try again on Sunday.

I went back on Sunday and had the same results, badge flashed affirmative, the door tried to unlock but something else was keeping the door locked. Perplexed, I went to the FBO (Fixed Base Operations) and asked the friendly woman at the desk why I couldn’t get to the airplane.

“There is a bunch of expensive equipment in the big hangar”, she replied with a smile on her face. When I asked as to how long we would be locked out, she told me that she didn’t know. There was something secret going on.

I convinced the nice person to have someone drive me across the flight line over to the airplane. On our way, I noticed a bunch of tents and such had been put up on the runway side of the buildings. Marines were working out in a makeshift workout area.

Later that day, I read that President Obama announced he would be coming to our area the following Thursday. He is going to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown to tout the virtues of tourism in The Empire State.

At least I knew why the hangar was locked and why there were Marines working out on an Air Force Base that was decommissioned back in 1995.

On Monday a bunch of military jets and helicopters started doing drills around the area. Last night I decided it was a beautiful night to fly and I was going to snag the opportunity to do some practice landings. I knew I’d have a few more folks than usual as an audience, but I didn’t care because after all, flying is awesome. I went to the airport and used my badge to get through an alternate entrance. When I got to the hangar I found that there would be absolutely no way for me to get the airplane out and where I needed it to be without creating a whole lot of ruckus. There were a half dozen or so trucks parked directly in front of the hangar with twice as many Marines doing things to the trucks. They were measuring the distance from the bottom of the trucks to the ground, the width of the trucks and they were moving gear around. Off to the side were three large helicopters that I mentally dubbed “Marine One”, “Marine Two” and “Marine Three”. A C-17 was landing and a C-130 was in the pattern. Had I worked up the nerve to move this armada out of the way so I could get our Piper Cherokee out of the hangar, I would have been very busy and probably close to my distraction limit in relation to where I currently am as a student pilot. I can safely fly an airplane. Heck, I can even safely land an airplane, but as I’m still converting “routine” to “instinct”, sometimes I have to think an extra second and when you have a C-130 on your tail trying to land behind you, you don’t want distractions.

Since the Marines outnumbered me at over 12 to 1, I decided that I would forgo the opportunity to fly. This pissed me off beyond belief but I just knew that it was the responsible thing to do. I walked up to the hangar and closed the door that had been left open for me by another pilot. I made myself look official by doing a walk around and getting into the airplane and looking at the flight logs, just to show the Marines that I was a real airplane owner. I also made sure my flight line badge was prominently displayed at all times. After I closed the door and made my way to the gate, I nodded in the direction of the Marines and wished them all a good night. I was pleasant but I was pissed. The hangar that is all locked up has one door facing the driveway which sported the addition of a “No Cameras Allowed” sign smack in the middle of the window. I took a brief moment to take a gander inside. It was all very presidential in there.

The long and the short of it is this: President Obama better be making some sort of golden speech tomorrow because he’s kept me from flying this week and more importantly, judging by the amount of work and people involved with the preparation for these proceedings, this is costing the taxpayers a big chunk of change and honestly, I can think of quite a few better things to do with the money right now.

On the bright side, there’s a really good chance that Air Force One is going to fly over the house tomorrow and you can bet your sweet bippy that I’m going to grab a photo of that.


I was on the schedule to fly with my instructor today but the weather forecast looked dicey. The folks that make these predictions were talking about high winds, rain showers and thunderstorms. I always hold out hope until the last possible minute but when I awoke this morning I did not expect that I would be airborne today.

Luckily, those who predict these things were wicked wrong.

When I called into Flight Services for my weather briefing the briefer said, “they were predicting all sorts of stuff but radar is clear and winds are relatively calm.” Score! I contacted my flight instructor and told him we were a go. We decided to try a short cross-country flight and I would be using radio-based navigational aids for the first time. We flew to Cortland County Airport and back. Nicole was in the back seat taking photos, Chuck was in the right seat doing the instructor thing, the GoPro was fired up and the weather was absolutely gorgeous.

The GoPro captured this moment as I lifted off of Runway 24 at Cortland County Airport for the first time. It was a beautiful day to fly and I count my blessings for having the opportunity to make this dream come true.

I love flying airplanes. It is awesome.

Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 9.08.09 PM


So I have been taking private pilot flight training since the 30th of November 2013. It has been an awesome experience for me and when people ask me how much I love flying, the best I can tell them is that it’s the second best thing to ever happen to me. Ever. There’s no doubt about this in my mind. I like to think that I live life without regret, but I wish I had gotten started on my aviation career earlier in my life. Earl reminds me that I’m learning now because I was ready to learn now, not 10 years ago.

This past Thursday I had a lesson with another flight instructor. This is normal, as my flight instructor and this other one work together, are really good friends, and they cross-check each other to make sure they’re teaching everything they need to be teaching to student pilots. Plus, flying with a different instructor adds an element of pressure that helps determine if the student is ready to handle the pressure of flying the airplane solo.

After four landings, we headed back to the hangar and Russ told my flight instructor, Chuck, “I recommend him for solo, he can handle things safely in the air.”

Chuck looked at me and asked me, twice, if I was ready to fly solo and after a few seconds of thought, I answered in the affirmative.

“I’m ready.”


I was nervous. After all, there wasn’t going to be anyone in the other seat that could compensate for any mistake I could make. I was confident, yes, but I was still nervous. And I was also very excited.

I made a turn around the pattern and performed what I considered to be my best landing to date. Feeling good, I went around and did it again. The landing wasn’t quite as good as the first; the wind had picked up a little bit and I came down a little harder than I would have liked, but my landing was safe, I didn’t break anything and I felt good. Since it was getting bumpy up there, I opted to make it a full stop. I taxied over to the hangar with a big grin on my face.

I was officially a solo student pilot. I can now fly by myself and practice landings. After a few times at flying solo and a few lessons with my instructor, I’ll be able to venture out a bit more.

I feel like here’s where the harder part of the training begins. I’m really on the road to becoming a private pilot. I am more excited than ever.

I reached a milestone on Thursday and it was one of the best moments of my life. On Sunday morning I went out and practiced landings all by myself. I have such a feeling of freedom in my being now.

I captured my first solo on video if you care to view it.


The past several weekends have been very busy for us. Flights to North Carolina, visits to Chicago, family gatherings, life is tough, right? Earl and I decided we needed to relax so we purposely kept this past weekend commitment free. It was a wonderful feeling.

On Friday afternoon I sent Earl a message letting him know that it was suppose to rain over the weekend. No surprise; that’s what it’s been doing for what seems like forever in these parts lately. I suggested that on Saturday afternoon we take the Jeep out and get it really dirty. I said, “Let’s go muddin'”.

We ended up driving into the Tug Hill Area of Central New York. The Tug Hill is the area you see on the Weather Channel during the winter. East of Lake Ontario, the Tug Hill gets a lot of snow each year. Driving through the area on Saturday we saw several places where there was still snow on the ground.

We checked out quite a few of the “Seasonal Use Only” roads in the area and played around with a little mud.


It was fun exploring these barely used roads, but I was in the mood to really kick up some dirt. After driving around and taking a necessary bathroom break in my hometown, we ended up in the Happy Valley Wildlife Management Area. It turns out there was a lot of mud to play in at Happy Valley.


The road through Happy Valley had quite a few spots where you could pull off in 4WD or on an ATV and basically have fun maneuvering through mud holes. A couple were particularly deep and Earl sounded cautious when I mentioned we should try them. I remembered that the Jeep doesn’t have a winch on the front and when I suggested this to Earl, he mentioned that we could always call AAA. This made me laugh as I could just imagine trying to explain to AAA as to where we were and why we were in the mud. I don’t think AAA helps out in those situations.

Driving through Happy Valley we ended up following a couple of guys in a jacked up pick up truck who were kicking up mud along the same road. It was fun to purposely find the mud, spin the tires and throw mud all over the place. Earl and I bounced around in the Jeep and had a grand time.


I felt like one of the big boys when we went to a local family restaurant for supper afterwards. Several looked at the amount on the Jeep, a couple of guys nodded.

We did it right. I’m looking forward to doing it again.