"Why would anyone want to go there?” is what a few pilots on the ramp asked when we told them where we were off to. It was one of those perfect flying days. Beautiful weather. Beautiful airplane. Miles of airspace beckoning ahead. Runway 21, our gateway to adventure, never looked better.
Two hours later, we were ensconced in the remoteness of Death Valley. The sudden quiet and stillness reduced the sprawl of Los Angeles to a distant memory. In an effort to capture the moment, we set up a tripod and camera. A photo is supposed to be worth a thousand words—in this case, it’s worth 1,795 words. American Flyers CFII Morgan Deering tells the story of our 24-hour journey in the Mojave Desert with coyotes, sand dunes, the North Star and the Little Cirrus that Could. If a general aviation aircraft can transport you to another world—even just temporarily—then you don’t need a reason. “Just because,” was our answer back on the ramp at home. “Just because we can.”
It was difficult, as it always is, handing back the rental aircraft keys. We had formed a bond with Three Alpha Tango, and for the weekend, it had been ours. This sense of aircraft ownership was invigorating—it was the feeling of freedom. For those of us who have thought about buying an airplane, Marc Lee shares 20 shopping tips, from details to take note of during demo flights to the importance of controlling emotional attachment (easier said than done). It’s still a buyer’s market, but the key to securing a great deal is to be prepared. Marc speaks with several pilots who have recently become owners, and relates their success stories and lessons learned.
One new aircraft that we review this month is the American Champion Scout. James Wynbrandt makes a trip to Rochester, Wis., home of American Champion Aircraft, to see the prototype Scout Water Bomber in action. The dual-purpose bush plane/mini-firefighter can hold 100 gallons of water. Yes, Evergreen International’s 747 Supertanker holds 24,000 gallons, but a fleet of five or more Scouts can get to a fire sooner—right after it starts—to perform initial damage control. The maneuverable, two-place taildragger also can access confined areas that a larger firefighting aircraft might not be able to reach. James takes us on a stick-and-rudder flight with company owner Jerry Mehlhaff Sr.
Aerial firefighting is an intense but rewarding job. We’ve highlighted several inspirational pilots who also have dynamic flying careers. Their roles in the sky are very different, but linked by the same passion for flying. Len Anderson was inspired by Top Gun, and went on to become an F/A-18 Hornet pilot for the Blue Angels demo team. Neal Schwartz won a learn-to-fly scholarship from Sporty’s; today, he flies Boeing 737s for Continental Airlines. Ben Freelove performs aerobatics for hundreds of thousands of spectators each year; Rachel Tanzer travels the West giving demo flights in a Cirrus SR22. Read their stories and connect with them and many other pilots on Plane & Pilot’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/planeandpilot.