May 13, 2010

Learning Not to Fly?

slow_transition.gifAviation enthusiasts are promoting May 15 as Learn to Fly day. I am proud of my accomplishment and very much enjoy the privilege of flying. However, as we approach Learn to Fly day, I am pondering should I learn not to fly?

One of the easiest decisions I ever made was to learning to fly. It was something I had always wanted to do so from that standpoint I am not even aware of when I made the decision or deliberated about it. It was just something I always wanted to do. Achieving the goal was a little harder but in retrospect not all that challenging. It was just getting around to taking the first step and of course to funding it that took some time. In the Spring of 2004, I finally made the commitment and earned my licenses three and a half months later.

Now, I face a more difficult challenge, one faced all too often by pilots, the decision whether to continue to fly or to hang up the flight bag. I would never have imagined being at this point, and pondering that as an option after all those years of dreaming of flying and the wonderful six years as a pilot.

But I am a month, maybe weeks away from becoming a father to twins. They occupy much of my thoughts these days as I assume they always will. In thinking of them I have thought about flying and how my passion for aviation fits with my expanding family.

At a recent aviation get together I heard many pilots explain that they just recently returned to flying after 15-20 years away from aviation in which they focused on raising their families. This helped spur the conversation in my head in which I am continually debating what role aviation should play in my life over the next twenty years.

One side of the argument says what a great life lesson it is for children to see their father went after one of his dreams and is passionately continuing to pursue and foster that dream. I would love sharing my love of aviation with them. Additionally, the benefits of general aviation could offer us greater flexibility in travel and entertainment. Flying also brings me great joy, satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment that would be tough to forgo. A flight does not go by in which my wife does not positively comment on the glow on my face or the happiness in my voice after I return from flying. Each flight is an experience like no other that I truly treasure.

On the other side of the conversation are things like cost, time and safety. Let's face it: this is one expensive hobby. My mind is swirling with the costs of diapers, day care, and college tuition and flying seems like an expense that brings great joy to me but maybe not to the entire family. In addition to the monetary costs it is a time investment. Each flight represents a few hours away from the family (at least at first when they are so young) not to mention any time spent planning flights or continuing to learn. I may be naive (everyone says I have no idea what is about to happen in my life) but I cannot imagine wanting to spend hours away from these little ones on a weekend. I wonder will I prefer to take them for a walk or to a park on a sunny day rather than heading off to the airport.

I also wonder if I can find the time to continue to be a safe pilot which leads to the safety issue. Am I putting my family at greater risk by participating in a hobby that is more dangerous than your average hobby of home improvement, gardening, golf or tennis?

No matter what the decision I have to say I feel so blessed to have followed this dream and now to be given the opportunity to raise twins with my wife. If I do choose to continue to fly I do know then I need to go into it full bore. I need to invest the time and money to fly more frequently and work towards an instrument rating to help make me a safer pilot.

Most of you, my readers, are pilots. So I am sure you all have gone through periods of your life where you have wondered if you should take a break or keep at the controls. I would love to hear your advice.

Posted at May 13, 7:20 PM | Post Category: General | Comments (8) | Save & Share This Story

May 3, 2010

Flight Feeds the Human Spirit

flightforhumanspirit_explorer9_2.jpgI was blessed to be surrounded by people in my life who fostered the understanding that one should always follow their dreams and that one can do anything they put their minds to. It was with that support that I sought my dream of learning to fly back in 2004.

So when I heard the story of Michael Combs, a pilot who is flying a Light Sport Aircraft to all 50 States to spread the message "it's never too late to follow your dreams", I knew I had to meet him. This afternoon he arrived in Chicago at Chicago Executive Airport.

I worked with my flight club, Windy City Flyers, who were kind enough to offer Combs hangar space for his stay. They also invited Combs to share his message with the Aviation Explorer Post 9, a group of 14-21 year olds interested in aviation. It was great hearing Combs sharing his message with these kids and encouraging them to continue to foster their love for aviation or whatever other dreams they might have.

Combs admitted that he had two options when coming up with his Flight for the Human Spirit. He could wait until it was completely funded but then he might never have made it off the ground. Instead he built a plan and after gaining some momentum and support he took to flight. Each day as he spreads his message he is receiving more and more support and sure enough things are coming together for his Flight for the Human Spirit.

I invite you to visit the Flight for the Human Spirit to track his adventure. You can support the flight by making a donation on the site as well.

April 29, 2010

Making the Most of Your Biennial Flight Review

I recently successfully completed my third biennial flight review since learning to fly. Although, the process is becoming customary to me this most recent experience was unlike my previous two flight review experiences. The flight review is not a pass / fail test. Instead it is an assessment of a pilot's knowledge and skill that if the Certified Flight Instructor deems are sufficient you will receive a logbook endorsement allowing you to continue to fully utilize the privilege's of your license for another twenty-four months. If the CFI recognizes some serious deficiencies they will not sign-off on the review, which means the pilot must work on those deficiencies then retake the review. If the pilot has not past the twenty-four month mark since their last review they may continue to fly, after that there are some restrictions put in place until they complete the review satisfactorily.

The first two times I was too engrossed with proving my knowledge and worthiness of being a pilot to recognize this opportunity for what it is, a learning experience. Many pilots have heard the saying that the Pilot's License is "Your ticket to learn", the flight review is a perfect opportunity to continue that learning process. To prepare for this review I made notes of things I have struggled to understand and questions that have come up in flight experiences that I had not yet sought a satisfactory answer for. During both the one hour of ground and one hour of flight instruction there were items that were not as clear to me as they once were and we talked through those. I also made sure to bring up the questions and topics for which I wanted a refresher on and as a result I feel I got more out of this review than any previous review.

Don't be worried about knowing every answer to every question. Use this truly as a learning experience and you will do fine. Remember that you are paying for the instructor's time so take advantage of the opportunity to learn through this process.

Posted at Apr 29, 6:09 AM | Post Category: Biennial Flight Review | Comments (0) | Save & Share This Story

April 4, 2010

Two Aviation Adventures to Follow this April

One of my favorite things about being a private pilot is heading out for a cross-country flight. This month there are two exciting aviation adventures in which pilots will be flying aircraft literally across the country. One interesting thing is that in both cases the pilots are flying cross-country in Remos GX Light Sport Aircraft.

A year ago I would have been surprised at the prospects of flying far from home in a Light Sport Aircraft. However, while at AirVenture in Oshkosh this past summer, I had the opportunity to fly the Remos GX and was pleasantly surprised by its performance.

The Flight for the Human Spirit

flighthumanspirit.jpgMichael Combs was not satisfied with dreaming of flying. However, a history of heart problems had kept him grounded until the advent of the Sport Pilot License. The Sport Pilot License does not require an FAA Medical Certificate, with that hurdle out of the way, he jumped at the opportunity and earned his license to fly.

Now Michael is on a mission to spread the simple message that "It is never to late to follow your dreams." His goal is reach 20 million people with this message. What better way to do it than by continuing to follow his dream of flying. So Michael will depart on Tuesday from Salina, Kansas in a Remos GX Light Sport Aircraft on a journey to all fifty states, covering 19,400 miles enroute and visiting 135 cities.

One of the airports Combs will stop at is my home base, Chicago Executive Airport, just outside of Chicago. I was able to get support for his mission from my flight club, Windy City Flyers, who will be supplying a hangar for his aircraft during his visit. If you are in Chicago and would like to meet Combs, visit the Chicago Aviation Meetup Group as I am organizing a meet and greet for when he arrives.

You can follow the Combs's adventure and check-out his route on his website. If you use Twitter be sure to follow him (@combscoach) and the Flight for Human Spirit Mission Control (@fhsmissionctrl).

AOPA Road and Runway Rally
rally_homepage_banner2.jpgThe second adventure is AOPA's Road and Runway Rally. Two teams will depart from AOPA headquarters in Frederick, MD this Saturday, one in a Smart Car and the other in a Remos GX, enroute to Lakeland, FL home of the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In. As they make their way south they will compete in a variety of challenges, meeting in St. Augustine, FL to swap vehicles and continue to Lakeland.

Team Orville is made up by Alyssa J. Miller (@ajmalay), AOPA Director of eMedia & Correspondent Jason Paur (@jasonpaur). Their competitors on Team Wilbur are Flight Training Deputy Editor Ian J. Twombly (@ijtwombly) and Motor Week Associate Producer Steven Chupnick (@motorweek).

You can follow this adventure on the Road and Runway Rally website, blog or twitter (#Fun2Fly)

As for my aviation adventures ... I hope to back in the sky before the end of the week, Mother Nature providing.

March 4, 2010

Itching For My First Flight of 2010

takeoff.jpgIt has been way to long since I have flown last and the flying itch is turning into a rash. As a result, I am hedging my bets by reserving a Cessna 172SP on both Saturday and Sunday of next week hoping that one of those days Mother Nature cooperates.

My goal for the next few flights is to fly with an instructor and knock off the cobwebs while working on my proficiency. I am quickly approaching the deadline for another flight review (formerly known as the biennial flight review). I completed my last flight review in April, 2008. My goal now is to take a few flights and spend some time reviewing all the regulations then partake in another flight review.

I am hoping Mother Nature can do her part next weekend.

Posted at Mar 04, 5:21 PM | Post Category: Cessna 172 SP | Comments (6) | Save & Share This Story

February 2, 2010

The Hibernating Pilot and Blogger

flighttime.jpgI have been flying now for nearly six years. One thing that has been consistent throughout that time frame is my inability log significant flying time in the winter. Although, I had hoped things would be different this year, alas I have not flown in several months as we work through the one of the cloudiest winters in Chicago's history. According to Tom Skilling we had 27 sunless days between December 1, 2009 and January 31, 2010 making this the third cloudiest winter since records have been kept in over 116 years.

With fewer clear days it makes it difficult for us pilots who rent the aircraft we fly. With fewer days of sunlight in the winter the competition gets fierce when a sunny day finally shows up on the five-day forecast which often makes it difficult to find a plane to fly in the winter.

Curiosity drove me to look through the logbook to determine how much less I fly in the winter compared to other seasons. I factored out the four summer months in 2004 when I logged most of my hours to earn my license as to not skew the data too heavily. Even with the omission of the training hours I discovered that only 10% of my flight time has been logged in the winter. The number was even worse, just 6.5%, if I included the 47.5 hours flown in the summer of 2004 to earn my license. This is a frustrating fact for any pilot who knows that flying consistently is directly tied to safety.

On the bright side, although Punksatony Phil may think we have six more weeks of winter, based on looking at my flying history I only have about four more weeks of Winter. Come March I tend to end my flying hibernation as I typically begin to make up for lost time and fly much more consistently from March through May making the Spring the season I log the most hours.

Fall nudges out summer for the number two season, which is no surprise as it is by far my favorite season to fly. It is hard to beat viewing the changes in the fall colors from above?

Thanks for all those who have reached out to ask where I have been. As I start to get airborne more regularly I am sure I will post more frequently as well.

Posted at Feb 02, 9:32 PM | Post Category: Flight Time | Comments (5) | Save & Share This Story

December 20, 2009

Celebrate the Holidays with An American Aviation Icon

p51.jpgFor twenty five years Sporty's have helped pilots celebrate the Christmas Season with a line of Crystal Christmas Ornaments. This year their ornament features a P-51 Mustang that Sporty's Vice President John Zimmerman describes as "an iconic American airplane that is a rich part of our own aviation history." The P-51, often an airshow favorite, is the best air to air combat fighter ever flown.

I added the P-51 Mustang to my collection which also includes a Cessna 195 (2005), Lockheed Constellation (2006), Spirit of St. Louis (2007), Cirrus (2008). About a third of my tree is now adorned with aviation centric ornaments. If you have a pilot on your gift list or are looking for another way to celebrate aviation during the holidays check out Sporty's line of ornaments.

Posted at Dec 20, 2:19 PM | Post Category: Aviation Gifts | Save & Share This Story

October 21, 2009

Sky High after Mountain Flying Experience

mountainflying1.jpgThis past weekend I had an wonderful opportunity to fly over and through the Rocky Mountain Region west of Denver. Since all of my flight time to date has been over the relatively safe landscape of the Midwest I contacted some local experts at the Aspen Flying Club to give me an overview on Mountain Flying.

Prior to the flight I took advantage of a variety of resources online to learn more about the challenges of Mountain Flying. I encourage anyone interested in flying over mountainous terrain to check out some of these great resources:

On Saturday I met Matt Beckman who would be my CFI for this flight experience. Matt has been flying since he was nine years old and grew up flying in the mountains so I knew I would be able to learn a lot from him. We spent more time than usual doing a preflight briefing, discussing some important points for the upcoming flight including density altitude, handling mountain winds, crossing over mountain ridges, emergency maneuvers, radio communications in the mountains and the effects of hypoxia. Many of these topics were well covered in the online courses and articles I had reviewed prior to the flight, but talking to Matt helped me ensure I understood each topic clearly.

We filled our flight plan then fired up the G1000 Cessna 172 and took off for an amazing flight over the Rocky Mountains. Flying in the Midwest, there is almost always a safe place to set the plane down if you encounter an engine failure. Fifteen minutes into this flight we crossed over our first mountain ridge and finding suitable places to land started to become a serious challenge. During our flight we were continuously looking for and calling out our next suitable place to land should an emergency arise.

Often the G1000 flat panels are blamed for keeping pilots' eyes inside the cockpit looking at the pretty monitors. That was definitely not the case on this flight where the mountains provided a majestic backdrop that was hard to keep your eyes off of.

The altitude in Denver is 5280 (also the name of their beautifully designed city magazine) after departing Centennial we needed to stay underneath the Denver International Airport airspace for the first few miles before then climbing up to 10,500 feet to clear the Tarryall & Kenosha mountains of Pike National Forest that ranged in height from 8,000 to 11,000 feet. After clearing the first ridge we flew over a valley enroute to Buena Vista and Central Colorado Regional Airport (KAEJ). We made two landings here including one in which we simulated a short field landing.

From there we departed northward up a valley that would lead us to Leadville, CO home of North America's highest airport, Lake County Airport (KLXV), with an altitude of 9,927. It is strange to look at your altimeter and see 10,900 as you are entering downwind for landing. Even odder for Midwest pilot was the sluggish climb we made out of Leadville as the plane labored to produce lift as we rolled down the runway at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level.

mountainflying2.jpgThe FAA requires that all pilots flying aircraft above 12,500 feet for more than 30 minutes must use supplemental oxygen. This is to prevent the effects of hypoxia. However to climb over many of the mountains in the area we needed to climb above 12,500 to 13,500 feet. We watched the clock to ensure we were not above the 12.5K mark for more than thirty minutes. Even at 13,500 feet there were a few mountain peaks that were higher than we were flying which was an amazing sight.

After crossing over a large mountain range we descended back down under 10,000 feet so we could practice a simulated emergency turn to avoid a terrain collision. I pointed the plane at a mountain and as we approached I pitched back to climb. On this cooler day we likely could have climbed over the mountain but for practice initiated the turn. I pulled power and set the flaps to full then turned at a 30° bank and let the nose roll over a bit allowing the plane to make a tight 180° turn banking us away from the danger.

After that we turned East and headed out of the mountains and back to the safety of flatland below. Although the plane descended, my spirits remained sky high from this amazing experience. I would strongly encourage any pilot to enjoy applying their flying skills to this challenging and beautiful area. If you are in the Denver area reach out the folks at The Aspen Flying Club and tell them I sent you.

The video below was shot with a cockpit mounted video camera and a hand held camera. In addition to the video I shot some photos which can be seen on Flickr.

August 30, 2009

Flying with Aviation Entrepreneurs

flyingwithrodandcharlene.jpgLast weekend I had the opportunity to fly with two friends and aviation entrepreneurs. Rod Rakic is the founder of MyTransponder, a growing aviation social network. He had a last minute cancellation and instead of flying alone decided to invite some fellow Chicago pilots to join him for a flight on a beautiful summer evening. I jumped at the offer as did Charlene Gervais. Charlene is the founder of Aviation Vacations, a new company offering flying tours of North America.

When Rod is not flying for the Civil Air Patrol he prefers to fly the Diamond Star. I have several hours of PIC of the smaller DA20 but have never flown in the DA40 so I was looking forward to the experience. I was also looking forward to just my second flight out of Midway. There is something special about landing and departing with all the commercial air traffic at Midway.

I have known Rod for several years and although we have tried we have never gone flying together. As a pilot who is fairly particular about who I fly with I was immediately put at ease when Rod provided a very detailed pre-departure briefing which included how we would handle emergencies and setting up guidelines for a sterile cockpit during the departure and arrivals. My CFI taught me such great habits early on in my training and I am always surprised to see that many pilots hop in their plane and depart without a briefing for passengers or other pilots on board.

Once airborne we had a short and smooth flight over to Lansing where we landed and took just enough time for Charlene and I to trade seats before getting airborne for the return trip. As we returned to Midway the sun started to drop offering a beautiful display of colors and a nice view of the lit Chicago skyline. It was nice spending a few hours with some fellow pilots and sharing stories and enjoying a beautiful summer flight. I shot a few little clips of video during the flight and have posted the video below.

Posted at Aug 30, 4:40 PM | Post Category: Diamond Star, Flight Experiences | Comments (8) | Save & Share This Story

August 14, 2009

Flying with Team Oracle Prior to the Chicago Air & Water Show

team_oracle.jpgEach year at the Chicago Air & Water Show Sean D. Tucker becomes a crowd favorite as he performers a memorable aerobatic routine in his Oracle Challenger bi-plane. I have always enjoyed his performances but it was an act outside of the plane that helped solidify him as my favorite airshow performer. A few years back at the Chicago Air & Water Show after a tiring performance he came down to show center and took the time to talk to the kids that were gathered and to sign a few autographs. His joy for flying was eaten up by the kids looking up to him and I realized he is one of the best ambassadors aviation could have.

In advance of this year's show I was offered the opportunity to spend half a day with Sean D. Tucker and Team Oracle and jumped at the opportunity. I had no doubts, but after meeting Sean it was obvious that he absolutely loves coming to work each and every day, in fact I am sure he wouldn't call it work. You can see his enthusiasm first hand in this Chicago Tribune video interview.

My day started by joining a few other photographers and videographers in the Team Oracle Piper Seneca. We shadowed Sean in his Oracle Challenger bi-plane and Ben Freelove in the Oracle Extra 300 as they conducted a formation flight over Chicago. This was an amazing experience to watch two extremely talented pilots communicate and manage formation flying. Additionally, it provided an amazing vantage point for taking photos and some video.

Shortly after we landed I moved from the bulky Piper Seneca and into the sporty Extra 300. Ben got us airborne then said a magical thing "You have the plane". From that point forward he let me fly for a good 15-20 minutes while teaching me how to do various aerobatic maneuvers. We started with the basic rolls and loops and then he taught me how to combine the basic moves to do more advanced maneuvers like the Immelmen, Hammerhead & Cuban Eight. I was amazed at how well this plane performed and how easy it made all of these maneuvers. I am sure it helped that Ben is a phenomenal instructor which I am sure is a result of his experiences teaching at the Tutima Academy of Aviation Safety.

I finished off by doing my first spin. In my five years of flying, I have never been through Spin training. I had always assumed it was somewhat dangerous since it was not part of mainstream training. I was surprised to learn how easy it was to recover from a spin.

Prior to flying Sean had told me to be sure to have Ben show off the a few high-G maneuvers. After I had my share of flying I gave Ben his plane back and he put me through a 7.5G Hammerhead and then a high-G somersaulting roll, both of which were amazing. I love flying in general, but today's flight was an experience like no other I have had and I think I now have the aerobatic flying bug. I think I will have to seek out more opportunities to fly in an Extra 300.

If you are in the Chicago Area be sure to get out to the lakefront this weekend and enjoy the Team Oracle performance!

To the right you will find a few videos from both flights and also some photos below. I apologize for the shakiness of my video from the Seneca, this was my first stab at aerial photography.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.
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