Editor in Chief Thomas B. Haines flies his Bonanza on business and pleasure trips around the country.
One of the most rewarding parts of this job is knowing that something I've written has struck a chord with fellow aviators.
Apparently " Aha Moments," the title of this column in the October 2005 issue, contained a theme that others who have viewed the world from the perch of a general aviation airplane could relate to. Many members wrote to share their own aha moments — those minutes brought to us by GA that make the hassle and expense we endure worth it.
The inspiration for the article was a recent flight with my daughters — a trip that allowed us to spend the day together at the beach and make it home for dinner. The flight occurred right after a day when I was moving funds around to cover the airplane's annual insurance bill and the annual inspection bill, both of which arrive at about the same time. My 13-month annual-inspection strategy is successfully migrating the second bill away from the first. Faced with large expenses, we sometimes wonder whether flying is worth it, and just about then the airplane delivers with an aha moment that reminds us why it is we forgo other things in order to afford our flying fix.
Responding to the column, several aircraft owners also from time to time questioned the cost, but quickly related rewards that more than offset the expense. Blake Farren, an AOPA member from British Columbia, Canada, joined the aircraft owner fraternity only recently, after earning a pilot certificate a decade ago. "The cost of ownership has been impressive to say the least, so much so that I have been questioning my decision," confesses Farren. "Adding the apparent skyrocketing cost of fuel has not helped, but you're quite right that we only have one tour of duty on this planet and having a personal aircraft at one's disposal offers opportunities that are nonexistent otherwise. I enjoy mountain climbing and living in the heart of British Columbia; we are surrounded by the beasts. Several years ago I took a friend out to the coast range to view the best that BC has to offer — unbelievable scenery and only appreciated from a small general aviation aircraft. I took my oldest boy on a circuit to the Rogers Pass in the Selkirks near the Rockies and then on to the Bugaboo Range in southeast BC — magical day and magical scenery. He was more than impressed with the flight and the scenery. Several months ago the weather looked great for a trip to the coast to see my sister and her family near Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Normally this is a full-day trip by car with ferries, but it's merely 90 minutes by air. And then a wonderful ocean kayaking trip ended the day with my youngest boy, Russell. There are many more as you appreciate, but these are the aha moments that make it all worth the (close the doors and whisper) costs."
Using airplanes to visit far-flung family members is a recurring theme. Once you recognize and learn to deal with the weather limitations of general aviation flying, you can turn an airplane into a real time machine, as we discovered in my family many years ago. When they were young, my girls just couldn't understand why anyone would drive half a day or more to visit grandma when at our house grandma was only an hour and a half away in the airplane.
Paul Dobosz lives north of Indianapolis and uses his Beech Skipper to visit his daughter and her family in Holland, Michigan. "Our 3-year-old grandson constantly asks his parents, 'When are grandpa and grandma from Indianapolis coming to visit?' My airplane gives me the freedom to trade a tiring four-hour drive for an hour-and-20-minute flight. In August I took a vacation day to fly up for a $100 hug. After I arrived he spent about 10 minutes 'piloting' the Skipper before we went off to lunch and a serious session of coloring. A fractional ownership crew waiting for its return passengers even let Austin climb into the left seat of a Citation and gave him a couple of packs of Oreos from the galley the crewmembers referred to as a 'flying vending machine.' He had a ball. I was home in plenty of time to have dinner with my wife. Thanks for a great reminder of the freedom GA aircraft provide us to enjoy priceless moments."
Whether it's en route to a $100 hug, a board meeting, a sales call, or simply a flight around the county, airplanes allow us to peer down on the world and up into the heavens in ways that nonpilots can't even imagine.
Jerry Crawford of Florida was lucky enough to view a night launch of space shuttle Endeavor from 4,500 feet — an experience still very much on my own must-do list. "As launch time approached, we prepared for whatever might happen," he writes. "And then on the horizon, a bright area appeared as the main engines were lit. And then a remarkable sight I've never seen in any launch pictures. There must have been a low haze layer or light fog because as the boosters ignited there was a brilliant flash of light that spread across the horizon, but not very far up. Then we could see the dazzling light moving up, seeming to move slowly, through the layer. As it popped out into the clear air above the layer, the horizon darkened and the light focused sharply as a mile-long river of white flame. As the column of flame rose, we experienced an optical illusion, as it appeared to be coming straight toward us. But as it continued to climb and gain speed we saw it tilting to the east. With the sloping window of the Cardinal we had no problem seeing it as it rose to the point of booster separation. There was enough residual light from the rockets to follow them for a while as they tumbled down. We could still clearly see the point of light that was actually the three main engines on the shuttle as it continued up into orbit. Truly an extraordinary flight."
A clear starlit night also brought an aha moment for Michael Doherty, who was flying a Bonanza over Ontario, Canada. "Suddenly off to the west I saw a bright light, then in rapid succession several more. They were in close proximity and moving quite rapidly toward me and gaining in size. In quick succession my throat went dry and had what can only be described as a lump. My heartbeat accelerated to the point where I could practically hear it in my headphones. Their trajectory seemed to be headed straight toward me! My first thought was that there was either a traffic conflict or that Center had forgotten about me. I keyed the mic and the lights kept getting brighter! Then I realized that I was a witness to the most spectacular meteor shower anyone could imagine. As they passed over many thousands of feet above me, they lit up the cockpit. The light was brighter than any moonlit night I had ever experienced. As they receded...I sat thinking about the amazing show I had just witnessed. Like you, in the back of my mind I was saying to myself, 'This makes it all worthwhile.'"
Sometimes our aha moments turn into memories that can never be recaptured.
"It's well past dinnertime, and the skies are completely dark," writes Alexei Tsekoun, of Los Angeles. "I put the Diamond Katana into a steep turn, and the bubble canopy is filled with the infinite ocean of lights that are the twin towers of the World Trade Center. At only 1,000 feet and from less than a mile away, the immense buildings fill my entire field of vision, and the endless tapestry of shimmering lights appears to span my windscreen from edge to edge. Time seems to stop, and I distinctly remember thinking of all those countless people working late behind these patches of light, their lives shining at me through their windows for this quick and yet endless moment. Soon I roll out of the turn and fly the Katana home. Tonight is Wednesday, September 5, 2001.
"I still have pictures that my passenger took that night. I haven't looked at them in the four years that passed since that next Tuesday. However, I will look at them again when the new tower fills the sky as a monument to our nation's sacrifice and perseverance, and when I have new pictures to prove it, taken once again from 1,000 feet over New York Harbor."
Aha moments. Capture them as often as you can. Although I couldn't use all of your memories here, thank you to each of you who wrote to share your special moments.
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