Tuesday, August 24, 2004

One leaves the nest

Preflight 1
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
I got in one last flight tonight with one of my Civil Air Patrol cadets, Eric. He is leaving tomorrow for Oklahoma, where he will begin full-time flight training to continue his airline career. Eric just turned 19, and just logged his 101st hour as a pilot.

I started flying with Eric when he was 14; he was one of a pair, he and Joel, who were my two most enthusiastic students. Whenever I mentioned that I would be flying cadets, those two would materialize in front of me, with a matched set of wide grins. Now he has his private pilot's certificate, and with a little more practice he will be ready for his Instrument rating. (Joel is off to the Army, hoping for helicopter-related duties.) I am proud to have been associated with both of them, and the other cadets, for these past five years.

I flew my old Tri-Pacer down to Mount Pocono to meet him, so we could use the CAP Cessna; similar to what he will fly in training. He wanted to practice some of his skills, so he wouldn't be rusty when he gets to school. He wants to impress his instructors.

And he will. He had planned out the flight when I got there, and began a thorough preflight inspection of the plane. It was a hazy day, and he had planned a challenging flight; a trip 60 miles to the north by pilotage (flying by eye only) to an airport he had never seen. We agreed to turn off the GPS and fly by map and compass.

Eric took off and flew the plane beautifully; he flies smoothly and on the numbers. We made our way north, talked to ATC, and checked off the points he had marked on his kneepad. Even 50 miles out, he was still hitting his waypoints within two minutes of his estimates; and I had thrown in some extra changes along the way. We were within sight of our destination when a convective SIGMET came over the radio (a warning of thunderstorms to the north). So we wheeled around to the south and climbed a half-mile, and I put the vision hood on him and had him fly back on instruments. He did quite well at that too, and he landed smoothly back at Mount Pocono. I hadn't touched the controls once.

I admonished Eric to email us, and keep us posted on his exploits. A great adventure, to be nineteen years old and leaving home. When he finishes his training, in a year and a half, he will be an instructor himself, multiengine and instrument; and a year after that he will likely have logged more hours than I have. I had to head out quickly; the thunderstorms coming in from the north were headed for my home 'port. So I tossed my gear in 02P, rolled out to the active, and took off. I reefed into a tight right turn towards home, and waved a wing at Eric in the parking lot.

I could see the dark mass to the north, but I beat it to the airport by a few miles; when I touched down it was still four miles away. I had just slid the tin hangar door closed when the rain began to fall, and thunder grumbled harmlessly. It's still raining now.

I have a new crop of cadets; there are always new kids joining the squadron. Juan, 13, has the same broad smile when he flies, and so do Cory and Julie and many of the others. My "nest" isn't empty. But I do feel that I have helped one young birdman off to a good start.

Clear Skies, Eric.