Friday, February 03, 2006

More on airline pilots + light planes

Yesterday I was in Denver, visiting my buddy Chris. He's a CFI out of Jeffco Airport, where we rented a C152 and took it up for some landing practice. It'd been nearly ten months since I'd flown a single-engine airplane, so I wanted to get my single-engine currency back. I'm checked out locally at Troutdale, but decided it'd be more fun to visit Chris and fly with him.

As we strapped into the Cessna, I marveled at how tiny it seems. I learned to fly in a C150, but either the plane has been getting smaller or I've been getting bigger. My first few trips around the pattern, I was seriously overcontrolling - the control forces are much lighter than I'm used to. And it took all my willpower to bring the throttle all the way back to idle - the Megawhacker has given me the bad habit of carrying power all the way to touchdown. By the sixth or seventh trip around the pattern, my airline pilot habits were mostly broken and I was making some decent landings. Of course, the Megawhacker sits pretty close to the ground, and it still has props - I think getting back into a Cessna would be harder for, say, a B767 driver.

It's fairly rare to find an airline pilot that still flies light planes. Most just don't have the interest. "I fly around 100 hours a month for work," goes the typical explanation, "so why would I do it on my time off?" Yeah, that's understandable. It certainly applies to me at times. After a long trip chock-full of flying, you often want to get your mind off your job - in my case, skiing or hiking are great for that. Blogging - not so much, heh.

Still, light plane flying is really a completely different world from airline flying, particularly if you get into classic taildraggers, backcountry flying, aerobatics, gliders, or just putt-putting around at low altitude in a Cessna. The small planes I fly are pretty simple, typically equipped only with a nav/com and transponder. When I go cross-country, it's VFR with map and compass. It's completely different from my job, and that makes it enjoyable to do for fun every once in a while.

A few of the captains I've flown with have their own airplanes. Only a couple of them fly light aircraft on a really regular basis. CP owns a C172 with his dad, and flies between his home and his Dad's airport quite often. JK has a Piper PA22/20 Pacer that's equipped with a towhook for gliders. When not towing gliders, he flies them occasionally, and is also active in hang-gliding. He's the exception to the rule: an airline pilot that enthusiastically pursues aviation as a hobby. We have fun talking planes when we fly together.

I don't think I've mentioned it here, but Ameriflight recently terminated my Part Time on Call status. They just weren't using me enough to justify the training costs. So, no more free Chieftain flying for me. I've kept my CFI certificate current, though, and might do a little instructing on the side.


Ron said...

I agree -- flying tailwheels, biplanes, aerobatics, and other interesting GA aircraft can't be beat. Really puts the passion back into aviating, doesn't it?

I fly SE airplanes every day and I still love that stuff.

VxG said...

Great to hear you're keeping your CFI current - would you instruct out of Troutdale? Or privetly do BFR's etc. in customer's own airplanes?


Hamish said...

"As we strapped into the Cessna..." -- I think the correct phrase here is "as we strapped on the Cessna..." :-). Especially a 152. Met a Southwest pilot some time ago on the ramp in Oakland who regularly flies a Champ to and from Truckee to get to Oakland for work. How he does it in summer with Truckee's density altitude and the Champ's stellar climb performance is beyond me, but I see the plane every now and then on the ramp at Oakland, so he must be doing something right.

John said...

I think flying small planes keeps you on your toes and definitely keeps your head in the game with regard to airspace and the myriad of regulations that VFR pilots need to know. Plus, you can see the ground, feel the wind, and land places you'd otherwise never visit.

The 150/152 must be quite a contrast to the MegaWhacker, since it's such a fingertip control airplane. Kudos to you!

Sam said...

VgX, haven't really thought about it. I've been keeping the CFI current mainly in case friends or family want some instruction. With Amflight no longer using me part-time, however, I'm thinking that I may go talk to some FBOs at TTD & HIO to see whether I'd be able to instruct my own students in their airplanes. Otherwise, if someone has their own airplane and would like me to instruct them, I'd be willing.