My Aviation Journey
Updated: Nov 30, 2022
Perhaps it was the proximity to NASA in Houston where I grew up. But I was always interested in flight. If something flew over, I looked up. I would spend hours at Ellington AFB watching the astronauts get time in flying patterns in the T-38's. When I graduated from Stephen F. Austin University in 1979, I decided to keep learning and get my pilot's license.
I took my flight lessons at Houston Gulf airport. The FBO specialized in Grumman aircraft. Among the pilots at Houston Gulf were well known astronauts and NASA teams. Unfortunately, the airport is now a subdivision.
Like most pilots I ran in to problems with no time or money. Sometimes both. In my case flight efforts went dormant for decades. In real life anyway. During that time I got deep in to flight simulation. I spent at least hundreds, maybe a lot more (thousands), flying online. As it turns out, this experience did transfer. When I went to get checked out in Lockhart, TX in the mid 90's, it took only an hour before the instructor signed me off.
But with my career taking off at Panasonic my flying went back to the computer when I had time. For a while I was a part of an online B-17 squadron flying in the "Warbirds" online program. Many of the squadron members were ex-military pilots. They taught us all how to fly formation, plan missions and execute flights with military precision. It was a lot of fun.
At one point it all came together. I had the money and the time to get my Instrument Flight Rating. An IFR rating showed you were a real pilot. It was a great challenge. At first it seemed like an overwhelming goal. But the flight simulation kicked in again. I was able to set up my computer to simulate the exact plane and instrumentation I was using in real life. For every hour in the air, I would spend 3 more on the simulator. As a testament to the simulator, I attained my final hour of required IFR training on the way to the check ride.
My First Plane
After flying another rental plane that seemed to be held together with duct tape and wire, I decided to pull the trigger on aircraft ownership. Per usual I researched like it was the Manhattan Project (google it youngsters). I had settled in on a Cessna Cardinal with retractable gear and was looking for the right one. But at (another) air show we ran in to the Cirrus brand of aircraft. I wrote it off as too expensive. But Karen really liked the cockpit and.... the parachute built into the plane. So, I started to research and found an SR22 in South Carolina. We made the deal, and I was an aircraft owner.
We took the plane all over the East Coast and West to Texas. A couple of our favorite trips were to Connecticut and down to Key West.
Some memorable flights included Angel Flights and Hero flights taking patients and military to medical facilities, saving them time and providing some amazing views. On one flight I transported a Navy Seal who had been one of the first in Afghanistan after 9-11.
For any pilot, Oshkosh is on the bucket list. I flew in solo and camped on the North Forty. What a thrill. And my tire marks are hopefully still on the red dot.
But all good things come to an end. As I got closer to retirement it became clear the Cirrus was going to be too expensive to keep. As if on cue, N730C helped me make the decision. With 2500 hrs. on the engine, spalling was found on the cam lobe during the annual. The engine was essentially worthless. I was able to get by the engine replacement ($45K- ouch). But it was clearly time to let the plane go to someone who could more easily afford it.
With the Cirrus sold, my research turned to my next plane. It had to be affordable. It had to be easy to maintain. And one key element, it had to fit in a trailer we could pull behind the RV. I thought I had the perfect aircraft. It actually had a rotor, and it was called a Gyroplane. It was cool. It was affordable. I went to the factory in Germany and took some lessons. But ultimately due to insurance and training requirements, it simply was not going to work out.
After months of research the winner was clear, it had to be a Kitfox.
The Kitfox is a 2-seat side-by side Experimental airplane that can be purchased and built as a kit. It is light, reasonably fast (115 mph), sips 4.5 gallons of Mogas per hour and could carry almost anything I could fit in it. It can land very short and is really happy on grass. The Dynon avionics are the very latest available. It allows me to work on it myself and the cost was reasonable. Perhaps the most important component, it fit in a trailer as the wings would fold back.
I seriously considered building one myself and was fairly close to pulling the trigger when I happened across a builder selling the Kitfox he had built. It was almost identical to what I intended to build, the price was what it would cost me for parts, it only had 70 hrs. on it, and it was built by an ex-Boeing quality assurance engineer. There was one small problem. I was in Texas and the plane was in Seattle. Insurance would require a Kitfox checkout, and I had never flown in the west (mountains). And I did not want to hire a pilot to fly it back. Flying was not really practical. So, the decision was made to go get it and tow it back on a trailer. It was a great and horrible trip at the same time. It took 10 days in total as we took a detour to Vancouver BC to see our daughter going to graduate school there. Everywhere we stopped the plane would draw pilots or potential pilots like moths to a flame. It was hard driving, but we went through some of the most beautiful areas of our country. It solidified our plan to get in the RV and see things with much more time to enjoy them.
The Kitfox is a ton of fun to fly. Most of my flights now are 500-1500 AGL. It is a fantastic sightseeing plane and will provide views unavailable from the ground. It can fly as slow as 38 mph, making almost any field as large as a football field a potential emergency landing spot.
Post Trip addition: We had a great time and I picked up my 1000th flight hour flying in to First Flight Airport at Kitty Hawk, NC. I am plane less for now, but who knows what the future may hold.
Planes I have checked out in:
Cessna 172 Skyhawk
Piper PA28-161 Warrior
PA28-180 Cherokee /Archer
Piper PA28-180R Arrow
Diamond DA40 G-1000
Kitfox Super Sport 7
Planes I have flown:
Cirrus SR-22 Turbo