Take in unique flying experiences as told by our authors. Unforgettable Flights will take you inside the cockpits of fighter jets, on board legendary aircraft, and to spectacular locations around the globe.
Pilots have a lot in common. They’re detail-oriented. They like direct routing and a good deal. But, most of all, they love adventure and the chance to go somewhere that few have gone before, especially in an airplane. I’ve often stared at the circled “R” on my charts and wondered what it takes to land at those special places. Such was the excitement I felt when I was invited to land at the Hearst Piedra Blanca Rancho airstrip in San Simeon, Calif.
A 70-year-old airplane teaches that flying is a gift to be savored
My palms were sweating as I approached the hangar. Behind locked doors sat one of the most storied airplanes in aviation: the Stearman PT-17, and I was going to fly it. I felt like I had been invited backstage to meet Elvis. I had been dreaming about this iconic airplane since I was a kid who spent Saturday afternoons staring up at the type from the weeds of my local airport.
Flying is a compromise. You can have cheap, and you can have fun, but you won’t necessarily travel fast. You can have fast, for sure, but it will not be cheap, and fun depends on your definition of the word. Several new single-engine airplanes are as fast as turboprops, but the question remains: Can an everyday Joe use that speed, say, on a typical business trip, and have fun in the process.
This is my “Maverick” moment, so I better not make good on that call sign I was given a few years ago. I’m cinched tightly into the rear seat of an F-16 behind Major Stephen “Chak” Pinchak of the 421st Fighter Squadron, and my heart is racing. I’ve just armed my ejection seat, so I’m sitting on a live rocket, in a jet plane, and we’re about to blast off—literally.
From the cockpit jump seat of a 1954 Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, our clunky, creaky roll on takeoff seems a stark contrast to the day’s activities at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tuscon, Ariz. After what feels like an eternity on an endless runway, we slowly lift off, leaving behind an incredible assortment of U.S. Air Force fighter jets, including F-15 Eagles, F-16 Falcons, F-4 Phantoms, A-10 Warthogs and two F-22 Raptors, on the ramp below.
Champion calf roper K.C. Jones is backing his horse, a brown-and-white paint named Mornin’ Spot, into the right rear corner of what they call the box, next to the chute. He’s focused like a red-tailed hawk dive-bombing a field mouse.
It’s a fulfillment of a lifelong and childhood dream
The movie is starting. The cabin is dark with the window shades lowered. I open the ones by me and look down from FL350 at the landscape. I’m on United Air Lines flight 193 and over the Midwest, about two hours after takeoff from Dulles, Va., en route home to Los Angeles after a flight earlier this morning from Syracuse, N.Y., to Dulles.