Dreams Do Come True. (Repost: “Fly Like An Eagle” from 2005)

Fly Like An Eagle. I was just a couple of years off on this goal and dream of mine.

The past couple of days I’ve found myself daydreaming about becoming a private pilot. I think it’s the spring in the air or something, but I’ve really had the urge to get myself into a flying school and get that pilot’s license I’ve dreamed of.

Flying is in my blood, I suppose. My grandfather is a pilot (or at least he was, now he’s content on his motorcycle at nearly 90 years old). My dad is a private pilot and is in the process of building his second airplane. When I was a teenager he restored a 1940 Piper J5-A (nothing bonds a family better than getting high on airplane glue together when we’re all reassembling dad’s airplane!). He later built an Acrosport, which he flies during the nice weather.

I just have these wonderful dreams of Earl and I jumping into our brand new Cessna Skyhawk and flying off to his dad’s house in half the time. Or for a fun-filled weekend getaway. Or heck, to a pancake breakfast at a little airport in the middle of nowhere.

We used to do that when I was a kid. Dad and I would jump into the J-5A and head off to a little airport in Weedsport on a summer Sunday morning for breakfast. Grandpa would go ahead of us in his faster, home-built Jungster.

Some of my fondest memories of growing up took place at the local airport, a less than a mile strip of mowed grass in the middle of nowhere, with a gravel pit at one end and a string of utility wires at the other. There’s several hangers at one end to make it all look official. That and the “16” and “34” on their respective ends of the runway. Whenever we heard a plane fly over the house, we’d always look up to see who was flying. We’d have picnics at the airport with the rest of the pilots association. Dad would give rides. Heck, I’ve even flown a couple of times.

Earl has never flown in a private plane before. I’d love to have the honor of giving him his virgin voyage.

I see a goal forming… to become a pilot before I’m 40.

Flat Tire.

On Tuesday I flew with an instructor and friend for my Biannual Flight Review. This flight review is required for private pilots that wish to continue flying. As suggested by the name of the event, it takes place every two years.

I can’t believe it’s been two years since I went on my checkride.

I was a bit apprehensive about flying this BFR because there are a couple of maneuvers that I haven’t practiced in a while, mainly stalls. I’m not a fan of stalling the airplane. My goal as a private pilot is to never stall the airplane. I want to keep the airplane flying. Honestly, stalls make me nervous and it is something that I need to get over. While I got through my BFR just fine, I need to go up with an instructor again and do some stalls. Lots of stalls. I need to stall the airplane until I laugh about it.

After we dropped the instructor off, my friend Ryan and I went flying for a short flight just for fun. There was some weather moving in and the wind was providing plenty of opportunity for a crosswind landing practice, so we headed back to the airport.

I have to say my landing was picture perfect. Ryan remarked on how great it was. I felt good for two seconds. Then the left main tire blew while the airplane was still moving at around 50 MPH. This made for an interesting challenge in keeping the airplane headed in a forward direction. I managed to get the airplane stopped and off the runway so that the airport could remain open.

Ryan took a photo of me being cheesy next to the flattened tire.

The club mechanic verified that my landing technique was not the culprit of the blowout but rather low tire pressure. Visually inspecting the tire pressure during pre-flight is not solid enough for the cold weather at this time of year. From now on we’ll be checking the pressure with a gauge.

This was my first incident during landing and while I didn’t get nervous as the events unfolded I did find it to be a good learning experience as I made my way through the challenge.

Now I just need to get up there and practice those stalls!

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.

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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.

 

 

Safety.

This is my second attempt at writing this blog post due to an error with the WordPress app on iOS, which basically said “there’s an error!” and then wiped out the entry. It’s basically what happened back in the 1990s when that young girl did the Apple ad talking about the virtues of a Mac vs PC, although the iPad played the part of the PC. I hope this version is just as good.

There was an airplane crash in the Town of Westmoreland last night. The crash site is about 10 miles from the house and rather close to the airport that I call home base. I learned of the crash through messages from friends and family contacting me to make sure I was safe; we then started talking amongst our pilots group. The names of the victims have not been released at this time. Reports indicate that one person walked away from the crash with minor injuries but that two others were badly burned. They were airlifted to Syracuse (about 45 miles away).

When an airplane crash happens there are some who are quick to call into question the safety of General Aviation. Comments of “it’s too risky”, “they shouldn’t be allowed to do that”, “they’re going to hurt me or my house” come from armchair critics.

Like life in general, flying an airplane involves being safety conscious and managing the risks associated with the activity. Nothing in life is risk free. There’s some degree of risk associated with anything that we do.

As a private pilot was thoroughly trained on emergency procedures for various scenarios. During my training I had to demonstrate that I could handle an “engine out” and that I could rapidly get the airplane on the ground in the event of a fire. I had to demonstrate these things as part of the checkride where I earned my pilots’ license. During my checkride I had to demonstrate three emergency scenarios: an “engine out”, how to spiral down in case of fire or other time crucial emergency and what I would do if I lost the engine during take-off.

When I’m flying an airplane, it may look like I’m smiling and just looking around, but in reality I have always picked out an emergency landing spot, I’m constantly scanning the sky and I am constantly scanning the instruments monitoring the health of the airplane. You might be looking at the pretty fields below us, and I am too, but I know which field would be best if the airplane needed to get on the ground right away. As a pilot I try to stay three minutes and six miles ahead of the airplane. What’s going to happen in the future? Am I prepared for it?

Life doesn’t happen without risk. A couple of commenters on the television stations’ Facebook page expressed concerns about aircraft flying too low or perhaps we need to re-evaluate smaller airplanes flying in the area. Here’s a couple of hints, you can’t get up there in the air without flying low first and you can’t fly a big airplane until you’ve learned how to fly a small airplane.

I am hoping for a speedy recovery for those involved with last night’s crash. I’ll be interested to read the NTSB report to find out what happened without speculation or hysteria.

Home.

Earl and I moved into our current home in November 2003. Since then, I have watched many airplanes fly over on their approach to nearby Griffiss International Airport, which is the old Griffiss Air Force Base. The base was decommissioned in the mid 1990s. It also had one of the longest runways in the United States. Griffiss (official code is KRME) is where I learned to fly and is the airport where the club airplanes live. I know the airport well.

Watching airplanes fly over the house has always been a passion of mine, ever since childhood. I’ve seen Air Force One flyover, I’ve watched fellow pilots fly our Piper Cherokees over on their approach to runway 33 and everyone once in a while I’ll see a Boeing 747 headed in to the maintenance facility based at the airport.

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One of the biggest thrills for me as a pilot was the first time that I flew on the approach to runway 33 and was able to look down and see our home. Nowadays, if the conditions permit, if Earl is home I’ll send him a text that says “beep beep” and he knows to come outside and watch me flyover. I’ll flash the landing light at him or rock my wings to let him know that I can see him. It’s such fun.

Today I flew with fellow pilot Seamus as his safety pilot. Seamus was wearing Foggles, a view limiting device that simulates flying in the clouds. As safety pilot it’s my job to make sure that we are clear of traffic and other obstacles and that the flight is proceeding along safely. It was great flight; Seamus is a very capable pilot and one that I feel completely comfortable with. As he followed his instruments to runway 33, I looked down and was able to snap a photo of the house from the air.

It was such an awesome feeling.

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Our home is in the lower third of the photo, sitting behind the others along the road.

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As mentioned in my previous blog entry, I am on my way to Fort Wayne, Indiana for work. My flights are by way of Detroit. The hop from Detroit to Ft. Wayne is short. I’m not worried about the 30 minutes of layover time, if I miss the connection I can just drive the two hours by car tonight. 

I feel quite relaxed.

I spent the first few minutes of our flight reading about becoming an Instrument (IFR) Rated Pilot and listening to the radio calls between the flight crew on our flight and ATC. I had to stop listening when I lost cellular service. Yes, I was breaking a rule. 

I just realized that I am probably breaking an FAA regulation right now by using my Bluetooth keyboard with my iPad.  Perhaps I should stop.

The flight attendant’s name is Josie. She is very nice and organized. I am enjoying this flight on Delta 3389. It’s an ERJ145.  I thought I had flown DL 3389 before, but I can’t find any earlier flights with that flight number on the spreadsheet I use to keep track of these things. Maybe I’ve just heard so many ATC calls over the years for 3389 it’s just ringing a bell.

The climb from KSYR through the clouds was short and fairly smooth. I watched for ice because I had heard earlier calls on ATC mentioning ice around 6,000 feet, but I didn’t see any ice accumulate on the wings. I looked back to make sure.

The decision to become an instrument pilot has been a tough one for me to make. This is venturing into territory beyond the ratings that my dad and grandfather had, but I love flying so much, including the challenges of being a great pilot, that I don’t want to limit myself to just flying in clear skies. I want Earl and I to be able to travel, and if our airplane is able to fly in the clouds, then I should be able to fly in the clouds as well. I’d never fly in scary weather, that’s just stupid, but having an IFR rating would allow us to worry less about weather when trying to come home from a weekend getaway or something like that. Plus, becoming an IFR pilot will greatly improve my piloting skills in general, and I’m always looking to become a better pilot.

Always learning. Always having fun.

Flight.

My friend Chuck and I went flying today. I hadn’t been in the pilot’s seat in over six weeks, so I felt a little rusty but after a few moments I was on my game. We flew the airplane that Chuck is part owner of: a Cherokee 180. It has much more get-up-and-go than the Cherokee 140 that I am part owner of. The speed difference coupled with the challenges presented from an increase in performance made for that much more of a great flight.

It was good to get off the ground.

The forecast for next week shows Mother Nature getting her act together a little bit and that we might start seeing signs of spring. I am more than ready.

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Chill.

So I’m sitting at SYR (Syracuse Airport) awaiting a flight to LGA, so I can connect for a flight to Raleigh-Durham. I’m flying on Delta flight 3618. We are delayed; we were to leave at 5:49 p.m., we are now leaving at 7:20 p.m. The delay is due to weather. With winds up to 29 knots at LGA, I can understand the concern about weather. Luckily, my flight to RDU is delayed as well so I should make my connection. If not, I’ll just sleep at LaGuardia tonight, I guess.

I am fascinated with the people watching here at Syracuse Airport. People seem kicked back. There wasn’t any screaming or crying when a flight to Chicago at an adjacent gate was canceled. I’m not overly concerned about making or missing my flight. It is what it is. Chilling out is enjoyable.

Freedom.

Today turned out to be a beautiful day for mid-January in Central New York. Granted, it was still chilly; at lunch time it wasn’t even 20ºF yet, but nevertheless, the air was calm and the sun was shining brightly.

All the more reason to go for a flight during my lunch hour.

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Alone in the airplane, I went for a simple flight: I headed out to the “West Practice Area”, flew around a bit and then flew along the eastern shore of Oneida Lake. I played around with the airplane a little bit, trying out different things that I was always curious about but didn’t really have to time mess around with during my training flights, all in an attempt to better myself as a pilot.

Being able to do this reinforced why I became a pilot in the first place; to celebrate that wonderful sense of freedom.

First Passenger.

I took Earl for his first flight with me as Pilot-In-Command. We decided that it would be a short flight and that we would highlight just a few things in the immediate area. We flew over the house, flew over Earl’s work and I showed Earl a couple of landmarks around the house. It was a great way to get him acquainted with flying in a single-engine airplane and with his husband as the Pilot-In-Command.

Earl had a wonderful time and took quite a few pictures. The flight was smoother than he thought it would be and he was impressed by my landing skills. He wishes airline pilots could land their airliners as smoothly as I landed the Cherokee 140.

We took this selfie at 3000-feet. He’s not sitting in the backseat, but rather just with the seat all the way back so he had plenty of leg room.

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