May 1, 2013
By Thomas B Haines
This summer marks the thirty-sixth year since I first soloed an airplane. Twenty more months would pass before I would stumble through a checkride with an FAA designated examiner squeezed next to me in a snug Cessna 150. In the end, he recommended I get more experience flying at a towered airport (a story you may have read here before), but passed me anyhow—and I was set free to move about the country, as those Southwest Airlines ads say.
Those first few years of college life (and the related finances) kept me close to that little airport in northwestern Pennsylvania, not straying far in the mighty Skyhawk I had immediately checked out in after the checkride. Marriage and a couple of jobs later found me working here at AOPA, and the opportunities to fly increased dramatically as I moved up the editorial ranks at this magazine. Since then I’ve flown thousands of hours in more than 100 models of airplanes in 46 states and nearly a dozen countries. And of those thousands of flights, not one has been pedestrian; boring; or same old, same old. On every flight I have discovered something new about the airplane, myself, or the world around me. I’ve traipsed around Maryland and Pennsylvania more than anyplace—I’ve worn out the airspace around here, yet I can still look out the window and see some geographic nuance I’ve missed before, an unnoticed tower, a rock-exposed ridgeline I’ve not spied earlier, a winding mountain road I need to note and go explore from ground level.
A handful of those many flights have been coast-to-coast or near coast-to-coast trips across the United States in light airplanes—down at an altitude where you can see the nation unfold; where you can watch on that life-size moving map out the window how the country was settled from east to west. The flight for this month’s story about the new Generation 5 Cirrus SR22T was one of those truly long cross-country flights (“More of a Good Thing,” page 44). Departing from Frederick, Maryland, at about 10:40 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, we traversed much of the continent in one day, touching down in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at about 8:15 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time, the backlit mountains to the west a reminder about how long the day had been.
After some local flying the next day in Santa Fe for the photos and video to accompany the article, the following day at about 9:30 a.m. MDT, we headed northwest to Salt Lake City’s South Valley Regional Airport. The VFR flight low over that remarkable desert southwest landscape warrants an asterisk in the margin of my logbook, a marker used only a couple of dozen times in all of my flights.
Sliding past Los Alamos at 10,500 feet, only a breath of wind burbled over the ridges to our west. A smooth ride, clear blue skies overhead, not a cloud around. Cresting a few larger hills, we descended to just 8,500 feet near Farmington, New Mexico, for an even better view of the tens of thousands of square miles of remote high desert. The brown vastness covered with scrubby brush reminded me of a trip over Botswana last April in a Cessna 182. Only a lonely ag plane occupied the ramp at Monticello, Utah, as we continued our trek northwest and across Canyonlands National Park, a spectacular geologic buffet!
Meeting the not-so-mighty-looking Colorado River, we turned a bit more northerly until intersecting the Green River, which led us toward Price, Utah. We climbed with rising terrain to 10,500 feet as the snow-capped ridges reached up at us. Sliding through Spanish Fork Canyon, we spilled out into the valley that is home to Utah Lake and Provo. Staying close to the ridges on the east side of the valley to avoid the Salt Lake Class Bravo airspace, we descended into South Valley Regional Airport, which most of us know as Salt Lake Municipal 2.
Despite being a low-wing, the SR22T proved to be a remarkably good perch from which to view the world. The big windows give the cabin a bright, airy feel and provide plenty of visibility down and forward. Although the three of us on board had jabbered nearly all the 10 hours two days earlier, this leg we sat in mostly awed silence, soaking in the scenery and simply enjoying the visual overload.
As the 2013 flying season moves into high gear, I hope you will find an opportunity to make a few asterisk-warranted flights. They needn’t involve cross-continent excursions. Trust me, there’s plenty new to discover in your corner of the world. Some quiet morning or a calm evening, climb to the lowest safe altitude you can, throttle back, and look out. A new—and renewed—general aviation experience awaits you.
E-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter: tomhaines29.
AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.
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