Well, continues anyway

Always wanted to fly airplanes. I was obsessed when young. Built models. Built control-wire and R/C airplanes and flew them. But when I couldn’t get a slot at Navy flight school and was unwilling to accept a back-seat, the dream almost died.

I worked my ass off on my first ship, and when I got my SWO qualification, I applied for a transfer to the aviator track. It was a longshot, ’cause you don’t even try unless you have straight ‘A’ FITREPS (recommended early promotion, and with all the appropriate code words and phrases in the writeup). I had all that, plus glowing written endorsements from my department head, XO, CO, all the way up to the 3-star running 7th Fleet at the time. But it doesn’t matter about all that unless there is a need for pilots in training beyond what the Academy, NROTC, and OCS are providing at the particular time the application is submitted. There wasn’t. Shot down again. The rejection letter was very nice and conciliatory, though. Some consolation.

Earlier, when I’d first gotten to SWO school in San Diego (three days after my commissioning ceremonies), I decided I might start flying lessons. I went over to NAS North Island, joined the club, and started taking fixed-wing lessons from an active Navy helicopter pilot, of all things. Funny, but what I most remember about that experience is how to sound cool talking on the radio (I guess helicopter pilots need alternative ways to feel cool). I’d have to check my logbook, if I still have it, but I might have logged about 5 hours total. It was enough that I was in control for takeoff, flying the patters, and landing. Did a stall or two, and was able to do a 360 degree turn at a 60 degree bank without losing altitude.

Of course, living in Japan for the next five years followed by two years in France wasn’t going to be conducive to getting a lot of flying time, I didn’t think. And, on an Ensign’s pay, I wasn’t exactly rolling in dough. So, it became something I was going to do later. Then, I didn’t think much about it at all. then one day about 8 years ago, the Navy being history, I suddenly began thinking about hang gliders, ultralights and such. Well, if you’ve read anything from the Hang-Gliding category on this blog, you know that’s something I was able to realize. I’ve logged nearly a hundred hours in hang gliders, have had single flights in excess of 2 hours (the record is better than 12 hours), and I’ve had some cross country flights, the longest of which is about 15 miles (the record is about 450 miles).

I’ve also had a few hours of stick time in sailplanes. Even done some supervised loops, wing-overs, stalls, spins, and chandelles. Great fun, and at a 40:1 glide (meaning, if you have 1 mile altitude over ground, you can glide for 40 miles, assuming lift and sink average out to zero), you can fly around for a whole lot on one tow and cover a lot of distance.

That’s all recreational. Now I’m goin’ practical.

We got back into our rebuilt cabin up in the Sierras last December. Since then, we go up every chance we get. But the Friday afternoon drive that should be about 2 1/2 hours is usually 3 1/2 or more, and I’m sick of it. So I started thinking about general aviation, again. Been researching for weeks. Turns out I can stage a vehicle at the Calaveras County Airport for $15 per month, it’s only 30 minutes from the cabin, and there’s never traffic. Better yet, that airport is only 74nm from Reid-Hillview. That’s about a 45 minute flight. So, I’ll probably be looking at 1 1/2 hour total travel time. A local club rents 2 and 4-seater airplanes for good rates. Plus, there are purchase / leaseback options for older aircraft that can allow you to fly for free or even make money on them. Financing won’t be a problem, so I’m definitely looking at that.

I’m attacking my initial private pilot certification with serious gusto. Three to four sessions per week, 1.5 – 2 hours each will be my pace. I ought to be able to get it done in two months or so. I’ve decided on this place, Amelia Reid Aviation. There are a few reasons why, most of which did not become apparent until the intro lesson I took from Lori Carr yesterday afternoon in this Citabria 7ECA. Also, be sure and check out the heritage of this flight school. The airport I’m learning at is Reid-Hillview, so you can see how this school is sort of distinguished from the other dozen or so schools on the property.

But that’s not all. It’s a taildragger school. Now, if you’re saying to yourself, "so what," then you know what I’ve been saying for about 5 years, every time I talk aviation with Billy Beck and he harps on and on about taildraggers. Well, I’m not going to get into it, ’cause it’s something you really don’t get until you get in one and fly. It’s a different world. A more difficult world, but the sort of eyes-out-of-the-cockpit, seat-of-the-pants flying you do that makes you far stronger in all the basics, and that’s applicable to anything you go on to do later. For the most part, this is flying by feel. I asked Lori while we were doing pre-flight checks: "what’s takeoff speed?" "whatever speed she wants to start flying," she replied. The message there is this: you can get into all the books you want, learn all the numbers you want, but what’s going to really save your ass when the shit hits the fan is that you know — that you feel — how to fly. That’s how I fly hang gliders. I don’t know a stall is coming on because of my airspeed. I know a stall is coming on because of the way the air is flowing (or not) across my face. I don’t coordinate a turn by pushing out on the bar so many inches after I bank over. I bank and push until the tug on my hang-strap feel just right.

I’m at home here. Man, am I at home. Thanks, Billy. Thanks for beating that drum every chance you got. By the way, Billy has some great notes about his period under instruction. Scroll down to the lime-green Citabria.

Here’s another example. The FAA doesn’t even require that students demonstrate spin-recovery proficiency anymore. They needn’t even have ever been in a spin (you civilians know it as "spiral dive"), to know what it feels like, and especially, what an incipient spin feels like so they can stop it before it even starts. First lesson, yesterday, after a complete power-on, breaking stall, she says, "OK, you’re going to pull back on the stick gently to induce a slow stall, and just before loss of control, you’re going to kick in full left rudder, left aileron, and go power off. After two revolutions in the spin, it’s full right rugger, stick back, and right aileron. Once you’re in a straight dive, power on and pull out." What fun. A spin entry and recovery on lesson #1. Of course, she sensed I’d be OK doing it, and made sure to ask if I’d be comfortable, first. I was, and I want to do more.

What’s sobering is that we lost 600 feet of altitude in that maneuver, and I’ll tell you what. Once that spins begins, things happen fast. You don’t want to get anywhere near a spin with an altitude of any less than 1,000 feet over the ground. The only way to appreciate that is to do them, to know what they feel like, to know how to recover and prevent them, and to realize what they are capable of doing, and how quickly.

This is just going to be a great couple of months at Amelia Reid Aviation.


  1. Lute Nikoley on May 13, 2005 at 16:11

    Common, the love of aviation is in your genes. So maybe this year you'll go to the Reno Air races with me, hah? My first ride in a plane wath a tail dragger back in 1952. Of caourse the c-45 & C-47 I used to fly in a lot, were also tail draggers. The most thrilling time I ever had in an aircraft was, in a RB-57 twin jet, flying at 48,000' and diving through a hole in the clouds to land at Las Vegas. Took slightly more than 1 minute to drop 38,000'. Now that's a thrill.

  2. The Complimenting Commenter on May 13, 2005 at 23:36

    That sounds like a hoot. I'm glad that you are realizing this life long dream. And that it will be a practical benefit. Good luck with the continuing lessons and have fun!

  3. Walter E. Wallis on May 14, 2005 at 09:08

    There used to be a golf course South of Reid-Hillview and pasture North. They built a shopping center [Eastridge] where the golf course was and houses to the North. Ever since then they have been trying to close Reid-Hillview.

  4. Billy Beck on May 17, 2005 at 06:43

    Uhm, Lute? What were you doing in an RB-57? It sounds like you've got history, man.

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