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The Airplane is the Vehicle

By Dan Grunloh, Editor, Light Plane World

Dan Grunloh
Dan Grunloh

We’re lucky to be living in a time when personal flight is accessible to ordinary people through ultralights and light-sport aircraft. The flying machine is arguably the greatest invention of man. The pursuit of your own airplane and the acquisitions of the skills to fly it can be one of the greatest personal experiences, but don’t forget the airplane is only a vehicle. It’s supposed to take you someplace, either physically, mentally, or metaphorically. It’s a tool.

The continuing task of perfecting the machine and our skills can be highly absorbing to those of us who love to cut wood, turn a wrench, and take to the skies. As the aircraft and the procedures become more complex, the task of doing it all safely takes more and more of our focus. Each time we master one level there’s a natural tendency to simply move up to more difficult tasks. All pilots should realize that once we have the airplane in the hangar and the skills to operate it, we’re only halfway there. Now the real adventure can begin.

It’s sad to hear stories of experienced pilots who drift away from aviation and announce their planes are for sale because they don’t use them much anymore. Perhaps in some cases the pilot forgot the purpose of the machine. It’s a bit like a woodworker who has mastered all the tools in his shop but doesn’t actually build any furniture. Use your tool! There are so many different adventures and experiences possible that it’s difficult to do them all in one lifetime.

The enjoyment of the scenery and taking pictures should be the hobby of every pilot. I keep a small camera in a holster-like case on my shoulder strap so it can be pulled out quickly. A camera that can be operated with one hand is preferable. Cross-country flights to previously unseen destinations using a map and compass recreate the adventures of our grandfathers. Instant weather reports and a GPS are today’s luxuries. The first sighting of a new airport which you have found without the assistance of a GPS is always a thrill no matter how long you’ve been flying. The camaraderie of camping under a wing at a distant fly-in with other pilots from faraway places can’t be simulated. Watching a virtual bonfire and marshmallow roast is just not the same. How about the fun of flying with friends in the cockpit with you, or alongside in a group? It doesn’t get much better. Don’t pass up the opportunity to compete in a friendly spot landing contest or bean bag drop at your chapter fly-in. To do so is skipping the reward for all your efforts. If you require some personal solitude there’s no need to travel to a distant wilderness. Instead, go one mile up in an open cockpit by yourself. There are lots of things to do.

The winter season is the best time to plan the next adventure. The wonderful thing about a flying adventure is that we don’t know exactly what the rewards will be until we do it. What will you do in 2010 that you haven’t done before? Each new flying season should bring another new adventure. Start planning now and enjoy your vehicle

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