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?

Aviation Photo of the Day: FL400!

Flying in general gives the pilot or passenger a chance to see some spectacular sites. The vantage point offered by an airplane provides visual treats that just can not be experienced from the ground. Instrument flying in particular can provide some spectacular cloudscapes and pilots fly through or between layers. Today’s aviation photo comes from Twitter friend Dave “Genghis” Khan, who snapped this shot climbing to FL400 just off the Gulf coast of Florida.

20130325-112429.jpg

I especially like the different textures between the clouds on the left and the clouds on the right. I enjoy my VFR flying, but someday I hope to get my IFR ticket and see cloudscapes like this for myself.

Thanks to @navyaircrewman for allowing use of this photo. If you have a cool aviation photo you’d like to share here, drop me a line!

Flying on a Budget: IFR

Since I began flying I’ve wanted to get my instrument rating. Getting instrument rated teaches you to fly with more discipline, improve your radio work, and last but not least gives you certification* to fly in Instrument Meteorological Conditions. Here in Illinois there are many days that are low IMC but clear on top, or days that are technically VFR but just  a little too marginal for me to be comfortable in. Being instrument rated would let me fly more often, and help me to be a better pilot.

Breaking out through a low ceiling.

The trouble is, I have a million bucks worth of ambition but a very tiny budget. Many pilots have dough to spare, but for me flying is something I can only barely afford. While the benefits of the instrument rating are huge, so are my projected costs.

To apply for the instrument rating, a pilot must have fifty  hours of cross-country time as Pilot In Command, plus forty hours of flight time logged under actual or simulated instrument conditions. The applicant must have completed a 250-mile minimum cross country under IFR during which at least three instrument approaches were shot. (FAR 61.65)

Category III ILS

Not counting my un-loggable hours of dorkitude playing Flight Simulator, I currently have a whopping 3.2 hours of simulated instrument time. That leaves 36.8 hours of actual or simulated IMC  to obtain. With the trainer renting at $175/hour with instructor, that’s a cost of at least $6,440. Since I have about 20 hours of PIC cross-country, I need another 30. Some of that could be obtained during the instrument training, but I’d probably need at least another thousand dollars worth of cross country time. Let’s round up (always round up) and assume that I could get my instrument rating for $8,000 out of pocket.

There are a couple of ways I could do this.

First, I could go paycheck-to-paycheck and buy instructional flights as the budget allows. On the plus side, this would give me a “purpose” to my flying instead of just burning gas. I fly anyway, may as well take a CFI and learn something. On the other hand this approach would take a lot of time, and intermittent training is rough because you forget half of what you learned from lesson to lesson.

Second, I could try to scrimp and save. I could stop flying (or fly less) over the winter months and hold on to my flying money. Then, when I have the $8k or so, I could go blow it on a zero-to-hero IFR program like the one at ATP. The benefit in this case is a lot of flying in a short time, which helps you to be very proficient for the check ride; but I worry about knowledge retention. It seems like flying IFR all day for two weeks and then suddenly being back to my usual twice-a-month pace might be a hard adjustment.

One way or the other, I do need to get my instrument rating. It makes for a more precise, more educated, and safer private pilot; and those are three things I strive to be.

*As was pointed out in one of my medical texts, Certification and Ability are not the same. But having the certification is important too.