Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ticket To Ride

Earning a sport pilot license: Part I

ticket to rideEnough trash already. This endless washboard-road turbulence promises to reintroduce me to the hot dog and greasy fries I just ate. Note to self: Next time, have an avocado salad.
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ticket to rideBut there was a problem. I loved the in-the-air-with-wings part. But all that chart reading, radio chatter, flight planning and traffic dodging through busy Los Angeles skies? Not working. Not working at all for a hang-divin’ sky surfer. I never took the checkride.

In 1980, the bug bit again when hang gliders morphed into ultralights. I flew, then wrote about and photographed the new breed for publications. I had found my professional home at last.

In 1984, the burgeoning ultralight industry, devastated by bad press—such as a slanted “expose” on ABC’s 20/20—augured in. I continued doing freelance aviation writing and photography, but sold my ultralight and hang glider. Selling those freedom-flying machines was like amputating an arm.

Recently, in that human way we’re all heir to, I began to yearn for things left behind. At first, it manifested itself with old Twilight Zone and Have Gun—Will Travel episodes.

Then I realized what I missed most: piloting an airplane above the green hills of Earth. It was time to get back in the game.

First Stop: Checking The Ego
The challenge: I was rusty as the ancient Greek Antikythera mechanism, which had lain underwater for 2,000 years. The solution: I’d take flight instruction as a rank beginner.

Such an undertaking implies—especially for pilots like me who’ve flown in everything from supersonic fighters to hot-air balloons—a need to set aside their ego. When most of us hit our 50s and 60s, we know how to do certain things well.

I certainly knew how to keep an airplane straight and level; I just never got the ticket. So this sport pilot license thing should be a breeze—just like an ultralight, right?

Wrong. And this is a key lesson for all pilots, beginners and especially you experts out there: With LSA, we need to check the attitude at the cockpit door.

Transitioning to LSA means overcoming any subtle, preconceived bias you may have that these are simple, easy-to-fly aircraft. They’re not hard to fly. They do, however, live in a different energy and performance envelope, and deserve respect.

Pilots would better serve themselves by crafting this mind-set: Learning to fly an LSA is equivalent to adding a glider, floatplane or balloon rating.


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