Flight 17: RIP, Old Friend

Yesterday I had a plane booked for an unsupervised solo, and everything was fine (sunny, cool, high visibility, unlimited ceiling), except for the 15-knot wind. I could have flown, and I was tempted to, but I made my first pilot in command decision and stayed on the ground. Eventually I’ll want weather like that to practice crosswind landings and ground reference maneuvers, but not with less than half an hour of solo experience. I’d rather not fly when I possibly could than fly when I really shouldn’t.

I showed up at the airport today and found that the 152 was out for the day for minor maintenance. No problem, though, because one of the 150s had been set aside for me as a substitute. Too bad it wouldn’t start, though. It had been flown today, but the engine wouldn’t turn over at all. That covers two of the four-plane 150/152 fleet, but the really bad news was that one of the other 150s was totaled last night. Somebody ran it completely out of fuel, made an emergency landing, and caused enough damage that it will probably make more economic sense to salvage it for parts than to make it airworthy again. (He walked away uninjured, luckily.)

It’s a personal sad note for me, because that was the first plane I ever flew: my intro flight, my first takeoff, and my first night flight. It was in that plane that I made the decision to go for a pilot’s license, and now it will never fly again. It didn’t have to happen, either, but running out of fuel is one of the more common stupid pilot tricks. (Here in the rugged, mountainous wilds of central Florida, the fuel stations are often hundreds of miles apart.)

I’m not a triskaidekaphobe, but the 13th did seem like a bad luck day for Cessnas. The weather was good, and I still wanted to fly, so we took a Piper Warrior. I had been looking for an excuse to fly a Warrior, and I got a confidence boost from being able to make the switch fairly easily.

There are quite a few differences: the Warrior has a low-wing design, carries four people instead of two, flies faster, and is more stable than the 150/152, several of the controls vary, and it costs $18/hour more. We essentially did a test flight- some stalls, steep turns, touch & goes, etc. Level flight in the Warrior looked to me like a descent in the Cessna. Since the wings were below us, I could see better on the sides. It was nice to be able to see the runway through the whole circuit; with a high-wing plane, a left turn blocks the pilot’s view on that side, not unlike the effect of blinders on a horse.

Landing the Warrior was like pulling a sedan into the driveway. However, since the small Cessnas are less stable and less forgiving in the wind, I think they make better trainers for a beginner. (A Cessna 172 was also available today, but it’s essentially a more powerful, four seat version of the 152, and costs almost as much as the Warrior anyway.)

Today: 0.9 hours
Total: 19.9 hours

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