License to Learn

A small fry to fly

September 1, 2010

With a serious face, I tell my safety seminar audiences about my successful career transition—from Chippendale dancer to flight instructor. They always burst out laughing at this tall tale, which is of course totally humiliating. I’ll do anything for a laugh. But I certainly don’t expect one when describing my reasons for transitioning from the Cessna P210 to the Cessna 150 Land-O-Matic.

Let me begin by saying that my wife, Princess Buttercup, and I absolutely loved the Cessna P210. It’s essentially a miniature airliner in performance and utility, while being a relatively affordable airplane to own. It also demands a lot from a pilot to fly it safely. My hands always seemed to be in motion, working some switch or lever. From the outside during flight, it must have looked like someone was filming a kung fu movie in the cockpit. Of course, that’s part of what made it fun to fly.

When my co-owner and good buddy Jason moved away, it quickly became clear that joint custody wasn’t practical. So, we sold him our half of the airplane and began searching for a simple and fun machine to fly. Our objective was to find an airplane where you push a single knob and the magic begins. We finally settled on a Cessna 150, one of the more enjoyable and least expensive flying machines on the used airplane market today.

Between you and me, while I’ve remained true to the Cessna 150, I was seeing a few other airplanes on the side. My eyes were drawn to a local Piper Cub, while also flirting with a luscious Luscombe that was on the block. Since the Buttercup and I enjoy sitting side by side (that’s how we fly “coupled” approaches), the J–3 Cub will have to wait until I get a hangar big enough to hold two airplanes. However, had I spied a Luscombe in good working order first, it might very well be sitting in our hangar right now.

Why would someone who spent several thousand hours teaching in a Cessna 150 want to own one? Clearly, it’s not my need for speed. When you fly cross-country in this airplane, there’s very little actual “country” involved, and not much horizontal “cross,” either. Cross-county is more like it.

Several years ago a pilot of a Cessna 150 using flight following asked the controller, “Sir, do you have groundspeed readout on November-Seven-One-Four-Charlie-Tango?”

To which the controller replied, “Ahh, just barely.”

I’m obviously not driven by a need for climb and altitude performance, either. If someone fancies climb and altitude performance, they should fly a turbocharged SR22 or an SR-71 (apparently, anything in the “SR” category is quite peppy). I enjoy slipping the surly bonds of Earth, and in a Cessna 150 the “slipping” part happens to last a lot longer.

The pleasure of flying this machine is a simple matter of speed and height—or, rather, the lack of both. Lower and slower makes flying feel more like flying to me. I’m still gaga over big and fast airplanes. Who among us doesn’t love thrust we can trust, especially when it’s accompanied by the sound of enormous pistons slapping around in their big-bore containers? Sometimes, however, I prefer my flying ambitions to be driven by the limitations of the airplane, and not how far forward I might nudge its throttle.

Sure, I can throttle back and cruise a P210 at 1,000 feet just to enjoy the view, but that doesn’t diminish my responsibility to monitor and manage the airplane’s many systems and equipment. Doing the same thing in a Cessna 150 requires management of one lever—the Fly/No-Fly lever, also known as the throttle. There’s also very little need for me to consult a power chart because, well, there’s very little power about which to consult. Don’t think I’m sitting aloft wearing a dual soft-drink headset with its sipping tubes connected to my boom mic. I’ll never admit to doing that (unless you can produce a photograph). Because there’s a lot less to worry about, there’s much more time to sightsee through the 150’s aquarium-sized windows, which is especially enjoyable if you’re into fish spotting.

One of the best things about Cessna 150s is that you can find them for around $20,000 with mid-time engines and airframes. That’s why I can’t help but shake my head a bit when someone says that flying is a rich man’s game. Sure, if you want to spend close to half a million dollars for a cutting-edge, advanced-mobile-avionics-transport platform, then it is a rich man’s game, relatively speaking. But if you just love flying for the sake of flying, and don’t care how fast you fly or how fancy your avionics are, then flying is much more affordable. Coax three or four people into a partnership on a Cessna 150 (or start a flying club), and you’re back in the aviation game. Talk up the idea at your airport. Hopefully, a local stool pigeon will run off and coo about your plans. If you’re lucky, a pilot with an A&P certificate will want to join your group. Make that happen and you will have pulled off quite the coup.

Rod Machado is a motivational speaker, author, and active flight instructor. Visit the author’s blog.

Join the fun

Rod Machado will be a featured speaker at AOPA Aviation Summit 2010 in Long Beach, California. He will offer three different forums this year. He is also a co-host for a “Dine Around” event on Thursday, November 11. For more information, visit the website.