Monday, January 21, 2008


As an airplane owner, I suspect there will be many moments like this in the future...those wonderful few minutes when you get to leave the crust of this planet in your own flying machine and touch the sky. When you can do this with someone who sincerely appreciates the experience, it is just that much sweeter.

A few months ago, I had one of those moments.

With dark, ominous clouds perched at the four corners of the sky, the air over EUG was crystal clear and cold, just the kind of air Katy loves best. After Michael – one of my two stepsons – and I strapped in, the 235 started before two blades has passed the windscreen. It was as if Katy had something to prove to Mike.

Run-up and taxi-out was run-of-the-mill, but with one twist. Because Mike is looking towards a future pilot's license, I spoke every element of the pre-flight, run-up, radio setup, everything. In fact, this verbalization would be the theme of these short few laps around the patch:
As we taxied out to 34R, I pointed out a large Hawk standing aimlessly at the side of our taxiway. He had apparently just finished a snack of fresh ground squirrel, and as we cruised by, he took off right in front of Katy, his big wings flapping directly at our twelve. This was Mike's first intense moment in the flight. The next was my demonstration of the short field capabilities of the Piper 235, or what happens when you mate a Cherokee Six Hershey bar to a 180 fuselage and hang two hundred and thirty five ponies on the nose. With two notches of flaps, Katy leaped skyward before I could even get the throttle screwed in all the way, this blew me away. As her wheels parted company with Earth, Mike called out the time from a dead stop to "flight". It was eleven seconds.
As I made two laps around closed traffic, I called out everything as I did it. "My descent is increasing now, adding power," or "gonna back the power off, trim nose up now to shed airspeed." It was a great learning experience, I know this because way back when, another pilot I rode along with – ironically in a Cherokee 235 – also spoke everything he did on the flight. I picked up more on that flight then any airplane ride previous to it.

Going around the patch proved fun, sure, and it did keep us out of the many dark clouds creeping ever so slowly towards the field. But as the afternoon sun set, it cast an eerie orange hue across the ceiling of scattered clouds lingering over the Eugene metro area. I decided to switch this flight up a bit:
After notifying EUG tower, I peeled out of closed traffic, and pointed Katy to the east, right over town. With the deck lowering below the reported 3,700 MSL, I selected a safe altitude that would put me legally above the houses but well below the clouds. As we powered along, Katy was "clocking" close to 140 KIAS on a 090 heading, despite the wind being 350 at 15. The rush of visual input as we slipped between downtown and the bright orange clouds was incredible. This is what flying should feel like.
As Katy purred up to the front of my hangar, I continued to verbalize the shutdown process. As I switched off the master and the plane began to wind down, Michael calmly stated, "man, that was intense."

Yes, it was.