Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 26, 2010

From The Editor: It’s Never Too Late

It was typical hangar chatter during a holiday party at the MotoArt facility at Torrance Airport. One pilot had made the smoothest landing ever; another had seen the highest groundspeed ever; and another had recovered from a spiral dive in the clouds while managing an electrical failure, engine fire and severe icing. (Well, haven’t we all?) But when American Flyers instructor Michelle Kole told the story of an 84-year-old student who was training at her school, I did a double take. Eighty-four?! Doris Alexander was finally pursuing a lifelong dream, Michelle explained. She had recently completed her solo cross-country flight, and was preparing for her private pilot checkride. I had to see for myself.

The following week, Managing Editor Pamela Lee and I joined Doris and the American Flyers team at Santa Monica Airport’s Typhoon Restaurant. Doris’ ebullient demeanor and seemingly endless energy belied her age, and she joked with her share of student goof stories. I had been fixating on her age, but I soon realized that Doris was just one of the gang, bonded by a shared passion for flying. In this issue (page 29), we recount Doris’ remarkable achievement and our celebratory flight as the newly minted private pilot’s first passengers.

As part of this month’s learn-to-fly theme, contributor Marc Lee discusses technological advances and design changes that continue to make general aviation safer and more enjoyable. He tells what student pilots need to know to achieve their flying goals, from expenses and time requirements to training academies and pilot gear
Once you’ve earned your pilot’s license, which we all have been told is a “license to learn,” it’s important to proceed with advanced training to stay sharp and competent. This month’s guest columnist, Lori MacNichol, owner of McCall Mountain/Canyon Flying Seminars, explains why mountain-flying training will make you a better pilot, even if you don’t fly in the mountains often.

Budd Davisson’s form of advanced training comes full circle and focuses on the absolute basics of flying. I spent several days Pittsing around Scottsdale, Ariz., with the self-appointed “air bum” who specializes in, as he puts it, “down and dirty, pure stick-and-rudder aviating.” By teaching students to land his Pitts S-2A, Budd not only dispels the myth of the reputedly “squirrelly” taildragger for hundreds of students—including Mike Melvill, test pilot for Scaled Composite’s SpaceShipOne, and Peter Loeffler, an amputee who lost a leg in a prop accident, but also teaches seat-of-the-pants flying. His most common instructional comment is “feel your butt!”

And if you’re looking for even more exotic training, there’s Gauntlet Warbirds. Contributor Jim Wynbrandt visits the jet warbird transition school for an adrenaline-packed high-G flight in an L-39 Albatros. The Chicago-based flight center also offers tailwheel and aerobatic training in a Decathlon, an Extra, a T-6 and an L-29 Delfin.

Senior Editor Bill Cox is well-versed in extreme flying, but of a different kind. On a recent ferry flight in a Cessna Caravan over the Pacific Ocean from California to Korea, he brought along a Spot Satellite Tracker, which continually reported his GPS-determined position via the Globalstar Satellite Constellation.

“Had there been a problem,” Bill says, “emergency services would have been able to pinpoint my position within 10 minutes. In a Caravan, that’s an area of only 20 to 30 nm. It’s a big ocean, but in conjunction with my mandatory HF position reports, the Spot provided a good hedge against the unexpected.”

This month, contributor Bill Stein reviews the second-generation Spot, which is smaller and has a more user-friendly interface than the original model. Track Bill Cox on future ferry flights in real time by checking and for the latest trip information.


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