Take Back the Skies      

A campaign for Americans to
regain their birthright to fly

Writing on Flying
by Tony Seton

Essays      Interviews      Poetry


De-Rusting My Wings   (12/30/02)
Airline pilots 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....

Flying 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.

Shelter Cove   (9/02/02)
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.

The 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.

Flying 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.

Sunday 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.

Squeak-Squeak  (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.

Don't 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.

The 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.

Back in the Air  (September 20, 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.

Now Through the Clouds  (June 25, 2001)
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, 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 test.

Under 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.

Flying 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.

Centurion  (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.

The 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.

Why 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.

Flight 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.

Into the Wind  (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.

License To Learn   (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.

Check-Ride  (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.

Audrey 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.


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