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Let's Go Flying!: Cyber pilots take flightLet's Go Flying!: Cyber pilots take flight

After years online, friends take flightAfter years online, friends take flight

Randy Lewis met Kendall O’Brien four years ago, and the two have been friends ever since. They’ve shared a lot of aerial adventures; taking turns flying as pilot in command and co-pilot—virtually, that is.

Randy Lewis met Kendall O’Brien four years ago, and the two have been friends ever since. They’ve shared a lot of aerial adventures; taking turns flying as pilot in command and co-pilot—virtually, that is.

Lewis, 18, and O’Brien, 19, live on different sides of the country—one in Wisconsin, the other in California. They’ve been able to share their love of aviation via the multiplayer online mode offered through Microsoft Flight Simulator, which allows users to log onto the Internet and fly together or act as air traffic controllers in a simulated environment. More recently, however, they embarked a big adventure: flying cross-country in the real world.

Lewis, of Fitchburg, Wisconsin, and O’Brien, of Murrieta, California, flew a Cessna 150 from California to attend EAA AirVenture. After enjoying the sights and sounds of the biggest airshow in the United States, they flew back to the West Coast.

Lewis says he and O’Brien got the idea from reading Rinker Buck’s Flight of Passage, a memoir of the author’s flight with his brother from New Jersey to California in a restored Piper Cub. “We started crunching some numbers. All of a sudden it seemed like a possibility.”

Lewis flew commercially to California to get acquainted with his friend. They took a short flight in the 150 to see what it would be like to move from a virtual cockpit to an actual one. “It wasn’t too surprising,” Lewis said. Thanks to years of flight sim time together, “I know how he operates,” he said of O’Brien.

They departed from California’s French Valley Airport and made their way to Wisconsin’s Middleton Municipal-Morey Field. Because both are fairly new private pilots, they had agreed that they would rather not fly into the maelstrom of arriving aircraft at Wittman Field in Oshkosh.

The young men flew four days and a total of 25.5 hours to reach Wisconsin. Lewis handled radios and navigation while O’Brien flew the 150. Their prior teamwork using Flight Simulator paid off, O’Brien said: “We work well together and I feel we made a good team.” Their route took them south of the Grand Teton Park in Wyoming. In Oklahoma they had to divert for thunderstorms and a local pilot fed and sheltered them for the night, O’Brien said. The return trip took them south, nearly to El Paso, Texas, then north to the Grand Canyon, and to California.

Lewis has loved aviation since he was a young boy, according to his mother, Sherry Lewis. “There was a book called Flight that he checked out in the school library every week for the whole year,” she recalled. When he was 14, her son became an avid sim pilot. The constant practice paid off when he began taking flight instruction because he was able to take off and land the airplane with very little assistance from his flight instructor.

O’Brien and Lewis paid for the trip themselves working part-time jobs. O’Brien said his father, who is also a pilot, was both excited and nervous about the trip. Sherry Lewis was confident that the two young men would be up to the challenge: “Being pilots, they have to take things seriously,” she said.

With a summer of great flying now a memory, Lewis a freshman at the University of North Dakota. He’s still deciding his major, but says, “Commercial aviation will definitely be in the mix.” O’Brien is at California State Polytechnic Institute in Pomona, where he plans to study engineering. The two remain good friends, and while it may be months before they can climb into the same cockpit again, their virtual aviation world is only a mouse click away. 

What can you do to help someone get into flying? Make the first step by visiting the Let’s Go Flying Web site—and share it with a friend or two.

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