Dancing amongst the bumpy air, aviators pierce the blue yonder not in hopes of arriving faster. Instead we air warriors embody the aviation experience as a whole. Soaking in every moment ensures the ultimate journey.
The typical flight consists of many nuts and bolts, both literally and figuratively, to ensure eventual success and safety. As my time as an aviator has unfolded over the years, the technical details are easier to manage. Many have become second nature. This opens up the door for a richer experience of simply enjoying the journey that is “aviation”.
You see, aviation is a fraternity- a brotherhood of sorts. To a deeper extent, sharing this passion for the freedom of flying aircraft is one that borders the spiritual realm. Man was obviously meant to walk the earth, yet I also contest it was our destinty as humanity to break the bonds of soil and shoe.
Memories of this warm December flying day in SoCal will remain fresh and special in my memory and heart for years to come.
California has a rich aviation heritage that is immediately apparent upon visiting each airport. Santa Paula, our home base for the day, is no different.
Walking into CP Aviation, one is greeted and feels right at home in a relaxed, professional, yet fast paced training environment.
Over the hangar packed with aircraft in various stages of maintenence disarray hangs the CP Aviation sign. A stoic, art-deco aviator of retro California aviation lore stands solid in front of a Beech Staggerwing.
Oodles of training material and merchandise are spread throughout the shop. The best part? A golden lab trots happily from the back, greeting each who arrives, and often stays for a soak in the sun.
After a succinct pre-flight briefing, we headed to the ramp to meet our tail-wheeled, winged friend. There we met N117CP, a Decathalon, which at one time called Japan home. On the panel remained some Japanse placards, speaking to the history of the aircraft.
The panel, paint, and mechanical state were all a 10 of 10. Manufactured in 1999, the aircraft could get away with showing some age. Yet, CP Aviation takes pride in their metal birds. Not a one aircraft, from the oldest 152 to the newest 206, is a scary sight. Some may looked aged, but all look approachable and safe. That’s a big confidence booster when you’re the one that has to fly those things!
Because the aircraft are in such good shape, the preflight went without a hitch. Not many questions arise when all looks and feels normal. Nevertheless, a pilot must always remain cautious and do a thorough preflight on the first flight of the day.
Oh, and did I mention this was my first time flying a tail-wheel aircraft? Yup, this would be real flight instruction.
Having now climbed in the cockpit, with seatbelt and harnesses locked, it was time to prime and start. With an ol’ dog instructor in the back, and a quality aircraft, nerves are more about excitement than fear.
Once the engine roared alive, the worries of life and work slip away with the slipstream. Now the world is at my fingertips. As the movie “Living in the Age of Airplanes” so poignantly puts it, “A mile of runway can take you anywhere”.
A short taxi and run-up had us setup and ready on runway 04. Starting with the stick full back, full power is applied and pressure is slowly released to just after of neutral. Before I knew it, the wheels popped off, and the machine was soaring powerfully and confidently upward.
The every whim of where we went is mostly irrelevant as the journey is what matters most. A 360 turn here, checking out a friends house there, chatting about the beauty of the coast, and how the surfers should “get-a-job”- it was all part of the experience of seeing the world from a different perspective.
Now with some fun out of the way, it was time for a different kind of fun- my first ever tailwheel landings- touch-n-go style. The target, Oxnard Airport. Of course, I wasn’t that great at this new style of landing, although not terrible. The learning curve wasn’t too steep, allowing an educative climb.
With each circuit I was learning some new nugget, settling in, screwing something up that I hadn’t the time before, but still learning in an upward direction.
Michael was fantastic- assertive when needed, quiet when necessary, encouraging always, and genuinly enjoying the experience along with me. Although challenging, the positive energy aboard the ship had me improving quickly. Every now and again, I’d get a pat on the shoulder from the man in back (the seat arrangement is tandem) and something along the lines of, “Atta boy, there we go! That was great, boss!”
We powered out of Oxnard and headed to Camarillo, which seemed only a stone throw away. From one airport’s runway to the other, it’s a near straight shot.
Stopping in Camarillo, Michael’s true resident airport, was our main business of the day.
Pulling up a large WWII-era hangar, brakes full, mixture cut-off. Immediately, it was apparent that Michael knew anyone with a pulse.
First we met Rick. He started Camarillo Aircraft, a maintenence outfit, in 1980. Aircraft filled the hangar and ramp immediately in front. Later I asked Rick how business has been over the years, since things seemed awefully vibrant. “Since 1980 I haven’t been without work for one day”. With a hitch in his stride, strong build, tanned face, and an A&P mandatory baseball cap, Rick carried with him a presence and aura of maintenance excellence.
His hangar and attached offices ooze with character. Models of all types of warbirds are proudly aligned on display tables. Commemoritave aviation art and plaques cover the walls. In the middle of all the flying things, a pictoral memorial to a former furry friend hung on the wall. “That was one of the greatest creatures to walk this earth”, Michael exclaimed.
A short golfcart ride had us in a hangar pulling out a battery from a 206. This G-1000 equipped 206 was repositioned from Venezuela where the leasor was unable to keep up on payments. In between, it sat stuck and deteriorating in Aruba for a year. Michael and Rick flew it back to California eventually. Since then it had gotten a lot of TLC.
Also in the hangar was a Mini Cooper, some WWII original art and artifacts, and a Piper Saratoga II TC that was to be getting it’s annual.
Rick and I hightailed it back to the hangar. Meanwhile, Michael started up the Saratoga and taxied it over to the hangar for the aforementioned annual.
With most errands out of the way, it was now time to do what pilots love second most after flying- eating. (although, I have to say- pilots have a way of starving themselves while rushing from one thing to another on any given day. Many a pilot has been saved by the meager meals provided by vending machines.)
Right there at Camarillo airport is Waypoint Cafe. This well established and popular eating joint was packed with hungry locals. Nestled right next to the ramp, lunch was often interrupted by the ‘whoop-whoop’ of a helicopter over head or the relentless drone of a reciprocating engine.
And of course, it didn’t hurt that it was also tri-tip Thursday.
If the mere sight of airplanes wasn’t enough to bring out the kid in everyone, a kid friendly mini-park is located between the restaurant and the ramp. It comes complete with small mockups of both runways and a Control Tower that has the actual ATC audio being played for all to hear.
With bellies full, it was time to check out Michael’s office, just across the street from Waypoint Cafe and Camarillo Aviation.
Of no surprise, I noticed the Redbird Simulator as soon as I walked in the door. Michael and I met at the annual Redbird Migration in Texas a few weeks earlier. He’s an early adopter by doing a lot of beta test work with Redbird. This simulator always stays updated with the latest and greatest.
Michael sure is sharp for his age. He handles this technology with ease and expertise, putting to shame even the young millennial who is a part time aviator and full time video gamer.
The Redbird, however, is a sight that is all too common these days in flight schools. Many flight schools have seen the need for these simulators and they have become commonplace as a result.
What makes Michael’s office special and unique are the memories and momentos on the walls. Former students, people he’s mentored, photographs from bygone eras. Interspersed are aircraft toys, fine aviation art, and other widgets. Michael scans the shelves with pride, sharing an anecdote here, and a memory there.
His story is one to be respected and honored. A low percentage of aviators choose to make aviation education their career. Having chosen this path himself, Michael is the perfect example of what treasures can be found in the day-to-day education of today’s and tomorrow’s aviators.
Errands completed, it was time to jump back in N117CP and make the trip back to Santa Paula. Once airborne, the flight was a short 15 minutes or less.
Back at home base, we finished final billing, I purchased a hoodie sweatshirt, and we joked around with the ladies at CP Aviation.
Why is this story significant? Why does it stand out to me? How is it diffrent from the many other experiences I’ve had?
Truth is, it isn’t any one of those.
Yet it is.
You see, would-be aviators dream of flying an airplane. Flying to them is about the glory of being a pilot. What they don’t know is that flying an airplane is just one slice of a very delicous aviation pie.
Being an aviator is just as much about relationships as it is about seeing a memorable sunset. Just as much about slowing down and having a chat as it is about getting things done. Just as much about making friends as it is making a perfect landing.
Although an aircraft, for the most part, is much faster than a car, flying is ultimately slower than driving.
If Michael and I had wanted to drive a car to Camarillo it would have taken all of 20 minutes. By airplane we had many additional tasks to ensure flight safety, which take time. Then we had errands to do, which also take time. Add onto that the many conversations we had with Michael’s friends, again, it adds a lot of time.
Therefore, Flying is Slower Than Driving.
The journey and experiences are what makes being a pilot so rewarding. It’s all in the detailed interactions, the pictures along the way, and the surrounding nostalgia.
Although aviation has, to an effect, conquered the four corners of the world, and that is no small thing, it has most certainly connected nations, cultures, and hearts.
So when those times do come where flying is slower than driving, I know it is for a good reason. I know I’m refreshing my love for the story and experience that is ‘aviation’.