“Nice looking plane” the passerby started by way of introduction. “Not really,” I thought to myself, “have you seen the cracks in the fiberglass and dents in the fuselage?” I had just landed at Kline Kill. He was one of many walking the line of airplanes and admiring each in turn. “What engine do you have in it?” he continued. “O-320,” I hesitated as I tried to remember the greeting protocol between pilots at a fly in. “How fast does it fly?” he inquired next. More confident, I recited “135kts on 8 gallons an hour.” “Did you build it?” he asked, sounding excited to hear all about the innards of the airplane. “Nope. I bought it. I like flying not building” I hinted, hoping this person would have something interesting to say about flying. But all he had to say was “ah, ok.” He stepped back to admire my RV-4 one more time before walking on to the next plane. Then the next person walked up. “How fast is this airplane?” she inquired.
I had flown to Kline Kill NY (NY1) for their fly in breakfast. It was a little bit rainy, but plenty of planes showed up. Tyson and Isaac were 20 minutes behind me in the Bearhawk. Twenty minutes was a long time to wait when I could smell the pancakes and hadn’t eaten anything yet that morning. On the 45 minute flight over, I kept myself entertained by navigating solely based on a static chart. I also flew through a noticeable weather front and some turbulence.
After breakfast, some other RV’s landed. I walked over to see if I could make friends. “Where did you two fly in from?” I asked. “Lawrence and Beverly” one pilot I approached answered. “Ah, I might have seen you two before” I commented, realizing their paint scheme looked familiar. “Definitely not” he insisted and headed off to breakfast. I guess I got too far off the standard script. “Nice looking planes” said another guy next to me. “Yep and fun too. I fly the smaller version, an RV-4.” I took a chance again at directing the conversation away from mechanics. “What did you fly in?” I asked. “A Kitfox,” he answered, “that red and white one down at the end.” “Oh that was the plane that did the silly landing!” I exclaimed cheerfully. “Hey Rick, we got the first comment on your landing” he called over to his companion. The conversation continued from there. Thank goodness I’d finally found someone who didn’t want to talk about their engine.
An hour or so later we extracted ourselves from that conversation and flew north to Cambridge. Cambridge was having a small lunch fly in. At 5AM that morning they had launched a bunch of hot air balloons as part of the Cambridge Valley Balloon Festival. There were a few airplanes and pilots hanging around. I tried introducing myself to the one other RV pilot but he was busy with some other folks reviewing pictures from building his plane. Tyson found some Cub pilots to talk to, and Isaac inhaled chips and hot dogs.
Our next stop in NY was not a fly in. I met Adina last year at Wentworth and have a standing invitation to come out ever since. Tyson has his friends through the Super Cub forum, but I’m still trying to make my own friends and not just be his tag along. Adina’s strip is right near Cambridge NY. She and her husband started construction on the strip next to their house a couple years ago and listed it with the FAA last year. It is not on the charts yet.
I texted Adina to see if she was available. The good news is she was. The bad news is she texted back “Do you have tundra tires?” Her runway was wet from the recent rains. We talked with the local pilots to find out if the Bearhawk could maybe land. “There is a wet spot in the middle by the trees, but the south end is firm” advised a Cub pilot. Tyson and I formed a plan. Tyson would go in first with the big tires on the Bearhawk. Depending on what he found, I might park the RV over at Island Bob’s and Tyson shuttle me back to Adina’s.
We took off from Cambridge as a flight of two. The Bearhawk and RV-4 were surprisingly well matched for takeoff acceleration. The Bearhawk of course climbs better. The two of us headed northwest together to look for the grass strip. For once I found it before Tyson. It helped that I had flown in before. Tyson circled and landed. He radioed up “You shouldn’t have any problems. Make sure to touch down south of the puddle next to the line of trees.” The puddle wasn’t visible from the air, so I had to guess where it was. I flew my approach high relative to the end of the runway. Mid way between the end of the runway and the line of trees, I caught sunlight reflecting off the water under the grass. I was definitely low for landing past the puddle. I added power, but now I was approaching the puddle at a low angle. I tend to come in faster on a low angle final because I don’t have any altitude margin. Sure enough, I touched down gently on the mains with enough speed left to fly. I let the airplane roll. I didn’t want to brake because that might dig the tires into soft dirt and pitch me over, or tear out the grass. Tyson and Adina commented from the end of the runway “She’s not slowing down is she?” “Doesn’t look like it.” I decided I needed brakes and plenty of them. I could apologize later for the torn up grass. I was slow enough I was no longer worried about the plane tipping over. I parked next to the Bearhawk and Adina’s Cub feeling a sheepish for using so much runway. Guess I need more soft field and short field practice.
We chatted for a bit and looked at their progress on the property. Adina planted new apple trees. They knocked down the old barn to make room for a hangar. Then it was time to be off. As I was strapping in, Adina continued chatting “Years ago, I was really excited to teach each lesson. Then I had lots of fun flying charter in the KingAir. But now, most of the time, I can’t think of a reason to go flying. Where did all the fun go?” That stuck with me.
What’s fun about flying
I pondered the question as I took off and circled around for a pass over Papp Airpark to wave goodbye. I have been suffering from some of the same malaise. My first year flying, I learned something new every flight. It was a challenge to be conquered. My second year I was spread my wings and went places on my own. I grew comfortable flying the RV-4, and owned all the skills I had learned. My third year, I practiced short field technique until I was impressive. Last year, I kept flying out of habit, and we got lobster. But habit alone isn’t enough to sustain a hobby, especially one like flying where you have to practice frequently to stay safe.
As I leveled off and zoomed ahead of Tyson, I concluded I wasn’t going to find an answer by thinking inside the box. Instead I thought about skiing. I have been skiing since I was two and still every winter I ski multiple days a week until the snow melts out from underneath of me. Why? What’s different?
Here are some of the things I thought of
- When I go skiing, I spend the day skiing. I don’t ski for 30 minutes and then spend three hours talking about gear.
- The woods, snow and mountains are gorgeous. Every time there is something slightly different to see.
- Each trip is filled with small challenges. Can I get up this hill just sticking my wax pocket, or do I need to herringbone? Can I ski down the hill with the line I want and not hit the tree? How far can I glide on one foot? Can I ski Mt Washington and look good? Where is the trail? Can I balance carefully and and not break through the crust?
- It’s physically taxing and that produces endorphins.
- I enjoy the PSIA classes that focus on perfecting specific skills, both because of the challenge of learning and because it makes my skiing trips easier.
- I like the feeling of speed. Whether it’s striding along on my cross country skis or plummeting down a hill on my telemark skis.
So how can I apply this to flying?
- Skip the fly ins with lots of talking and instead go to fly outs like Wentworth or some of the trips with Rene and Bill.
- I like route finding. In the airplane this means spending the time for preflight planning and then flying with the GPS turned off or hidden.
For the other bullet points I’m not so sure. How do I make flying more beautiful? Are there destinations to fly to or over that are nice? Often the view from the airplane blurs into a hazy bumpy ground and a hazy blank ski. Should I repaint or update my airplane?
What about the little challenges? A lot of flying is either not challenging — enroute flight — or if you try to push the challenge, it gets dangerous — short field landings or aerobatics. I could take a class such as an IFR rating or aerobatics class. That’s a large time commitment and a bunch of money. So it’s not something I can do all the time. What are small challenges I can find in every flight? I wonder if soaring fit since you are constantly trying to find lift.
As for physically taxing, I can push airplanes around on the ramp and I’m told extreme aerobatics requires strength.
I like the PSIA classes because they focus on fundamentals. I learned flying in a prescriptive, rote manner — checklist at midfield, power to 1200rpm abeam the threshold, slow to flap speed, turn at the 45° to the threshold, 70kts on base, 65kts on final. Sure that for a landing, but I’m not sure what fundamental skills would make it better. Anyone know a good book that teaches 3~8 core flight skills and how they form all flight maneuvers?
Speed is a funny one. I can pass Tyson 20 times a day and cruise at 140kts, but it still feel fast. The only time that feels fast is the acceleration at takeoff and climb out above the trees.
I am going to continue pondering how to keep flying fun. I’ll update with ideas I come up with and stories from anything we try. If you have any ideas, let me know.