Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Flying Alone

For some, flying alone is the only way, and for others...

On some small singles bound for points across big water, passengers weren't even a possibility, as all the seats except mine were replaced with fuel tanks. Even if I had a right seat installed, the insurance policy usually precluded carrying passengers because of the liability. Another limiting factor was the need to carry twice the survival gear, often impossible in small, single-engine airplanes.

On some Pacific deliveries, there sometimes wasn't even room remaining for a suitcase, so I had to fly an "unpacked trip," with clothes, toiletries and personal items tucked away anywhere there was space. "Did I put my toothbrush between the ferry tanks or was it under the rudder pedals?" I'd often have to buy a cheap suitcase in Australia or Japan to pack for the trip home.

I'm not complaining. In 35 years of delivering airplanes, I've seen some amazing things in the skies above the planet, from sunrises over Fiji and Capetown to sunsets in Seoul and Geneva. I've looked down on and sometimes flown through sandstorms in the Sahara, typhoons in the Pacific (from a distance), monsoon rains in the Philippines, blizzards in Greenland and Iceland, and the wildest of thunderstorms in Darwin and Kuala Lumpur. I've been broiled in +45-degree C temperatures in Djibouti and the Australian outback, and flown through -45-degree C cold in Northeastern Canada and Alaska.

Probably two million miles have passed beneath my wings, plus another two million on the airline trips home, always the toughest part of any ferry flight. While I envy buddies such as former TWA-captain Barry Schiff, who circled the globe hundreds of times in his 35-year career, the airline jets fly so high that crews and passengers rarely see much other than seven miles of vertical haze except during departure and approach.

I've flown most of my two million miles on delivery flights below 12,000 feet, relatively low where mountains and deserts, coastlines and rivers, cities and villages decorate the Earth and suggest how insignificant humans are to the planet.

Along the way, I've earned several hundred-thousand frequent-flyer miles, unfortunately all on the airlines, none in general aviation. Just what I want to do with my spare time—take an airline trip. Now, if I could only earn frequent- flyer miles in an Aerostar…

And, of course, it's not over. The economy has slowed down, and so have I, although I still do a few trips a year, but now, I've suddenly discovered that flying alone really isn't that much fun. Lord knows, I should be an expert at it by now. I still have the same appetite for the sky, the same enthusiasm to learn all I still don't understand.

When I look back over what I've been privileged to see and do in my checkered career, my only regret is that I haven't been able to share most of those experiences except in print. I was always just trying to make a living. Even so, I can still remember so many things I could never possibly forget, but it's more than a little sad that I'll never be able to truly share the visual, audible and tactile memories with anyone.

There's still time, however. One of these days, when time and money allow, I'll wet more of the wing on the LoPresti Mooney to provide nine hours endurance and take pilot Peggy to Europe. I'll fly the route I've flown hundreds of times—Bangor, Goose Bay, Narsarsuaq, Reykjavik, Glasgow, London, Paris—and I'll enjoy it immensely, specifically because I won't be getting paid to do it.


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