Flying Adventures

The Test - March 27, 2009

LicenseSo part of the reason I spent so much time in Florida during the winter of 2009 (other than to be with my 87 year old Mom while she's here for the winter) is to finish up my private pilot's license. 

The weather in Ontario was so bad that I was unable to fly much over the winter and I checked on how to get it done in Florida. It's not so easy after 2001, you need to get checked out by the TSA and fingerprinted, then get all kinds of other paperwork done, but with the weather being warm and sunny all the time, Florida is the flying lesson capital of the world. I found a great flight school, NS Aviation, with some incredible people at it and a really good instructor named Santiago Giraldo. The owner, Nick Schillen, is a retired US Air Force officer who has a wonderful way about him that keeps everyone happy. Everyone is great and they all have been wonderful to me.

This week I've been on an accelerated schedule and finishing up my training. I did my written test on Monday, my US "solo" flight on Wednesday and my solo cross country flight on Thursday. The cross country flight was from Hollywood to Palm Beach Country Airport then down the state to Homestead, then back to Hollywood, about 300 miles on the ground if you did it that way. By air it was about 2 1/2 hours. The photo is from the middle of the state someplace, where the canals and fields are the only thing around. 

The photos were taken on the cross country using my iPhone's camera. Yes, you can take your eyes off the controls for short periods and taking a photo doesn't take too long to do. One thing we are encouraged to do is to scan the sky ahead and around us for other aircraft or even high flying birds.

You have never seen flat until you've been to Florida. The highest points in the state are either a highway overpass or a garbage dump, apart from all the (empty) condos by the beaches. You can see from the photos at right the topography of the southern part of the state.

People have asked me if you have a parachute in the plane. The answer is no, and for a number of reasons. First, the aircraft we train in are made to fly well and to take a lot of abuse. They are heavily inspected and constantly maintained. There are checks every 50 and 100 hours and each year you really take them apart and look at their "bones" to see the underlying structure. They are so safe that the only way to really do damage is for the pilot to make a mistake (Pilot Error). We train for that and are constantly simulating engine failures or other reasons that we may need to land the plane or take control in unusual situations.

But of course, there is another reason in Florida not to have a parachute. The large white nylon canopy just makes it easier for the alligators to see you coming in. Better to stay with the plane than become the lunch special! (just kidding)

Flight Test Friday.
The horrors of the flight test are well known to student pilots everywhere. The degree of angst that comes with that day is legendary. So I went through the process. First the oral exam - can you find you way through featureless countryside with only a map, 2 radios, 2 VORs and a compass? Can you tell the examiner which way is north? What do all (and I do mean ALL) the lines on an aeronautical chart mean? Can you plan a flight to some distant destination, calculating all the fuel burns, the density altitudes, the winds aloft, the flight times? IS the airplane capable and legal for flight? If you can answer these questions, you pass the first part.

Out to the aircraft. Can you show the examiner that you know where the wings are and why they stay attached? What all the flappy things are and why they do what they do? Can you run through a checklist and really know what each and every item is?

Then you get into the aircraft. Did you do all the numerous things to get it into the air and keep it there without leaving holes in the sky, yourself or the ground?

Can you take that aluminum sculpture around the sky and bring it back without breaking anything off? Can you find you way back to the point of origin, and not get lost?

Can you may "S" turns to and fro? Do your turns stay true and did you feel the buffet of the wake as you pass through the exact spot in the sky you started at? Can you find a road in all that swamp to land on when the examiner decides it's time to show him you can land this flying machine anywhere?

Well, if you can, and you don't make any mistakes, you too can be an official Airman and have a (suitable for framing) wallet sized card of your own that allows you to fly fast than a speeding pigeon and higher than a stork - I know, I've seen them at 2500' and they do not listen to the air traffic people.

Well, it seems that I was able to satisfy the examiner and am now legally able to take people up in the air with me when I go fluttering around the sky. Took Mom up right away, then some friends a little later. Even had a special pin made for my victims to proudly wear after they return to the earth from their incredible journey.

If you were wondering, all I needed to do in Canada is show them my US license, take another multiple guess test and I got one with the Maple Leaf on it too. Licensed for 2 countries I am. Strange though, and probably telling of the difference in cultures, that while the US license is a credit card sized piece of plastic, with both Orville & Wilbur on it, my Canadian license is a book with 24 pages and my picture scattered about on 3 different pages. This is very official!

Actually, it has been fun, and I must thank my love, Vanessa, who gave me the lessons just over 2 years ago for our 30th anniversary. It's been the best gift ever and today it got completed.

Thanks Vanessa!

So, as my friend Jeff says, "off we go, into the wild blue yonder"

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