I can only imagine the first day back to school for Rinker Buck in the fall of 1966. As his classmates recounted tales of riding bikes around the block and jumping in the neighbor’s pool, Rinker’s version of “what I did this summer” must have been a showstopper. “Well, my brother and I flew an airplane from New Jersey to California in only six days,” the 15-year-old could have said. “We slept under the wing of our Piper PA-11, dodged thunderstorms over the Pennsylvania Turnpike, endured mockery-turned-camaraderie with crusty Stearman crop-duster pilots, and climbed to almost 12,000 feet over the Rocky Mountains.” Not exactly your typical high school summer vacation. Written years later, Rinker’s memoir, Flight of Passage, chronicles the inspirational story of how he not only uncovered their way across the country using sectional charts, but also navigated family relationships and self-growth through aviation. In this issue, the award-winning author recollects lessons learned from flying that define who he is today.
Whether it’s an ambitious cross-country journey or a local afternoon flight, there are many new aircraft options for low and slow flying. We profile more than 20 light-sport aircraft, ranging from the low-wing, bubble-canopied SportStar SL, the newest model from Evektor Aircraft, to the Sport Cub, a taildragger from CubCrafters that can be equipped with tundra tires or floats. Not only are LSA making headway as remarkable, personal aircraft (more than 1,400 have been registered in the United States since the introduction of the category three years ago), but flight schools all over are also adding them to their growing training fleets. With docile handling and fewer requirements to obtain a license, LSA serve as a great foray into general aviation in a new airplane.
Another popular trainer is the two-seat Diamond DA20 Eclipse. While you might expect Senior Editor Bill Cox to be a bit jaded—he has logged 15,000 hours in more than 300 types, including an Antonov An-2, an F-15 and a Beech Starship 2000—his excitement was undeniable as he took to the skies in the Eclipse, a simple and straightforward airplane that he found to be a pure delight. The all-composite aircraft is certified to utility class and approved for spins, which also appeals to the U.S. Air Force. They use the Eclipse as a trainer and have a total of 45 on order.
Once you’ve selected an appropriate aircraft, it’s equally important to find an instructor or mentor who’s also a good match. Whether you’re working on a private license, advanced rating or biennial flight review, it’s who you learn from that can make all of the difference—good or bad. A great pilot doesn’t always make a great instructor, and a CFI rating doesn’t necessarily mean someone’s a suitable teacher. We asked Michael Gaffney, 2007 FAA National Flight Instructor of the Year, and Rich Stowell, 2006 National CFI of the Year, for their advice. In addition, contributing author Marc C. Lee tells us what warning signs to be on the lookout for and provides tips on how to find an instructor that’s right for you.
Rinker Buck’s instructor was his father, and although the training could be quite strict (he had to maintain a perfect heading while executing Dutch rolls and reading the sectional), the lessons had an enduring value both in and out of the cockpit. As a result, Rinker gained self-confidence as a young pilot, kept in check by a reasonable amount of self-doubt. What he learned then still applies today, on flights like the one he will make this month to Oshkosh. With summer in full swing, now is the time when we do most of our flying and when we learn the most. Visit planeandpilotmag.blogspot.com and tell us what lessons you’ve learned from flying that are timeless.