A Fledgling Heads North
International flight in a Skyhawk
BY THOMAS A. HORNE, AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
I learned to fly in Cessna 150s and 152s. By the time I earned my private pilot certificate, I was ready for the big iron: a Skyhawk! So I joined a flying club, checked out in a brand-new Skyhawk, and built up my 'Hawk time. Moving up from the 150/152 was quite an adjustment for me, at least in the beginning.
First of all, I was caught off guard by the adjustable seats. My instructor kept asking me why I was always so high on final approach. It took a while, but thanks to my ocean of flying wisdom (I had all of 60 hours' total time), I discovered the answer. My seat was set w-a-a-y back on its rails. This ruined my sight picture because I had to stay high in order to see the runway. The Cessna 150/152 has no seat adjustments to speak of, so I simply assumed that the Skyhawk was the same.
Then there was the panel. All those new instruments! My old 150 had a six-pack and not much more. The 'Hawk had dual nav/coms, an EGT gauge, and more! To me it looked like the front office of an airliner.
Once I'd climbed these learning curves, I was ready for bear. It was time to fly the coop and go cross-country. But it wouldn't be a wimpy 100-miler of the kind I'd been flying. Oh no. I set a course for Muskoka, Canada — a 5.5-hour, three-leg jaunt from my home base at the Washington-Dulles International Airport. Did I mention that my then-wife and 4-year-old son were aboard? It was their first flight in a small airplane.
He loved it; she hated it.
There were stops at University Airpark in State College, Pennsylvania; Buffalo Airpark in New York; and Toronto Island Airport. Magical, freewheeling adventures for this neophyte cross-country flier. So much new terrain, such exotic locales. The final destination was the Gravenhurst airport near Lake Muskoka, Ontario. A friend rented a farm nearby, and we stayed there for a couple of days. I recall my first seeing the northern lights, tending the house's wood-burning central heating system, and riding horses over miles and miles of empty terrain.
My friend wanted a ride in the Skyhawk, so of course I obliged him. We took off from Gravenhurst and toured the glaciated, lake-strewn scenery. Heady stuff. But during that flight the ammeter started heading south, and the low voltage annunciator came on. The alternator was in its last throes.
The landing was a no-flap, no-radio affair, and I was glad to have the airplane on the ground. But now what? I was stuck in the middle of nowhere, and the nearest repair shop was in Orillia, Ontario — a half-hour south, hard by Lake Simcoe. And it had a grass strip. This trip was turning into a character-builder: No flaps, no radio, soft-field landing in the offing, and a cantankerous passenger.
A call to the flying club at Dulles International Airport assuaged at least some of my fears. The club rules stated that if maintenance was needed while away on a trip, the club would pay for lodging and meals while the airplane was being fixed.
The next day, I loaded my passengers for the trip to Orillia, got the engine hand-propped by some savvy locals, and launched. The landing went very, very well in spite of the soggy runway, and we spent another day or so at a lodge near Orillia — courtesy of Century Aviation. An employee at the lodge even lent me his pickup truck so we could see the local scenery.
After a new alternator was installed, it was time to make my way back to Dulles. By now, I was feeling pretty salty, having packed a lot of excitement into my now-75 hours of experience. The Skyhawk and I had been through a lot together.
The return trip went via Erie and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On the way to Dulles the first weather of the voyage entered the picture. It was a 4,000-foot broken layer beneath my cruising altitude, and a lingering ground fog at Dulles. But the clouds parted and the fog lifted by the time I arrived.
That trip whetted my appetite for long, international cross-country flights, and was the first of many, many such trips.
There it is, in my first logbook: September 19-25, 1976, in N61648. My last long cross-country in a Skyhawk was in D-EHTW, from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to Cologne-Bonn, Germany. That trip lasted 39 hours, and took place from March 30 to April 5, 1998. I remember both flights like they were yesterday.
E-mail the author at [email protected].
Two Miles High in a 172
BY JULIE K. BOATMAN, AOPA Pilot Technical Editor
Although I first flew a 172 shortly after acquiring my private certificate in Iowa in the late 1980s, my most memorable times in the airplane have all taken place in the mountains. One trip in particular stands out.
My friend Ni was working on her instrument rating with a fellow instructor of mine, and she needed to build cross-country time. She had completed a mountain checkout in the school's 180-horsepower 172M, N80893, but wanted more experience in the high country, so we plotted an ambitious day trip that would take us in 893 down the Front Range of the Rockies to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and then back up through Aspen, Colorado, on our return to Boulder.
After brunch at a funky artsy place in Santa Fe (there are a few), we launched north toward Taos. Farther north through the valley, we noted the afternoon heating beginning to take effect. Although it had been forecast as a fairly dry day with no convection on the plate, no one forwarded the plan to Mother Nature. Upon reaching Alamosa, Colorado, thunderstorms topped every peak on every point of the compass, except those we'd just vacated.
We put down at San Luis Valley Regional, and bartered for the crew car — an AMC Eagle that remains by far the worst functioning crew car I have ever commanded — so that we could see the Great Sand Dunes National Monument. We topped the dunes, which rise more than 750 feet above the valley floor and lie in the shadows of 14,000-foot-plus heights of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, just in time for a thunderstorm to crescendo right on top of us.
Drenched and pelted with sand, we made for the local Wal-Mart — there was no way we could get back into the airplane (or even reasonably request service at a local restaurant) wearing our destroyed clothing. Yes, we bought matching T-shirt dresses.
Now, Ni is a petite Chinese, and I, well, I was a blonde at the time. And I can say without false modesty that, in our purple and red cotton finery, we were the hit of the Aspen ramp (G-Vs and all) the next day as we made our leisurely way home. In all my Skyhawk hours since, I have never received so much attention while checking the fuel caps for security.
E-mail the author at [email protected].
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Coming Full Circle
BY MACHTELD A. SMITH, AOPA Pilot Senior Editor
The Cessna 172 was to be my reward after I had conquered a 152 in pursuit of a private pilot certificate — an excellent plan. Except, I collected a recreational certificate on the way and stuck with the 152, giving airplane rides to family and friends. I ogled 172 pilots with awe; maybe one day I, too, would command an airplane with four seats and a luggage compartment with a door! Wow.
Two weeks after my private checkride I abandoned the 152 for a 172. Although at first a bit intimidated by the airplane's scale and roominess, I soon felt like a pro — manipulating numerous flight instruments and electrical switches, and, to boot, selecting a fuel tank position other than On or Off.
Sprinkled throughout my logbook are memorable 172 flights, from taking my young son and daughter and my husband on our first flight together, to sightseeing with my dad and sister over the island of Bonaire in the Netherlands Antilles, to checking out with a glass cockpit in the latest 172 model. And one notable flight for me, a flatlander, was an AOPA Air Safety Foundation mountain-flying checkout.
I met my flight instructor and his 172 at the City of Colorado Springs Municipal Airport one early morning in May 1993. "Lean the mixture and abort the takeoff if the aircraft has not reached rotation speed halfway down the runway," sounded his reminder as we rolled onto the long runway.
Confident that my instructor would guide us safely through this unforgiving terrain, I relaxed as I identified the first mountain pass on our way to Salida. "Are you sure?" my instructor queried. "Yep!" I replied. "You're dead," was his response. I had mistaken the checkpoint and, had we continued into the canyon, we would not have been able to turn around. Sobered by that observation, I painstakingly selected the mountain saddle that would allow our small 172 to cross between the looming peaks into Aspen.
Departing Aspen we circled numerous times to gain altitude for our flight to Lake County Airport in Leadville, which at 9,927 feet msl, is considered the highest public airport location in the United States. Takeoff at Leadville was an eye opener. It was still early in the day and the 172 had only half-full tanks, yet it took a good 3,000 feet to become airborne. "Make a shallow left-hand turn now, or we will hit those peaks yonder," uttered my instructor. I complied swiftly. Good thing, too, as a quick glance at the vertical speed indicator confirmed a meager 150-fpm climb.
Returning over the vast plateaus that led us back to Colorado Springs, we experienced a seemingly never-ending mountain wave. I felt like a small butterfly on a large roller coaster.
That 172 flight was especially memorable since it unexpectedly reunited me with the instructor who had introduced me to my very first flight lesson during an ASF Pinch-Hitter ® course seven years earlier in Frederick, Maryland.
E-mail the author at [email protected].
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I'm Flying to Disney World
BY ALTON K. MARSH, AOPA Pilot Senior Editor
The late-1960s 172 I first flew may have been no larger than those of other years, but to me it was the big iron. I had just finished my private certificate at Melbourne, Florida, in a Cessna 152. There had been earlier attempts to get the certificate in college (no money), and the U.S. Army (I got reassigned). There had been four years of flying lessons in 152s off and on, and when I passed the checkride and appeared the next day for a 172 checkout I marveled at how high the step was, and how far above the ground I sat. Way up there. I flew it solo to circle Disney World, the one now with its very own temporary flight restriction, and marveled at the experiences I could provide not only to myself, but also to others.
Other flights stand out as well, like the flight from Superior, Wisconsin, to Frederick, Maryland, in the airplane destined to be the Better Than New 172, AOPA's 1994 sweepstakes airplane. The leaky vents had to be taped over to keep 0-degree air from freeze-drying the cockpit on the way home. Later I took it to Wellington, Kansas, for a new engine, or rather, tried to take it there. Arriving at night, I could see from 30 miles out that Wellington was lashed by thunderstorms, and so I diverted to Wichita where the airplane could be picked up the next day. After arriving back in Frederick I received a call from someone in the shop in Wellington, asking, "How did you get it here?" The tape was still on the vents and looked to the caller like that was the only thing holding the aircraft together, but I'm still proud of the comment.
Finally there was the day of perfect weather with three adventurous friends on a trip to Tangier Island, Virginia, in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. The trip from Northern Virginia is little more than an hour by 172 but more than three hours by car and boat. Longer if you have to wait for the boat. The friends discovered a fishing village they never knew existed, with crabs that had come from the water hours before they were made into cakes. For the return flight I took them up the Potomac River as far as possible before diverting away from Washington, D.C.'s busy airspace. The newlyweds in the back thanked me politely after the flight, but then called the next day to say they had talked of nothing else since landing, and thanked me again. That made it memorable for me as well.
E-mail the author at [email protected].
Those Guys Have Guns
Nighttime encounter on the ramp
BY DAVID W. ROBB, AOPA Pilot Executive Editor
I have many memories of flying Cessna 172s, but for better or worse the one that stands out featured a nighttime encounter on the ramp with four armed soldiers. This was nowhere near an Air Defense Identification Zone, temporary flight restriction, or no-fly zone, which didn't exist yet as we know them today. This flight took place in the confusing weeks following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when a GA pilot following all the rules still might get a surprise.
After an uneventful nighttime landing at an airport I'd been to many times before, I turned my Cessna 172 toward the taxiway to head back to the departure end of the runway for takeoff. It was about 10 p.m. and, except for the runway lights that I had keyed on, the airport was completely dark and seemingly deserted.
As I rolled along, my taxi light illuminated something just in front of me, so I hit the brakes. In the narrow beam of the light, I could just make out a line of low, unlighted orange barriers blocking my way. It took me a second to realize that the entire taxiway had been closed, I guessed, because it was near a military ramp located at this civilian airport. Someone had neglected to publish a notam.
Before I could turn around, a military truck appeared from the darkness and drove onto the taxiway in front of me. Still in my naive pre-9/11 frame of mind, I actually thought that someone might be coming out to move the barriers for me. Think again. To my surprise, four men — armed with automatic weapons! — emerged from the back of the truck and "deployed" themselves in front of the barriers.
I sat a bit stunned for a few seconds, trying to comprehend the meaning of this standoff between my idling 172 and this armed patrol. Did these guys really think I was a threat, this little red-and-white 1981 P-model Skyhawk sitting there quietly puttering away on the taxiway? In the chaotic atmosphere immediately following 9/11, I considered the possibility that they might. I called on the common traffic advisory frequency, and every other frequency I could think of, to find out what they wanted me to do, but they weren't listening. I guessed they didn't really know what to do either, but they had the guns so I was waiting for them.
Nobody made a move and our face-off continued until, finally, one of them stepped forward crisply and held his weapon up in front of his chest like a sentry might do to say, "Halt, who goes there?" OK, that I could understand — time to turn around and go home. But, to turn around, I knew I would first move toward them before I could get the nosewheel to turn. Would this look threatening? Was it even possible for a 172 to look threatening?
I gingerly added a little throttle and lurched forward a bit while stabbing the rudder pedal to turn the nosewheel, all the while carefully watching for any reaction from the troops. Nobody pointed as much as a finger in my direction, so I added a little more throttle and turned a little more. Still no reaction, so I turned the airplane around 180 degrees and slowly — I mean slowly — taxied back the way I had come, the hairs on the back of my neck standing at attention as I could only wonder if they were following me. They didn't, my 172 and I departed uneventfully, and I let the guys with the guns have their taxiway back.
E-mail the author at [email protected].
Member of the Family
AOPA member on his third 172
BY JOHN HUGHES
We're currently on our third Skyhawk. This one we purchased in August 2005 after being away from aviation for more than 27 years. At this writing, we've had it less than six months, but have already put more than 50 hours on it, including a trip from Traverse City, Michigan, to the Tampa Bay area to attend the 2005 AOPA Expo.
My wife, Sue, and I both learned to fly during the late 1960s in the Piper Colt, then spent many hours flying Civil Air Patrol Cessna 150s, so when the time came to buy our first airplane in 1970, we chose a Cessna 150. When our first child arrived on the scene in 1971, we moved up to our first Skyhawk, a 1967 model with the Continental six-cylinder engine.ï¿½ In 1974, a newer, more colorful, and better-equipped model caught our eye, so we made the switch to a 1972 Skyhawk, with the four-cylinder Lycoming. This one became known as Yellow Bird, and was a definite family favorite. It transported our family, which had grown to three kids by 1976, on many memorable trips. Based in Michigan, we flew to Florida, North Carolina, and Nebraska, and even made a couple of trips to the Washington, D.C., area, with one a night, IFR trip to Washington National Airport. The stork caught up with us again, and when child number four arrived in 1978, we could no longer squeeze the entire brood into the family airplane. So in September 1978, I took my then 6-week-old daughter around the pattern for her first airplane ride and then turned the keys to our beloved Yellow Bird over to its new owner.
For the next 27 years, we were too busy with careers and raising kids (we eventually had six) to even think about aviation, much less miss it. However, by 2005 our children had grown and all but one had moved out of the house. Three had married and we now have five grandchildren scattered in various parts of the country. We began to feel the subtle, but firm tug of aviation again. How much easier it would be to fly rather than drive from Michigan, through Chicago, to Peoria, Illinois; to Milwaukee; or to Minneapolis! And our youngest is attending college an eight-hour drive away in Michigan's upper peninsula, which would be less than a two-hour flight. Time to get some dual, clear the cobwebs, and learn all about the alphabet soup of today's airspace. Six hours and a flight review later, we began a three-month search, culminating in the purchase of our latest Skyhawk, a 1977 model with an Air Plains 180-horsepower conversion engine, a two-axis autopilot, and a yoke-mounted GPS. This Skyhawk we've named Traveler, and it has already taken us on trips to Overland Park, Kansas; Houghton, Michigan; Thomasville, Georgia; and St. Petersburg, Florida.
That little girl I took for her first airplane ride when she was 6 weeks old is getting married next month in Kansas City, and Traveler will be called upon to get us there.
John Hughes, AOPA 1184074, lives in Interlochen, Michigan.
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Top of Its Class
Reflections from my classroom — the Cessna Skyhawk
BY KIRBY ORTEGA
In 1956 two significant events occurred that had a profound impact on the aviation industry. One, I was born and, two, the Skyhawk went from the drawing board to a mass-produced airplane. Since then not only have I aged, but the airplane has matured as well.
My introduction to the Skyhawk took place when I was 12, in 1968. My father was in the U.S. Air Force in Panama, where he also turned wrenches on an Aero Club fleet in the evenings. My inability to see over the dash or touch the rudder pedals kept me from flying, but I did learn a lot about the inner workings of airplanes by helping Dad take off inspection plates. My reward would be to fly on the test hop.
My first logbook entry as captain of a 172 was February 23, 1976, in N80118, a Cessna Employees Flying Club airplane. At that time, I typically landed in a three-point attitude, causing the airplane to swivel around the nosewheel and make for some interesting flat spotting of the main tires. In the summer of 1976 I literally lived in the Skyhawk while in Tulsa obtaining my instrument rating and commercial and CFI certificates at Ross School of Aviation based at Riverside Airport (now Richard Lloyd Jones Jr. Airport).
Mark Hopp was the student on my first revenue-producing flight, on November 9, 1976, the day the 172 became my classroom. It was now up to me, with 330 hours and hair down to my shoulders, to help others appreciate the wonder of flight. Since that day I have lost hair, gained years and pounds, and added another 7,000 hours of Skyhawk time to my logbook.
During the winter of 1978 I logged a lot of actual IFR with my instrument students. Since the 172 in my book was "all weather" because it had pitot heat, we didn't cancel too many flights. With the opportunity to show my students how to recognize airframe ice, N1554E became the unlucky mount. Somewhere on a VOR approach to Runway 3 at Hutchinson, Kansas, we picked up ice, lots of it. It was on the wings, struts, spinner, wheel fairings, and, somehow, the towbar. I recall the struts vibrating and shaking while crossing the final approach fix, or maybe it was just me. With a forgiving wing that continued to produce positive lift until touchdown, we were able to avoid being the opening story on the local 6 o'clock news.
As a highly knowledgeable CFII, I pass on the following lesson: Do not fly a Skyhawk in icing conditions even with pitot heat. Leave the really stupid things for me to do.
The Cessna Employees Flying Club was a Part 141 school in those days, with a fleet of new 172s, and it made me an assistant chief flight instructor. Cliff Donnelly was the chief production test pilot for Cessna then and also my boss as chief flight instructor at the club. After Donnelly retired, my authority was elevated: I became an airman certification representative. The school had examiner authority; with the last lesson of the curriculum the student was awarded his certificate. I had gone from student to teacher to The Hangman.
The day the music died was during the summer of 1986. I had seen Skyhawks birthed at Strother Field in Winfield, Kansas, and when production dropped with sales, production moved to the east side of Wichita's Pawnee Field (now Cessna Aircraft Field). Its final nest was at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, and it was a very sad day when both production of my 'Hawks and the lights of the facility were shut off. The last "new" Skyhawk I flew in 1986 was N9400L. My classroom was gone.
When the flying club's board met with then- Cessna President Bill Van Sant, we asked the question, "How can we call ourselves a flying club when we don't have any airplanes?" His edict was to do like everyone else: Buy used! We went on a crusade to find pristine Skyhawks, and I first flew N66431 in August 1986. We still have 431 on our ramp today, with more than 10,000 hours' training Cessna employees.
After nearly 10 years of Skyhawk suppression, Cessna's Russ Meyer and AOPA managed to get the General Aviation Revitalization Act passed. Meyer soon was turning over dirt at the site of the new single-engine capital of the world, Independence, Kansas. In September 1996 I returned, to my new classroom, N172NU, one of the first new Cessnas.
In October 2005, I was assigned to an AOPA photo mission to take pictures of both the very first 172, N5000A, and the newest Skyhawk SP while flying over the Independence plant. The owner of 00A was nice enough to bring it up from Texas for the photo shoot. Our company policy requires that only qualified Cessna pilots fly formation during company shoots. The owner reluctantly handed over the keys with a very suspicious look. You would have thought he was giving me the hand of his 14-year-old daughter to take to her first prom.
The following month I must have done something to upset my boss because he sent me back to Independence on temporary assignment, to fly first flights on brand-spanking-new Cessnas. I had never before taken a newly built airplane on its first flight, so what a thrill! On top of that, the recent flight in 00A was still a fresh memory.
For my first test flight I lined up on Runway 35 at Independence in N4234K, serial number 172S100018. I had reached a new appreciation for the Skyhawk as it accelerated down the centerline. The Skyhawk is the perfect trainer, personal transport, and ideal platform for the new Garmin G1000 glass panel. Even though it's a 50-year-old airframe design, it has been exceptional to serve as my classroom.
My students are now airline pilots, test pilots, and military jet jockeys. My students are friends and family members (I taught my son how to fly in N441CA). My students have two things in common: They learned in the best classroom, the Skyhawk, and I shared the thrill of flight with them.
Of my more than 14,000 hours as a CFI, about half have been in my classroom — the 172. I'm sure that when I depart westbound for my final flight there is a real good chance 34K will have served as a classroom for some lucky student, CFI, and pilot examiner. Fifty years from today, happy birthday!
Kirby Ortega, AOPA 1195127, is flight training supervisor, Air Transportation Department, at Cessna Aircraft Co. in Wichita. In 2002, the FAA recognized Ortega as the National Flight Instructor of the Year.
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