I have wanted to be able to fly an airplane ever since I was a very young child. I cannot remember a time when I was not enthralled with airplanes. My mother relates an incident when we flew to visit relatives when I was perhaps three years old. She thought I would fall asleep soon after the flight got underway, but no: I spent the entire flight staring out the window, watching the propellers turn. In fact, I recall such an event. Although it is not clear whether the incident I remember is the same one my mother describes, the event was nevertheless a prophetic indicator of my future interests.
When I was a teenager I formally declared becoming a pilot to be one of my lifetime goals. However, I did not have the financial means to pursue this until graduate school, whence I promised myself I would start the following summer after classes ended. However, my involvement with my studies then caused me postpone flying another year. After this pattern iterated for 2 or 3 years, I realized with regret that I wasn't going to fly until after finishing graduate school.
After moving to San Diego to take my first real job, I promised myself very firmly that I would start flying as soon as I got settled in and became established in my new job. This time I succeeded in keeping my promise, and my first flight as a student pilot came to pass on October 31, 1992. The week before that momentous event seemed to be one of the longest weeks of my life, as the waiting was hardly bearable. My first solo followed on February 13, 1993, and I passed my private pilot flight test on June 29 of that year.
I fly for two reasons: recreation and personal transportation. I have always loved the views afforded by great heights and the ability to cast my eyes over dozens of miles of terrain in one fell swoop. The freedom to move at will in all three dimensions of space is a special feeling open to all those, and only those, who have the patience, persistence, and will to give what it takes. Flying also offers a refreshingly different perspective on the world we live in every day. In fact, I like to fly for very nearly the same reasons I like to climb mountains.
Flying oneself is a novel means of transportation. Although more traditional modes of transportation are often available to most destinations, there are times when the private plane is less dispensable because the destination lies across a body of water or beyond a remote, roadless area. Speed and the ability to select a route unconstrained by rugged terrain or the availability of highways is often, but not always, a benefactor. My most significant cross-country flights have been to the Grand Canyon, the Sierra Nevada mountains, and Sacramento. In the summer of 1997 I took a personal trip to Alaska in which I flew myself from Fairbanks to Umiat, which is on the North Slope near the Arctic Ocean. I often fly to Big Bear to ski for a day and then get home in time for supper.
In early 1995 I began training for an instrument rating, which allows a pilot to fly in clouds and low visibility. There is a wide range of weather conditions in which an instrument (IFR) flight can be conducted safely but a visual (VFR) flight cannot. An instrument rating substantially increases the value, utility, and safety margin of a private pilot certificate by pushing back the limits of the weather conditions a pilot can safely fly in. However, the rating does not guarantee anything because every pilot, even the most skilled, must always be prepared to cancel a flight due to weather. Since earning my instrument rating on October 12, 1995, I have made as many IFR no-go decisions as actual IFR flights, and I am somewhat proud of that fact.
There are two other areas in which I have developed my flying ability. One of these is high-altitude flying. I don't know if this is a type record, but on January 30, 1994, I flew a Cessna 150 to a whopping 17600 feet density altitude. The published service ceiling for the Cessna 150 is 12650 feet, so this feat is like going 130 miles per hour in a car whose owner's manual says it is only capable of 100. I was able to push back the performance envelope of the airplane only by using my scientific background to determine special techniques for flying the airplane beyond the range of parameters published in the manual. I am contemplating a similar operation in a Cessna 172; if all goes well, I should be able to top 21000 feet. I'll need my instrument rating for that, as any flight in the United States above 18000 feet is required to be conducted under IFR, regardless of the weather conditions.
Finally, I also have a modest amount of training in mountain flying. One reason I like to fly is because of the great views, and there is no better place to pursue that end than by flying in mountains. The fact that I like to climb mountains adds yet another special touch to mountain flying for me. The mountain flying training I have had covers flight in canyons, along and over ridges, and through passes. Although I have taken off and landed at unpaved runways, I would need more training before I could safely operate on exceedingly narrow, short, or rough landing strips of the nature often seen in mountainous areas.
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