My best flight

The waning days of December are a great time to reflect on the events of the past year. Jill Tallman blogged about her best and worst aviation events of 2011 last week, but I like to think about personal trips and adventures throughout the year. Maybe it’s just because I was recently updating my logbook, but this time of year has me thinking about my favorite flight of 2011.

“Climbs, turns, intro to FMS nav, Collins Proline Vnav intro, a/c systems.” That’s the endorsement from an entry in April, simple words that mark an extraordinary experience. It was also a dual flight, which makes the instructor in me happy. Since I started flying more than 10 years ago my time in the air, like most pilots, has come at the hands of piston-powered airplanes. In April I was given the opportunity to fly right seat in a Cessna CJ3. It was a wonderful 1.5 hours, mainly because I felt like a student pilot again. From takeoff to leveling off in cruise, I was completely overwhlemed at everything that was happening. And that’s a good thing. It made it fresh, fun, and exciting.

The flight was to bring a load of AOPA employees back from the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-in in Lakeland, Florida. I was lucky enough to draw the front seat on departure. Sitting there helping the pilot run through checklists, the thought went through my mind that takeoff would likely happen faster than in even the most powerful pistons I’ve flown. What an understatement. The CJ’s thrust slammed us back in the seat and the runway lights went by so fast I felt completely out of control. Thankfully I was sitting with my hands in my lap at this point as nothing more than a passenger. But at a few thousand feet, he handed it over to me and I flew it up into the flight levels, eventually switching the autopilot on so it could take us beyond 40,000 feet.

To say the view that high is special is like saying that shooting a hole in one in golf is a good shot. You’re up above the airline traffic, looking down on clouds that in most airplanes I fly would be harbingers of bumps. The colors are different, the perspective unusual, and the horizon beautiful. You can understand why jet pilots brag about their office being so high. It’s better than any corner office in the world.

Too soon it was time to head in the back so someone else could enjoy the view. I sat in my seat thinking silly poetic things about the awesomeness that is flight. For excitment, new adventure, and bringing back the feeling of being a student, the flight was a winner hands down. It makes me wonder what 2012 will bring.

What about your best flight?

Happy New Year.

–Ian J. Twombly