Flying and travel clearly go together. While ships, trains, and cars have helped people get around more easily, nothing shrinks the globe quite as effectively as aircraft.
In general aviation, traveling by air offers rare luxuries like the freedom of setting one’s schedule and relief from clogged highways. Traveling 1,000 miles in a day is within reach, possibly before lunch. So why is it often hard for private pilots to make this “farther, faster” formula work for them? Why do many say things like, “I fly around, but I haven’t really gone anywhere lately?”
Of course, life gets in the way, with work, family, appointments, and other commitments making it difficult to find enough time to plan and carry out long flights over great distances. Sometimes an hour in the traffic pattern is all we can squeeze in between weekend chores and our kids’ sports competitions.
But I believe the obstacles are more varied and complicated than a shortage of minutes in the day. I am also convinced we can overcome them.
In our new Travel Destinations section, we’ll look into the many factors that can keep pilots from flying as often as they would like, and strategies for spending more time in the air, visiting far-flung spots and having as much fun as possible with airplanes.
By no means do I have all the answers. Indeed, I am looking for them, too. I think we can meet this challenge together.
How the Journey Started
Travel, or the prospect of it, is what drove me to get my pilot certificate after decades of reading about airplanes, attending air shows, building radio-controlled models, and spotting Piper Cubs, Beechcraft Bonanzas, and Twin Cessnas through the airport fence. Those activities nurtured my love of airplanes, but it took an odd, almost accidental coincidence to convince me that I absolutely needed to fly these machines.
It happened during a family vacation on Deer Isle, Maine, in 2009. We were driving past the local airport on a road that runs parallel to its 2,000-foot runway. Autumn had taken hold, the air was crisp, and the place seemed desolate except for a Cessna 150 tied down in the grass near the ramp. I could see a “For Sale” in the pilot-side window. “Just for fun, let’s take a closer look,” I suggested.
Our sons, who were 5 and 2 years old, groused as I turned the car around and drove through the airport gate. My wife, who knew that I had taken a few lessons in a similar airplane right after college, played along for the nostalgia trip.
There was no price on the sign, but there was a phone number. As I considered jotting it down I heard a voice.
“Want to buy it?”
I turned to find the owner walking toward me. He and a few other pilot volunteers had been doing airport chores nearby. Somehow I hadn’t noticed them.
“It’s a solid plane. I’ve flown it all over the country,” the man said as he unfastened the cowling to show off the engine. “Lots of hours left on this one,” he added.
Then he opened the door and motioned toward the left seat. I climbed in, held the yoke, and put my feet on the rudder pedals. I inhaled that sweet, unmistakable old-airplane smell. Suddenly, it was 1988 and I was preparing for a flight from Leesburg, Virginia, to Frederick, Maryland, with my instructor, Mr. Byers.
I thought about cranking the engine, but I feared my family, waiting in the car, would think I had lost my mind. By their standards, the conversation had already gone too long. But for me, it was just enough.
If the comment about traveling all over the country had taken me right to the edge of commitment, it was sitting in that old Cessna that nudged me over. From that day on, I was determined to become a pilot.
Flash forward and I am far from reaching my goals for family travel. When we do fly together, the trips are novelties, few and far between. I’m shopping for an airplane, an adventure in itself that I hope will make air travel more of a standard procedure for us. We also have a growing list of places we want to visit by air. It’s a start.
This year will set the tone for my family’s airborne future. I invite you to join me on a quest to visit new places, share our experiences and find creative ways to enjoy every hour we spend in the air and upon arrival.