Tag Archives: flying

Flying high twelve years ago today

On April 3, 2000, I took the day off of work. It was a week past my 28th birthday and I had an appointment on my calendar to keep. I’d been working pretty hard for the previous nine months on something that I wanted to do for as long as I could remember. And on that day a dozen years ago, I finally got my shot: I climbed into a Cessna 172 with an FAA examiner and took my “practical” test to get my private pilot’s license. I’d already taken and passed the written test. The first part of the day on April 3 was the oral examination. That seemed to go pretty well. I followed my instructor’s advice: let the examiner do most of the talking and never volunteer information. Turns out, my examiner wanted to talk a great deal about the screenplay he’d written so I just let him go. Eventually, he asked me some questions and I think I answered most of them well. Well enough, anyway, for him to tell me to get the airplane ready for flight.

Next was the practical test. The practical is where you go up in the plane with the instructor and demonstrate a laundry list of skills. Of all the things I had to demonstrate, there was only one that I was concerned about: the short field landing. A short field landing is one in which you have to be able to land the plane on a short runway. To “test” this, you usually have to aim for a marker on the runway and touch down right on that marker. As part of the test, I was diverted from one airport to another–Oxnard airport, which happens to be just across the street from my parent’s house. Approaching Oxnard, I called the tower:

“Oxnard this is Seven-Three-Echo inbound for touch and go’s.”

I was cleared for the touch and go’s but the examiner immediately jumped in: “Who said to do a touch and go? I want you to do a full stop and taxi-back.” (It’s the examiner’s job to try to rattle the student.) I called the tower back and amended my request. I landed and as soon as the wheels touched the ground and I pulled off the runway, the examiner said, “Okay, good, that was your short field landing.” After that I was immensely relieved. I did a short field takeoff from Oxnard and then we flew out over Thousand Oaks and did some other maneuvers, including steep turns, and some time under the hood (to practice low visibility conditions). Finally, we headed back to Van Nuys airport. I was flying north in the downwind pattern for the long runway, 16R and was cleared to land. As we came abeam the touchdown point, the examiner said, “Okay, you just lost your engine. Glide in the plane and I want you to be off the runway at the first taxiway.”

I made a nice gliding u-turn and brought the plane down on 16R and eased her off at the first taxiway. At that point, I felt I had the test in the bag, all I had to do was taxi back to parking. Of course, I had to taxi the whole length of the airport, but I did it. When we pulled into the parking area, the examiner was telling me about a rubber tree he’d planted 40 years ago or so. When the plane came to a stop, he said, “Get the plane tied down and meet me inside. I’ll go make out your temporary certificate. Congratulations. That was some nice flying you did.”

And I was officially an FAA licensed private pilot.

I still carry my pilot license in my wallet despite the fact that I haven’t flown in ten years. I just can’t bear to let go of it. I worked hard for it. I passed all my tests on the first try. It was a big achievement for me. I can hardly believe it has been twelve years.

Old pictures, part 1: a few shots from my flying days

I was digitizing some old pictures today and I came across a few that might be of general interest and/or amusement. Here are some pictures from more than a decade ago back when I first got my private pilot’s license.

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Holding up my license

Continue reading Old pictures, part 1: a few shots from my flying days

So long, AOPA

After being a member of Airplane Owner and Pilot’s Association for more than 12 years, today I finally got around to canceling my membership. I first joined AOPA when I started seriously considering taking flying lessons in the early summer of 1999. Of course, I began my lessons later that summer and got my license on April 3, 2000. I flew on and off until 9/11 after which flying became more complicated and I couldn’t fly frequently enough to stay current. I maintained my membership over the next decade because AOPA is a good¬†organization, but also because I worked hard to get my pilot’s license, and being a member of AOPA was a reminder of what I had achieved.

But the truth is, I almost never use its services any more. They produce a great magazine that I receive monthly and end up tossing almost right away because I have no time to read it. (The last few months, I’ve been giving the magazine to the Little Man because he likes the pictures of the airplanes.) So I called them this morning, expecting the customer service¬†representative to talk my out of my cancellation. In truth, the conversation went much like this:

Customer service: How can we help you today?

Me: I’d like to cancel my membership as of my next renewal.

CS: Okay, are you no longer flying?

Me: Not for ten years now.

CS: I understand. I’ve taking you off automatic renewals and your membership will end at the end of July.

Me: Great, thank you.

CS: Have a nice day.

It’s bittersweet, of course. I was (and am) very proud of the fact that I became a pilot. But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.

More overdramatized news: the sleeping air traffic controller

If you haven’t heard, last night, the sole controller at Reagan National airport was apparently asleep while two planes tried to land. As bad as that sounds, the local news here is way overdramatizing the danger to the airplanes and passengers, in my opinion. They are interviewing people at the airport who are saying they are now afraid to fly into airports for fear of no one being around in the control tower. So, as a former (private) pilot, let me make a few clarifications so that you can understand why this overdramatic reporting is annoying me:

  1. Most airports in the U.S. are either uncontrolled (meaning they don’t have a control tower) or their towers operate only part time. The point here being that planes lands safely without a control tower every day.
  2. All pilots are trained in procedures for airports without a control tower, or when the tower is closed. Typically, this means tuning the radio to the tower frequency and reporting your speed, altitude and position to other aircraft in the area, while they do the same.

On my first solo flight to another airport, I left an airport with control tower and flew to an airport without a control tower. I was testing on these procedures during a written exam, oral exam, and practical test. It is not any more dangerous than flying into an uncontrolled airport. When the tower cannot be contacted it essentially is an uncontrolled airport.

There is one exception that I can think of: at busy, major airports, it might be hard to tell from the air whether there are crews on the ground who might be working on the runway. This is the pilot’s call, and if the pilot is not comfortable landing, he or she should not land, and ask ATC for a diversion to another local airport.

That a controller fell asleep is a separate issue and that certainly needs to be dealt with. Many controllers are overworked and many airports are underfunded so that something like this was bound to happen, I supposed.

The local news makes it seem like the people on the two planes that landed (and a third plane that diverted) were in some kind of danger. I don’t believe this to be the case at all. Traffic was at a minimum, two pilots deemed it safe to land, and a third decided he wasn’t sure and diverted. This is standard operating procedure that all pilots train for.

Why the heck can’t the news report that?

Safe landing

Pretty incredible landing yesterday by the US Airways pilot after the bird strike.  It was great to see everyone get off the plane safely with only minor injuries.  I’m not sure the media is getting across just how great a job the pilot, Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III, did in getting the plane down and getting his passengers out safely.  As a private pilot myself, I know the kind of training you go through for emergencies.  Private pilots flying small planes are trained to always have an emergency landing spot in mind.  If you are ever flying with a private pilot, at any time during the flight if you asked where they’d put the plane down in an emergency, they’d be able to tell you.

But it’s more than that.  There’s something called aeronautical decision-making (often abbreviated ADM) that pilots are trained in.  This is essentially making fast decisions with the information at hand, and committing to those decisions.  Often times, accidents happen because pilots don’t decide fast enough, or don’t commit to their decisions.  Yesterday, we saw a pilot make an instant decision and commit to it.  The result was a safe ditching of the aircraft, followed by the safe debarking of everyone off the plane.

And give credit to the ferries and other watercraft that sped to the rescue of the passengers as well.

This is an example of equipment working correctly, crew working correctly, passengers doing the right thing, and rescuers making a quick response and I don’t doubt that it will be taken as a text book model of executing an emergency water landing in the future.  Simply a magnificent job by everyone.

William Kershner

I was sad to learn this morning that William Kershner died a few days ago. For those who don’t know, Kershner was a life-long pilot and flight instructor and is famous within aviation circles. When I was 8 or 9 years old, my dad was taking ground school and as part of that ground school, he had a text book called, A Student Pilot’s Flight Manual. The book was by William Kershner. Even at 8 or 9, I devoured that book, and I had it virtually memorized. I recall taking a practice written test in the back of the book and doing execeedingly well for a 9-year old. It was my first introduction to the fact that anyone who wanted to could learn to fly an airplane. Nearly 20 years later, I got my pilot’s license, and though I had other text books to work from, I would still pull out my old, tattered Student Pilot’s Flight Manual every now and then and study from that.

One-six-right

I got my pilot’s license at Van Nuys airport back on April 3, 2000. If you like flying, have ever thought about getting a license, or just like really good film-making, you should check out this new DVD:

http://www.onesixright.com

One-six right refers to the long runway (8,001 feet) at Van Nuys airport–the runway from which I made most of my takeoffs (most of my landings were on the shorter 16L). The video looks awesome and I’m ordering a copy today. Thanks to kevnyc for pointing it out to me. (kevnyc was one of the first people to fly with me after I got my license.) Check out the scenes from the video that they have on the web site.

Watching and listening to the “look ma, no hands” video, about the first time you fly solo as a student, brought back a lot of memories and emotions I had on the day that I did my first solo flight in September 1999.

Read about my first solo flight

Solo!

One last thing before going to bed. I would be remiss in my reputation as a perveyor of date-related facts, if I didn’t point out that 7 years ago today, September 21, 1999 I did my first solo flight ever–in a Cessna 152:

[From my diary, 9/21/1999]: Solo! I did it. I flew a plane by myself (while Pete [my instructor] sat on a bench and watched) and did a total of 5 takeoffs and landings. It was absolutely incredible. I have been waiting for this ever since I was a little boy and it was well worth the wait. I’m elated. It still hasn’t hit me.

I still have my “shirt tail” from that day, a tradition committed against student pilots who complete their first solo flight whereby the instructor rips off your shirt tail and decorates it to commemorate the flight.

Unreasonable Me

Yesterday, I ranted about the lack of reason and critical thinking, and among other things, how it leads to supremely idiotic email. I don’t want to give the impression that I am a perfectly rational being myself, that I am some kind of R. Daneel or Spock. So I thought I’d list a few of my idiotic irrationalities.

The one at the top of the list is my irrational disdain and hatred of political flyers placed on my car. (The hatred comes into play when you don’t notice the infernal things until you are buckled in and they are placed in such away that it is impossible to reach around them and pull them off the windshield without getting out of the car!) I don’t know the rationale behind these flyers. To they really earn votes this way? If everyone thought like me, they wouldn’t! When I got to my car this evening, I had not one but two of these flyers on my window.

The first one was SIMMS for Attorney General and the second one was for Peter Franchot, who has the original tag line: New vision. New leadership. Our values. Something we’ve never heard before from a politician!

This reminds me of how operating system software is marketed: Faster. More efficient. Powerful. All it means is that the previous version sucked and in this “new” version, they are trying to fix all of the things that worked in the original version.

So why is my disdain and hatred for these flyers irrational? Simple: I would never consider voting for someone or something for which one of these flyers was stuck on my car. Yes, it’s insane! It makes no sense at all! And it’s me! If a flyer was placed on my car telling me to vote against Proposition Armageddon, and that my vote alone would prevent the destruction of all life on Earth, I don’t believe I’d be able to overcome by passionate and fearfully irrational hatred of these flyers. I’d rather let the world destroy itself. At least then there would be a guarantee of no more flyers.

Maybe I’m not being clear on how irrational I am about this. If God Himself placed a flyer on my car, asking for my vote, I’d refuse.

Incidentally, when I got home from work, I had five of these flyers in my mail: Flo Hendershot for Country Council; Vote No on Doug Gansler; Elect Eric Olson; a second VOTE VOTE VOTE for Flo Hendershot; and Rushern Baker, for whom I could not determine what his campaign was about.


Today, I believe I am superstition free. It took a while to get here. In fact, I got rid of my longest standing superstition about 2 years ago. I have no fear of flying (I was a pilot for crying out loud!) I also have no fear of crashing. Airplane incidents are few and far between, and the training you go through to cope with airplane problems is far, far more substantial than what you go through to get a drivers license. But whenever I got on a commercial flight, I always read the the Safety Information Cards and followed along with the video, even though I knew the whole thing by heart. Doing this, I told myself, meant that nothing bad would happen on the flight. Is that not nuts!

About 2 years ago, when I was flying with increasing frequency, I finally told myself that I was being ridiculous. I make fun of superstitions left and right and am a vocal proponent of reason. And yet, here I was thinking that my reading the safety card would keep me physically safe. It took some effort, after all, what if I didn’t read the card and there was a problem. Coincidence! I told myself. No necessary connection! Finally, I got on a plane one day when I was particularly tired and I said to myself, screw it. I put my on my iPod headphones, blasted the music and went to sleep. I woke up 2 hours into the flight. It was a perfectly average flight. I’ve flown 2 or 3 dozen times since then and I never read the information cards (unless its on a plane that I am unfamiliar with, in which case it makes sense, if only to know what to do in an emergency.)


I stopped believing in ghosts, flying saucers, alien abductions, ESP, astrology and all other forms on nonsense sometime between 6th and 7th grade. I tend to get annoyed when friends and family members mention silly superstitions of their own, but I usually keep it to myself. Does it hurt me that they believe that nonsense? Still, as you can see, I have some irrationalities of my own. I hope that I am working my way through them by recognizing them as irrationalities, even though I still retain them. Maybe one day, I will be free of all of this silliness, but I don’t know. Some of it, like the bit about the flyers, is deeply ingrained in my personality.

And so when I occasionally mutter my mantra: “Against stupidity, the gods themselves content in vain,” you can be sure that from time to time, I am talking about myself.

The airplane dream

So last night, I had a dream that I was in a Cessna 172 and strausmouse was the pilot. We were approaching what, in my warped dreamland, was Van Nuys airport. (In my dreams, Van Nuys airport is never like the actually VNY, into and out of which I’ve flown dozens of times. However, it is always different in the same way.) Eric was making a very low downwind approach and even managed to stall the plane once just before turning final.

I have no fear of flying whatsoever, but his approach to 16R scared me!

Pilot humor

A fellow pilot forwarded me this today and I thought it was hysterical. If you like flying and you are a Star Wars fan, this is for you. (Incidentally, I’ve checked and found people quoting this all over the web, but I haven’t been able to find the source site, so I’m reposting the whole thing here.) It’s worth reading:

I have read many posts on the web site from members and on MMAIL who are thinking about owning their own aircraft and looking for ways to offset the cost of ownership. I have heard many reasons for and against ownership. Why buy an aircraft? It’s cheaper to rent and you do not have all the hassle with maintenance, fuel and insurance. Well, here is a little story that I think explains it all as to why I own my own airplane.

It was a beautiful Saturday morning. No winds and the temperature was just right. So instead of mowing the lawn like my wife had planned for me, I decided to go to the airport and take the Sport out for a run. She yells back at me, “WELL IF YOU GO, TAKE YOUR SON WITH YOU.” So I ask my son. Want to go flying with dad? In which he says Yea, Can I take my light saber?

You see, my 9 year son thinks he is a Jedi Knight and that our Sport is his personal X-Wing fighter. He is only 4’5 and has to sit on a pillow in order to see over the glare shield and he always carries his light saber just in case we land on a strange planet in which there might be trouble or civil un-rest. Always prepared this one is. So away we go.

THERE I WAS….

We were straight and level at around 6,000ft and I let him take the controls of the X-Wing to do some turns to the left and right. Joshua Approach called and said there was traffic at our 2 o’clock 2 miles opposite direction and my son said to me “Look over there dad, Tie fighter coming right at us”. I told him to steer clear of the Tie Fighter because our lasers were out for repair and we were un-armed. No reason to provoke a fight.

So even though he is having a blast, I am starting to get a little bored and thought, “Let’s go do a practice approach on the ILS”. So I called Joshua Approach, requested the ILS 25 Approach to Palmdale Full Approach and off we went. I maneuvered the X-Wing to the VOR and started the turn outbound to the outer marker. Now my son is just really enjoying this. At the outer marker, the blue light started to flash and you could hear the BEEP in the headset. My Son jumps in and said “That Tie Fighter has locked on to us” I said “That’s Right” and I started my evasive maneuver on the procedure turn.

My Son is listening to the exchange between me and the controller and wants to chime in on the conversion. I said to my son, “Just hang on; I will give you a chance”. I never should have said that because now he is all excited to talk on the radio. As I start to turn inbound on the turn, the Approach control said “Contact tower when established on the localizer”. So I told my young Padawan Learner “OK, when this needle gets here on the dial, push the radio button and tell the tower that 93 Romeo is inbound on the localizer”.

Now imagine this, I am giving basic instrument instruction to a 9 year old, I cannot get adults to say this during training. So before I can give him something simpler to say he keys the mike and says “REBEL BASE, THIS IS RED 5. WE ARE STARTING OUR ATTACK RUN ON THE DEATH STAR”.

Good God.

Now this post 9/11 and before I can key my mike and say anything, the tower jumps on and says “RED 5, YOUR CLEARED FOR THE APPROACH TO THE DEATH STAR. REPORT HITS AWAY”

Now I am waiting for the tower to add “And tell your dad to call this number” But I hear nothing else. So we continue the approach. Now my son is in heaven. This is real life stuff to him and he is doing everything I tell him to do as far as tracking the needle. As we approach the outer marker inbound, the light starts to flash and there is that tone again. “Dad, the Death Star has a lock on us”. Yes Son, you keep on the approach, I will worry about the guns.

Everything is going great and now we are approaching the middle marker. My son has noticed the GPS has a red line with an airplane on it and it ends at the Death Star. So he asks me “IS THAT A TARGETING COMPUTER DAD?” Well of course it is, and it shows us where we are to the target. So now he hears Obewan tell him to USE THE FORCE SCOTT and he turns the GPS OFF. Tells me he is OK and does not need the targeting computer because he is using the FORCE.

Now the middle marker light flashes and the tone comes on. I apply full power and the airplane,,,X-Wing,,, Starts a climb. I start the turn to the missed approach path when my son keys the mike and says “HITS AWAY”. The tower answers back with “GOOD JOB RED 5, CONTACT REBEL APPROACH ON 126.1”

We go back to Mojave SPACEPORT, and I decide that the X-Wing needs a bath. So out comes all the cleaning stuff and we spend the rest of the day washing and waxing the turbo jets and laser pods.

So you see. This is why I own my own aircraft. You cannot beat this kind of quality time with your kids. And there is no way you can put a price on that.

Jeff Bryant
Southwest Regional Director
Beech Aero Club
1975 X-Wing Fighter Model B-19
N6993R