March 29, 2005
March 16, 2005
March 11, 2005
|Wednesday, April 20, 2005|
I was thinking during a flight the other day, as I watched the little airplane
that represented my position over the planet earth, skimming over the towns,
roads and other conveniently-identified objects on the GPS moving map, that
navigation isn't as much fun as it once was. Pilots who have cut their teeth on
VOR, Loran and now GPS navigation must find it hard to imagine finding their way
across the country with only a map and a watch, and nothing to back up those
humble aids. It can be done, and many of us who wouldn't dream of describing
ourselves as 'Old Timers' have done it, for hours and hours and miles and miles.
first airplane was a 65 horsepower Luscombe 8A, with no generator, starter,
battery, lights and of course, no radio. After solo and before proper cross
country training, I would follow the highways to wherever I wanted to go.
Service stations gave away road maps in those days and my 'flight kit' contained
those needed for my inappropriate wanderings.
What led to this now
unthinkable situation was my sudden after-solo move from western West Virginia
back to the central part of the state. At about 12 hours of total time in the
air, I left the airport where I'd soloed the Luscome and moved to a small grass
field near my home. I had cleverly avoided informing my instructor of my plans,
since I knew there was no way he would approve me flying the airplane the 70
miles or so to the new field, at my current level (none) of experience. As far
as the airport personal were concerned, I'd just disappeared along with the
Arriving at the new airport I found there was virtually no
activity, and also no instructor to supervise my solo work. I had fallen through
an aeronautical crack. I now had an airplane, a place to keep it, enough
knowledge to get it off the ground and back on again, and no one to tell me what
I should be doing. Much worse, I had no one to tell me what I shouldn't be
doing. I became every instructor's worst nightmare. I was a rogue student pilot.
I flew in this befuddled and dangerous state for a year or so with no
accidents, but enough 'memorable flights' to fill a small book. After numerous
scares so bad I found myself promising to take back things I never stole, I was
fortunate enough to find an understanding instructor who dragged me from the
underworld of aviation and into compliance with the FAR's and showed me how to
fly without being a danger to all that lay below.
But much to my
delight, my aeronautical social worker also taught me the wonderful art of
navigation by map and clock. The roadmaps went back to the car, I invested the
quarter that was then the cost of a sectional chart, and began to learn to
understand it. As I grew familiar with the mapmaker's work, the symbols came
alive and I found I could read it like a photograph. I spent hours at my kitchen
table gazing at my new chart, as if it were the ground as seen from the cockpit
of a high-flying airplane, imagining the flights I would take.
I was ready. I bought more sectionals and happily employed my new plotter and
E-6B computer and begin to plan and fly cross-countries. Short cross countries,
long cross countries, cross countries to the sea shore, to Canada, cross
countries to the North East, to the mountains, to the plains, and the Great
Lakes. These trips took me to places I'd never been before, not because I had
business there, but because I needed to have the airplane take me to the far
distant lands that I'd only read about. The Luscombe was scratching the itch of
wanderlust that I'd had since childhood, and sweeping me up and over, letting me
see what lay beyond the far hills.
spent the next five hundred flight hours in the little Luscombe, wandering the
Eastern United States, seeing new places and meeting people that I still
remember and in some cases still know. These days my pilotage skills have grown
rusty and I navigate the easy way, with VOR and GPS, but I still remember the
flights of a young pilot that followed a pencil line on a map to a new world.