The an­ti­dote to aerial bore­dom is to add va­ri­ety to your fly­ing


Flying - - CONTENTS - By Sam Weigel

As an en­thu­si­as­tic pro­po­nent of gen­eral avi­a­tion, I tell any­one who’ll lis­ten just how much fun fly­ing small air­planes can be. The flip side to this, which gets talked about a lot less, is that fly­ing can also be­come sur­pris­ingly bor­ing af­ter a while. No­body thinks so when it’s fresh and new and mildly ter­ri­fy­ing, but the road from com­pe­tence to com­fort to bore­dom is a sur­pris­ingly straight, short and well-trav­eled path. Ev­ery lapsed GA pi­lot I’ve ever en­coun­tered has trod that sad road to its in­evitable dead end. Many of my fel­low air­line pi­lots, mean­while, con­sider aerial bore­dom to be a ver­i­ta­ble hall­mark of a pro­fes­sional pi­lot. Most en­joy their jobs, mind you, but they’ve flown vari­a­tions on the same ba­sic flight for the past 25 years and rightly take a cer­tain amount of pride in pro­vid­ing that con­sis­tency. The down­side is that rel­a­tively few ex­hibit much en­thu­si­asm for the fly­ing it­self, as ev­i­denced by the rar­ity of those who fly recre­ation­ally.

The proven an­ti­dote to aerial bore­dom is mak­ing a con­scious choice to add va­ri­ety to your fly­ing. There are so many things that the ad­ven­tur­ous avi­a­tor can do to get their kicks that there is lit­tle ex­cuse to wear a hole in the same traf­fic pat­tern or re­peat the same $200 ham­burger run. Sim­ply fly­ing new places pro­vides nearly lim­it­less op­por­tu­ni­ties for ad­ven­ture. You can fly a new air­plane, or an­other type of air­craft en­tirely. You can take new pas­sen­gers. You can make an ef­fort to meet new pi­lots and take each other fly­ing. Prob­a­bly the very best way to add va­ri­ety to your fly­ing — and I can vouch for this one — is to write a monthly col­umn for a widely read avi­a­tion pe­ri­od­i­cal! I jest, but writ­ing for Fly­ing has pro­vided fine mo­ti­va­tion to go out and col­lect new flight ex­pe­ri­ences, and has also given me op­por­tu­ni­ties to meet and fly with read­ers and other writ­ers.

Here’s a great ex­am­ple. Not to toot my own horn here, but last year the Min­nesota Avi­a­tion Hall of Fame named me its 2017 Writer of the Year. I haven’t men­tioned it in these pages mostly be­cause I’m em­bar­rassed that I stood them up at the awards cer­e­mony. There was a good rea­son, mind you: Dawn and I were cruis­ing the Ba­hamas aboard Wind­bird and weren’t in a place we could safely stash the boat and fly north for a week­end. My par­ents at­tended and ac­cepted the award on my be­half, and they played a five-minute video I cre­ated to in­tro­duce my­self and thank the or­ga­ni­za­tion for the honor. This is all just back story to how I met Jim Han­son. Be­sides be­ing a Min­nesota Avi­a­tion Hall of Fame in­ductee (2005) and for­mer Writer of the Year (2013) him­self, Jim now sits on the board of di­rec­tors.

Jim is ba­si­cally who I want to be when I grow up. He’s the long­time FBO and air­port man­ager at Min­nesota’s Al­bert Lea Air­port. He does cor­po­rate fly­ing in a King Air. He has owned 499 air­craft in his life­time and still owns 16. He has flown more than 330 air­craft types, and is ac­tive in the an­tique/clas­sic, Ex­per­i­men­tal and war­bird com­mu­ni­ties. He has flown to all 50 states, all Cana­dian prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries, and six con­ti­nents, in­clud­ing flights across the At­lantic to Europe and North Africa in GA air­craft. He writes prodi­giously for both

Mid­west Flyer and Min­nesota Flyer mag­a­zines. He and the bride of his youth, Maryal­ice, travel ex­ten­sively and en­ter­tain of­ten. He seems to know ev­ery­one in Min­nesota avi­a­tion, and just about ev­ery­where else too. At 71, he seems to have twice the en­ergy of most men half his age.

When I did my sea­plane-rat­ing check ride ear­lier this sum­mer, I took a photo of one of Jack Brown’s Piper Cubs and posted it to Face­book. Within an hour, Jim had com­mented and in­vited me to come down to Al­bert Lea and fly his Lake LA-4 Buccaneer am­phib­ian. How could I refuse an of­fer like that? Mind you, I hadn’t ac­tu­ally met Jim at this point; I only knew him from the Hall of Fame and so­cial me­dia. But that was all the more rea­son to take him up on it, be­cause from rep­u­ta­tion alone I fig­ured he was some­body I wanted to meet.

Jim told me that Bob Wan­der is an­other guy I had to meet, and at his sug­ges­tion we in­vited Bob to our get-to­gether at Al­bert Lea Air­port. Bob is a soar­ing ex­pert, evan­ge­list and in­struc­tor, the best-sell­ing glider au­thor world­wide and an in-de­mand pub­lic speaker. Orig­i­nally a clas­si­cal mu­si­cian, Bob took up soar­ing in 1979 and quickly re­al­ized that there was no good text­book for be­gin­ning glider stu­dents, so he wrote his own. That snow­balled into a whole se­ries of books he wrote, pub­lished and sold him­self. Later, his pub­lish­ing busi­ness added ti­tles from sev­eral noted soar­ing and me­te­o­rol­ogy ex­perts. For a num­ber of years, Bob owned and op­er­ated the soar­ing school at the Farib­ault, Min­nesota, air­port (FBL). Ger­mane to my in­ter­ests (and rather typ­i­cal of glider pi­lots), Bob is an avid sailor who owns boats in both fresh wa­ter (Lake Su­pe­rior) and salt wa­ter (south­west Florida).

Af­ter one weather can­cel­la­tion, our resched­uled mid-Septem­ber day dawned bright and clear. Dawn and I drove to Al­bert Lea due to later land-based obli­ga­tions, and found Jim in his new of­fice in the re­cently com­pleted ter­mi­nal. He showed us around the air­port and in­tro­duced each of his air­planes, from an ul­tra­light that be­longed to a late friend to a Kit­fox he built him­self to a clas­sic Jet Com­man­der he still flies ev­ery cou­ple of years. His pride and joy is ac­tu­ally his very first air­plane, a cream-puff Cessna 120 that he bought at the age of 16. In­cred­i­bly, the plane was de­liv­ered within six weeks of Jim’s birth and has spent al­most its en­tire earth­bound life within 4 miles of his birth­place. When he restored the C120, Jim de­cided not to re­pair the nose bowl that had been dented when the pre­vi­ous owner flipped the plane over while at­tempt­ing a skiplane take­off in deep snow. It gave the plane the char­ac­ter he’d known his en­tire adult life. I love that.

Bob flew in with his Cessna 150, and we all sat down for a free­wheel­ing dis­cus­sion on soar­ing; sail­ing; flight in­struct­ing; the writ­ing process; the pi­lot short­age; how Bob taught him­self pub­lish­ing in the early days of the PC; how flight schools can be more wel­com­ing; Jim’s flight to six con­ti­nents, in­clud­ing Antarc­tica, in a Cessna Car­a­van with his friend; the late Buzz Ka­plan; suf­fer­ing an en­gine fail­ure in that same Car­a­van and mak­ing an emer­gency land­ing at a half-com­pleted Patag­o­nian air­port; and the up­com­ing “Daks Over Nor­mandy” project, which will bring about 30 DC-3/C-47 Dako­tas from around the globe to­gether for the 75th an­niver­sary of D-Day. Bob gave me sev­eral of his books, which are in­deed well-writ­ten (bob­wan­ and have in­creased my de­sire to get my glider rat­ing next sum­mer.

Af­ter a cou­ple of hours, Bob had to get go­ing, and Jim and I headed out to the Lake am­phib­ian. This is the ninth Lake that Jim has owned, and, he says, the most wa­ter­tight. Walk­ing around it, I was impressed with the size and ap­par­ent bee­fi­ness of the air­frame. The tail is huge. Once seated in­side, how­ever, you are quite low-slung — es­pe­cially com­pared to float air­craft. There are a few pe­cu­liar­i­ties. The throt­tle and pro­pel­ler con­trols ex­tend from over­head, the el­e­va­tor trim is hy­draulic and takes


a bit of get­ting used to, and the nose­wheel is free-cas­t­er­ing. This is an easy tran­si­tion for those who have flown Grum­man sin­gles, but I couldn’t help hear­ing my first flight in­struc­tor cas­ti­gat­ing me for drag­ging the brakes!

The hy­draulic flaps have only two po­si­tions, up or down, and they are ex­tended for all take­offs and land­ings. The pitch force re­quired for ro­ta­tion is quite high, and liftoff some­what abrupt due to the en­gine be­ing mounted high atop a py­lon. For the same rea­son, ev­ery power change re­sults in a no­tice­able pitch mo­ment, rather like the Boe­ing jets I fly for work but in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. Though the en­gine is 200 hp, the weight and bulk of the air­plane is such that per­for­mance is quite se­date. De­cent nose-high land­ings are fairly easy, though the gear legs are no­tice­ably stiff. Over­all, if I were sim­ply look­ing to pur­chase a com­plex sin­gle-en­gine land­plane, the Lake would be fairly low on my list.

It is on wa­ter that the Lake truly shines. We moved a few miles south­east to Lake Al­bert Lea for land­ing prac­tice. The sight pic­ture looks in­sanely low com­pared to a float­plane, but be­comes com­fort­able fairly quickly. Sit­ting in the wa­ter, you feel the first rap-rap-rap of the waves di­rectly in your seat. On the step, the plane is quite ma­neu­ver­able and is per­fectly happy to cruise around the lake like a run­about all day.

Down­wind turns are not the prob­lem they are in a float­plane. One dif­fer­ence is that climb­ing onto the step re­quires much more neu­tral el­e­va­tor than a typ­i­cal float­plane. An­other is that aileron de­flec­tion has fairly lit­tle to do with wind di­rec­tion; it’s all about keep­ing the wings level so that the wing floats (some­times called spon­sons) don’t dig into the wa­ter. Over­all, the Lake is a re­mark­ably dif­fer­ent an­i­mal from the Cub on floats in which I’d re­cently trained — “It should re­ally be a sep­a­rate rat­ing,” says Jim — and I was a lit­tle frus­trated at my ham-fist­ed­ness in fly­ing it for the first time. Jim was pa­tient though, and did his best not to show fright dur­ing some of my more dra­matic an­tics. De­spite the chal­lenge of tran­si­tion, fly­ing the Lake on wa­ter is just stupid good fun. Af­ter we got back, Jim took Dawn for her first sea­plane flight, and she came back with a wide grin on her face.

By the time you read this, Dawn and I will be back aboard Wind­bird, cruis­ing down the Lesser An­tilles. We love sail­ing and the cruis­ing life, but one down­side is be­ing cut off from the state­side avi­a­tion com­mu­nity for seven months of the year.

The good news is that we’ll have plenty of time to plan a wide va­ri­ety of aerial ad­ven­tures with our many farflung fly­ing friends for next sum­mer — per­haps start­ing with that glider rat­ing!

Earn­ing a sea­plane rat­ing has opened the door to new aerial ad­ven­tures.

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