A t a recent hangar party, I met a woman who owns a very nice Piper Cherokee. Our conversation got around to—surprise—flying, and she revealed that she had only flown her airplane 28 hours over the previous year. I wasn't completely shocked because I've heard this before, but when you think about it, 28 hours is just a little more than two hours a month, and that's barely enough to keep the engine corrosion-free or to keep the oil and fuel lines lubricated. There's just nothing good about an airplane sitting around and not flying. And it sure isn't good for the pilot, either.
Some pilots like to putter. They get to know their airplanes and save money on maintenance. But sometimes, they're working on them so much that they rarely fly. My hangar neighbor loves to putter with his very nice Mooney. It's a great thing for him as he recently retired from his aerospace career and now has the time to devote to his Mooney. But, for some reason, the more he works on it, the more things keep leaking and the more things need to be fixed. I said to him one day, "Paul, if you flew that thing more often, you would have a lot less to fix!"
Pilots are goal- and mission-oriented people. Once we get a pilot's license, it's important to make flying a part of our lives in some way. Personally, I never wanted to just "bore holes" in the sky—I thought it would be "boring." I knew I didn't want to fly just to have lunch forever, and I might not have continued flying if I hadn't become a CFI and then gotten involved so heavily into aerobatics. Like most of us, I needed a mission.
Along with my aerobatic airplane, I always have a support airplane to haul equipment to air shows—ribbon-cut poles, brochures, spare parts and all of the other stuff that won't fit in the Extra. We also use the airplane for media and photo flights. My B55 Baron was specially modified for photo work, and we did a lot of photo shoots for major magazines and with well-known aviation photographers.
My support airplane now is a pretty little red, white and blue 1959 V-35K Bonanza N5300E, and it's a delight to fly. We've found it makes a great photoship because the V-tail doesn't get in the way of the camera like the straight-tail A-36 or a Baron. Sure, I put some mileage on it, but aside from air shows, I've found a lot of reasons to put more than 28 hours a year on it!
I've flown the N5300E back and forth to California for fire season when I was based at KGOO, KSTS and KCIC, and it's the only way other than driving that I can bring my dogs and parrot, Buddha, with me. Flying the Bo is quicker, less expensive and 20 million times better than driving.
Recently, I flew to Spruce Creek (7FL6), a few minutes south of KSGJ, to do my biannual CFI renewal. An FAA-designated examiner and good friend suggested I fly with him instead of doing the Jeppesen online renewal that I do every two years. We met for breakfast at a great little restaurant where the social scene focuses on aviation, discussed some of the new rules for CFIs, filled out paperwork and talked for a long time about aviation. After coffee, we went flying in my V-tail, and I was home by lunchtime. It was a lot more fun than sitting in front of a computer, and a ridiculously logical reason to fly.
The next day, I flew a friend to KTPF, Peter O'Knight Airport, in Tampa, to pick up a pair of "rescue" dogs. Everyone who knows me knows I love animals, so when a friend called, I jumped at the chance to pick up the lovely Harry and Abby, and fly them back to KSGJ where foster homes awaited them. Saved by the Bonanza!
One little glitch that I did have was I had to file a NASA reporting form when I got home. Coming out of the Tampa Class B, I busted my altitude and climbed to 5,000 feet MSL, when I was only supposed to be at 3,000 feet. It was an honest mistake. I got distracted when Harry tried to get into a fight with sweet Abby. I would never fly a strange dog alone without them being in a crate, but Krista is a dog expert and quickly got things in order. It was the dogs' first airplane ride, after all.
There are so many reasons to use your airplane or rent one. Several years ago, I had an Africa Grey parrot born with cataracts. The University of Florida in Gainesville has a fantastic veterinary school, and they were able to operate on her and remove one of the cataracts. How did I transport the bird to KGNV? You guessed it—by Baron. She even had a car seat, so she could look out the window. I've flown my dogs to specialists in other towns, and if I had kids, I'd be flying them around to appointments, sporting events and anything else they needed—at least until they were old enough to fly themselves. My kids would have keys to my airplane long before they had keys to my car.
All interesting people have hobbies that can become great reasons to fly. It could be photography (what better way to take pictures than from the air?), sports (fly to a sporting event—I fly to horse shows!), stamp collecting (there must be conventions?), spelunking, cave diving, car racing, surfing, skiing (some airplanes come with special modifications for skis), rock climbing and more. Your airplane can take you, your supplies and your friends, who can share the cost of fuel and expenses.
My favorite hobby centers on horses. Last week, I jumped in the V-tail and flew to Fort Myers (KFMY), about 228 nm from KSGJ, to check on a horse I have for sale. One of my friends breeds racehorses. Sometimes, she has to go to a track to see one of her young horses, and I fly her there. This is a win-win for me. I get to spend time with my friend, be around horses, and she picks up the fuel. We once flew to the Breeder's Cup horse race at Churchill Downs and often go to Wellington near Palm Beach. Wellington is horse show central during the winter circuit. When we land at KPBI, we may be the smallest thing on the ramp, but we're also definitely the cutest. The Gulfstream IV pilots always check out our classic V-tail.
There are a million reasons to get your hangar queen out of the hangar. I've flown myself to lots of functions and parties, and one always arrives in style flying to a hangar party. For something more formal, it's a lot easier to carry your party dress in your personal airplane than on a commercial flight. I sure miss Reagan National (KDCA), a five-minute cab ride to the hotel in Pentagon City, and another five minutes across the bridge to the National Air & Space Museum, where I've attended fabulous events. I fly into KSUA when I spend Christmas with friends in Stuart. I flew solo to visit friends on their boat off MYES, Staniel Cay, and that was the first of many trips flying solo to the Bahamas. When friends fly into KJAX, I often pick them up and fly them back to KSGJ. A 20-minute flight each way sure beats two hours on the road. Several years ago, I had knee surgery after a horseback riding accident, and I had a friend fly me to Atlanta to Emory for surgery. And, of course, the list of reasons I fly my own airplane go on and on.
One of the most rewarding reasons to fly is to help others. A lot of people fly for humanitarian reasons on a regular basis. You'll find Air Care Alliance, a list of organizations with volunteers flying to help others at www.aircareall.org/listings.htm. The pet adoption organization that I flew to Tampa for is SAFE (www.safe-pet-rescue-fl.com), and a national organization that flies hundreds of animals is Pilots and Paws (pilotsnpaws.org). Almost any small airplane can carry a dog or a cat, and some of them can carry several crates at a time.
If I haven't given you enough reasons to get your airplane out, then lend your airplane to a friend. There are some great pilot-potentials who can't afford both the instructor and the airplane. Let them use your airplane for the price of fuel. I've offered my V-tail with a throwover yoke to a friend who wants to get his CFI. All he has to do is rent a dual yoke for the flight lessons. Last summer, my godson, Pete, came to visit me in California, and because he's a responsible young man and an excellent pilot, I gave him my Bonanza for a week of traveling around California. Not bad for a 23-year-old! Like most women, I'm pretty generous. I once lent my Super Cub to a friend from Kenya. He took it out West and put 60 hours on it. A little excessive, sure, but the Cub wasn't flying much and I was happy it was being used.
I'm probably proselytizing, but when I'm flying along looking down at a crowded highway, I think, "Why aren't more people doing this? Why don't they save themselves the time, frustration, energy and go by air?" Stop whining about the cost of fuel—you know who you are! Start a flying club. Practice instrument approaches with a safety pilot. There may be some tax benefits to humanitarian flights. Grab a friend to help share expenses and go. Get the hangar queen out and go!