Memories.

Whitfords Airport, Weedsport, N.Y., 1985. In the forefront, my father’s Piper J-5A, after a complete rebuild. He liked simple paint jobs.

I’m using the quiet time (“shelter-in-place” time) this weekend to go through old hard drives, CD and DVD archives, and the like here in our happy little home. I don’t completely trust the cloud services, especially since Mobile Me went away and took a bunch of our photos along with it several years ago, so I have a very large RAID array here in the house to back up all of our important things.

I don’t know how families survive without a built in IT administrator.

I’ve been looking through old airplane photos. Being a third generation pilot and the original keeper of my grandparents’ slides (which have since been digitized), I have a lot of snapshots of airports and airplanes and landscapes from the sky to browse through and they all make me smile.

1NY3 Richland Airpark, Richland, N.Y.

The airport my dad and grandfather called home base was about a mile from our house. It was a small airport, originally owned by a husband and wife that were fairly well off in the area, but later sold to a bunch of shareholders that were interested in keeping it an active, yet private, airstrip. Once a year the pilots association would host a fly-in which sometimes included an airshow. This was a way for the association to raise money and aviation awareness in the community. Both my mom and dad were officers in the pilots association at various times throughout the years. Many Sunday afternoons in the summertime were spent at the airport as various pilots went flying and their families enjoyed a picnic in the grove of trees adjacent to the runway. We even had built in barbecue pits and picnic tables but no running water.

Becoming a private pilot was the second best thing I’ve ever done in my life though I wish I had done it sooner. Honestly, mentally and financially I became a private pilot when I was ready to become a private pilot but the unfortunate part is that it was after both my grandfather and father, the two inspirations for me to become a pilot in the first place, had passed on. I often wish I could tell them about my aviation adventures and discuss what I’ve learned along my aviation career.

During my first few lessons my instructor was always remarking about how fast I was picking things up, but then he would say, “well, you probably know things you don’t even know you know” and that was because of all the exposure I had to aviation I had growing up. The closest I ever felt to my dad was when we were doing things aviation related, whether it was attending EAA meetings together or flying in one of the club airplanes together. Later on we would fly in his rebuilt or homebuilt airplanes together and that was always awesome.

Fellow students would ask me if I was ever scared to fly with my dad, especially since he had just completely an airplane that was, at the time, over 40 years old. The rebuilding of the J-5A took a couple of years and he stripped everything down to the bare metal frame, fixed some issues, and then recovered, painted, and reassembled everything. After he could take passengers up again I flew without hesitation and without question. During one of our flights we lost the engine on downwind midfield (it wasn’t a training exercise, the engine made a very loud squealing noise and then ceased running) and he landed the airplane without an issue and without a noticeable trace of worry. The only time I have been nervous in a private airplane is when I’ve been at the controls and I was first starting my training.

My goal in life is to be as calm, cool, and collected as my dad always was.

After my grandfather moved into flying his single-seat homebuilt, it would be very rare that I would fly with him. I remember a couple of flights in a Cessna 150 with him and his aviation skills being quite capable, albeit very different than my Dad’s. His approach to flying with a little more, well, for lack of a better word, startling. He would chop and drop into the small airfield. It’s just the way he did it and it was different.

I still wasn’t scared. Startled, but not scared.

With the next couple of weeks being Chicago’s “shelter in place” period, I’m probably going to be diving headfirst into ground study for my next ratings, watching a lot of airplane videos, and passing the time with armchair flying.

But I am looking forward to making new memories by flying again as soon as I am able to.

Firsts.

Both my grandfather and father were private pilots. Both flew homebuilt airplanes and both had their tailwheel endorsements. Both of them also preferred flying “low and slow” and they preferred the classic tailwheel configuration. I love flying low and slow like they do but I don’t have my tailwheel endorsement. I can do low and slow just fine in a Piper Cherokee 140. I’ll never build an airplane as I did not inherit that talent from that side of the family. I’m perfectly fine with that.

Today I started lessons to get my complex and high performance endorsements. Complex means I’m flying an airplane with retractable gear and high performance means the airplane is rated higher than 200 horsepower.

Today I flew a Cessna Skylane 182 RG. Built in 1978, this airplane has a six-cylinder engine rated at 250 horsepower. It can carry 1200 lbs. That’s a lot of fuel and an additional person.

I have a decent amount of hours in a Cessna 172 but before today I had never flown the heavier 182. I’m also more of a low-wing guy (don’t tell my grandfather or father) but having grown up in high-wings with Dad and flown my share of Cessnas, this configuration doesn’t particularly bother me. The high performance engine means things happen faster so I need to be a little more on my game, and after the initial climb out and getting to cruise I felt more comfortable than I thought I would before jumping into the airplane. I went up with instructor Callie and I did some turns and climbs and descents and just got a feel for the airplane before coming back to the airport to try some landings. Callie demonstrated the first landing and then shadowed me on the rest of the landings, providing verbal guidance and nudging the controls when necessary. For a first lesson in this airplane I walked away feeling great, and weather and virus willing, I’m hoping to go back up with her next week to continue the adventure.

I’m now officially doing something the previous pilots in my family have not done by flying a high performance airplane with retractable gear. I mentioned to my mom on the telephone the other day that I wanted to start taking my aviation career beyond where Dad and Gramps went with theirs, and in many respects I am. But I’m not really surpassing them in any way, I’m simply going in a different direction. I really wish I could talk to them about this experience because I’m sure they’d both be grinning ear to ear.

I know I am.

Centering.

112 days is WAY too many days without sitting behind the controls of an airplane and actually flying it. I was the av-griest I’ve ever been. I am now back to my old self.

If I go more than 90 days, something that has happened once before, I go up with an instructor to knock off some rust and sure I can still fly the airplane safely. I don’t know how pilots go from October to April without flying and then just go up and do their thing. Yeah, it’s second nature in many respects but it’s still good to knock the rust off with someone you trust. I flew with a new instructor today and she was very complimentary of my skills. I had a couple of things that were rusty, mostly around operation of the G1000 Glass Panel, but otherwise it was a fantastic flight today. I also used the opportunity to really push my personal minimums when it came to windy conditions and it went better than expected.

I guess I really do know how to fly an airplane.

My 2020 aviation goal is to push my limits further and do what I need to do to fly more often. End of story. Full stop.

Flight.

Today was an intense day at work. Daydreaming about past flights got me through it.

Here is a picture of me from August 2014. At the time I was still a student pilot and my instructor signed me off for a solo flight to an EAA Pancake Breakfast at KFZY. I vividly recall the entire flight; Earl followed along in the car, listening to my radio calls on a handheld radio.

This flight was the first time I squeaked the tires on landing. It was an awesome day.

UA 848.

Unknown airport

We are on United Flight 848 from O’Hare to Orlando. The whole family is along for the ride and the four of us are in row two of this Boeing 737-900. We are spending the week at Walt Disney World; the house sitter has been installed to keep Truman company while we’re gone.

As a private pilot I always feel inspired to push my flying career further when I’m flying commercially. My grandfather and father, both inspirations as to why I became a pilot, were happy with their Private Pilots’ Certificate flying under VFR conditions and building airplanes in the basement of their homes. I did not inherit the talent or desire required to build my own airplane; I’m much more interested in the tech around avionics when it comes to that stuff. Dad flew with a six-pack. I want glass everywhere.

One of the only challenges I face as a pilot since we moved to Chicago is getting enough time in the cockpit. It’s at least an hour drive to get to either Chicago Executive or Waukegan National (the two airports where I belong to a club and have rental aircraft available). It’s doable, especially when I crank up the tenacity, but occasionally work gets in the way or Mother Nature has different ideas. Back in Upstate New York I used to fly around 80 hours a year but this year I’ll probably fly around 40.

I need to amp that up, as it lends to my frustration quotient.

As a private pilot I have shied away from flying a computer. I’ve done it a few times and my head always goes into a “I wonder how this thing is working” mode. Plus, I’m not feeling anything. I rely on tactile sensations when I’m flying and a computer just doesn’t provide that, at least in my experience. I’ve never flown a full motion simulator but I doubt it’s in our budget and my husband would never let me put one in the condo.

I’ve seen glimpses of Microsoft’s planned release of Flight Simulator. I’m intrigued. I’m thinking it may be time to make the investment in a computer setup where I can practice my instrument approaches and stay in the pilot mindset, especially during the crazy winter months we experience in the Midwest.

I’m going to put together a purchase quote for the accounting department of the household while enjoying this United flight to MCO.

It’ll be a nice way to sit back, relax, and enjoy the Friendly Skies.

Videos.

I’m watching old private pilot videos from the 60s and 70s on YouTube. I need to go flying. Very soon.

Alternate.

So I had planned a cross-country flight from Waukegan, Illinois to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for yesterday. Earl and I were to fly in the DA-40 to Oshkosh, grab a crew car from the FBO (Fixed Base Operator), have some lunch and visit my Dad’s name on the EAA Memorial Wall. I try to visit once a year and it’s always occurred during EAA’s AirVenture (the world’s largest aviation gathering). This was my first time to Oshkosh outside of AirVenture.

In the days leading up to the flight I had been monitoring the weather. I had planned to fly up at 6500′ and fly back at 7500′, passing outside of Milwaukee’s airspace. I knew the weather was not going to be crystal clear but I was hopeful that we could make our way up and back without having to go too far out of our way to avoid rain. As a VFR (Visual Flight Rules) pilot, I must stay clear of clouds and that’s usually easy to do.

The weather at Waukegan would have made for a beautiful departure, but the forecast indicated that coming home would have been tricky. Thunderstorms were predicted to pop up, but the placement and timing was an uncertainty. I was ready to go; we were even at the airplane with the canopy open and I was starting to get my electronics and like in place, but something in my gut told me not to go.

I always trust my gut.

We ended up driving to Oshkosh instead. It was beautiful the entire time we were up there. Looking back at our home airport, however, showed rain storms and impressive gusts blowing through the area. Getting home would have been a tricky deal and would have involved threading around storms, possibly landing at alternate airports and subsequently waiting for storms to pass.

If I owned my own airplane without obligations to be back at a certain time, I might have considered it. But in a rental in a time slot? I didn’t need the extra pressure.

It was a wonderful day to drive.

Earl and I drove straight to the airport and visited the Memorial Wall. Seeing Oshkosh in its non-AirVenture state just connected me more to the experience of aviation. One of the closest times I ever spent with my father was when he invited me to join my grandfather and him to Oshkosh for my 16th birthday back in 1984.

Oshkosh will always hold a special place in my heart.

Earl and I are already booked for our trip to EAA AirVenture next July and I’m looking forward to the experience. I’m hoping to have my instrument certificate by then. In the meanwhile, I’m happy with the decision I made yesterday.

I look forward to becoming a very old aviator.

Shoes.

If you look at my feet you’ll notice that I now enjoy flying in my Converse All-Star sneakers. I can nicely feel the rudders when I wear these shoes.

In this photo I’m crabbing into the wind as I land on runway 11 at KBMI. It wasn’t my prettiest landing but I’m hyper critical of my landings. The camera didn’t even jiggle when the wheels touched the ground.

View From A CRJ-200.

Yesterday we flew aboard a Skywest (United Express) CRJ-200 out of Denver. It was my first time flying in a westerly direction out of KDEN. The views are spectacular.

While I’ve had some “mountain” flight lessons in a Cessna 172, the mountains were actually the Appalachians between Greenville SC and Asheville NC. We learned all about flying in the mountains during my initial flight training, but I have yet to take a single engine flight over the Rockies.

I’m looking forward to crossing that off the bucket list someday.