2002 February 14

I had a bunch of things I wanted to do by the time I turned thirty. I wanted to get my advanced degrees, to become an inventor, to work for someplace really famous like Bell Telephone Laboratories, and stuff like that. At the age of twenty-nine and a half I realized that two big items were still on the list. I wanted to be an airplane pilot and I wanted to take a commercial flight to the moon. The stunted growth of technology took care of the latter, but I still had a few months to take care of the former. I met a wonderful instructor, Frank Fine, took my lessons at Colts Neck, New Jersey, and took my first solo flight on 1986 December 7, the day that President Roosevelt said would live in infamy.

I got my Private Pilot License in 1987 May and continued to rent airplanes until 1988 August when Colts Neck Airport was finally shutting down after decades of pressure from real estate developers. Considering buying one of the trainers, I ended up buying a 1967 Piper Cherokee 140, N4372J, for the princely sum of $9500. It needed a new battery, new paint, new seats, and a new propeller. It also needed four new cylinders, which cost a pretty penny. When I was done with my first annual inspection N4372J turned out to be a good airplane at a good price, about $15000 for a 1967 PA28-140 with a new battery, a fresh top-overhaul, lousy paint, beat-up seats, and a dog-eared propeller. The last three of those were fixed soon afterward and I still enjoy flying N4372J.

N4372J and I have been together in a few dozen states and seven home airports. While we have never flown the Rocky Mountains together, we have been to the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania and the Smoky Mountains. My sixty hours of flying in the Rocky Mountains were done in rental aircraft from Jefferson County Airport (BJC) as I have never flown my own Cherokee 140 out West.

In fifteen years and 1100 hours of flying, I have flown forty airplanes of seventeen different types and landed at 269 airports in three dozen states. N4372J and I have been to Frostbite Falls (International Falls), Minnesota, and to Key West, Florida. I managed to get a few hours flying a twin-engine Cessna 335 (non-pressurized version of the 340) with Hale-Bopp in the sky over a layer of clouds during a lunar eclipse. I got some in the full-motion simulator time in the Boeing 727, known as the "three-holer." And I have some time in the old-fashioned rag-wing Piper Cub.

One of the staples of weekend aviation is the "hundred dollar hamburger." It costs about $50 per hour to rent a light airplane, so a couple of pilots fly somewhere an hour away, snarf down some food at an airport restaurant, and fly back home for a total cost of $100. As a runner and a pilot, I'll fly to some remote airport in relative wilderness and enjoy an hour run before flying home. One time I directly combined these two hobbies as I had to move my airplane from one airport to another airport seven nautical miles away as the airplane flies. So I parked at Clark Airport, ran eleven miles to Denton Airport, and flew back home. Usually the distances involved in running and flying don't mix well.

The world looks different from the air. The difference is like the difference between a map and reality, except aviation gives us a new view of the same reality.

Before our first flight together, Frank Fine told me, "Aviation will give you many happy years if you respect it." It is fifteen years and counting for me.

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