I’ve been a little quiet here on the blog, but with good excuse. I spent the last couple of keeps either getting ready for AirVenture Oshkosh or being there with tens of thousands of my best friends. But now I can take a little time to reflect on some of the experiences there.
I had the chance to fly a couple of aircraft at the show, the first of which was the Cessna Citation Mustang, Cessna’s single-pilot-certified, 340-knot, six-place very light jet (“VLJ”), and cover the experience for Airspeed.
It was a great demo. Jo Hunter, David Allen, and Rod Rakic shot all kinds of video and stills to supplement the cockpit audio I was recording up front. I’ll have audio and video episodes up soon and I’m excited about getting to the editing workstation.
If you’re keeping count, Jo, David, Rod, me, and the Cessna demo pilot make up only five people for this ride in a six-place jet. As has been the case in recent years, I brought my son, Cole, who’s seven and was attending his third AirVenture.
Most of the time, I just assume that I’m not going to get to fly anything. My wonderful wife, Mary, has some trepidation about letting me fly our kids. I respect her feelings about that. We aviators have many constituencies to which we represent our passion and that includes our families. Nothing wrong with that. It’s a trust-building thing. You have to demonstrate competence and safety over a long period of time.
So that, along with my reluctance to leave Cole at the FBO and the fact that most of the aircraft that I fly at shows like this don’t have the seating or require parachutes for the flying we’re going to do, means that I don’t fly anything and, in any case, don’t fly Cole.
But this was a special opportunity. A twin turbine with plenty of seating and a factory demo pilot in the right seat. I can’t imagine a safer scenario. It was time to get Cole up.
I asked Angela Baldwin of Cessna whether I might take Cole along in the back on the demo and she thought it was a great idea. After all, one of the missions for this aircraft is getting the family around the country to make the most of those too-rare opportunities for leisure. I asked Cole if he wanted to go and he gave me a big “yes” with no hesitation.
I loaded him into the back seat and briefed him. Jo, David, and Rod all know Cole and volunteered to answer any questions he had.
Long story short, I got to fly a spectacular demo. We launched out of Appleton and headed for K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base at FL 300 (30,000 feet above sea level). I hand flew the airplane except when we were demonstrating the autopilot or when at altitudes that require autopilot use.
We brought it back to 15,000 feet and got a 2,000-foot block of airspace and did the airwork. Steep turns each way and then three stalls (cruise power, idle power in a 20-degree bank, and power-off pitch-only recovery). This, of course, meant some interesting sight pictures out the window for Cole and some interesting differences in apparent weigh of his butt in the seat. Rod helped to explain what was going on and it turns out that the stalls were his favorite part of the ride.
We came back in and I landed the aircraft unassisted. (Holy crap! I just landed a jet!). Maybe it’s the trailing-link landing gear or maybe I’m a hot-handed, Scheyden-wearing master aviator. Maybe it’s a little of both.
After we buttoned up the aircraft and thanked the demo pilot, we made our way into the FBO and I had the chance to give Cole something that I’d been holding for him for a long time. A brand new Jeppesen logbook. I filled in the first line with the details from the flight, made the remark “First flight with dad,” and gave him the logbook.
This was my first jet flight flying the aircraft in all relevant phases of flight. And the Cessna Citation Mustang is a magnificent machine. I’m still daydreaming about the flight.
But the most important part was the first flight with my son. I got to sit in the left seat using all of the hard-won and oft-practiced skills I’ve been developing over the last eight years. And he got to see his dad put his hands, feet, and brain where his mouth has been for so long. A special flight in every way.
I explained the flight and the circumstances to Mary afterward and she’s good with it. It might be awhile before I get Cole up in a smaller aircraft without a mad-skilled factory demo pilot in the right seat, but that time will come. When I and my fellow pilots have continued to demonstrate skill, devotion, and discretion in every aspect of our flying so that even the skeptical have to admit that we’ve addressed all of the risks as best we can. It’s not that she’s down on aviation. She's not. It’s that she’s very up on our son and it requires an emotion-laden calculus in order to balance the experience with the risk. A calculus in which we all engage. I get that. And I’ll keep on earning that trust until we can get up again, probably in an LSA in Hillsdale this year or next.
In the meantime, I got to fly my boy. A milestone for any pilot. And for any son.