Uncategorized Stories

0B5, aka Turners Falls Municipal Airport in Turners Falls, Mass. This is the airport where my AvGeek obsession first took flight, and I finally got to land and take off there this month. – Photo: Katie Bailey

This is a continuation of my multi-part series on learning to fly. You can read the whole Fly With Francis series here.

My obsession with airplanes is directly attributable to a very loving grandmother’s attempts to settle down two very rambunctious young brothers. She’d drive us to nearby Turners Falls Municipal Airport to get ice cream and watch planes carrying parachutists from the local skydiving club while sitting on the hood of her beige 1969 VW Beetle. The high school I attended is located adjacent to the airport as well.

So, this spring, nearly 50 years later, with my relatively new pilot certificate in hand, I traveled back home and rented a Cessna 172SP from Monadnock Aviation in Keene, NH. Standard rental restrictions, such as a requirement for multiple checkout flights and having a dedicated rental insurance policy, made it easier to simply ask the folks at Monadnock to assign me a flight instructor to fly along on the trip to negate the need for the checkouts.

I’d planned out the route in advance, so I was well prepared for the flight. We’d start and end at Keene airport (KEEN), fly south over the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts, land at Orange Municipal Airport (KORE), fly northwest to my collegiate alma mater (University of Massachusetts Amherst), land at Turners Falls Municipal (0B5), and fly back to KEEN.

It was a pleasant day, with a very high overcast, light winds, and smooth air. I’d never flown over this area in a small plane, although I’d seen it from 20,000+ feet out the windows of commercial jetliners plenty of times flying home for visits. Trust me when I tell you the views from 3,500 feet are much better.

What a view! Could you imagine just seeing an L1011 on the beach?

What a view! Could you imagine just seeing an L1011 on the beach? – Photo: Jerome de Vries

I was recently in Cotonou for a 24-hour layover. Cotonou is the largest city of the small west African nation of Benin, and has become a secondary hub for emerging airline RwandAir. Taking advantage of its growing network, I booked a RwandAir ticket from Dakar, Senegal to Kigali, Rwanda via Cotonou. The transit stop included accommodation provided by the airline.

What is there to do in Cotonou? A quick Google search indicated that the closest attraction to the hotel was on the beach: an ‘amusement park’ called Air de Jeux Plage Erévan. This ‘park’ appeared to include a large-looking aircraft, so I decided to check it out. Little did I know the airframe was a historic Lockheed L1011 TriStar, full of amazing clues about its long and varied history around the world.

An L1011 on the beach, seen from space.

Mystery plane? – Image: Google Maps

On final for runway 14R at BFI in a Diamond DA-40 - this wasn't from our mountain-flying day, but it's too pretty of a photo to leave out of the article. Katie Bailey photo

On final for runway 14R at BFI in a Diamond DA-40 – this wasn’t from our mountain-flying day, but it’s too pretty of a photo to leave out of the article

 

This is a continuation of my multi-part series on learning to fly. You can read the whole Fly With Francis series here.

The lousy Pacific Northwest early spring weather notwithstanding, I’ve made good progress towards learning both the Garmin G1000 instrumentation and the Diamond DA-40 aircraft. We recently got a decent break in the weather that allowed a flight from Seattle across the Cascade Mountains to Ellensburg for some basic mountain flying training.

Cruising westbound at 6,500' over Snoqualmie Pass was an amazing experience. Katie Bailey photo

Cruising westbound at 6,500′ over Snoqualmie Pass was an amazing experience – Photo: Katie Bailey

I’ve got about 10 hours in the DA-40 now, all but one of them with Carl, my ever-patient CFI. I finally felt comfortable enough with the plane to take it out on my own last week, even though Carl had deemed me ready to do that about five flight hours previously. I just wanted a bit more time with the plane, as it’s quite a bit different than the Cessna 172, especially in that it’s a lot faster and a bit fussier when it comes to controls, and it’s got a constant-speed propeller (also sometimes referred to as a variable-pitch propeller) that needs tending to via a dedicated control lever.

There are too many stories out there that promise new kinds of airplanes, amenities, and airports. We are not going to lie… when we see these stories, we get pumped.

“Radical…we can’t wait until we fly in an electric airliner that flies at three times the speed of sound and takes off and lands at an airport racetrack!”

We are told that these things are coming “very soon,” but we wait and wait and wait. Nothing. We have gotten sick and tired of getting emotionally AvGeek hurt (that is a thing) because these technologies never come through. Instead of just sitting around, we decided to do something about it!

INTRODUCING THE SlingPlane 5001-200NWN (No Wings Needed)

The SlingPlane 5001-200NWN

The SlingPlane 5001-200NWN… well an advance, high-tech drawing of it at least

We knew this endeavor of building our own plane was not going to be easy, but we have made such tremendous progress. We didn’t want to make the same mistakes of the others who had tried before us, so we quickly skimmed all their business plans (aka looked at the photos) and made solid assumptions on what went wrong. Here are the most common issues we found that led to failure:

A Southwest Air 737-700 seen at BDL. - Photo: JL Johnson

A Southwest Air 737-700 seen at BDL – Photo: JL Johnson

A few weeks ago I posted about how I was ready to fly. This is a follow-up to that story. You can start there (link opens in a new tab), or this story can also stand on its own.

I recently completed my first COVID-era trip. My AvGeek wife and I flew to Connecticut on Southwest with the following routing: MCI-MDW-BDL-BWI-MCI. Two years ago our trip wouldn’t have been noteworthy nor deserving of an AirlineReporter piece. But here we are. Everything is different in our new reality and frankly any chance to fly (even to cold places despite a brutal winter) is special.

Once the lockdowns began and the reality of the pandemic set in, I decided I needed to remain grounded until a vaccine became available and I had it in my arm. Not for risk to myself, but to protect others and not allow myself to be an unwitting vector for transmission. My decision came with a serious sense of FOMO (fear of missing out.) Airfares plummeted, airlines were flying planes nearly empty, terminals seemed abandoned, and hundreds of planes were put into storage. Heck some planes were parked on perfectly good runways for lack of space elsewhere. I say all of this to underscore a point. There were many reasons why I really wanted to get out there. But I resisted.

As I booked my first trip in over a year I wondered if upon getting back out there I would regret waiting to be fully vaccinated before flying. Perhaps all of the PR that airlines, airports, and their lobbying groups had pushed could be trusted? Maybe it was indeed safe to fly?