campaign for Americans to
regain their birthright to fly
by Tony Seton
with tens of thousands of flying hours report that they feel rusty after
going on vacation for two weeks. I have three hundred hours, so my
cellular memory is considerably more shallow, and the need for
freshening concomitantly deeper. Indeed, if I donít go up every week,
Iím particularly suspicious of my flying mind; there is little room
for Oops, I forgot to....
Off the Rust (9/26/02)
The musing drone of
a small plane some ten miles away seemed natural in the clear still
skies of a Sunday morning. It might have been someone taking a lesson,
or perhaps it was just a pilot peeling some rust off of his wings.
People who fly for pleasure and/or the occasional business trip often
will go up for no reason at all but to stay familiar with the controls.
There are plenty of reasons to learn how to fly, and one of
them I only discovered this summer. It is the approach to runway 12 --
we pilots pronounce that one-two -- at Shelter Cove. The airfield there
sits on a delicious green plateau that noses into the Pacific, roughly
half-way between Mendocino and Eureka. The 3400-foot runway is
surrounded by a nine-hole golf course and a handful of
bed-'n-breakfasts, motels, and food-eries. It is the perfect escape,
especially for people who live in the Northern Sacramento Valley, where
summer temperatures climb past a 110.
More I Love Flying (7/22/02)
This past weekend found me driving instead of flying to the
Bay Area. I had even reserved a plane, but canceled the reservation and
made it a road trip. One of the reasons was that I needed to get around
to various places, which meant I would have to rent ground
transportation if I flew. Another was that I would have to pay for an
extra three hours of plane rental if I stayed a full second day, and
that made it kinda pricey.
Is Learning (May 15, 2002)
They say that becoming a private pilot is getting a license to learn,
and if you pay attention, you will learn on every flight. Especially
when you have as little flying experience as I do -- fewer than 300
hours -- but the learning is a true joy. Not only the assimilation of
knowledge, but the deepening sense of security that comes from a growing
familiarity with the plane in particular and flying in general.
Morning Skies (April 24, 2002)
Not having flown with so many people before ó even though Connor is
small ó I ask Trent his weight. And Linda, too, 'cause we'd had a real
fine dinner the night before. All added up, it turned out we were well
within weight limits, despite the second helping of Linda's delicious
from-scratch German chocolate cake.
(January 17, 2002)
I booked the Piper because it has a GPS navigation system, because
forecasts threatened clouds here and there, and satellites make finding
places a lot easier than the less-equipped Cessna Skyhawks that I rent.
I had flown only eight hours in the Piper, but it was a plane in which I
wanted to develop a feeling of comfort. We climbed to 10,000 feet and
caught a 45-knot tailwind; our groundspeed registered 165.
Pick on Pilots
(January 10, 2002)
For all their potential vulnerability, there is little crime involving
general aviation. Last year, all of 15 planes were reported stolen, and
only 11 the year before. Mostly, criminal activity with small planes is
tied in with drug smuggling, but with our impossibly porous borders,
restricting general aviation ain't gonna stop a thing.
High of Flight
(December 12, 2001)
It's difficult to describe the thrill of flying at the controls of a
small plane. I make that qualification about pilots because there are
some veteran airline jockeys who are probably bored out of their minds,
at least most of the time. Indeed, my aviation guru lady ó lady should
probably come first ó describes flying as hours of boredom punctuated
by moments of terror. Audrey means the take-offs and landings. But she
doesn't mean it about the boredom part.
in the Air
(September 20, 2001)
Through the Clouds
(June 25, 2001)
On the day of the bombing, all aircraft were ordered to land
immediately. The Cessna Skyhawk in which I had earned my instrument
rating had been grounded the nine days since. The windshield was dusty,
and the battery needed a boost to turn the prop. This I discovered after
a longer than usual pre-flight check of the aircraft. There was no
evidence that it had suffered during the hiatus. No bird's nest under
the cowling, which happens sometimes, just over night.
If youíve ever climbed off a smallish boat onto terra firma, you are
probably aware of the experience of sea legs. You feel kinda wobbly, as
your legs try to adjust to a stable, non-rolling environment. Same thing
happens when you climb off a trampoline. And for me, it can be hours
since I flew, but when Iím sitting at my desk, one of us is gently
rocking back and forth. I think itís pilot.
Up and Nearly Away
(June 11, 2001)
My first thought was oops. High winds make it difficult to hold heading,
and much of the instrument work on which I was to be test meant flying
racetrack holding patterns and narrow course lines and set altitudes. My
second thought was, Well, if there is a wind, it will give me a better
the Hood (May 28, 2001)
After my lesson this morning, I wondered how anyone has ever earned an
instrument rating. My flying today, after nearly fifty hours of training
for instrument certification, was sloppy toward inept. Not dangerous by
any means, but by every measure, I was earning a failing grade. Off
course, too high, too low. Ick, pew, I stunk. And my test is scheduled
for next week.
Thang (October 20, 2000)
This flying thang is a significant part of my life. It was one thing to
take on such a large learning project just shy of fifty years old, but
it was bigger than that. There was the matter of climbing into the sky
on the bet that a 160-horsepower engine in a twenty-year old plane would
carry me safely on my journey wherever. A lot of people don't consider
that a safe ó or even sane wager. Indeed, an associate whom we refer
to as General Grant, is forever repeating a line from my "From the
Ground Up" radio series "...you can't pull over to the side of
the road at 5,000 feet." Love the kid.
(July 2, 2000)
I was pleasantly surprised to discover how similar was the flying of the
complex Centurion to the basic Skyhawk. There is much to learn, of
course, but most of it would require experience rather than study.
Probably about twenty hours of flying with my instructor, practicing
slow flight, stalls, steep turns and landings.
Solo Adventure (published in "Flight
Training" - May 2000)
June 27th 1999 I flew alone for the first time. Here is the story
of that flight. This article was printed in the May 2000 issue of
"Flight Training" magazine, which is published by the AOPA
(Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association), which with its 350,000 members
is a powerful voice on issues pertaining to general aviation.
I Fly (May 29, 2000)
I'm not one of those people who always wanted to fly. The heavens never
really called for me the way they do to so many people, especially young
men. I was not a teen who slept in the hangar at night just to be close
to the plane. My view of knowing how to fly was to provide myself with
the ability to get from one place to another.
to Fancy (April 10, 2000)
Linda is in the air for a vacation in Holland and Belgium. She and
another attorney- friend are headed over to visit tulip land. The friend
lives across The Bay from San Francisco airport, out of which they
departed for Europe this morning, so I flew Linda down last night to
Hayward Executive Airport, near to where the friend lives. My co-pilot
was a new friend, who was also a client of Lindaís. Bud flew for the
commercial airlines for over thirty years, and before that was a pilot
for the Navy and landed on aircraft carriers.
(March 28, 2000)
Susan and I had met almost twenty years ago. We quickly discovered that
our relationship was going to be conducted standing up and sitting down.
Years later, we shared a house together, comfortable in our
platonic-ness. We had ups and downs in our friendship, but we never
stopped caring for each other. I hadnít seen her in two years.
(January 10, 2000)
Leaving Sunday was a little more complicated. The clouds and fog
appeared, disappeared, and appeared again. At departure time, it was
well below even instrument flight minimums. But in an hour, the sun
burned off much of the problem. I checked by phone to make sure that the
rest of the route was weather-safe and we took off.
(October 11, 1999)
Then we flew off up into the wild blue where the real test was. I had to
fly the plane in a steep turn while maintaining altitude and speed. The
first try was a mess. Try number two was okay. And on the third, Johnny
covered up some of instruments, forcing me to reckon from the landscape.
During my training for my
private pilotís license and then my instrument rating, I flew with five
CFI's, or Certified Flight Instructors. Some of them were CFII's,
called Double-I's, who also instructed in instrument flight. Two of them
did most of the training, but I spent enough time with all of them to be
intrigued about their differences and commonalities. Their ages vary by
almost 50 years; the number of hours flown by more than 23,000. But they
all exhibited depth of character ó a certain confidence common to good
pilots ó that helped me to learn from them.
Schutte, Johnny Moore, Jason
Cramblet, Del Schulte, and Robert
Scott all launch into the skies from airports in Northern
California, but those special qualities that make them pilots are
endemic to flyers everywhere. Not every pilot, though we would all be
better for it if everyone in a cockpit showed their attention to detail,
concern for safety, and interest in sharing important information.
Doing these interviews was a
terrific education, not just as journalist but as a pilot. I got to hear
similar and sometimes conflicting ideas from people of greatly varied
experiences, and it helped to create a purposeful mosaic about what it
takes to be a better pilot. I should say, too, that speaking to these
pilots ó or aviators ó was humbling certainly, but I also felt pride
at joining this elite group, particularly as they outlined some of their
thoughts on what it meant to be a pilot.
Not to be confused with
"Night Flight" by Antoine de St. Exupery, I wrote a poem about
flying a small plane at night. "Nite Flite"
was written on March 9, 1976, more than twenty years before I learned
how to fly, or had even been up in a small plane at night.