Springfield Chapter Missouri Pilots Association

July 2003

Flying Journal - Summer Flying - and lack thereof

It was a slow flying month for me. I hadn't heard from any of my students since I got back from vacation. It turns out they were all just as busy as I have been with work and family obligations. That was a good thing, too, because that textbook I edit every summer just got way out of hand this year. I got back spasms working over the computer and scanner for a few weeks. I don't know how people can do computer jobs full-time.
We did get the night cross-country flight completed for my private applicant with a lovely flight to Joplin and back. The night sky at 5500 feet about half way between the glows of the lights of Joplin and Springfield was as dark and clear as I've seen in months. Even through an airplane windshield the Milky Way was visible. I wish I could get my telescope up there above the haze and lights.
As always, I startle my student by methodically turning off or covering up all the lights I can find in the cockpit. After a few moments of "You're kidding aren't you?" followed usually by a few moments of near panic when I just sit there placidly in the dark, they start paying very close attention to how they are flying the airplane. Usually a few minutes seems enough to build a little confidence in a student that the airplane still flies the same and their eyes really do work about 10,000 times better when they really have to, and maybe losing all electrical power at night would not necessarily need to be a fatal event.
I also usually try a few night landings without the airplane's landing light (often by design or just by the fickle nature of airplane landing lights). Most students are surprised when they learn that the FARs do not even require a landing light for private operations.
Tonight it was so beautiful; I just let the plane drone on in the dark (outside lights of course safely and legally burning brightly). As the student relaxed into new cues for guiding the aircraft, I was pleased to point out to him that he was holding heading more smoothly and accurately than when he was studiously chasing his beloved "video game-like" instruments! And neither were we drawn down by the dark ground, but in fact gaining a few hundred feet altitude. That's typical, as pilots unconsciously pull up in the dark to instinctive safety.
Of course he took that as a challenge, now enjoying this more elemental flying as his eyes light-adapted and he could REALLY SEE, for a change. And sure enough, now he held heading and altitude rock solid, with no instruments to rely on. We searched for the beacon for a while, somehow always a little hard to find approaching SGF at night.
When it was time to switch from Approach Control to Tower, I realized I was still holding a chart over the two radio lights that wouldn't turn down. Since he was flying better than ever, I thought, "Why not carry this simulated 'emergency' all the way down to the runway?"
Then I just added one more challenge, so he could really savor the whole experience, by having him fly his entire landing pattern with a flashlight in his mouth. He had the best landing of the night, realized the flashlight really didn't help much, and left the plane with what I hoped would be just that right combination of respect, experience, and confidence a new pilot needs regarding the special issues of night flying.
Bill Cheek and I also had a great flight early one Saturday morning. We took turns practicing simulated instrument approaches and landings at Ava, Lebanon, and SGF. It was a lush green summer day, smooth air before the thermals started rising. I had forgotten how much fun (!??) it is to figure out the approach plate for the SDF (Simplified Directional Facility) instrument approach to Runway 36 at Lebanon. I suppose it's better to be reminded on a sunny day instead of a stormy one. Hint to other pilots: There's always a warm welcome, clean facilities, and lots of food, including much home-cooked and home-baked, at the Lebanon FBO!
Even though I didn't fly that much myself last month, there was a lot going on including air shows at Columbia and Joplin, and "fly-outs/ins." I saw and heard the great sound of "Aluminum Overcast," the EAA B-17, fly over and spent a pleasant hour walking through the Short-Wing Piper Club tied down in the grass at Springfield Downtown Airport. I enjoyed seeing a Clipper, one of the few 4-seat taildraggers, I've been told, with a stick instead of a yoke. They must mean factory built aircraft?
Somehow, I was either too young or too old at the right times to fly many of this era aircraft. I do remember a few landings in a Piper Cub. I think my first flight into Gaston's was in Steve Rhinehart's Piper Colt. I have yet to fly in a Pacer or Tri-pacer, but have always been impressed that our own Dick Hendrix spent-was it 74 hours?-in a Tri-Pacer on a trip to Alaska and back. Honest, hard-working airplanes-may they fly forever!

Fly safely and joyfully, with currency and proficiency,


[Copyright 2003 - Earl Holmer]