Sunday, October 30, 2011


So I flew an airplane!

I bought a Groupon several months back.  It offered a 3-hour instruction class and a one-hour discovery flight.  I decided to stretch myself.

I finally used it a couple weeks ago.  Our instructor's name was Ryan, and the class was at a private charter service near the airport.  The class was really eye-opening as to the challenges that pilots and airports face, and will give me a much more understanding spirit with delays, etc. in the future.  There were about 15 people in the class that Friday evening (one female, the rest male).  We went over the structure of a plane, the pre-flight inspections, and walked around the plane parking area.  They had four smaller planes (Cessna 172's and 182's, the type we'd be flying) as well as a Gulfstream, which I was familiar with because of reading John Grisham's The King of Torts.

Ryan mentioned planes being a great tax shelter somehow.  I'm curious about this.  Apparently why so many wealthy people purchase planes is because of the tax advantages.  Their accountants talk them into it.  I'm skeptical, but thought it was interesting that my career tied into his.  Not that I'm in any position to invest in a plane.

Another cool thing I learned about planes is that they aren't considered to age like cars do.  One wouldn't go buy a car made in the 60's and expect it to be reliable regular transportation.  Planes can't have the mechanical and electrical glitches that cars do because of the safety concerns (to those in the plane and those on the ground below).  So rigorous maintenance is undergone before each take-off.  So a plane is always considered mechanically brand-new.  A pilot wouldn't treat flying or buying a plane built in the 90's any different from one in the 60's.  Which brings up another point, airplane engines haven't substantially changed since WWII.  Car engines keep getting redesigned to improve horsepower and performance.  With an airplane engine, you just want consistent output of power (different from speed), no revving the engine, so they're designed with some deliberate inefficiencies.  It's a sacrifice of overall performance efficiency for consistently keeping the plane in the air.  It's now two weeks after the fact that I'm finally typing all this up, so I hope I'm getting the details right.

At the end of class, we signed up in pairs for one-hour flight slots on Saturday.  I picked the 3 p.m. slot with a guy named Doug.  The way it would work is that we'd both be in the plane for the hour and would switch of flying and being in the backseat halfway through.  We'd each have two take-offs and two landings, with the assistance of an instructor.  The flight pattern was a rectangle along the left airstrip at the Fresno airport.

I showed up and met Chris, our flight instructor, as well as Doug's wife and daughter.  I exchanged info with Doug's wife Kathy and she graciously agreed to send me pictures of our afternoon.  I went first, and Chris taxied us onto the runway and did all the communicating with the Control Tower.  He managed the speed, and we managed the lift-off, turning, elevation control and landing.  I didn't know until getting going that he'd be managing the speed, and that was a a relief not to have to try to get that right along with taking off or landing the plane.

The experience was exhilarating.  I thought I'd be terrified, both when I was doing it, and when Doug was in front.  But each time, I was just absolutely enjoying myself.

When we landed, I asked out of curiosity the approximate cost of getting a pilot's license.  I know it wouldn't be economical $-wise to fly back-and-forth to Orange County, but I would love not to have to spend 8+ hours driving each round-trip.  $6K for all the gas, plane rental time, and other costs just to get my license.  Okay, that goes on the list of "WAY out in left field" dreams.

But the experience was still a blast and absolutely worth it.

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