Lifestyles: The regionals

March 3rd, 2014

Regional jetYou spend every free moment thinking about flying, or actually flying, or studying flying, or actually thinking about studying flying—maybe even while flying. Your hours slowly build, your certificates and ratings begin to pile up. First is the private, then the instrument, then your commercial, and your CFI. You live sparsely and spend the same, minimizing your expenditures while trying to maximize your income. You provide the best service and instruction you can, being fair to your customers and yourself, and in time collect your multiengine credentials. You make mistakes, scare yourself (and others), and learn more about flying while working as a CFI than you will for the rest of your career. Always focused, you can sense that your opportunity as an airline pilot or a charter pilot is within reach.

What will it be like?

The routine at the regionals is, in many ways, different than it is at the majors. Because the regionals feed to the hubs of their partners, they often provide a frequency of service to the smaller cities that the majors cannot match. Towns like Des Moines, Iowa; Richmond, Virginia; Albany, New York; and Tulsa, Oklahoma, are the bread and butter of the regionals. The majors may bring in the occasional 737 or MD-80, but the RJ (in some variant) is king here, sometimes for as few as two flights a day, and often for as many as seven.

As a regional pilot, you will spend your days bouncing in and out of one or more hubs, connecting people to larger aircraft bound elsewhere or bringing them to a meeting or home. There are some point-to-point city pairs, but not as many as there used to be. Some cities, like Raleigh, are mini-focus cities for multiple carriers. You will typically fly trips that range from one to four days (usually three days or four), though a few are five days. You may start early in the morning or sometime after lunch. Frequently you will stick with an “AM” or a “PM” schedule, but not always. On reserve, the one day, two-leg out-and-back may turn into a six-day trip. As a line holder, you will generally fly for three to four days and be off for three to four days. Usually there is a long block of seven or as many as 10 days off somewhere in the month.

On the same day you may fly from the warm beaches of Miami to the frigid winters of Green Bay, stopping to deice, or even being forced to re-deice somewhere along the way. You will learn to deal with broken airplanes, rushed passengers and gate agents, and tired flight attendants. You will learn to eat faster than a Marine in battle, and to time your walk-around so you don’t have to stand on a ramp in the rain. You will average at least four flights a day, and  at times you will do as many as eight, and you will feel exhausted when you do.

You will learn that the names of the days no longer matter. You are on Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.

You will sleep in a different hotel each night, and you will learn to pack your bags efficiently and only unpack what you must. You will need a few months to figure out how to pack for yourself: winter clothes versus summer, workout attire, your iPod, and whatever personal items you deem to be critical to making life on the road just a bit easier. You will learn to pack your suitcase so that you can fit it into an overhead compartment on any airplane.

Some nights you will go to bed late and wake up all too early. On others, you will be done flying by noon and start again the next evening. You will learn by necessity how to constantly juggle your sleep patterns. There will be some nights when you sleep like a newborn baby and others where, for no explainable reason, you will not be able to sleep a wink no matter how exhausted you are. Soon, you will know where the best hidden jewels for restaurants are, and you will try to bid your schedule accordingly. At times you will forget where you are.

You will learn to maximize your time off to get as much done as possible. Laundry, dry cleaning, and errands all need to be completed ASAP on your return home. You will pay the bills, get used to your own bed again, get used to sleeping with your spouse or partner again, and finally get the lawn mowed just as your neighbors are organizing a homeowner’s intervention. Soon, you realize you are wise to have a set of clothes ready to go at home so you can swap clean and dirty in a pinch if you don’t have the time or energy to do laundry. If you commute—and odds are good that at some point you will have to—you will check the flights to get you back to work. You may need to book your hotel room for the night before or after your trip.

It is a rhythm. It isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t always fun. But most of the time, it is. When you are home, you are home. There is no work, and your time is your own. And soon, you are watching your logbook fill up, and you are anticipating two more milestones: captain, and an offer from a major.—Chip Wright

Take me flying

February 26th, 2014

Sammy in Miss JDogs that enjoy riding in cars generally enjoy flying in airplanes. That’s the conventional wisdom, and it holds up for the most part (although dogs that ride in cars without an issue can become airsick, so many pilots don’t feed dogs before taking them up).

My dog Sammy enjoyed riding in cars. She would sit up in the back and look out (or stick her nose out the open window, weather permitting) with a serenity that our other dogs lacked. No crying or barking, no bouncing back and forth between windows. She would simply take in all that there was to see.

I wanted to take her flying, so I finally did. She was 13 years old and 56 pounds, so it wasn’t easy to load her into the back of my Cherokee. She didn’t understand that she was to head into the open door, and she tried to walk out onto the right wing. Once in the backseat, however, she realized that she had simply been helped into another kind of vehicle, and she sat up just as she had always done in our cars, ready to take in the view. She didn’t lie down or move around; she simply gazed out the rear window and watched the Earth below, much as she’d watched cars and people and landscapes while traveling on the ground.

When we were finished with our flight, I went to the nearest drive-through and bought her a $100 hamburger.

That was our one flight. For me, it was enough. For Sammy, who knows? Dogs just like to be with their people, and while she enjoyed her hamburger, she probably wouldn’t have cared whether we went for a walk, or a drive, or a flight. Still, I’m glad I took her flying. This picture is from November 2012, before arthritis and the tumor that eventually took their toll.

Take your dog flying. You’ll both have a great time.—Jill W. Tallman

How the captain earns the money

February 25th, 2014

It is well-known that the captain makes the big bucks. Another joke is that when thegold coin first officer looks to the left, he sees the captain. When the captain looks to the left, he sees a window with a reflection of…himself.

So what is it that the captain does that the FO doesn’t that earns the captain those big bucks?

Airlines use seniority for everything, so the captain’s rank and pay really don’t mean anything other than that he or she was hired first. Even this isn’t absolute. Some FOs decide to stay in the right seat because of personal reasons, and they may actually be senior to their captain.

The pay differential is there because the captain is being paid for generally having more experience (the above example notwithstanding), and for having more responsibility. The captain and flight dispatcher are jointly responsible for the flight—but once the airplane leaves the ground, the captain becomes the final authority.

The captain makes his money not during normal operations, but during abnormal operations, when difficult decisions need to be made. The two examples that most stand out are in-flight emergencies or developments that might require a diversion, and in making a decision that could result in a cancellation.

Diversions usually result from weather, and where there is one diverting aircraft, there are usually several. This is not a big deal by itself. The diversions that become issues are the ones that arise from in-flight mechanical problems. Some of these are cut and dried. Others are not.

If the checklist calls for a diversion, then you shrug your shoulders and divert. It’s the ones that are done more on personal comfort or intuition that get tricky. The dispatcher or even the chief mechanic in charge may believe that the flight can continue, but a captain with thousands of hours in the airplane knows exactly how the airplane is supposed to sound, feel, smell and fly. If the captain—or an experienced FO for that matter—says that something isn’t right, then chances are something isn’t right.

I’ve been in similar situations during which the folks on the ground both supported me and also began to question what I was saying. Diversions are not taken lightly, because they are so expensive. This is less of an issue with weather-related diversions than the odd mechanical diversion in which the airplane may be grounded for days.

The captain also is tasked with other decision-making responsibilities that affect other groups and people. Getting extra passengers on or having to remove them because of weight issues is not an enjoyable experience, especially when you have to see the despair on their faces. I had a group of passengers who were trying to get to a wedding out of Islip, New York. Islip has short runways, and the winds on this day were heavily favoring the shortest of the short. We were over our max takeoff weight, and we had to remove some people. These folks were the unlucky chosen ones (the airline determines that order, not us), and there was a heated discussion between the agent and myself. All the pleading in the world couldn’t change the fact that we were over our weight limit. While it wasn’t by much, we were over, and we couldn’t go with everyone on board.

Someone ultimately has to make the hard choice. The worst possibility is a person who is wishy-washy or incapable of making a decision. Fortunately, that’s rare. Being the captain means being the one with the mindset of “the buck stops here.” As the old saying goes, it’s better to be alive to talk about than to be dead and unable to defend yourself.—Chip Wright

Images in the air

February 24th, 2014

Jean Moule last wrote for the Flight Training blog about making the best of a change in her flight training plans. She is an emerita faculty member of Oregon State University, and a published writer and artist. Visit her website.—Ed.

Piper Clipper

Bob Hartmann flying his Piper PA-16 Clipper.

In 1970 my art instructor bought a Piper PA-16 Clipper. His art changed from many other media to photographs taken from the airplane. To get a clear view of the ground directly under the airplane, as he wished, he had to turn it pretty much on its side (someone more knowledgeable feel free to tell me a better name for that maneuver and tell us more about that airplane). Earlier, when I had Robert Hartmann as a professor at Berkeley in the mid 1960s, his work was mostly two-dimensional images of airplanes in or under clouds.

In the last year, as you may know from my earlier blogs, I have been taking flying lessons. My flight school closed and my quest for a solo has been on hold. I have not shared here that in the last three years I have reentered a world of art—mostly watercolors, mostly clouds. It was Bob Hartmann who inspired me to change my undergraduate major at Berkeley to art.

One of Bob Hartmann's aerial images.

One of Bob Hartmann’s aerial images.

Last year I wondered if Bob was still alive and where he was located. A bit of searching, as he does not own a computer, turned up a number. With hesitation I called him. We exchanged a few letters, and this week I was honored and touched to meet with him in his home of 50 years in the Oakland, Calif., hills. It was there that I learned of his flying history and spent  time looking at his incredible earthscapes taken from his airplane.

Two days later, I had an extra day in the Bay Area. None of my other connections worked out, no phone messages returned, no beckoning activities. But, wait. There must be a flight school near here. With my recent decision to get up in the air in as many places with as many CFIs as possible before settling down and training for that solo, I decided to fly. I begged my way into a flight lesson for the afternoon. Giddy, I think of the joy of flying over my old campus, seeing the bell tower from the air, and circling Mount Diablo.

 An hour before my flight I think. Would Bob, now 87, be available to go up? As we all know you can put another person in that airplane when you take a lesson. [So long as weight and balance work.---Ed.]

 I call. He comes. A circle is complete.

Jean and BobIt was a pleasure to preflight and go up in a Cessna 172 so similar to the one I flew for a year. Details escaped me and I left the radio work to Joe, the flight instructor. Often I asked him to take the yoke so I could take the photos. I timed our one-hour flight perfectly and learned a few new pieces of information to connect to my knowledge base. Beautiful blue sky, San Francisco in the distance, and Mount Diablo up close. Best of all, we flew over the land that Bob had photographed as art over the years.

 As I pay and get a log of the flight, Bob talks with Joe about his years of flying from Buchanan Field in Concord in his Piper Clipper.

aviation art, aviation photographyAfter our flight we go to lunch and, at his home, I marvel at more of his images. I spend too much time and miss my commercial flight home, but I don’t care. I will treasure his gallery book that he signs and gives me. It is called Solo Flights.—Jean Moule

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Little-used skills

February 19th, 2014

At every stage of training in aviation, we are inundated with information. That which is most useful usually stands out pretty clearly, and is often common sense: Stay out of the clouds when flying VFR; maintain your altitude, especially when on an IFR flight; use your checklists. But along the way we learn—or try to—a lot of what appears to be either minutiae or skills and information that just don’t appear to have a lot of modern-day application.

It’s long been a complaint among pilots learning to fly IFR that we should not have to learn anything about microwave landing systems because they really has no practical application in the modern world. The same could be said about a lot of the weather products we struggle to memorize.

But there are few nuggets here and there that are worth keeping in the back of your mind, especially if you are interested in doing any flying that will require flying over large quantities of open water. Airline flying and top-of-the-line corporate flying fall into these categories:

  • Position reports. It’s one thing to read about a position report, but it’s something else to really put it into use. I currently fly over the Pacific a lot, and position reports are an essential way of life. The format is standard, but it needs practice to be perfected. There are certain rules that need to be met. Remember the one about being off by more than three minutes? If not, go look it up! It’s very unlikely that you will need to use this skill in the United States, but in the event of a radar outage, you will need it. This is an easy skill to practice on any flight. You can verbalize the report to yourself without transmitting it.
  • Lost communication procedures. When was the last time you really reviewed what to do? How well would you handle this? Considering that modern equipment is becoming more and more “single unit,” how well would you do if that all-in-one box in your airplane just went kaput?
  • Good guesstimation. How well can you estimate the amount of fuel your airplane will use on a given flight? If the gauges were to fail, could you be within 5 percent of the total burn if you had to make a guess? Could you be within 3 percent? Again, this is an easy skill to practice on any flight just by making notes on a separate sheet of paper. If it’s an airplane you fly regularly, you should also keep track of your burn records at various altitudes, engine settings, et cetera. The charts and data in the book are based on new equipment. The added benefit to doing this in your airplane is that if the performance begins to deteriorate, you will have something to point your mechanic in the right direction.
  • Old-fashioned navigation. If you want to find out just how good your skills are, go flying with a safety pilot buddy. Revert to needle, ball, and airspeed, and fly a short cross-country using just your wet compass and your watch. This can be very humbling in the modern world.

Flying has become so technologically driven that it is easy to forget the basics and the simplicity that can be used. Take the time to knock some rust off your mental and physical skills, and boost your confidence at the same time. Remember, the best pilots are always training!—Chip Wright

Spring and summer plans

February 13th, 2014

As we look forward to spring and summer flying, it’s never too early to start thinking of ways to take advantage of it. Whether it’s a new rating, or a just to build confidence, there are plenty of ways to get some bang for the buck as the weather changes.

Crosswind proficiency. This is one of the skills that pilots have the most difficulty conquering, so it is also one of the skills in which most pilots have the least amount of confidence. If you fall into this category, or have a student who is struggling, make a plan to fix it. Spring is a great time to go find some gusty winds, and the safest way to do this is to find an airport with a long runway so that you can take your time getting a feel for crabbing and slipping. If you happen to be the only one in the pattern, try landing in each direction. Don’t just get comfortable doing crosswind landings when the wind is from your “favorite” direction.

As you master the skill on a long runway, start challenging yourself to touch down on a certain spot, and then start assuming a tall tree at the end of the runway. Force yourself to use not just a 50-foot tree assumption, but even a 100-foot tree. As you get more comfortable, start looking for shorter, narrower runways.

This can be a bit of a drawn-out process, but few things do more to boost your confidence than mastering crosswinds. Once you have them figured out in one airplane, transferring the skills to another is just a matter of aircraft familiarization.

 

Looking for a new challenge when the weather warms up? How about a taildragger endorsement?

Looking for a new challenge when the weather warms up? How about a taildragger endorsement?

A new airplane. Speaking of aircraft familiarization, consider learning to fly something different. It doesn’t have to be a faster airplane. It can be something slow, like a Piper Cub. Learning a new airplane is both challenging and fun. If you can get a taildragger endorsement, all the better!

A new rating or certificate. If you are in a position to get a new rating, great! It used to be that a multiengine rating was a relatively inexpensive add-on. That’s no longer the case. But a seaplane rating is usually fairly affordable, and seaplane flying is some of the most fun you will ever have. Seaplane schools are not always easy to find, but if you can combine it with a trip or a vacation, it’s an opportunity not to be missed. [Check the Seaplane Pilots Association directory for a list of schools.---Ed.]

The commercial certificate was probably my favorite one to get, since it’s all VFR and the maneuvers are fun. Even if you aren’t planning to use it, it might help on your insurance. But even if you have no nterest in pursuing it, get a CFI to teach you the maneuvers. They will greatly enhance your handling of the airplane and boost your confidence. Plus, they’re just “plane” fun!

Soft fields. If there is a grass field in your neck of the woods, go forth and prosper. Take an instructor with you if you haven’t been to one in a while, and if you need to call for permission or to give a heads-up, then do so. This is a skill you may never use or need, but it’s fun, and it’s a good excuse to fly. More practically, if you ever need to ditch in a field, you’re better off having some actual experience landing on grass instead of just simulating it on asphalt. [Students: Your flight school may or may not permit grass-field operations in rental aircraft. Check before you go.---Ed.]

I’m sure you can think of some other items to add to this list. Cross-country flights to places you haven’t been, for example, might be the highlight of your summer. The point is just to have a game plan, and to go into the warmer months with some goals in mind. After all, what fun is being a pilot if you don’t use it or continue to improve?—By Chip Wright

Sad to glad

February 10th, 2014

Jean Moule last wrote about flying in the Caymans for the Flight Training blog. She is an emerita faculty member of Oregon State University, and a published writer and artist. Visit her website.—Ed.

Fog Clearing at Home“Jean, we sure have had fog this year. Forecast today is fog all day. In two months we have flown 765 no more than two hours. Not good for the airplane to sit. If the forecast is wrong I am available to fly.“

 While the fog makes for good photos and painting, my flying needs were not being met. Occasionally we even had sun at our house at 800 feet and could see the fog bank below us, and I enjoyed it. A friend asked, “Can’t you just fly through the fog and above it?” “Yes,” I replied, “but one must be able to see the ground to get back down on a visual flight!” And the fog can close in very quickly.

While I had had eight recent commercial flights, it had been six weeks since I had flown an airplane myself. This is the longest break since I began lessons a year ago. Fog I could deal with, as I could look forward to sunnier days to come…after all, this is Oregon. What I could not deal with was the next email from my instructor.

 “Jean, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the 172 is being sold and we are closing the office…In aviation there will always be changes and change is good, even though sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.”

 My afternoon flight now canceled, I struggled to get some balance, beginning to realize how much flying had become part of my life, even if it takes me my projected 57 hours to solo! The fog settling in my brain from no flying was worse than the real fog we had been living with for weeks. While my instructor had suggested future lesson options at other airports, I wanted to fly now. I went so far as to ask a flying neighbor if he was going up that day (he was not), as I know sunny Oregon days are limited in the winter. I felt so sad. What to do? I finished my preparations for a conference at OSU in Corvallis the next day that included a chart that illustrated my changing use of time. I had added flying for 2013 and had it projected for 2014. Would it happen?

 The day after my yearlong instructor and airplane vanished from my future, I wrote this to my former instructor.

 “Hi Steve, After looking into the bright blue skies for a day and wanting to be in it, and after a conference in Corvallis I stopped by the airport in Lebanon on my way home. Whew, what a scene!…I flew (in a really, really old 172). In my conference-going clothes. Had my logbook with me only because it was an artifact in my presentation at the conference. Sold some copies of my book to other pilots/student pilots/Lebanair Aviation owner. Change can be interesting… Jean”

New friends JeanPaul (left) and John at Lebanon State Airport.

New friends JeanPaul (left) and John at Lebanon State Airport.

Wow, I felt like I had stepped into some kind of movie set at Lebanon State Airport that certainly lived up to its motto, “The friendliest little Airport in Oregon.” Because of the sunny day, small airplanes were in and out, and I met many people. I visited, stayed, and eventually took a short flight. The flight was paid for by the sales of my book, Ask Nana Jean, because the owner of LebanAir kept asking anyone who came in if they had $10! One went to a fellow who had happened to read my Flight Training blogs! Small world—or maybe not in general aviation.

 What an unexpected find. What unexpected support and new acquaintances. And I got to fly as the sun was setting on a clear sky day!—Jean Moule

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Flight school flyouts: We’re outta here

January 31st, 2014

If your flight school could shake up your training routine by offering you a chance to join other pilots on an organized fly-out, would you go? Most of us would love it. Getting out of the pattern, going places? Getting a taste of what it will be like when we can be pilots in command and go where we want? Where do we sign up?

Many flight schools try to organize these types of events—but they’re not easy to pull off. There’s the weather, availability of airplanes, flight instructors, and a host of other details to consider above and beyond the normal flight scheduling routine. So if your flight school offers you the chance to join a fly-out—whether it’s to the next airport for a pancake breakfast, or to Niagara Falls—don’t wait. Reserve an airplane, get a CFI if you need one, and go. I guarantee you’ll learn a lot and have a great time.

In 2002, as a low-time private pilot, I flew from Maryland to Maine, Vermont, Pennsylvania, and back during a four-day fly-out organized by Frederick Flight Center. There were several student pilots in our group, and everybody gained a great deal of confidence (see “Destination: Experience,” March 2003 Flight Training).

When you read this I’ll be on my way to Florida with a group of airplanes and pilots out of Virginia. The 12 aircraft are leaving this wretched Mid-Atlantic winter behind, temporarily. But we’re not staying in Florida. We’re headed to the Bahamas, accompanied by Bob Hepp, owner of Aviation Adventures. (Aviation Adventures’ Conor Dancy is our 2013 Flight Instructor of the Year, and the school itself has won recognition for high-quality training at its Manassas, Leesburg, and Winchester locations. Some of the airplanes going on this fly-out are on the flight line at Aviation Adventures.)

This will be Aviation Adventures’ third fly-out to the Bahamas. The school also organizes trips to Oshkosh, Wis., for EAA AirVenture, and most recently shepherded a group on a frigid December morning to tour the Hudson River corridor in New York.

A student pilot can’t fly solo outside the United States, of course. He or she can fly accompanied by a certificated pilot who is qualified to act as PIC. But crossing the border in a small airplane is a great adventure and a personal goal for many pilots. And if you have any qualms about Customs procedures, the paperwork, the navigation, and/or the safety equipment needed, a group fly-out is a great way to give it a try. (If you want to get going on the research, see AOPA’s Bahamas resources page. We’ve got info for Alaska, Canada, and Mexico, too.)

I’ll share some of these considerations on the Flight Training blog as we travel, and you’ll see a complete write-up in a future issue of Flight Training magazine. In the meantime, you folks where it’s cold, try to stay warm, and I’ll do the same.—Jill W. Tallman

Are you interested in learning to fly? Sign up for a free student trial membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training magazine plus lots of training tools and resouces for student pilots. Click here for more information.

A flight training inspiration

January 30th, 2014

Social Media Editor and student pilot Benét Wilson last blogged about moving ahead with training even when the weather is bad.—Ed.

One of the best parts of my job as the editor of the eFlightTraining newsletter and AOPA’s social media editor is that I get to read and report on great stories of how AOPA members got their private pilot certificates.

I learned about Brenda Nelson’s unique story via our Facebook fan page, when I was soliciting photos for #ThrowbackThursday. Here’s what she posted:

“Three years ago, my boyfriend was diagnosed with multiple myeloma bone cancer. I had always wanted to achieve getting a pilot’s license. He lives six hours away in Chicago. He was so sick he couldn’t make the trip to Southwest Iowa [where Nelson lives] anymore. So I drove there every three weeks. I [also] started lessons and studied late into the evenings. I kept my full-time job and worked my 3 1/2 acres and achieved my dream. My boyfriend is now in remission and I took him flying. It was because of his illness and willingness to live that gave me the inspiration to fly!!!!”Brenda Nelson

Who wouldn’t be inspired by that story? Nelson said she’s wanted to learn to fly since she was in eighth grade. Her oldest brother went to the Spartan School of Aviation and was a few hours away from getting his pilot certificate. “He got married and never pursued it. My parents were farmers and there was never extra money to do anything like this, which can be cost prohibitive if you don’t have the financial backing,” said Nelson.

Nelson said that after her boyfriend was diagnosed with cancer, she decided if he could make it through the treatments, she could get her private pilot certificate. “So I called my local FBO, Atlantic, and told the owner I wanted to get my certificate. He gave me a book and I started in October 2011,” she said. “I took a few lessons and I was hooked. I knew I had time at home and at the hospital to study for ground school.”

For the next year when the time and money allowed, Nelson “picked away” at her flight lessons. “I put aside $285 every two weeks to pay for my training,” she said.

“I soloed in the spring of 2012 and got my certificate in October 2013.  After that, my boyfriend got better and he’s now in remission,” said Nelson. “I took him for a flight in November, and he couldn’t believe it. It was really cool.”

Nelson credits help from family and friends in helping achieve her dream of becoming a pilot. “My parents, who are in their late seventies, came and helped by watching my house and dog when I was making the regular six-hour drive to Chicago. There were also three people in my office who helped out so I could be gone,” she said. 

The biggest challenges are time and money, said Nelson. “I see people who don’t have anything to push them to get their certificate,” she said.  “If you don’t have that, it’s tough. I’d get AOPA magazines and seeing those articles inspired me.”—Benét Wilson

Are you interested in learning to fly? Sign up for a free student trial membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training magazine plus lots of training tools and resouces for student pilots. Click here for more information.

How many different airplanes have you flown?

January 29th, 2014

Jean Moule last wrote about flying in the Cascades for the Flight Training blog. She is an emerita faculty member of Oregon State University, and a published writer and artist. Visit her website.—Ed.

CA Into cockpitAs we walked down the aisle to our seats on our last of eight commercial flights in three weeks, I did a little gig when I saw our exit door seat row with four feet of space for a 3,000-mile trip. These weeks in New York City, Massachusetts, and the Cayman Islands had given me time with family, ski patrollers, professional connections, and lots of gawking in NYC. And on flights, I kept my eyes open for flight attendants or pilots who could continue to open my eyes and mind to the behind-the-scenes culture of flying that I have entered in the last year.

While I have not kept track, I know I have flown, as a passenger, in most types of large jets during my hundreds of commercial flights over the years. But I know a new small airplane when I meet it. And a deHavilland Twin Otter flight from Cayman Brac to Grand Cayman gave me another small aircraft experience. The most incredible part of that flight for me was the open cockpit door that allowed me to watch the instruments from my seat in the third row. Instruments also watched by a male pilot of African descent and a female co-pilot. During our 40-minute island hop I was entranced and delighted to know I knew something about some of those gauges!

 CaymanEven before that long flight with the excellent legroom from NYC to Portland took off, I was just plain bored. Too tired to work or write, nothing good to read. No movies I wanted to watch. I noticed a pilot in transit heading to the restroom. He graciously answered a question, and I soon was delighted to know that we knew some of the same people and he lives a mere 20 air miles from me. Very quickly, he and his iPad were sitting next to me, and he opened a world I did not know existed.

He began to fly as a 3-year-old on his mother’s lap, as his mother ran a flight school with 40 airplanes. My head became full of stories of his flying and images of the airplanes he flew from the gallery on his iPad. While a commercial pilot, he also test flies everything from new designs to ancient planes a museum or collector wants to check out for its ability to take to the air. He seems to have a connection to each.

“How many types of planes have you flown?”

“Over 300,” he says.

“And which is your favorite?” I ask.

“Whichever one I am in.”—Jean Moule

 Are you interested in learning to fly? Sign up for a free student trial membership in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training magazine plus lots of training tools and resouces for student pilots. Click here for more information.