By Doug Vehle, The Daily Bosco
Wasn't long ago they were promoting aviation with a $49 first flight at beapilot.com. I wonder how maybe people thought they'd go try that just once, only to find. . . .
Welll, that was the idea behind the promotion. Oh, that might have been too much for my Dad. He'd wanted to be a military pilot, showing up for induction during World War II with his brand new Masters Degree in Physics. Later in life he would be suspicious of the contention at his physical that his color vision was questionable, ending his hopes of flying, but this guy wound up in PhD studies at UCLA and teaching at MIT, can't imagine them wanting to see him "Expended" in air combat at the time. But now they've come to require guys to be like him to fly the combat planes, such as 'The Man who Flew Everything' Hoot Gibson. As a (Euphemistically titled) Aerospace Engineer, Dad said he always enjoyed a trip in the airliner when North American/Autonetics/Rockwell used to fly him off to military bases or other meetings with the biggest aviation customer there is. And he was one of the earliest builders of the U-Control and RC planes, there were magazine articles about him. If only he'd have lived long enough for me or my brother to fly him. Assuming his vision really turned out to be such a problem, if he'd flown the plane once himself with an Instructor, what might he have tried to get his chance to keep going?
You don't know what you're missing by not flying yourself. I would think Allen would got over his aforementioned fears the moment he was taking off for the first time in the left seat, which is your first flight with the instructor. You really get to do it yourself. All to get you ready for that solo, where you really come to realize you're on your own. Wouldn't have it any other way. Before my first solo I looked up a geological study of the hills of north Fullerton, which peak at about 700 feet above sea level with the possibility of another 100 feet of structures. When the Air Traffic Controller diverted me out of the pattern on my very first takeoff, (Picture my Instructor listening on the radio and panicking.) I knew to climb to 1,800 feet to remain 1,000 feet above anything flying over the neighborhood of Laguna Lake. That didn't sit well with this always surly ATC, which escallated our discussion to him snarling that when HE doesn't tell me to climb above the 1,100 feet pattern, I don't do it. Prompting me to one strident "Who's FLYING this plane? When I know I gotta climb, I'm gonna climb." I'm told the flight school had the radio turned up because there was also a check ride for a license flying at the same time, they were listening in. Apparently there was some giggling over the normally quiet guy going after a deserving ATC they all had trouble with. Although my instructor, outside watching with a hand radio, would have been pulling his hair out.
Making it all the better that the plane behind me was indeed the check ride from my school. The 18 year getting her license told me that the 75 year old FAA Advisor was getting angry listening to the exchange, telling her she should indeed climb to the same altitude as me. When the ATC turned on them for the same reason, your hair could have stood on end when you heard the response of "NAP IT!" The normally sweet old lady Advisor was on a tear by the time were back on the ground, telling me "You go right on arguing with them when they tell you not to climb to a safe altitude. And you're right, YOU ARE the one flying the plane!" I jokingly offered to hang around until he was off duty and we all three could discuss this, she obviously was ready to do it for real. You don't have this kind of fun on a commercial flight. I'd all of 3 minutes of wheels off the ground solo flight time at the moment of the heated exchange.
My third and final landing that day, maybe 20 minutes after the exchange with the ATC, I had a crosswind get under the wing (From opposite the usual direction) and lift one side in the air about 45 degrees, leaving me unable to wind up the engine and go around and needing to just balance there until it came down on it's own, knowing that touching the wingtip might not turn as ugly as slamming that wheel down too hard and setting it bouncing. My instructor said this day was as bad as he'd ever seen thrown at a first time solo pilot. I was in an airliner that hit a microburst just seconds from the runaway at Ontario, not nearly such a good time because I didn't get to solve the problem. We did take a bounce. (Oh, the panic in that plane.)
I don't really like airliners, if you only knew how close to structural failure they really are. And I'm not much for sitting doing nothing in tight spaces for hours at a time. But checking out a Cessna 172 (Rated considerably stronger) and flying out over the bay off Long Beach, (What are those two derricks called? Emmy and Eva?) or maybe just heading to Chino to fly the pattern and land again and again, sucked some $200 for 2 hours at a time out of my pocket on so many occasions.
Which is the big reason I'm not doing it now, it's such a great way to spend a LOT of money. Big reason it's expensive is the overkill in safety. The engines don't REALLY need to be rebuilt so soon, imagine if you were required to rebuild your car every 50,000 miles. But that's the condition the planes are required to be in.
What's dangerous is the pilot. Imagine someone who would blithely fly too low if the ATC said to. At one of the FAA saftey meetings on building your own plane, (More than half the new planes registered each year are homebuilt, anymore) they told of a man who built 5 planes in 5 years. The Advisor said he considered himself an inventor and designer, deviating greatly from the proven design he was working with. Building your own brings the cost of owning within reach, plus there's a magic to it. This guy was obviously under a spell.
This led to each of his planes being crashed at least once. The most striking photos the FAA had was of the landing gear of one of his planes pocking through the ceiling of someone's kitchen. (If that's not disrespecting their space, I don't know what is.) In the course of building his next plane, he'd be out flying, damaging and finally destroying the last one.
It all ended with the 5th plane. If I remember the cerification process correctly he needed 40 hours in the air for the plane to be freed to go whereever he wanted. He gathered family and friends at the airport, usually experimentors fly from runways in out of the way places with nothing close by, such as Chino. They were all watching as he was approaching to land, seeming at last to have succeeded. . . .
In the process of installing and testing the engine, the prop tends to need to go on and come off a few times. It's not uncommon for the builder to begin to only tighten or even only install half the bolts, maybe even not tighten them completely. Astronaut Hoot Gibson, of the first docking of the space shuttle to the Russian spacestation fame, found himself periously close to losing his prop from his Cassutt when he realized the improperly secured bolts were coming loose. What remained of the prop after the highly skilled pilot had landed safely became a clock in his home.
The crowd had gathered in one place to watch the builder land. depending on the location and layout of the airport, there might be nothing usual about him flying over the numbers of the runway less than 100 feet high. Mere seconds from touchdown, a moment where the reduced speed and lack of distance from the ground greatly reduces the danger if something goes wrong, the improperly mounted prop came loose.
Ironically, at a higher altitude, there might have been time to recover the atitude of the plane and effect an emergency landing. When the plane flipped and lost lift it instantly increased its' descent from 12 feet a second before to as much as 44 feet a second in the 1st second, possibly up to 76 feet a second for the ext. His 7-9 second descent was compressed, not much you can do in less than 2.
When I asked why this man who was obviously a hazard had been allowed to continue, the FAA Advisor gave what I found to be an odd response: "We're here to keep you from killing anyone else, we're not here to keep you from killing yourself." I suppose there's a little something I can take heart from as I board an airliner several times a year in visiting relatives. Those precariously built aircraft are tightly regulated to prevent airlines from killing anyone else, at least as far as we can resist the random chance. Those airliners are not even required to be strong enough to survive the maneuvers the hijackers made to hit those buildings on 9/11, yet the airframes were stronger and better maintained than I allow myself to recognize. Ernest Gann titled his landmark book (Greatest about aviation ever) 'Fate is the Hunter.' It's about the biggest risks of flying being random chance, not the flying itself. One of my favorite books, I'm thinking I should buy a copy for Fullerton Library just so I can read it again.
Given I'm doing so much building lately, I find myself resuming the desire to built my own plane. My first choice is the Falco, (At a cost of $60-1200k, depending on how I go about it) the civilian plane which became a military mainstay when repackaged as the Marchetti. If you want to fly the military configuration, you only need to head down to AirCombat U.S.A. at Fullerton Airport. An unlicensed pilot can actually fly almost any plane if a properly trained and experienced Certified Flight Instructor is in the seat next to them.
You'll be flying with a retired military pilot, The kind of guy who can get the plane down in one piece if the prop comes loose. Possibly the guy that was involved in the making of the film 'Top Gun.' If you think renting the little Cessna gets pricey, just be ready to pay when you get to fly one of these.
If you see the owner, tell him you were sent by the guy he met a few months ago that used to work with his office manager, who said "Boy, the money YOU have spent in your lifetime with all this flying." Boy, did he laugh. Believe me, they treat this as being so dangerous, in so doing they make it into one of the safest things you'll ever do. But it'll cost you.
Compared to everything else at Fullerton Airport, it was once pretty cheap to fly with Ray's Flying Club, thanks to all the money that was saved by avoiding proper maintenance. Oh, what a bunch they were. One plane had a radio that would quit after a few minutes, so they kept turning it off and on, getting irate to argue when they couldn't get clearance to take off. The argument was interrupted, of course, by the radio continually going out. Once I was the next plane landing after one of theirs touched down, the ATC came on and asked for a good look to see if there was any sign of the warning light at the top of a telephone pole across the street had been hit. (You'd have to be real low.) With the affirmative guess, that plane was denied clearance as it taxied back to try to fly the pattern again, touching off another diatribe. Turned out there was some serious damage to the wing of that lovely Grumman Cheetah I'd have loved to have rescued from them and restored, but the guy who was about to take off merely talked about what an inconvenience it was getting grounded. Scary though all this sounds, it really points out that flying isn't quite so dangerous as people fear, there's a lot more stability in a plane, especially one you learn in, than you might imagine. That particular organization is long out of business. It's easy to think they were lucky to have avoided a serious accident, but the planes themselves can be forgiving, as long as you don't transgress too badly. Planes in bad condition, flown by flakey pilots, are the only real bad odds in aviation. If you're not a flake, you're usually all right.
It's quite a bit cheaper than a regular pilots' license to get a Sport Pilot Certificate. You're flying cheaper planes, so the rental is lower. Not a lot of hours involved in training, you're only learning to fly close to home during the day, no cross country flying means a huge chunk of training is unnecessary. You'll get to do just about everything I ever did at less than half the cost. I don't think you'd ever land high up at Big Bear or fly in commercial traffic landing at Ontario, you'd definitely be expected to be done for the day at sundown. Plenty of flying to be done before then. If I was learning to fly right now, even taking up flying again the way I would be, that would be the route I'd take. Without the cross country flying I'm sure my Dad's color vision wouldn't have mattered.
I've always figured my Dad would have been a Hoot Gibson type if he had the chance. Perhaps even more legendary, he garnered attention himself in defense aerospace and in his spare time in the racing world. I'd grown up thinking I'd be a military pilot, but at a time when you had to be an engineer and a pilot when you enlisted just to compete with the other engineer pilots for the few spots, let's just say my Mother's interference with my education while I was growing up mooted that.
Ah well. With that Falco I could fly from Pomona (Fullerton is too expensive) to Gillespie Field or New Braunfels in Texas at half the cost of a commercial flight for the trip in I suppose less than 7 hours, including one fuel stop. Consider tacking on leaving the house more than 2 hours before the commercial flight and 3 hours in the air, really would take about the same time, with ME in control. I could leave at a moment's notice. And I probably would, until I'd gone broke.
Oh, but the cost would be out of control. The maintenance of that plane; the hangar cost, I'd have to travel a lot to balance it out.
I sure could have fun just building a bunch of planes though. A Sonex from a kit, a J3 Cub from scratch, of course I'd have to get to one of the many amphibious planes where plans and parts are readily availble. They used to say the MiniMax would only cost about $5k to finish without the engine, that one is much like Gibson's record holding Cassutt, although slower. Maybe I could build the Cassutt itself. I could start with a Skypup, so small and simple it's considered an 'Ultralight,' no license or certification required as long as you fly in a deserted area. It uses the construction method for surfboards, hotwire cutting EPS foam, etc. Hmmm, my brother was a partner in the original Pulsar kitplane, but stuck to such planes as his Beech VTail Bonanza for his own flying. Oh, the rights to market the kits and plans for the Cassutt are currently for sale, I could even be in the aviation business.
Well, I do have the official numbered plans for the Burt Rutan/Long EZE inspired Cozy, Rutan being the man behind Spaceship One, if nothing else learning their process from them. I even have articles from the 1930's that explain how to build certain old time Poberezny designed and/or inspired planes without telling exactly how, leading to a certain design work being done by the inventive builder. (Me having studied industrial design and composite fabrication of late.) I wonder if that hapless fool of a builder I was talking about used any of those articles. . . .
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee
No 412 squadron, RCAF
Killed 11 December 1941 defending England from the Luftwaffe