Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Taking Command Of Your First Plane

The Bellanca that could not be resisted

The last leg of the day to Plainview, TX, was spectacularly smooth and uneventful. We descended through the long shadows of a red sunset, seen over the cowl of my own airplane! We circled around to Runway 31 and did five night landings.

It felt good to be at the helm again the next morning, but I had a lot to learn and I knew it. The flat land of Western Texas soon gave way to rising terrain. Approaching our fuel stop in St. Johns, Ariz., Cody said little. I started the descent 12 nm out, lined up for a straight-in with a 165-knot groundspeed and more than 5,000 feet to lose. I began to slowly twist the power off, worried about shock cooling, while watching the airport race up in the windscreen.

“So, what’s your plan here?” Cody said rather coolly.

“Lose some altitude and land,” I said.

“Sounds about right,” he said.

I considered a forward slip. I considered s-turns. I was mentally fixated with landing that airplane. I arrived over the threshold at 100 feet AGL and 120 mph.

“Okay,” Cody said. “Let’s go around.”

“Of course,” I said. But why hadn’t I thought of it? Later on the ground, I stumbled through an apology.

“I might have expected that from you yesterday, but not today,” scolded Cody. “You’re going to have to focus on getting way ahead of the airplane if you want to keep from killing yourself.”

The rest of the trip went well, but I have never forgotten those strong words. And even several years and 150 hours later, now handling the airplane with confidence, I still train frequently and am continuously focused on performing to the Super Viking’s high standards.

The costs of ownership are high but the benefits, pride and feeling of being aloft in your own airplane are really too overwhelming to put a price on. Flying—and owning what you fly—is a pivotal life experience.


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