The nonpilot’s guide to piloting

April 13, 2010 by Jill W. Tallman

Guest blogger Steve Chupnick is associate producer of Motorweek, and one-half of Team Wilbur in the AOPA Fun to Fly Road and Runway Rally.–Jill W. Tallman

Steve Chupnick and the SMART car at Roebling Road race track.

Steve Chupnick and the SMART car at Roebling Road race track.

OK, the title of this article is a little loose, but after only 25 minutes of flying before embarking on the Road and Runway Rally, I’m going to consider myself a nonpilot. Let’s just put it this way, I don’t have a pilot license (but maybe some day). Over the first three days of this journey, I have done more than I ever thought I’d be able to do in my life. I’ve seen more and had amazing experiences–and that’s thanks to flight, and my co-pilot and Team Wilbur partner, Ian Twombly.

 Day One of the Rally began with some glitches–namely a flat tire on takeoff before we left Frederick Municipal Airport and AOPA headquarters. But because of that, I learned what size tire the Remos GX uses (a 400-6 Aero Classic model) and that its torque is set to 88 inch pounds. But I have to say, as the five hours passed before we were finally able to take off, Ian was all over the situation–I supervised. So much for our 4 p.m. call time in Williamsburg, Va., but we still made dinner at the Williamsburg Winery, which is most important.

 Ian and I went over the flight plan, instructing me on the restricted air zone surrounding the Washington, D.C., corridor flying between 1,200-1,300 feet north of the 120 line. We were then clear for takeoff–and man, was I in for a treat. Other than the 10-15 minutes in the restricted zone, Ian gave me the reins of the plane–that’s right, I had control past that into Virginia.

 Day Two just got better from the very start–I got to fly down the East Coast of the United States. At times, I was as low as 300 feet off the water and traveling 106 knots (around 122 mph). Our first stop was Kitty Hawk, North Carolina–First Flight Airport. We saw our namesake, Wilbur Wright, at the very spot where he and his brother, Orville, took off in 1903. It’s also the same place where I received my first logbook from Ian. As he said, “There’s no better place to give you this.” It was one of the most exciting things to happen to me.

 After a quick stop in Wilmington, N.C., we headed down to South of the Border and the Dillon County Airport. It was such a nice night, we took the doors off the Remos and flew doorless–one nice feature on the plane (and something you can’t do in a car). But what made this trip indescribable is my first pseudo solo take-off and landing! Having just a few more minutes of sunlight after initial touchdown, Ian decided there was just about enough time to go up for a fast pattern. With Ian taking care of the foot pedals, I handled the throttle and the controls–amazing is the only way I can describe the feeling.

 Day Three was the big switch day; Team Wilbur gave up the Remos for the SMART car.  A destination very familiar to the MotorWeek crew was ahead of us–Roebling Road, a road race course near Savannah, Georgia. Thanks to Kay and her team at the race track, we got the SMART on the 2-mile course; both Ian and I were able to have a chance at the wheel–a real treat for Ian who was able to go nuts. Down I-95 we ended up in St. Augustine, Florida, where our AOPA gang was waiting for us.

 We have one more day of the Rally before heading to Sun ‘n’ Fun in Lakeland, Fla.–and Team Wilbur will definitely make the most of our time.


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