There’s a lot to do in the left seat of even the smallest airplane: Monitor the systems. Stay on course. Communicate with air traffic control and other airplanes. Manage and monitor the fuel flow. Scan for traffic. Avoid restricted airspace and cellphone towers. Check the systems again….
It’s no wonder we have a blizzard of checklists to help us remember all the things we have to do—from preflight to engine runup, takeoff, cruise, landing, and securing the airplane after the flight.
But have you ever seen a checklist that says, “Enjoy your flight” at the end? No? Maybe you should pencil it in. Sometimes we get so busy flying the airplane that we forget to have fun while we’re doing it. You got into flying in the first place because it’s fun, right?
To help you reconnect with your inner aviator who lives for the joy of flight, we have three missions that are guaranteed to put fun on your checklist.
In her book Three-Eight Charlie, Jerrie Mock talked about the joy of flying in our country. After returning from her record-setting around-the-world solo flight, where she passed though countries so restrictive of airspace and general aviation that flying as we know it was impossible, she was glad to get back home again—where restrictions on where we can and can’t fly are comparatively minor. She wrote, “I was free to wander around in the sky, to investigate unique rock formations, to dip inside hidden mountain valleys, to follow the meandering course of canyon-sided streams.”
When was the last time you investigated a unique rock formation, dipped inside a hidden mountain valley, or simply followed the meandering course of a stream to see where it led? Maybe it’s time.
But to make it an educational challenge as well as fun, start by finding a unique-looking terrain feature on your sectional and plan to “visit” it in person. You know, from the air. It could be a lone hill. The confluence of two rivers. A lake with an interesting shape, a wide canyon, a manmade structure, or even a town with a funky name. Plan a flight to your target and carry enough fuel to loiter over it. Do wide, shallow turns round and round it. Simply stretch your wings, enjoy the view, and relish the virtual and literal freedoms of flight.
Some pilots will fly anything with wings and collect flight time in various models with the passion of stamp collectors. Pilot/author Ken Turner, paraphrasing the famous Will Rogers quote, even penned a book titled I Never Met an Airplane I Didn’t Like. Most of us fall into a comfortable long-term relationship with one particular bird, however. Unlike our human companions, airplanes—like stamps—don’t get jealous if we step out on them; and it’s good for your skills as a pilot to shake things up a little. Plus, it’s exciting. In short, experiencing a new airplane is fun.
Get checked out—or even just take a familiarization flight—in an entirely different kind of aircraft than the one you normally fly. If you fly a high-wing airplane, maybe it’s time to try a low wing on for size. If you fly a speed-demon Mooney, you owe yourself a flight in a Cessna 150. If you usually fly low and slow, maybe you should get behind the engine of an airplane that can point its nose at the sky and just keep going up.
If your face is normally lit by a glowing glass screen, revisit the old steam gauges in an airplane that hasn’t been updated. Or perhaps fly a vintage airplane with barely more than a compass and an altimeter. Airplanes come in a dizzying array of shapes, sizes, and styles. Try a twin, or maybe a taildragger. Take a dip with a seaplane. Have a light lunch in a Light Sport. Get as basic as it gets in an ultralight.
Or take a flight in an open-cockpit biplane—even if it’s just as a paying passenger—and listen to the wind in the wires.
Early to bed and early to rise may have made Ben Franklin healthy, wealthy, and wise, but for pilots it’s all about weather avoidance. But many times of year, the day ends on a calm note as well—and there’s a wonderful opportunity to sneak in a quick flight to nowhere.
To nowhere? Yes. To nowhere. Just drive up into the sky and watch the sunset.
Go for the view. Stay in the vicinity of your home airport, sort of like a flying staycation. Take off when the sun is low to the horizon, watch the lengthening shadows paint the landscape, and land again after twilight to enjoy the beautiful cobalt blue glow of the taxiway lights.
In between, climb from the lengthening shadows back into the dying rays of the day and watch the sun slip below the horizon from the sky. And when the show in the air ends, look down for the next act. Night Flight author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry described it best: “The villages were lighting up, constellations that greeted each other across the dusk…The earth grew spangled with light signals as each house lit its star, searching the vastness of the night as a lighthouse sweeps the sea. Now every place that sheltered human life was sparkling.”
If possible, fly in an airplane that allows you to open the window or door in flight. If you can get your mitts on a Piper Cub or an Ercoupe, you’ll have twice the fun.
Update that checklist. So that’s it. Your alternatives are to plan a $100 picnic (perhaps complete with a soft-field landing), visit an aero museum, or watch a classic flying flick on DVD.
Flying is fun. Be sure to add that to your checklist.