October 3, 2013
As an airline pilot for U.S. Airways, Lou Panuski has seen America most often from 35,000 feet. So when he and son Chris were brainstorming ideas for a trip to celebrate his acceptance into the U.S. Naval Academy, it’s no surprise on what they selected — a trip across the United States in their Piper Saratoga.
“I really gained an appreciation of the country, and it was good to see different parts of the country that I had never been to before,” Chris says of their June 2013 trip that covered 4,455 nautical miles. “Dad had flown over these places thousands of time, but this time he was able to see it from a different perspective.”
Chris says they created a rough outline of their itinerary a couple months before they left. “But my family is very spontaneous,” he says. “The day before we’d decide what looked good and just go.”Lou says they chose the route for the variety of conditions they would experience, including mountainous terrain, high elevation airports, congested airspace (LAX corridor), and non-radar environments where they would be responsible for their position reporting with ATC. They visited and sometimes camped at their destinations, which included well-known sites such as Mount Rushmore, Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, the Golden Gate Bridge, Grand Canyon National Park and the Canyonlands of Utah.
While visiting all those sites was great, Chris says he most enjoyed spending time with his dad. “I had gone to a residential high school so I would come back home every three weeks or so for a couple of days,” he says. “But this trip was an opportunity to spend one-on-one time together, all while learning aviation from my dad, a 20,000-hour airline pilot.”
Lou, too, says he enjoyed spending time with his son, as well as enjoying the scenery from the passenger seat. “Sometimes during the trip, I looked over at Chris and realized that I had probably ‘passed the torch’ to the next generation of family aviators.”Chris says he has been around aviation his entire life and played on flight simulators as a kid. But his first general aviation experience was attending the 2006 EAA AirVenture convention in Oshkosh with his grandfather.
Besides having a father and grandfather who are pilots, Chris’s mother flies, his 19-year-old brother is a student pilot, and his 11-year-old brother is a pilot wannabe. Chris earned his private pilot certificate at 17 and his instrument rating at 18. He is now working on his commercial license and enjoying his time at the Naval Academy, where he is majoring in electrical engineering and possibly physics.
“Maybe watching Top Gun had a little bit to do with it, but I’ve always wanted to go to the naval academy,” he says. “I wanted to go to a good engineering school … and I love academics. I’m really looking forward to learning here.”
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