Monday, November 15, 2010

Fun to Fly!

Today I took Melissa for her third flight in a small airplane. Her first flight (chronicled here) was awhile ago, and I took her up again for a trip to Florida's west coast a couple of weeks ago. But today was a first for both of us: my first flight to another airport since getting my pilot's certificate, and her first flight to another airport ever.

We flew from Winter Haven airport to Albert Whitted, in St. Petersburg. Whitted is a small general aviation field in St. Pete that's right on the waterfront, and I had flown there before with a friend of mine who owns an airplane. There are a lot of places to get coffee or food, and the airport is a five-minute walk from several nice parks and a marina.

Airport Information at

We took off from Winter Haven around four o'clock and flew West, into the afternoon sun. We climbed to 3,000 feet and flew over the Lakeland airport before turning South and calling up Tampa Approach. Melissa made a great co-pilot, looking for other air traffic as we flew along.

About a half hour after leaving Winter Haven, we turned across the bay and were handed off to the controller at Whitted. We landed smoothly on runway 25, and as we looked out the window, Melissa couldn't believe how close the runway was to the ocean. "It's practically in the water...looks like dolphins are going to jump over the runway!"

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I taxied into the FBO and shut the airplane down, pushing it back into a parking spot and tying it down. We left the FBO and walked down the road to a pilot shop where Mel did some secret Christmas shopping, and then we took a leisurely stroll through downtown St. Pete before stopping for a late-afternoon coffee and a snack at a Starbucks.

We got back to the airport just after the sun went down and signed out, heading out to the ramp and giving the airplane a quick preflight. Much to my dismay, the landing light--the light on the front of the plane that acts like a headlight on the ground--was inoperative. Luckily my beacon light and nav lights worked, and after a quick runup and a weather check we called the tower and were on our way over the bay.

Tampa Approach cleared us to 3,000 feet and we cruised East, looking down at the city lights and the roadways and up at the stars and satellites. It was a perfect, clear night with no clouds...great for flying. Mel asked questions about the instrumentation on the airplane and on the things that the controller and I said to one another, and I gave her a lesson on airplane instruments and communications.

Back at Winter Haven...

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...we landed successfully despite our inoperative landing light. Taxiing was a bit tricky as seeing where we were going required peeking out the side window and moving very slowly, but I made it to the ramp and we tied down the airplane.

Going home, Mel and I talked about the day...we flew to an awesome airport, had a nice leisurely afternoon, and then flew home. No traffic, no stop signs, no aggravation, just us and the air-traffic controllers. Flying in a general-aviation airplane, you get a new perspective on the world, seeing the lakes and the neighborhoods and the people from the sky. You get the unique combination of intense focus on what you're doing and the ability to explore whole new perspectives.

We flew from Winter Haven to Whitted in half an hour, a drive that would take at least an hour and twenty minutes even without much traffic. It was a fantastic day. Soon we'll go back to Whitted to eat at the airport diner, and we have many other flights planned out to take soon. Someday we might even get to own our own airplane.

Melissa and I in a Cessna 152, over the Western beaches of Florida.

It's fun to fly!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

My wife's first flight

One of my first flights after getting my private pilot's license was taking my wife up with me. I had had it in my mind while learning to fly that it would be a fun thing to do to bring her up for flights; she loves to go out for a drive and see the sights, and seeing them from an airplane is much more fun than seeing them from a car stuck in traffic.

That being said, I want flying to be fun for her, not something that she reluctantly does because I like it. I briefed her on the flight before we left for the airport and repeatedly assured her that this was for fun; if she ever felt uncomfortable, or wanted to turn back and land, or just did not want to go, I would never hold it against her. This was something that I harped on in my passenger brief: I didn't want her to come away from her first flight, or any flight with me, feeling frightened or anxious.

So it was that we drove to the airport on a bright, sunny Central Florida day. The weather looked perfect for flying, and I called the ASOS from my cell phone as we drove through the gates of the airport. Skies clear, visibility 10 miles, winds calm...perfect.

We walked into the FBO and I signed out the aircraft we were renting for the flight, an old Cessna 150 that I had spent a lot of training time in. We walked out onto the ramp, and passed by dozens of airplanes: new Cessna 172's, some Warriors, even a couple of Lake Amphibians. And all the way at the end of the flight line we found the little 150, parked next to its more luxurious cousin the 172.

"This is it," I said, gesturing at the mighty 150.

"Really?" said my wife. She seemed shocked that I could fit into it, and intimated to me that the thought of me and my 6'4'' instructor both cramming into the 150 was pretty humorous.

We preflighted the plane, re-checked the ASOS, and taxied out to the end of the runway. I did the runup, giving her a basic explanation of what was going on, and started to move onto the runway.

"Wait! Stop!" she said to me. I stopped just outside the hold-short line, off the runway.

"What's wrong?"

"I...I just feel like I need to say a prayer before we take off in this thing."

"Do you want me to go back? We don't have to fly today if you don't want to."

"We can go, me say a little prayer first."

I stopped and let the fan turn at idle for a moment as my wife uttered a brief prayer. Now divinely insured, she gave me her go-ahead and we taxied out and took off.

The first few minutes she felt a little nervous, but as we got to our house and did some turns-around-a-point so she could see it, she began to have fun. We flew over some local landmarks, and then turned and flew back over some scenic buildings before returning to the airport.

All in all, the first flight with the wife was a resounding success. Despite some initial anxiety, she had a blast, and has gotten excited about continuing to fly. We have a few other local flights planned, and I'm glad that she seems to enjoy flying with me as much as I enjoy flying.