Thursday, December 29, 2005

I'm Flying!

(click photos for bigger images)
When I was a child, my big brother Gary J was flying a submarine hunter (the Grumman S2F Tracker) from the carrier USS Kearsarge (which was also plucking Mercury 7 astronauts out of the water). He went on to become a pilot for Northwest Orient. This alone was more than enough, in my eyes, to make him the coolest big brother ever. It's probably the reason why I've always wanted to fly. When I was 10, he made good on a promise to take me up in a small plane if I got good grades. I haven't been up since. Until today.

My friend, bassist Rich Tomanio, recently mentioned in conversation that he has a pilot license. I said "that's so cool, I've always dreamed of flying", and we talked about all the flight simulators I've played with (everything from the basic Cessna to Eurofighter). Right around Christmas, he asked me what I'd be doing on the 29th, and when I told him I had that day off, he said "Let's go flying". Hell yeah! He had picked that day from the 7-day weather forecast as looking favorable for flying.

The day arrived, and it was not such a great day for flying, but was acceptable, with about a 3000' ceiling and some patches of blue. Rich picked me up just before noon and we drove to McCollum Field in Kennesaw. On the way, I talked about my flight some 40 years earlier, and how I had longed to hold the "stick" (it really was a stick in that plane) but was afraid to ask my brother. Rich said I'd get to find out about that today. Huh?!? "Oh, you'll be flying. Left seat. Go where you want to go." Imagine my face!

We found the terminal a bit early, and waited for our instructor. Our instructor has great credentials, having taught at the Air Force Academy in Denver. Our instructor also, as it turns out, is an attractive female. Shades of "Top Gun"... (Rich assures me that was just because she was the one who answered the phone when he called). She (Sarah Elkendier) took us out to the plane (Cessna 172 Skyhawk, a favorite trainer plane) and showed me how to do a preflight check - the tires, the fuel, the oil, the flaps, etc. We finally got in - Rich in back, me in the pilot seat, as promised. The cockpit was simple and standard on my side, with the newer digital stuff on her side. We started the plane, and taxied out to the runup ramp, a little pullout off one side of the taxiway, and warmed up the engine a bit, testing the dual magnetos, adjusting the instruments, etc. Finally we radioed for final clearances and pulled up to the runway.

Once I got lined up straight, taking off is mostly a matter of revving the engine and hanging on. Anyone who can drive straight can do it. Today, however, I had a 16-knot crosswind from the north, which made things a bit more interesting. Still, once we reached 75 knots the plane did what planes do, and off we went, rising into the west.

First we flew northwest around Lake Allatoona, but it was mostly drained and ugly. Sarah gave me various instructions & exercises on making turns, holding altitude, taking a heading, slow flying, etc. while we went. We turned east and followed Hwy 92 to Roswell, where we circled around my house several times while Barbara waved up from our deck. Then back to the airfield to practice touch-&-go landings.

Here's a shot of what we were seeing as we land. At this point I'm over and slightly south of Town Center Mall. My goal is to make it past the high-voltage wires at the front of the runway, and not drift into the huge quarry on the right. This was not a smooth day to be attempting this. Fortunately my hours of geeking out with various flight games helped a lot (and I'm not sure how much Sarah secretly helped) and we landed safely several times. Finally we stopped briefly, I traded places with Rich, and he flew for a while.

All told, we were only in the air for a bit under two hours, but it was still the biggest day I can recall in quite a while. Thanks Rich!

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