Tuesday, October 12, 2010

“Now I Too have slipped the surely bonds of earth and danced the skies on laughter silvered wings!

Apologies to poet John Gillespie Magee for the adaptation but over the last two weeks ending Friday, October 8th, I did actually learn a lot about flying an airplane, including 11 intense hours of air time over 8 of those days and twice that many hours completing and successfully testing on14 segments of online ground school, sprinkled with several hours on Microsoft Flight Simulator X.

Eleven hours may not sound like much but it’s nearly three quarters of what you need to qualify for a sport pilot license.  Just try to give full, and I really mean “full” concentration to something entirely new in every aspect for 11 hours and believe me learning to fly in a real airplane requires that and more.67205_592682078642_44104945_34212074_4915969_n

Yup, I know, all of that over just two weeks?  Admittedly, I go at things a bit intensely.  And your point is – as I often reply to friends with sarcasm?  Actually, I was delayed a bit by a couple of days of heavy rains and a root canal.  Can’t fly on pain killers.  Well, yes you can but not in an airplane:-)

Thanks to a great instructor, learning to fly an airplane was everything I had hoped it would be and more.  I admit, at my age and given everything I still want to experience and learn, my goal was never to pad my resume or actually become a pilot, although my mind was open to the latter.

I do have to admit, now that I’m finished, to feeling a definite twinge of exhilaration every time I spot a plane or a photograph of a plane.

Just as I did with learning to ride and enjoy handling heavy motorcycles at age 61, with learning to fly, I just wanted to challenge and immerse myself in learning something entirely new while at the same time, in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, to try to “do something every day that scares me.”37956_592682243312_44104945_34212085_7031027_n

My flight training was in two separate and extremely responsive, German-made, light-sport Remos GX airplanes under the tutelage of Ben Plowman, a 23 year old instructor and WCU engineering technology graduate from up near Waynesville, North Carolina.

Ben is as great a teacher as he is a pilot.  He took me through hands-on learning of how to preflight, taxi, handle the radio and transponder, calibrate barometric pressure, take-off, maneuver with rudder, stick and throttle, bank sharply, leaning into the turn so I could look straight down with the door open to the ground below, land, climb, descend, stall, maintain course and control the plane without the stick.  

We flew out of a quiet but well maintained little airport in Franklin County (KLHZ), just south of Louisburg, NC so I also got in several 75 mile roundtrip motorcycle rides (mostly rural) along North Carolina Highway 98 as well as flight time over some incredible rural countryside.

It has been renamed Triangle North Executive Airport so I get the feeling it doesn’t intend to remain quiet which in my opinion will be too bad.

In that intense two week span (8 days of actual flying) I flew from both runways, flew when it was hot and when it was colder, flew right after a heavy rainstorm with high overcast and on days with some cross winds and even when it was a little choppy up there.  I even learned to relax and have fun once in a while;-)

I admit, as a lefty, it took a while to learn that more throttle is “in” and less is “out.”  For some reason it seemed opposite to me but shouldn’t have.  Most likely, that comes from having to learn to transpose while learning everything from birth from righties.  Just tell me to turn left while we’re talking about something and you’ll see what I mean.

I also had to learn during the first day or two, not to push on the left pedal to stop…that just turns you hard left.  I admit feeling a bit dumb that it took a day or two to get accustomed to taxiing, not too fast, not too slow, up and down hills, and  keeping the airplane centered but it came to me.  As with riding a motorcycle, you have to think ahead and feeling dumb is just a part of learning.

Keeping track of all of the instruments and also keeping track of the horizon and looking out for any other airplanes was mind-boggling but became easier.  You are constantly monitoring the radio, altitude, attitude (mine and the airplane’s:-) air speed, vertical speed if climbing or descending, engine sound and RPMs, course and heading, oil temperature etc.  Flying an airplane is both all—consuming and a blast.

The ground school by Gleim Aviation was excellent.  Believe me though, it is a bit like going back to every science class I had through elementary, junior high, high school and college and successfully navigating nearly 800 questions on practice tests and final tests spread out over the 14 sections in the same two week span.  I definitely did some noodling.

I recommend this learning experience to anyone and I definitely recommend Ben as an instructor.  He is prompt, good natured, exacting, patient, demanding, makes great use of every minute and definitely knows flying which became his dream during his first few years of his life….which, let’s see, would have been about the time I moved to Durham:-)

I may find that I’m permanently hooked but for now I cut it off because I had achieved my goal and because of the expense involved in terms of time, dollars and logistics and because the next stage would deserve full commitment for the rest of my life to do it right.  I also had some scheduling conflicts.  I know, I’m retired, right?

Moving up on 63 years of age, my health is excellent but I’m much less likely to take time for granted and I have many more things to learn and experience.

I would do one thing differently.  Knowing what I know now, I sure wish I had taken up flying airplanes in my 20’s when I became friends with a guy who restored and flew old Stearman biplanes on a grass strip near Spokane, where I worked or especially during my 30’s when I lived and worked in Alaska.

Anchorage actually has several air strips in addition to Anchorage International which is owned by the state including Lake Hood for seaplanes (shown here live on webcam and also state-owned) and Merrill Field owned by the Municipality.

However, as I recall, during those periods I was going about the craft of community marketing with this same intensity as I just did learning to fly.

Don’t worry, though, I’ll still be honing what I learned, flying on FSX, in a very similar airplane and even landing and taking off occasionally at Franklin County Airport.  I’ll probably make my home port,  a cool little grass strip at Lake Ridge in Durham, just northeast of RDU airspace.

Oh, and you can schedule an orientation ride with Ben Plowman online by registering at NC Rotor & Wing’s website, picking a time that is convenient and selecting Ben as the instructor.  Tell him hey!

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