Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Expand Your Iceberg

Plane & Pilot takes on AFIT’s 10-day instrument-rating program

Templeton imbued me with enough flying lessons and tips to fill a hundred magazine articles. In the process, we solved world problems and laughed a good deal. He showed me that in aviation, there's no substitute for experience, and that precision in IFR flying is paramount because there are rarely second chances if mistakes are made. I learned that the student-instructor match is critical.

Day 6: Flying the VOR approach into Cedar City, I have the needles pegged so perfectly it's like all the instruments are frozen. I'm throwing subtle hints at my instructor so he notices my surely impressive performance while juggling a million things: airspeed, wings level, watch the needles, position report, final approach fix, landing check…"Ok, look up," my instructor says, dejected. "Where's the runway?" It's a mile off my right wing. I had forgotten that this approach includes a 10-degree turn during the last few miles. I'm pointed at the mountain. "You just killed us," he says curtly. "Let's try it again."

Once we start in, the days blur. We're grounded for two days by the snow, but we manage to get in some actual IMC time during a break. It's a transcendent experience flying an ILS approach through towering clouds—without the visor—in a land where MEAs (minimum en route altitudes) are in the teens. I'll never forget that first approach and the great accomplishment of seeing the runway ahead through the gray murk.

Sphere One Aviation

Sphere One Aviation in Cedar City, Utah, was my home for 10 days, and I can't say enough about them. At a time when pilots spew negative feedback about their experiences with surly FBOs that don't care, Sphere One stands out as a throwback to a time when things in aviation were simpler and friendlier. The greatest compliment I can pay them is that Sphere One felt like I was at home.

First, owner and General Manager Brenda Lee Blackburn runs Sphere One with her two charming assistants, J.J. McGuire and Mavourneen Lamb. Together with Jay Orton, they oversee every nuance of the FBO's operation and run it like a cozy bed-and-breakfast. McGuire makes homemade soups, pork chili in green sauce, elegant sandwiches and a cooler full of fresh-cut fruit and vegetables each day.

Lamb and McGuire make sure the frequent guests are taken care of. Orton sees to it that aircraft are fueled and handled properly, and that ramp attendants are doing everything they can for visiting aircraft and pilots. The whole staff handles scheduling, and you can count on speaking directly to one of them if you call on the telephone. The brand-new, Swiss chalet-like building is comfortable and spacious, with a convenient upstairs area with whiteboards and an enormous wall chart of the entire state in sectional chart format. It's quiet and private—a perfect place to learn.

One example of Sphere One's attention to detail came after a particularly late flight when we arrived after the FBO had closed. Although it's normally hangared, we had to leave the Cessna out in the frigid overnight weather. The next morning, the aircraft was covered in frost and felt like a refrigerator inside. Without prompting, the team pushed the airplane into a heated hangar and cranked it up just so we could have a warm, dry airplane to fly. Each night, we just left the plane out on the ramp, and the next day we arrived to a hangared, fueled, warm airplane ready for us. That's service.

Any time you're training for long periods, you're bound to run into minor maintenance issues. In our case, the Cessna 172 had just hit the 50-hour oil change mark after a particularly late flight. Sphere One's Chief Mechanic, Jerry Jorgenson, stayed late into the evening making sure the maintenance was complete so we'd be ready to go the next morning.

You don't have to take my word for it. While we were training, John and Martha King stopped in on a few occasions while they were doing some jet training of their own. They know just about every FBO in the nation and choose the best for their stops. "We just care about our customers," says Blackburn. "That's why our mission statement is painted on that entire wall, because we are committed to aviation and to everyone who comes through Sphere One."

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