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?

Four Fast Health Tips for Pilots

The author of this post is a registered respiratory therapist but he is NOT a physician. He is not YOUR physician. He is not an AME and he does not represent the FAA in any way, shape, or form. For actual medical advice, or questions about your medical certificate, consult your doctor or the FAA. 

Checking over my documents before flying, I realized that my medical certificate expires at the end of this month. Time to see the AME.

At this stage in my life I’m not worried about my medical certificate. My goal is to keep it that way.

My ten years in the medical industry have exposed me to some massively unhealthful people. I’d hate for any of you to become like them. In that spirit here are four fast health tips for pilots.

#1. STOP SMOKING. Smoking is insidious: you feel fine for decades, but then one day you can’t climb the stairs any more. You’re always short of breath. Suddenly you’re confined to an ever-smaller world, limited in your mobility, every moment focused on your next breath. COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is an awful, painful disease. You do not want it.

Smoking is linked to cancer of the lung, bladder, esophagus, and mouth. Smoking also causes high blood pressure and is linked to heart disease. Eventually, those can cost you your medical certificate and your life. Quit while you’re ahead, I implore you.

#2. Stay active physically. My observation is that decreased physical activity is linked to increased sickness. People who stay active seem to be patients far less frequently than the lazy.

You don’t have to be Usain Bolt, either. Even something as simple as taking a walk after dinner helps keep people healthy. Stand more, walk more, do calisthenics or bodyweight resistance exercises. Take a walk in the woods. Go to the park. It’s easy to be active: just kill your television and hit the bricks. You’ll thank me later.

This guy is pretty awesome, but you don't have to be him.

This guy is pretty awesome, but you don’t have to be him to be healthy.

#3. Stay active mentally. Some mental decline is normal with aging. That said, we all know some sharp-as-a-tack octogenarian aviator. It is my opinion that mental decline can be slowed by vigorous use of one’s brain.

Reading, learning, thinking, debating. Based on my observations people who do these things, especially learning, enjoy mental well-being far longer than those who watch a lot of TV. And a good pilot is always learning. Right?

#4. Watch what you eat. Food fuels your body. It makes sense, then, that we should eat good food.

Most of the “food” out there in America is only food in a technical sense. White bread, microwave dinners, and overly processed foods are not really food.

I know, I know; it’s 2013. You’re busy. It’s hard to eat well. I get it, believe me. But you don’t have to be perfect: just strive for an improvement in your diet. Think before you eat. A treat now and then is good as long as you eat healthy most of the time.

You are what you eat, eh?

You are what you eat, eh?

It is my opinion that people who eat actual food (e.g., a banana or an almond) more frequently than “food” (e.g., McDonalds) are much better off in terms of physical health. A good rule of thumb is that if you need a PhD in chemistry to read the ingredients label, or if it is called a “food product,” you shouldn’t eat it.

Don Hertzefeldt's vision of a banana.

Don Hertzefeldt‘s vision of a banana.

A little extra time at the store will go a long way. For instance, my peanut butter is made from one ingredient: peanuts. Some peanut butter is made from…I don’t even know what half the shit in there is. Do you really want to eat it if you don’t know what it is?

 

It is my belief that following these four simple tips will help to keep you healthy. That said, consult your doctor before making any major lifestyle changes. Try to live healthfully and you should be flying for a long time to come!

Flight: Canned for your safety

Last night I was super excited to go flying this week – twice! Today at 1 PM I was scheduled to take the Beech Sundowner up for a spin or two trip or two around the traffic pattern.

Unfortunately, I got called in to work. My job comes with occasional on-call time, and last night just happened to be my call AND a night where I was needed. So, come 11 PM, off I trudged to my job…my only real motivation to keep this job is to pay for my flying. Feed the addiction.

Since I work until 7 (really 730 or 8) AM, I knew I was only going to get four or five hours of sleep at the MOST if I still went flying at 1. That’s enough for me to function day to day, but not enough to safely operate an airplane. Realistically, I’m looking at two or three hours of dreamland. Not enough.

I thought about moving my flight up a few hours, but it gets dark earlier these days and I hate feeling rushed. When I reflect on mistakes I’ve made while flying, they all seem to have the common denominator of me getting into a hurry; I therefore strive to avoid hurry in all aspects of my flying, from preflight to tiedown. Rushing will only make me screw up more.

Ultimately, I decided to can my flight because of Human Factors. I’m not safe to fly on this little sleep. Operating an airplane would put me, my instructor, the airplane, and anyone in our path in harm’s way and that’s not okay. The first part of the preflight is really the pilot, and since today the pilot is experiencing a night-shift hangover, the best decision I can make is to stay on the ground.

This is an extra hard flight to can because the sky is blue, the air is cool, and the wind is a gentle zephyr (relative to Chicago.) I guess I will just have to enjoy this beautiful day from the ground and hope that my appointment with the Piper tomorrow is met with equally favorable meteorology.