Aviation Blog

Where Do You Want to Go?

March 31, 2016


What a loaded question. Airplane ownership is an interesting thing. I spent hours before the purchase crunching numbers on the hourly costs, fixed expenses, and rental comparisons. It took a careful look at costs to verify that the purchase did in fact make sound financial sense. What none of those calculations could predict, though, was the freedom associated with ownership. Sure you can always rent a plane and fly somewhere, but the costs are often prohibitive, and the minimum hour requirements and headache associated with the rental process can make it frustrating. With an airplane, the span of the country gets reduced by a factor of at least two, and the doors open to spur of the moment plans. Here are some examples.

It was a beautiful, clear Saturday evening. I had just finished some instrument flight training, and I was sitting back in the recliner of the airport pilot lounge wondering what I was going to do with my evening. I called a friend, who agreed to come out to the airport to meet me and figure out some evening plans. He arrives and I pose the question of where to go. He begins suggesting local dinner places, and I remind him that we have a C-150 sitting on the ramp at our disposal. It is about 10:00pm at the time, and we decide that Purdue University sounds like a fun destination. We take off moments later, and start texting friends from the air to figure out who is picking us up at the airport. About an hour later, we touch down at KLAF. The drive would have been well over four hours. Another friend picks us up, we spend the evening playing Spades, and crash at his house for the night. The next morning, I send a text to another friend that we are inbound, and a short while later we touch down on a little grass strip in Noblesville, Indiana. An amazing brunch is had, and we are off again. Home comes quickly, and I realize as I am tying down the plane exactly what had just happened. I had decided on a whim to go see some friends who otherwise would not be accessible without a full weekend of traveling, and we do it in a single evening. Wow.

The next day I fly back home from Huntingburg, Indiana to Rolla, Missouri and get settled back in at college for the night, with plans to go flying with Chris the next day. The next day we arrive at the airport in the late morning, and begin discussing where to go. The idea of Chicago comes up, and a text is fired off to a friend in Chicago. Within minutes we are airborne bound for Chicago. Chicago airspace is every bit as intense as you would expect, but not long later we are on the ground at Chicago Executive airport.

Now there is a big secret to flying into large airports. Never fly into a large airport low on fuel. In fact, it would be wise of you to have about as much fuel as possible before you land. Most large airports have a ramp fee. In places like Chicago, this fee is around $40. Now, the secret here is that the airports will usually waive this fee if you buy enough of their overpriced fuel. Expect fuel to be an extra $2/gallon higher than it should be, and expect the minimum purchase to equal out to about the $40 ramp fee. What is the secret, you ask? There is another set of magic words that usually waives the ramp fee. Ask them if they will waive the ramp fee if you have them “top off” the aircraft. Most of the time the answer is a resounding yes. You let the joke be on them when they discover that they are only topping off a Cessna 150 that was only flown the 20 minutes it took to get there from the nearest reasonably priced self serve fuel station. You then buy $15 worth of gas, which equates to roughly a $4 premium over anywhere else, and you thank them and walk out the door like you own the place. Which you do. Because you’re a pilot.

Anyway, I digress. We are rescued from the airport by an amazing friend from the Chicago area, who immediately takes us downtown for a taste of Chicago. We have dinner at Fogo de Chao, go on a drive through downtown, stop at an amazing coffee shop for a doppio, and we are back to the airport headed back to Rolla, Missouri. One evening past and we had traveled from Missouri to Chicago for an amazing night, and were going to be home to sleep in our own beds. Subtract the cost of at least one night of a hotel, and we came out far cheaper than driving.

There is only one word to describe this experience: freedom.

Tomorrow it is off to Galveston for a day on the beach.

A Day for the Record Books

March 1, 2016


Last weekend marked my biggest step in aviation since earning my Private that warm summer day. On Friday Chris Seto and I made the journey up to Mankato, Minnesota to bring home N51242. The drive north was nine hours of intense anticipation, dulled out by the extreme excitement that is Iowa’s scenery. The most exciting bit of the trip up was Chris getting a ticket after being clocked from a C-182 flying alongside us. Apparently trying to keep up with the plane to figure out what it is doing is not a valid excuse.

But I digress…

We arrived at KMKT earlier than expected, and decided that since we were both well rested, we would skip the motel and bring her home the same night. The first order of business was settling up with the FBO where I had the pre-buy inspection done. This was the first bit of our 24 hour battle with our banks. The FBO charge threw flags, and the bank locked my card. Thinking I could just write Chris a check, he gave them his card. Add his card to the list of now locked cards. We finally got the FBO to accept a check, and moved on. A couple of phone calls to the banks and we thought we were good to go.

The paperwork involved in purchasing the plane was oddly easy, and after an hour or so of poking through the log books and combing through the plane, I signed on the line, handed over the cashier’s check, and just like that I was the proud new owner of a 1969 C-150J.

The sun was just sinking towards the horizon when we topped her off with 100LL and hit the master. The old O-200 roared to life with a bit more spunk than I expected and we were off to the run-up area.

“Cessna five one two four two is takeoff two two for southbound departure.” I smiled as the words slipped onto the CTAF and I drove the throttle to the firewall.

All 100 horses launched the 150 down the runway…. Okay, I’m not fooling anyone here…. All 100 horses coerced the 150 into rolling forward, slowly but surely. Eventually our airspeed caught up to our hearts and we were off, dashing towards the sky with a record-breaking 300fpm climb rate. Some number of weeks later we leveled off at 7,500 for the first leg to KAWG. The flight was completely uneventful, and our hearts soared as we cut through the air at a blazing 90mph indicated. We may not have been the fastest in the sky that night, but I can assure you we were definitely smashing the most bugs.

Landing at AWG was a rush. The first landing in any new plane is a special moment, but the first landing in YOUR OWN plane is special to a whole new level. The landing was beautiful, and we taxied over to the self serve pumps where we pulled the mixture and argued over who was going to get out of the warm plane first to fuel up. At this point it was about 11pm local, and the temperature had slipped down into the upper 20s. It was cold. We finally climbed out and were greeted by our worst nightmare. Both of our cards were locked. This usually isn’t the end of the world, and I stood there waiting for the automated fraud protection system to call me so that I could press 1 to confirm the charges. I was still waiting when I realized that they weren’t going to call, because I had no service in the middle of nowhere. At this point we were convinced that we were stranded in the middle of Iowa with no fuel in the middle of the night, and though the engine blanket seemed heavy during our W/B calculations, it now wasn’t looking quite so heavy.

The ghosts of aviators past were with us that night, and Chris’s phone found service and went off with a text alert from his bank. He was able to authorize the charge and get his card unlocked. The crisis was averted, but the frustration was real. The conversation with my bank on Monday was colorful to say the least.

The second leg was basically the same as the first, but with some added dutch rolls and SIT to break up the monotony. For those who are uninitiated, SIT stands for ‘Seto Induced Turbulence.” SIT is an unexplained phenomenon that occurs when conditions are glassy smooth VFR and Chris is bored.

A bit after midnight we touched down at VIH and pushed 51242 back into her new home in the old WWII military hangar.

The trip home was complete, but the journey has only just begun.