Aviation Bucket List: Top Eight

As part of my ongoing effort to re-focus after the much-bemoaned (and ongoing) FAA hiring debacle, I’ve decided it would be neat to make an Aviation Bucket List.

After all, aviation is a pretty broad interest. There are so many things to experience in the world of flight. From skydiving to ballooning to flying a sailplane or a helicopter, it all sounds pretty awesome. And while I may never get to sit in the left seat of a 747, there are a lot of very attainable goals I can put on my aviation bucket list. Here are my top eight.

1: IFR

First and foremost I need to finish my IFR ticket. I don’t suspect I’ll be doing a lot of IFR cross-countries any time in the immediate future, but having the instrument rating makes you a safer pilot. Whether it’s flying at night or being able to go when the weather is less than perfect, IFR is the top of my list. I may never have a panel as nice as the one below, but getting instrument rated is a must.

Dassault Falcon 2000 LX cockpit

By JetRequest.com (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

2: Gliders

While it’s pretty well documented that the instrument rating makes you a safer pilot, I would wager that there are statistics out there proving that the glider rating makes you a safer pilot too. Two of the most famous plane crashes where everyone survived…United 1549 with Capt. Sullenberger and the Gimli Glider…were landed by pilots with extensive training in sailplanes. It’s one thing to fly when the engines work, but flying with no engines at all gives one a whole new appreciation for aerodynamics and the importance of good aeronautical skill.

US Navy 080921-N-4469F-002 Manfred Radius demonstrates the capabilities of his sailplane during the 50th Anniversary Naval Air Station Oceana Air Show

By U.S. Navy photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

3: Skydiving

Why would any pilot jump out of a perfectly good airplane?

Because it would be awesome, that’s why. I’ve experienced the sky from the cockpit and I’ve experienced it from a balloon, but free falling through the air would be something else altogether. And under my placid exterior is a bit of an adrenaline junkie. Which brings me to my next entry…

4: Upset Recovery Training

I feel comfortable with stalls. I practice stalls pretty regularly when I am able to go flying, because fear of the stall will make recovery from the stall much harder. It’s good to know how your airplane will feel when it’s about to dump lift.

That said, I am less proficient at spins and unusual attitudes. I’ve only ever spun a plane twice, both times on purpose and with an instructor. And that was in 2010, during my primary flight training. I’d really like to spend a day in an aerobatic airplane with an instructor practicing spins and unusual attitude recovery. It makes you a more proficient pilot AND it’s a boatload of fun!

5: Get my wings wet

I love my airplanes, but the only thing I love more might be an airplane that can get wet. Seaplanes have always taken up a lot of room in my heart. There’s something very romantic and appealing about the notion of pulling out of the hangar, flying off the pavement, and landing on some remote lake for a few days of camping or even just a few hours of seclusion. The seaplane rating is a must-have for this pilot.

6: Fly a warbird

I’d really like to own a warbird. Something like a T-6 or even a Pilatus P-3 could be a realistic warbird option for me in the future, depending how the financial situation stacks up in the years to come. But whether or not I ever get to own one, I would sure love to get some stick time. Places like Warbird Adventures and Stallion 51 give ordinary pilots the chance to take the controls of these remarkable airplanes for a few unforgettable minutes. I need to do this before the warbirds are gone.

7: Fly a jet

Outside the wonderful world of flight simulation (as an aside: fuck you, CNN. Flight simulators are awesome) I’ve never flown a jet. My understanding, primitive as it may be, is that jets are quite a different animal from pistons. They are a lot less ‘seat-of-the-pants’ and a lot more by the book than pistons.

It would be pretty radical to score some stick time in a jet. Even something like the SubSonex would be a blast to fly, and if the guys at Sonex can pull the SubSonex off as a kit plane we might start seeing more home-built jets on the market.

SubSonex

SubSonex

8: Build a plane

Speaking of homebuilts, I want to make one of my own. I’m no machinist and my experience with metal is…well, I don’t have any. But that hasn’t stopped thousands of other pilots and aviation geeks from building their own airplanes.

While the Sonex used to top my list for it’s phenomenal fuel economy, I think I might prefer the Vans RV-12. The -12 is well suited for my ‘mission,’ which is usually short-haul cross-countries to sightsee or eat lunch, and the Rotax engine takes Mogas as well as Avgas and is not particularly thirsty.

That said, the RV-7 could enable me to get lunch faster…and upside-down. Decisions, decisions.

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Aviation is pretty amazing. While there is so much more I’d like to do…multi-engine, helicopters, an A&P rating…these eight items make my to-do list for now. What’s on your bucket lists?

Ground-Bound Flying

As I intimated in my earlier post, changes to my monetary situation mean I probably won’t be flying a real airplane for quite some time. I’m not happy about it, but until things improve there are other ways to stay sharp.

Reading

I read voraciously, and a large part of my reading diet consists of airplane books: Stick and Rudder, The Proficient Pilot, IFR ground-school books, and my old human-factors and aviation textbooks from ATC school all help me keep my head in the airplane game. And a little Bach or Ganz in the mix helps me smile.

Socializing

Talking to other pilots is always a good way to stay sharp because pilots love to argue. As the joke goes, ask four pilots a question and you’ll get five answers…pilots are very intelligent and very opinionated people.

Most of my pilot-to-pilot communication occurs on Twitter. This might sound silly but there are some awesome people on Twitter, and a ton of pilots who love to talk aviation. I do need to branch out more and begin attending local EAA meetings or hanging out at the airport.

Finally, a great way to stay sharp is…

Flight Simulator

I know it sounds dorky, but I have empirical evidence that it works. When I was training for my ASEL I supplemented my training with Microsoft Flight Simulator and felt it to be very helpful in cementing my flying lessons. It’s not the same as flying a real airplane by any means, but it’s a great way to practice IFR maneuvers, instrument scans, and cross-country flying. Recently I’ve switched from FSX to X-Plane 10, and I have to say that X-Plane 10 is pretty rad. Good scenery, great airplanes, and better flight dynamics than FSX make it a superior simulator in my opinion. I also have a desktop that runs Linux, on which I may install FlightGear, an open-source simulator.

Flying my desk is certainly no substitute for real flying, but it might keep me from getting too rusty while I get myself back on track. Plus it’s fun.

It's no substitute for real flying, but X-plane is still pretty cool. Plus you can fly neat planes like the MS760.

It’s no substitute for real flying, but X-plane is still pretty cool. Plus you can fly neat planes like the MS760.

It pains me to think that it could be years before I’m back in the left seat. But being grounded is only a physical limitation. I’ve been grounded before and I’ve always clawed my way back into the sky. My love for flight will stay alive through thick and thin…we’re just going through the thick right now.