Springfield Chapter Missouri Pilots Association

February 2003

Flying Journal - Sadness & Joy in the Winter Air

Maybe it's the wintertime blues. Sometimes I think I must have a little Seasonal Affective Disorder. It really hasn't been a bad winter. I just realized even though I went three weeks without flying, during which time I drove twice to Madison, WI and back, I still flew over14 hours in the last six weeks. But sometimes I still miss seeing Don Hinni's truck at the airport (it seemed it was there all the time) and I certainly miss the smiling voices of Don and Larry Kennedy.

I'm sad for the seven crewmembers lost with the space shuttle Columbia. Only two years ago a class of students came through my classes for whom their earliest vivid memory was the space shuttle Challenger explosion. What a way to "bookend" seventeen years of history. I couldn't believe the news media surveyed Americans to see whether to keep the manned space program going! Like common sense would tell you, the vast majority said yes. That would be like asking us to quit flying (or driving, or working, or smoking?) because of the inherent risks.
I'm angry at all the encroachments on our civil rights in the name of anti-terrorism. I guess I'm not really sad, maybe just emotional in general this winter. It's actually been a good winter flying. Many simple joys.

Once at dusk I looked to the east toward the sound of two large turbo-prop engines just in time to see the last red glow of the just-set sun on an ATR 72 (the large high-wing turboprop airliner shifted to Midwest service after the icing accident in PA). It was just starting to roll out ever so smoothly from about a 30 degree banked turn onto its final vector, probably for runway 32 at SGF.

Somehow that sudden image evoked a powerful feeling. Instantly I felt like I was flying myself, in a plane, maybe a big ol' Piper Aztec, a twin with that ponderous grace of a heavier airplane, with lots of mass off axis, engines and six hundred pounds of fuel in the wings. In a light plane, you can yank it around, change directions suddenly, but a plane gets heavy enough, maybe 500 horsepower and up, that when you try to move the controls suddenly, you just feel like you're pushing against a big piece of furniture. It moves, but slowly, smoothly at its own pace. Such a plane almost forces you to be a smooth pilot. Passengers love it, just smoothly swooping to the airport in one smooth continuous arc.

One sudden image of a plane in flight made me feel all that, like being stopped in your tracks by the grace of a bird in flight, or the hundreds of snow geese we saw flying back from Iowa.

I had many beautiful and interesting flights myself this month. Once at twilight we saw a beautiful cold little jewel of a sunset as we returned from practicing VOR interception and tracking around the Dogwood VOR northwest of Ava. Several flights I have been reminded again how much a little snowfall can change the whole appearance of the landscape. Sometimes it makes it hard to recognize your own home area. Another flight we came back from practicing in the Buffalo and Bolivar areas and enough snow had melted that we could actually see the landscape change drastically in the hour and a half we were out.

On a trip to Lawrence, KS shopping for airplanes we met wonderful new flying friends and enjoyed ogling several beautiful aircraft specimens. My student, Mike Jones, and I repeated the route of my own first solo cross-country, to Pittsburg, KS and Joplin and return, and the next day Mike successfully completed it solo. Bill Cheek and I enjoyed a gorgeous night flight practicing our night currency. I got some fresh retractable time, as well as some high-performance time. Several of my flying friends have started building their own Vans RV9As and their excitement is contagious. I have a new CFI student starting next week. Yes, it's been a great flying month. I even failed to complete a flight for the first time in a few months.

Roni Burns and I were trying to get to Minneapolis. We made it as far as Grinnell, Iowa before being turned back by low ceilings and freezing rain. But it was his old hometown and he finally got me that Iowa steak dinner he promised and we had a nice visit with his brother and we met wonderful new aviation friends at the Grinnell airport (buy fuel from Bill and look at his lovingly restored Cessna 140 when you are in the area)! We had flown there in twilight and even though I was born and lived 8 years a little farther (and flatter!) north and west in Iowa, I was surprised both at the rolling hills that make up southeast Iowa, and well as how developed Iowa has become. There were many more lights visible than over northern Missouri. I knew Iowa had thousands of farms, but now it seems to have hundreds of large and small factories as well. Nothing like an airplane to show you how things are changing.

Yes, when I think back, I don't know why I was feeling down. It's been a great winter flying.

If you've had that cough or flu business going around, get well soon and keep exercising your right to fly, safely!


[Copyright 2002 - Earl Holmer]