Year Two In Review

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The beginning of December marked two years of writing this blog as well as two years working for the airport. Wow! Seems like just yesterday I was wide-eyed and new, geeking out over all the activity on the ramp. Well… OK, I STILL geek out over the activity on the ramp. I just can’t help it! Here’s a look back at some of the things that happened (good and bad) in the past year.

img_5481Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. 2016 began with the passing of my father in early January. He had been ill for a couple of years so it wasn’t unexpected, but it definitely started the year on a down note. Then in June and again in December I had to deal with health issues. The first put me in the hospital for several days and kept me away from work for another week after that. The second didn’t keep me from working, but the three weeks it took me to recover were incredibly trying and discouraging. Yeah, in some ways this was a rough year. But thankfully there were many good things that happened too.

IMG_2335 (2)First and foremost, in April I got to fly an airplane! I still don’t quite know how that happened.  Me? Fly a plane?  I half expected the FAA to show up and put a stop to it. Thank goodness they didn’t because it was a truly amazing experience. For those of you wondering when I’ll have lesson #2, I don’t know. But I do know that I will definitely get back behind the controls at some point.

Another amazing thing that happened this year was getting to be a guest on THREE aviation podcasts:the Airplane Geeks, the Aviation Careers podcast and Plane Talking UK. Talk about completely unexpected! I never in a million years thought I would end up on a podcast, let alone three of them. It was a tremendous honor to be invited and so much fun!

IMG_4440In July I made the return trip to Oshkosh. Oh how I love that place! Being around so many airplanes is always awesome, but this year I got the chance to connect with several of my online aviation friends as well. I’m beginning to understand why people refer to Airventure as an aviation family reunion!  One of the wonderful people I had the pleasure to meet was Rob Mark, one of the hosts of the Airplane Geeks and publisher of the Jetwhine blog (among other things). Earlier this month he invited me to write a guest post about my efforts to get my daughter interested in aviation. Yet another tremendous honor! If you aren’t a regular reader of Jetwhine, I strongly recommend you check it out.  It’s always filled with great aviation content.

It was a big year for me at the airport too. If you told me when I started two years ago that I’d be learning deice pad operations I never would have believed you. (But I’d have secretly hoped you were right!) And getting to visit two ATC towers earlier this month was a dream come true. I also got to see Air Force One (twice), celebrate the re-opening of the north runway, visit the cargo airport (three times) and listen to John Glenn speak at a gathering in his honor.

img_6726I am so truly blessed to work at a place and in an industry I love so much, and to have connected with so many wonderful people. A huge thank you to everyone who helped make this such an amazing year.  A special shout-out to Aerosavvy, JR and Captain Al for their guest posts. They were fantastic!  And, of course a very big thank you to all of YOU for reading and commenting on this blog!

So what does 2017 have in store? Well if 2016 taught me anything it’s that you never know what might happen. However there are some awesome things in the works, including a return trip to Oshkosh in July and a visit to Wings Over Pittsburgh in May. And maybe, just maybe, airfield driving privileges! Stay tuned!

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The Little Air Show That Could

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When you think of air shows, what comes to mind? I typically think of big spectacle, big noise, lots of airplanes and lots of people. In fact, that pretty much sums up every air show I’ve ever been to. So when I first heard about the little air show, I shrugged it off. I’d see bigger and better at Osh. What could a small-town air show in the middle of nowhere possibly have to offer? As it turns out, quite a bit more than I ever expected.

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The Road To Where?

It took an hour and a half of driving deep into a very rural part of the state to get to the show. Given the rugged terrain I expected a very tiny airport perched on the top of a hill. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was a good size and situated in a nice, open area surrounded by fields and forest.

Easy Breezy

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The view of the runway from our seats.

I began to realize that I had stumbled onto something special when the police officer helping to collect admission fees noticed my airplane necklace and told me how much he liked it. My normal air show concerns – bad traffic, lousy parking and expensive tickets – were not a factor. From the time we pulled off the main road until we paid admission and parked took all of five minutes. It only took another two minutes to walk to the show grounds. And the ticket price? $10 per person!

img_5355I figured we’d spend the day jammed in the middle of a crowd, with only premium ticket buyers allowed anywhere near the flight line. Wrong! There were lots of people in attendance, but somehow it never seemed crowded. We set up our blanket and chairs in the grass facing the runway just behind a roped-off area. Yay! Front row seats! Then I realized, EVERYONE had front row seats. Well played, small-town air show. Well played!

Talk to me Goose

img_5302Once we claimed our viewing spot, we went to check out the static displays which consisted primarily of the planes that would be performing that afternoon. These included a Cessna 172, three Yak 52s and a Pitts. Oh – and did I mention two F-18 Super Hornets? Yes, you read that right! Super Freaking Hornets!!!! As unlikely as it sounds, this small-town show had managed to bring in a couple of big-time airplanes! I also have to give major kudos to whoever set up their sound system. Not only did they have speakers everywhere, they also played the ENTIRE Top Gun soundtrack (minus the love song). Oh Hell YES!!!  Because seriously, what’s an air show without the theme from Top Gun?

Kickstart My Heart

img_5485The show itself was only a couple hours long but included a nice variety of acts. There were three solo aerobatic performers, one of whom flew the aforementioned Pitts (one of my faves). The Aerostar team flew their Yaks in a beautiful demonstration of precision and grace. There was also an all-female sky diving team who performed not one but two jumps during the show.

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One of the Misty Blues (an all-female skydiving team) handing out stickers and signing autographs

I’ve seen all these acts before, or at least I’ve seen other performances very much like them, but what made this show special was the intimacy of the setting. The seats along the flight line made you feel like you were right in the middle of the action. Better still, when they finished performing, many of the pilots and some of the skydivers walked through the crowd, greeting people, signing autographs and posing for pictures. As you might imagine, this was a HUGE hit with the kids.

Military MIght

img_5484There was one kid, however, who wasn’t especially impressed. She was one of the neighborhood teens I brought with me. She sat patiently, watching the proceedings but without any real interest. That is until one of the Super Hornets fired up its engines, at which point she perked up a little. When it took off she actually looked interested. And when it did its first high speed pass she was completely hooked. I don’t think I’ve EVER seen this kid get so excited in all the years I’ve known her. Suddenly she was laughing, pointing and taking pictures. Sure an F-18 can fly into hostile territory, engage the enemy then land on the tiny, pitching deck of an aircraft carrier. Whatever.  No big deal.  But fire up the passion of a disinterested teen?  Now THAT’S impressive!  img_5481

As I drove home that evening I thought about what we had just experienced – not just the airplanes and performances, but all those excited kids shaking hands and chatting with pilots. Is is possible that a small show could inspire, encourage and engage  future aviators every bit as well as a big show (and maybe even better)?  I can’t speak for all small-town air shows everywhere, but I can say for sure that this little air show could!

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Photo by L.O’Connell, who now thinks F-18s are pretty cool.

 

Airport Tales: Captain Al

 

By RHL Images from England (Busy Holding Points) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsAnd now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the third installment of Airport Tales! This time around we’ve hopped “across the pond” to chat with Captain Al Evans.  Al flies with a major UK airline, but over the course of his career he’s flown pretty much everywhere and has some great stories and insight to share.

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Background:

Tell us a little about your background as a pilot, how you got started, what you do now and where your travels typically take you:

Captain AlLike many aviators, my passion for flying came from my Dad. He was and still is an inspiration to me on many levels. Coming from a rural background in wartime Britain his opportunities were limited but he grasped the opportunity to join the Royal Air Force with both hands. He started out as an apprentice radar engineer and showed great promise, not only in his trade but on the rugby pitch (being Welsh and fast he was a natural selection). An unique set of circumstances led to him leaving the air force, unable to fulfill his ambition of transferring to air crew. He had all the skills and acumen but lacked one thing – colour vision! Despite having umpteen Air Force medicals this small hiccup had been undetected, and what’s more, scuppered his current trade as engineer too. After many deliberations the Air Force accepted that they had caused his colour blindness and he left. Many years later, when I was six, my father reignited his passion for flying by undertaking his Private Pilots License (PPL), paid for by my grandmother who very astutely wanted to see her children enjoy their inheritance whilst she was still alive! My dad was a natural and went on to represent Great Britain in Precision Flying and Rallying for many years.

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By Valder137, Creative Commons

As for me the spark was ignited, but when I was old enough flying jobs were as abundant as rocking horse dung. So I fell into other careers: radio presenter, audio engineer, music producer, videotape editor and finally special effects compositor for feature films and commercials. This created the income and one day in a high street newsagent I saw a copy of Pilot magazine and bought it. At the back of the magazine was a full page advert for a UK PPL in 21 days in the Florida sunshine for the grand sum of £1999. The spark turned into a flame and 2 weeks later I started in Ormond Beach, Florida. Part-way through the course I telephoned my dad and told him what I was doing and he said “great, let me know how you get on”. The following week he turned up completely out of the blue on the day of my General Flight Test and congratulated me face to face for my initiative and hard work. For me there was no going back and with my parents backing and support (something they have always given regardless of my plans) the journey to commercial aviation began.

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Chuck Yeager is a great guy, but sadly he’s not a natural Al. (U.S. Air Force photo)

I completed most of my training in Florida with the odd bit in the UK. I worked exceptionally hard to achieve the required standards and some failures (with the subsequent retests) were necessary but on reflection they made me a better Captain – not everyone is a natural Chuck Yeager!

Having flown in the Caribbean for a while, I returned to the UK and started in the right-hand seat of a Jetstream 41 flying domestic and international flights ostensibly from Cardiff. There is no doubt in my mind that flying a 29 seat turboprop is the perfect way to cut your teeth in European commercial flying, a career route that is fast becoming defunct!

Within the same airline, albeit after a rebrand, I flew the Embraer 145, the Jungle Jet, named after its Brazilian heritage. It was a wonderful aircraft, a junior B757, but it wasn’t well suited to British short runways or crosswinds!

FullSizeRender (48)There was an employment bubble, the world of aviation is cyclical, and I seized the opportunity to join a major player in the UK aviation world. The interview was a chat with two management pilots – no computer tests or HR trickery, and the deal was struck, or at least I thought so! A phone call later gave me an unexpected option Boeing or Airbus? Truthfully one look at the the beautiful A330 made the decision easy and the course date was set. A period of time flying the company A320/1s was required before I could get a go of the Big Bird, that time was quick and the delights of stormy nights in the Greek Islands was soon replaced by stunning visual approaches in the Indian Ocean! I still flew the narrow bodies but my time was mainly A330, it was a wondrous period of my life – I think I got married round about now but I’m not sure!

Command beckoned and a return to narrow body flying became the norm. Being a Captain in an airline that empowers its Captains brings many challenges and joys, but I can truly say not a day goes by where I don’t learn something new and enjoy myself.

Airport stuff

Favorite airport to fly into/out of (in terms of approach/departure) and why:

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By StromBer (own work) Creative Commons License

My favourite airport of flights past is Malé International in the Republic of The Maldives.  Why? Because after flying for over 10 hours through the night the beauty of the world is presented in a plethora of beautiful colours, as the sandy atolls poke out of the azure waters. The airport itself was a joy and visual approaches were often the norm. The airport has a long tarmac runway and a somewhat shorter water runway. I can honestly say I only ever landed on the long one! The ability to call visual with over two hundred miles to run and hear the gentle squeak of rubber on tarmac as 11 hours clicked over was unforgettable.

Most challenging airport you have flown into/out of and why:

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By Ayala (Own Work) Creative Commons License

Currently my favourite airport is also one of the world’s most challenging, Gibraltar. A short runway clinging to the side of a rock with sea at each and and no instrument approaches focuses the mind on a regular basis. There is nothing more satisfying than achieving a smooth touchdown after spending many minutes battling with horrible orographically produced winds. Gibraltar often has a tailwind on both ends of the runway!

Biggest airport-related hassle:

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Hey now… that’s a Boeing! How did it sneak in here? Oops! Sorry about that Al!

Security is now part of our lifeblood in aviation but standards vary greatly, not just from country to country but airport to airport. It is time that ICAO mandated that whilst no pilot is perfect, of can of Pepsi in the hands of a pilot is not a security risk. Many pilots these days judge airports more on their practical and common sense approach to the landside/airside transition than more aeronautical related facilities. Some airport genuinely view pilots as part of the problem and not part of the solution! I do not need a 330ml can of Pepsi to cause harm when there is a fire axe on the flight deck and within my reach!

Airport/FBO you’ve been to with the best coffee? Food? Other amenities?

My turnarounds are often short (less than an hour) so my interface with terminals/FBOs is minimal but any handling company that provides free doughnuts gets a thumbs up from me (thank you Calgary)!

Strangest airport-related incident:

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Virginia State Parks, Creative Commons License

The strangest airport experience I ever had was when I was deadheading from New Dehli to Dabolim (both in India) when we were asked to evacuate the aircraft via the forward doors only. Once outside and fearing the worst we could see what the problem was – a huge swarm of hornets had covered the entire tail section of the aircraft, there must have been millions of them! From the relative safety of an airport bus the fire brigade tried to disperse them by spraying them with water – it didn’t work and the flight was eventually cancelled! I know not what happened to the hornets or indeed the aircraft but I did make it to Dabolim, eventually!

In your opinion, what qualities make for a good airport (as a pilot and as a traveler)?

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Ha ha ha Boeing, very funny. Now cut it out!

As an industry we have faced many challenges in the past 20 years or so, but airports must become more open minded and become ‘user friendly’, nobody likes queues and often they are as a result of poor design and poor implementation. Our customers face huge delays in proceeding landside to airside with little justification. Our airports have become soulless people processors. Once airside opportunities are missed, does your airport offer a choice of full service restaurants? Very few do, favouring a selection of fast food & fast eat options. Not everyone is in a rush! We need to put some soul and passion back into our airports – no more grey or beige corridors please!

If you could operate any piece of airport equipment/vehicle, which would it be?

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Pushback tug. Hey.. wait just a minute! Thought we wouldn’t notice, huh Boeing? Well we did. Now stop it!

I have often mused about taking a pushback tug down to my local pub! No parking spaces? No problem! Some years ago when Milan Malpensa airport opened its new terminal they provided crew with electric scooters to get to the gate – there is nothing more surreal than watching 3 pilots and 14 cabin crew racing down the concourse on scooters!

Is there anything airport staff can do to better support you?

If I could ask airports to provide one thing it would be a courtesy filter, nobody should be allowed at an airport unless they can be courteous. Every week I find myself dealing with rude and disrespectful people and it seems to be getting worse. My industry once led the world in service and style alas no more or perhaps I’m just getting old!

Anything else you’d like to share?

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OK Boeing, now you’re just showing off.  Seriously that’s enough! Cut it out! (Photo by MarkJHandel, Creative Commons)

I don’t want to end on a negative so I shan’t! Aviation is a vocation or perhaps the worlds strongest drug – either way it is a truly wonderful industry and not a day goes by when I remind myself how lucky I am. And finally (if you’ve made it thus far thank you) our industry is in good hands for the future as just last night I had the pleasure of meeting Jess. She was one of my cabin crew, and at young age of 19 has embarked on learning to fly. Her commitment and enthusiasm are an aviation viagra to us old pilots.

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Getting better.  Now remove the flag…

So at this point I bid my passengers farewell, my crew adios and my wife and son hello!

Captain Al out.
Captain Al Evans

A320/1 Fleet Manchester (MAN) and Birmingham (BHX)

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Yay! Thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to share this with us Al! I completely agree with your observations about some of the challenges facing airports today. And I LOVE your choice of airport vehicle! Of course now I’m going to be sorely tempted to “borrow” the nearest tug next time I plan a night out!

One other interest that Al didn’t mention is his desire to help people who have a fear of flying.  Check out his awesome website: flightfearsolutions.co.uk!

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Ah, there we go!

Blog Post About (Aviation) Podcasts

Author’s note: My apologies for the long delay between posts.  I took ill rather suddenly right after I published my last post.  I required emergency surgery which sidelined me for several weeks.  I am finally on the mend and ready to get back to being an aviation fan-girl running loose at the airport and (of course) blogging all about it.

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By Zzubnik (Own work) Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

I’ll admit, for a long time I wasn’t a podcast listener. I knew what they were (sort-of) but didn’t figure that there were any out there that would be of interest to me. Boy was I so totally WRONG!!! Beginning last summer I began making a series of long drives back home to visit my ailing father. In search of something aviation-related to listen to while driving I decided to download a few aviation podcasts that had been recommended by friends. Those few led me to others and the next thing I knew, I’d become a regular podcast listener.

What makes podcasts so awesome? Not only do they provide a lot of excellent, detailed information on the world of aviation, but they also come with really wonderful communities of listeners who encourage and support each other. I discussed two of my favorite podcasts in my last post Airplane Geeks and Plane Talking UK. However, there are several other amazing podcasts out there that you really don’t want to miss!

IMG_3607 (1)Airline Pilot Guy

This podcast is hosted by Captain Jeff Nielsen, who flies for a major US carrier. Originally a one-man show, Jeff has since added several co-hosts including Miami Rick, who recently added the 747 to the long list of Boeing airplanes he knows how to fly, Dr Steph, a physician and general aviation pilot, and Captain Nick who flies A330s/A340s for a major UK carrier.  The podcast covers the latest aviation news as well as addressing items of interest and questions sent in by listeners.

Aside from being incredibly informative, the show is just plain fun. Jeff and his co-hosts broadcast live, usually via Youtube, but you can listen to the recorded podcast any time. That said, if you get a chance to watch it live, DO IT! Seriously, the comments and discussion in the chat room in combination with the live podcast are typically completely hilarious. It never fails to lift my spirits. In fact, I always watch the show live and then go back listen to the podcast. I almost always learn something that I missed the first time and I find that I laugh just as much.

One of my favorite episodes: Secret Number Two   Really you could pick just about any episode – they are all great.  However, this is a recent one in which they cover an accident involving a Cirrus SR20 and I thought the discussion was very insightful.

IMG_3608Plane Safety Podcast

This little gem of a podcast is hosted by Pip, a pilot for a European airline. As the name suggests, this podcast focuses on the safety aspects of aviation. Pip discusses many of the day to day issues faced by pilots and airlines, often drawing from current events.  He also has several episodes in which he reviews well-known aviation incidents from the past, points out some of the key contributing factors and highlights how they have influenced the policies and procedures of today. When he isn’t discussing safety, Pip often talks about his latest trip which gives the listener a behind-the-scenes look at what life as a pilot is really like.

One of my favorite episodes: Nats, Brexit and the Millenium Falcon No, I did not pick this because it is the most recent episode (although it is). I chose this because it includes an interview with an experienced First Officer that is the BEST INTERVIEW EVER.  Seriously, check it out.

IMG_3591AviatorCast

Hosted by Chris Palmer, a private pilot and founder of Angle of Attack, this podcast features guests and topics that focus on general aviation and flight training. Chris is passionate about encouraging current and future pilots, and it really shines through in the way he talks about flying.

One of my favorite episodes: My Scariest Pilot Moment I think it takes a lot of guts to share a frightening or difficult moment that you’ve had as a pilot.  I really like that Chris was willing to put this out there so that others can learn from his experience.

IMG_3609Flying and Life

Hosted by Mike, who works for a major US carrier, this podcast gives us a detailed look into the world of an airline dispatcher. I have always wondered just what exactly a dispatcher does, so I really enjoy this podcast and I have learned a lot. For example, did you know that a dispatcher shares operational control with the captain of the flight?  Me either! It is pretty incredible all the things that dispatchers are responsible for.

One of my favorite episodes: Building Routes Part 1 Wow! A lot of thought goes into what route you’ll be flying the next time you head out on vacation!

IMG_3601Some Podcast Regulars You Should Follow:

There are several folks who don’t have podcasts of their own, but often contribute to the podcasts listed above. If you are interested in aviation and/or podcasting, I recommend giving these guys a follow on twitter:

Micah (Airplane Geeks, Plane Talking UK, Airline Pilot Guy): Micah uses his background in radio to submit amazing pieces of audio feedback that are amusing, poignant and never fail to get you thinking.

Captain Al (Plane Talking UK, Plane Safety Podcast, Airline Pilot Guy): Al’s background as a captain with a major UK airline allows him to add valuable experience and perspective on pretty much any aviation topic.

Nevil (Plane Talking UK, Airline Pilot Guy):Nevil is an aviation enthusiast who is also a self-proclaimed analogue recording geek.  Enough said.

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Podcast Supplemental

FullSizeRender (47)I’m not typically a big fan of Mondays. Sure I love my job and where I work but like any other Monday-through-Friday employee, I often find Mondays pretty tough to take. However, this past Monday two really awesome things happened, both of them involving podcasts.

The first thing had to do with the incredibly cheerful and totally fun Plane Talking UK Podcast. Carlos and Matt cover the week’s news in aviation (both civil and military) plus they usually have a guest (or two). They also read emails and play audio feedback submitted by their listeners. I was listening to Episode 115 on my way to work but thank goodness I had parked before the feedback section came on because the first piece of feedback really blew me away.

IMG_3211It was from Jennifer Parkinson, also known as “Jenny in Rome.” She had sent in audio feedback about how her husband had suggested an aerial tour of Rome for her birthday. She went on to say that she had recently read a blog post about a discovery flight and it inspired her to get flying lessons instead. Imagine my shock when she stated that the blog post was mine! (Mooney Over My House) When I first started this blog I didn’t know if anyone would even read it, let alone that it might inspire someone to give flying a try. I am truly humbled and oh so very pleased! I wish Jenny all the best and look forward to hearing all about her lessons!

AirplaneGeeks-banner-960x125The next awesome thing happened Monday night when I was invited to be a guest on the Airplane Geeks Podcast. In the pantheon of aviation podcasts, this one is right up at the top. I can’t tell you what a tremendous honor (and, quite frankly, surprise) it was to be asked. My first thought was, do these guys have any idea what they’re getting themselves into? My second thought was, boy I hope I can form a coherent sentence! And my third thought was, I have GOT to find a way to bring stairs trucks into the conversation.

Well I don’t know if I managed to speak very coherently, but I did manage to discuss stairs trucks. And we talked quite a bit about airports and what goes on behind the scenes. However, there was one question that I was unable to answer regarding where the airport gets its statistics on passenger travel. Well that just won’t do! So I did some asking around and here’s what I found out:

IMG_3203The information comes from the Department of Transportation. They take a sampling of passenger tickets (around 10%) and publish the data quarterly. The airport uses a software program which analyzes the information and makes it easier to dig in to. The data is apparently quite detailed and includes not only the point of departure and destination but connections, ticket prices, the airlines and even historical trends. Because the information is several months old by the time it is published, the airport will also look at trends in the community (what businesses are adding jobs or have moved into the area, etc.) to get an idea of whether demand for certain routes is growing.

FullSizeRender (46)Oh and in case you are wondering, yes my dad really did throw away the TV when I was in 6th grade and we didn’t have another in the house for 11 years.  Well, except for a tiny little TV that one of my brother’s friends gave him.  We hid it in his toy box and would get it out on Thursday nights when my parents worked late. The reception was terrible and we only got one channel but watching Magnum PI was a tradition with us until the little TV died.  Shhhh – don’t tell my parents!

(Pssst – the podcasts mentioned in this post are just two of several really awesome podcasts that I enjoy. Stay tuned – in the next post I’m going to cover a few others that you don’t want to miss!)

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Mooney Over My House

Did you hear about the state-wide TFR that was issued last Saturday? Did you hear they brought in the National Guard and evacuated the streets? Did you hear they put a special NTSB go-team on stand-by? OK, so none of that really happened. But it should have. Because THIS happened:

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Yes, you are seeing that correctly. Someone was crazy enough to let me take the controls of an airplane while it was in the air. How on earth did this happen?

Let me start with a confession. Until this past weekend, I had never been up in a small plane before. Heck, I haven’t even flown commercially in ages. And to be honest, I’ve never had any desire to be a pilot. Yet somehow I found myself pulling up at a small municipal airport on a gorgeous sunny day looking for a CFI named Greg who clearly didn’t know what he was getting himself into.

Then again, maybe he did. He was smart enough to be based at an airport with no stairs trucks, plows or broom trucks to distract me. But what it did have was a nice 5,000 ft runway and lots of very cool airplanes sitting around. Among them, his Mooney:

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I complimented Greg on his lovely airplane and told him how much I appreciated his willingness to take me up in it, however I felt he should know that that there was absolutely NO WAY I was going to fly it. He just laughed and asked if I knew anything about the physics of flight. He then proceeded to talk about the wings and lift and other related topics, at which point I knowingly nodded my head and said, “Ah yes, Delta P.”

IMG_2330Apparently he doesn’t listen to the Airline Pilot Guy podcast because he made no comment. Instead he ignored my fit of giggles and handed me a checklist. He pointed to the walk-around items and told me to read them out loud. So I read the checklist and we walked around the airplane, examining each thing on the list.

After that it was time to climb in and get ready to go. He helped me with the door and my headset and went over a few safety procedures. He also pointed out the attitude, altitude and speed indicators, along with a few other items on the instrument panel.

IMG_2296 At this point I piped up, “Before I drove here this morning I reviewed the airport map, the sectional chart and checked the weather. Winds are out of the south at 4 knots. I presume we’ll be using runway 28 today. Can you tell me how the Class C airspace around the pax airport will affect our flight?” I think he might have been just a little relieved to discover that although I’m rather silly, I’m actually not completely clueless. He confirmed that we would, in fact, be using 28 and that we would stay in the proper altitudes to work around the Class C airspace.

I think everything got real for me when he fired up the prop, we listened to ATIS and taxied out to the runway. There was another plane on approach but it was several miles out. Greg announced our intentions to back-taxi to the end of the runway, turn around and take off. As we pulled onto the runway I confirmed that we were, in fact, on 28. I also looked to make sure the runway was clear of traffic.

IMG_2303It was at this point Greg said, “OK, we’re ready for take off.  Are you ready to fly the plane?” Um… what? Wait – remember that whole “I’m not flying this plane” thing? Yeah, I wasn’t kidding! I was just about to remind him of this but the next thing I knew we were accelerating down the runway and then we lifted up and I saw the ground gracefully fall away beneath us and at that point I pretty much forgot everything else. Oh. My. God. We’re FLYING!!!

It’s really difficult to find the right words to describe flying in a small plane for the first time. It was incredibly amazing, incredibly awe-inspiring, incredibly beautiful. And, to be honest, just the teensiest bit nerve-wracking – at least at first. It was not an especially windy day, but there was a little turbulence as we flew out over the nearby reservoirs. Greg explained the flow of air around the surface of the earth, how it rises and falls around the terrain, like water in a stream. He then climbed the plane to 4,000 feet and I immediately noticed how much calmer it was.

IMG_2337If my instructor had any flaws it would have to be that he was really good at ignoring my protests. No matter how many times I told him I was NOT going to fly his plane, he somehow got me to make some gentle turns as well as climb and descend. We flew east and then turned south to fly over my neighborhood. I was surprised to find it didn’t take too long for me to recognize where we were. We circled around and I was clearly able to see my house, my yard, the neighbors’ houses… Hey! I didn’t realize those guys had such a big swimming pool!

IMG_2394Visibility was amazing. I looked out and could see not only the pax airport, where I spend so much of my time, but also the cargo airport and the GA airport – and at least one other airport as well. The sight of all those airports was actually rather comforting. It was nice to know there were so many places to land if we needed them.

After checking out my house we turned north and west, heading back to the airport. Greg briefly discussed the airport traffic pattern, but he knew that I already understood how it worked so he turned his attention to completing the pre-landing check list. It was at this point that he asked if I was ready to do the landing. This was the first thing that flashed through my mind:

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Um… he’s kidding, right? Just to be safe, I put my foot down (not literally since both feet were resting lightly on the rudder pedals) and said “I am absolutely NOT landing this plane!!!!” It was pretty clear that Greg was just having a little fun with me because this time he accepted my protests and handled the landing – which was, of course, very nicely executed.

IMG_2392We taxied to the ramp, parked the plane and we both climbed out. My first thought upon putting my feet on the ground was… wait a minute… did I just fly an airplane??? Oh holy cow I DID!!!! I just flew a freaking airplane!!!! I looked around thinking for sure the FAA or the NTSB would he there to haul me away, but nope.

For those of you wondering about motion sickness (which was my biggest concern going into all this), I felt fine while we were flying. After we landed, however, some queasiness set in. Fortunately it passed after ten or fifteen minutes.

IMG_2399Still trying to wrap my mind around everything that happened, I gave Greg a very sincere thank you. Not only was he good teacher with the patience of a saint, but he managed to get me to fly his plane despite my adamant assertions that it wasn’t going to happen.

His last act was to hand me a log book which he had filled out detailing my very first lesson. He reminded me to take the log book with me any time I fly with an instructor so I can keep track of the hours. I laughed because of course I have no intention of becoming a pilot.

But then again…

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