Tag Archives: reasons to fly

A Good Tired (via FlyingGma’s Blog)

I had the pleasure of exchanging comments today with Jeanne, a newly-minted pilot from the US. She directed me to an account and photographs of a flight she took in September 2010. I love it – clearly Jeanne feels the same way about flying as I do. For the pure love and joy of it!

A Good Tired As I sit in my recliner writing this post, I am exhausted but its a good tired.  This morning I woke up with an anticipation for a day off from work and day filled with flying.  All week long I’ve been looking forward to a day of flying up north with my husband to see some fall colors.  I was not disappointed. We arrived at the airport at 9:30 this morning and I pre-flighted the airplane, got my weather briefing, filed my flight plan and we were … Read More

via FlyingGma’s Blog

In defense of flight simulation – fun and informative

Back in 1994 or thereabouts, someone gave me my first copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator. It’s difficult to overstate just how important an influence flight simulation has been on my ambition to learn to fly for real.

How many thousands of aviation enthusiasts would have shared my first experience of installing MS Flight Simulator, firing it up and taking that first computer flight in a Cessna Skylane from Chicago’s Meigs Field and experiencing the thrill of flight from within their own home?

I haven’t done any computer flying for several years now, but for a long time, this was my main means of satisfying my urge to fly. A decent (or not so decent) computer, a copy of the software and a computer joystick is for most people a much cheaper alternative to the real thing. I often wonder what proportion of the flight sim community would actually – given time and funds – choose to fly in the real world, versus those who would still prefer the simulated alternative? Huge virtual flying communities now exist, driven and enabled by the Internet boom over the last 15 years. Not only do these communities allow people from all over the world to fly virtually, they even let them direct air traffic virtually. There’s some serious investment of time and money behind all this.

At first, I used Flight Simulator to just buzz around and look out the window at the (virtual) scenery. But I quickly grew tired of that. There’s only so much vicarious pleasure to be had by looking at grainy, poorly rendered graphics of scenery on a 13″ computer screen. (Not that the graphics didn’t improve – spectacularly – over the years as both software and hardware capabilities improved, but in the end it’s still just looking at computer renditions.) I then started to explore the “flying lessons” that Flight Simulator offered.

And there’s where I started to learn some stuff. Flight Simulator offered a series of “private pilot license” tutorials that featured guided lessons – straight and level flight, turns, climbing, descent etc – that, once passed, awarded you a virtual PPL certificate. This was way cool. Real aviation concepts were introduced in a fun, accessible, hands-on way.

From that “hands on” perspective there is, of course, very little comparison between the virtual and the real thing (unless you’re flying in commercial or military grade flight simulators or on the most advanced home set-ups). Furthermore, many people will tell you that flight simming can actually teach you bad habits which, if not “unlearned” when you fly for real, can be downright dangerous. But as a theory learning tool, flight simming is extremely effective.

Using Flight Simulator I first learned about the primary flight instruments. I learned about the basic flight controls, and about fundamental concepts such as angle of attack. And the fun and engaging virtual environment in which I learned these things definitely piqued my interest and made me want to experience the real thing.

Once I had my virtual PPL I then had a crack at the instrument flying lessons that Flight Simulator offered, but I found them very difficult to complete. If you exceeded certain altitude tolerances, for example, when attempting to fly straight and level solely on instruments, the lesson would “fail” you and end automatically. It was just too hard for me to control the virtual aircraft well, using the light touch and discreet use of control inputs that real flight calls for, with the relatively clunky Flight Simulator software and a moderately priced computer joystick.

(I’m sure there are many flight simmers out there who have successfully passed these virtual flight sim hurdles where I failed. As far as I’m concerned, hats off to them, but I found it too difficult to sustain my interest in persisting with the instrument lessons.)

Notwithstanding my failure on virtual instruments, I played around with Flight Simulator for many years, buying several upgrades of the software and enjoying the new features as they rolled out, stopping only when the time demands of starting a family made it difficult for me to find time in front of the computer. Now, this is more than compensated for by the prospect of flying for real next year!

Around the time I started flight simming, a colleague of mine at the time ridiculed MS Flight Simulator as an “old man’s game”. Now, as then, I beg to disagree. If you love flying, flight simulation is an exciting, educational and endlessly engaging pastime, whether you’re doing it virtually or for real.

Later influences – passenger flying and airports are cool!

I posted earlier about the experiences and influences from my childhood that got me really interested in flying. There are also many experiences from my adult years that have helped sharpen and focus this into a very strong ambition to learn to fly recreationally. Too much for one post, so I’ll start  with some reflections from the air travel I experienced as a younger adult.

I did a fair bit air travel in my early to mid twenties. When I left university in 1991, I joined a large management consulting firm whose global headquarters was based in Chicago, Illinois. Working for this company back then entailed regular travel to their global training centre in St Charles, Illinois at least once a year, and for those people located outside the United States, this of course meant a reasonably major air trip, particularly if you were in the southern hemisphere.

Naturally this was all pretty exciting for me and the other recruits I started with in 1992. Doubly so for me, of course, since it meant lots of plane trips and travel to places I hadn’t been before. That first trip to St Charles in 1992 involved, then as now, a flight from Sydney to the west coast (LAX, as I remember) and then a connecting flight on to Chicago. United Airlines‘ service was, then as now, nothing to particularly write home about, but I do remember vividly my experience of first flying in to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport at night. The lights of Chicago sprawled as far as I could see out my window – up to the sudden blackness of Lake Michigan – and what really struck me was the sheer size of the operation at O’Hare. I’d simply never seen so many large commercial aircraft, so many runways before. O’Hare was huge, and I found the whole place vibrant and exciting.

I suppose that, for me, there’s something cool about airports – even the crappy ones. Airports symbolise two of my passions, aviation and travel, so I’m probably more receptive to their hidden charms than perhaps the average jaded traveller.

In 1994 I moved to California for 3 years, to the San Francisco Bay Area. Over that time I had occasion many times to fly in and out of the Bay Area, both from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and from Oakland International Airport (OAK – which happened to be my “local” airport as I lived in the East Bay). Both are, of course, substantially smaller than major operations like O’Hare or LAX, but then of course they’re also picturesquely located on the wonderful San Francisco Bay. On a few memorable occasions, when sitting on the left hand side of the plane, I enjoyed the experience of taking off from SFO to the north and observing the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge outside my window …

For a while I did some air commuting down to LA. What blew my mind about this was how many airports most large cities in the US actually have … I variously flew in or out of LAX, Ontario, Burbank (now Bob Hope Airport), John Wayne and Palmdale. That’s not to mention LA’s other major airports like Long Beach and Palm Springs, nor the many other GA operations like Oxnard, Fullerton and Van Nuys.

What’s cool about this, in my view, is just how set up around aviation most American cities are. It’s a matter of size and scale, of course. LA (for example) is huge – got some 18-odd million people in the Greater Los Angeles area. Plus, it’s a major tourist and commercial hub, not to mention a centre for aerospace and defence in the US, so of course it’s got a huge aviation infrastructure. It’s just striking, when you are used to cities like Sydney and Melbourne, to experience cities with such a variety of large airports and aviation operations. (Sydney and Melbourne, by comparison, contain about 4.5m and 4m people respectively and each have just the one major international airport – Kingsford Smith in Sydney and Tullamarine in Melbourne, plus the other GA airports of Bankstown, Camden, Avalon, Essendon and Moorabbin. A special shout-out to Bankstown Airport, where I will be learning to fly next March!)

In was also from San Francisco that I made my first trips to Europe. In 1995 I flew to Ireland for a friend’s wedding, flying from SFO into London Heathrow (frustratingly, then, not even being able to leave the airport despite the fact that I’d never set foot in the UK before) and then straight onwards to Dublin’s international airport. Having spent my entire life being used to the relatively washed-out green shades of the landscape within Australia and then California, I was particularly struck, as we descended into Dublin, by the intense greens of the fields punctuated by vibrant yellow fields of rapeseed.

This was also my first experience of flying across Canada – over which I have since flown many times but still never actually visited – and then across the Polar regions to Europe. I was stunned to look down and see ice bergs down below!

Then in 1996 and 1997, before I returned to Australia, I was lucky enough to consult to a California-based company whose European distribution centre was located in Woerden, in the Netherlands. Over the course of 6 months, I flew four return trips with KLM between San Francisco and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Cool for so many reasons. Firstly, of course, because of the travel to the beautiful Netherlands. Secondly, because it was my first experience of flying business class – which apart from the obvious relative luxury, also helped me build a small collection of KLM’s renowned Delft blue houses that still sit on my mantelpiece. Thirdly, as an airport geek, I really enjoyed Schiphol – a beautifully designed airport, at least from a passenger viewpoint – sleek, modernist, efficient.

And the link between all this and my desire to learn to fly? Thinking about it, it’s just another cool reason to fly. If you like aviation, and airports, then recreational flying – apart from the sheer pleasure of the flying itself – also gives you a great reason to hang around airports.

Aviation geek? Guilty as charged.

Early influences

In my last post I wrote that there are many influences and experiences from various stages in my life that inform my interest in aviation and how I feel about it. As I’m finally within a few months of starting my training, I’m finding myself casting my mind back to how I got so engaged with flying in the first place. In this post I’ll talk about my childhood influences and memories, and in coming posts about some of the influences from my adult life and experiences. Alert – long post follows.

In terms of love of aviation and aircraft, my earliest influence is probably my dad. He’s always been pretty keen on aircraft. As early as I can remember, he would talk to me with interest about the large civil aircraft we saw in the sky or he’d flown on in the 60’s and 70’s or seen as a kid – classics like DC3’s and DC9’s, and Boeing 727’s and 737’s. So I’ve probably got fond paternal memories linked to aviation.

Add to this the fact that both of my grandfathers were, in various ways, connected with flying during the war (WWII, that is). Mum’s dad – my grandpa – was a RAAF navigator on the Catalina flying boats during the Pacific campaign. From the limited amount he told me directly, I gather most of the missions he flew on involved aerial mining and reconaissance. He was also involved with ferrying aircraft from the USA to Australia at the end of the war. I still have some of the artefacts from his flying days – his log books, military records (sourced from the Australian War Memorial) and campaign medals.

Dad’s dad – my poppa – was (I think) an automotive mechanic in the RAAF, and though he never left Australian shores, I find his aviation connections equally resonant. I mean, flying’s not just about the people in the air, it’s also about the many, many people who work in support of the direct aviation activities. I have his military records also, and there are one or two bits of hardware still at my dad’s place that I think poppa might have “borrowed” from the RAAF – a large, heavy, grease-lubricated car jack for example.

The first flight I can remember was when I was 10. Our family moved to California for a year when dad had a sabbatical appointment to UC Davis. We flew on a Pan Am 747 from Sydney to LA, and I can clearly remember my sense of excitement and awe walking down the boarding ramp and onto the aircraft. The plane seemed so huge to my young eyes! And the excitements of airline food (remember, I was 10) and the activity packs they gave kids in those days made the whole trip memorable. I can still hear the rumble of the aircraft on takeoff and feel the vibration as the plane moved forward under the power of those 4 mighty engines …

A few years later, I experienced a quite different flight, but equally special. My parents put me on a plane from Sydney, by myself, to go visit my grandparents in Toowoomba. It was a little East West Airlines (now defunct, of course) Fokker Friendship F-27, which flew from Sydney to Coolangatta, then on to Oakey, from where my poppa picked me up at the aerodrome. The flight was nearly empty. I lapped it up – I was by myself, I got special attention from the stewardess, and because we only flew at around 15,000 feet altitude, I had a very clear view of the landscape beneath us. The F-27’s had a very distinct, slightly “whining” sound with their twin turboprop engines – that sound used to be very common in Sydney skies until F-27’s were phased out.

Sometime when I was about 11 or 12, my parents must have noted my burgeoning interest in aviation and I found myself joining the Australian Air League – formed many years ago to encourage “air-mindedness” amoung the youth of the Commonwealth. I recall spending only 18 months or so in the Air League – the “Ryde Squadron” of which I was a member was well-intentioned, but not particularly well run and in particular not well set up to really develop my aviation knowledge. You used to do various aviation theory study courses – like the scouts, when you passed a course you got a badge – but the only training materials were some very dry printed manuals not particularly accessible to my young mind. And there were no other forms of learning support (eg classroom), nor were you particularly encouraged to ask questions. I remember doing one exam which I passed only by the skin of my teeth, the very kindly 2IC bringing back all my wrong answers and gently suggesting that I “check them again” …

But we did do some cool stuff of a practical nature. One weekend we went down to a dusty little community hall in Sutherland in Sydney’s south to have a go on an old ANT-18 Link Trainer that had survived the war and was in the custodianship of the Australian Air Force Cadets. This was a WWII-era flight simulator designed to train pilots to fly on instruments. Again, the learning support was not great – some gruff bloke planted me in the cockpit for 5 minutes, barked some instructions at me and exhorted me repeatedly to “keep your eyes on that three”. I had no idea what he was talking about, was too timid to ask him what he meant, and proceeded to repeatedly put the simulator into a simulated stall – whereupon he gave up on me and unceremoniously turfed me out of the trainer to give someone else a turn. It was a bit disappointing, but it was still cool to have had a go in a real “live” cockpit environment.

Of course, we went out to Richmond RAAF air base for one of the flying shows they used to put on periodically – huge fun. We got to climb around all sorts of cool aircraft like the C-130 Hercules, USAF C-5 Galaxies and Royal Australian Navy Sea King helicopters. What’s not to like? Plus there was the obligatory fly-past of the RAAF’s strike force fighter aircraft, at the time these were the Dassault Mirages. I can remember my ears being assaulted by the noise of the Mirages’ jet blasts as they screamed past the crowd at low level …

Probably the coolest memory, though, is a flight we took one day out at Bankstown – my first flight in a light aircraft. It was a Cessna 172. We went for an hour’s joy flight, must have been around the Bankstown training area. I was overwhelmed – everything seemed so immediate. In a large passenger aircraft, you’re removed from the sky and enclosed in a large metal cylinder, but in a light aircraft, the sky is yours – it’s all around you! I remember the feel of the aircraft moving with changes in wind direction and air pressure, and I particularly recall the pilot putting it into a moderate bank – looking “straight down” to the earth below and thinking “I gotta do this one day”. This, more than any other of my childhood experiences, was the point at which I really and truly caught the bug.

The last of the early memories I have is from when I was in high school. I was a member of the Australian Army Cadet Corps and one day we made a trip to Richmond Air Base for a look around and for a flight. We looked over a C-130 Hercules and also a DHC4 Caribou (just recently decommissioned by the RAAF), and then took a flight in the Caribou down to Wollongong and back. Those of us in the Caribou were fortunate enough to experience the thrill of strapping ourselves in as they opened up the back of the aircraft during the flight – as happened when, for example, aerial supplies were dropped or paratroopers were dropped down to a landing point. I thought this was pretty damn cool.

So, lots of poignant aviation memories and images from when I was growing up. I’ll talk in the next post about some of my adult influences.

Origins – Why fly?

So I ask myself, 4 months out from starting my flying training, this simple question: Why do I want to fly?

The answer can be as complex, or as simple, as I – or you – like.

The simple answer is: because I utterly love flying. I love doing it, talking about it, reading about it, looking at pictures about it, hearing about it from others. I love the challenges – with which I’m about to be confronted – of learning to do it proficiently and safely. I love looking at the earth from the air. I love the idea of being able to move around with a freedom that few enjoy. I love the technical details and the risk management challenges involved. I even love airports.

(Serious aviation geek alert here, obviously. Reading what I just wrote, it comes across slightly pornographically. If so – well, guilty as charged.)

Perhaps the simple answer is not so simple. Then again, it’s a very nuanced thing. From what I can understand and have observed so far, people who love to fly for fun do it for a whole range of reasons – all of which might add up to the fact that, for them (and shortly for me), it’s a “way of life”.

There! That’s it. The simple answer is, I want to fly because, for me, it’s beyond an interest – it’s an abiding passion that I want to be a central part of the way I live.

The complex answer is … there are many formative influences and experiences from various stages of my life that have contributed to my passion for flying and perhaps help to illustrate the way I feel about aviation. I’ll write about these in my next post.