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The Courage to Soar

By Arty Trost, for Light Plane World

Arty Trost

The smell of freshly cut grass greets me as I taxi for takeoff. I line up on the runway and the sound of the engine grows louder as I push the throttle forward. I’m eager with anticipation to be up in the air. I don’t have a specific destination in mind; I just want to feel the wind in my face and feel the joy of a totally different perspective. As the runway falls away beneath me, so do all my daily distractions. Now there is nothing but the flying and the feeling of delight.

I’m taking advantage of a rare rain break. We have just had the two rainiest months on record in northwestern Oregon, and I know that today my window of flying opportunity is small. I swoop and climb and dive above forest and farmland. I fly low along the Clackamas River, seeing fishermen huddled in their drift boats. I can’t go too far from my home strip as the clouds are once again gathering, growing dark and ominous, and I see sheets of rain in the distance. Regretfully I turn back. As I enter the pattern I glance at the watch Velcroed to my instrument panel. I’ve been flying for 35 minutes.

After I got back from flying my Maxair Drifter to the 2009 Sun ’n Fun Fly-In at Lakeland, Florida, I had a lot of folks ask me, “How can you top that? You’re bound to find that flying locally won’t be any fun anymore.” But for me, John Magee’s famous poem, High Flight, says it all: 

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings…”

I don’t need to fly far or long to experience the joys of flight. I just need to get up in the air. If you’re a typical pilot, you don’t fly more than 100 miles from your home airport. And even if you’re a long-distance cross-country pilot like I am, the great majority of your flights will still be within 100 miles of your home airport.

I’ve been flying my Drifter for over 20 years, and I still delight in short flights. I love “surveillance sightseeing” flights. How is construction on the new high school coming? Who’s already begun cutting hay? Who is planting new orchards? Who has been painting their fences and putting in new landscaping? Flying light planes means being able to fly low ’n slow, seeing more than you’ll ever see at 10,000 feet.

I know a number of ultralight and experimental light-sport aircraft (E-LSA) pilots who stopped flying because they’re bored. They don’t want to fly further than the limits they’ve already set for themselves, and they feel they’ve already seen everything there is to see within the geographical territory they’ve mapped out as theirs. If you have a bit of that feeling, what will it take to get you back in the cockpit? Here are a few possibilities:

  • Go up for a really short flight of surveillance sightseeing.
  • Call a friend to go airport hopping: See how many airports you can land at within a designated time frame.
  • Dedicate some flights to fine-tuning your skills at short field takeoffs and landings, spot landings, dead stick landings, coordinated turns, or any other skill that by now you take for granted.
  • Turn off your GPS and get out your sectional. Go as far from your home strip as you want, and practice your pilotage.
  • Find someone who has flown further than you have and meet up with her to fly somewhere that is slightly out of your comfort range.

Right now I’m in the throes of preparing for my next adventure: flying my new Talon (a grandson of the Maxair Drifter) to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. Since I have only 100 hours in it, there’s a lot of practicing to do before I feel really ready to tackle the 4,000-mile round-trip. It’s almost guaranteed that we’ll find a lot of wind going through Wyoming, so I’ll be practicing my crosswind landings. I also need to practice off-field landings – the Talon is heavier than the Drifter and has longer takeoff and landing rolls. And although I use a GPS and try to follow roads, I need to brush up on my pilotage for those times when the GPS isn’t picking up satellites.

Thinking of flying over the Rockies in an E-LSA that weighs almost 500 pounds makes my stomach ache, yet there’s an eager anticipation as well. I’ll be flying over parts of the country that I’ve never seen before, meeting people I’ve never met before, and camping at places I’ve never been before. That may not be your cup of tea, but that doesn’t matter. Sweeten your tea to suit your taste, not mine. All that matters is that you find joy in your flying – regardless of how much, how far, or how long you fly!

Arty Trost has logged over 3,500 hours in her Maxair Drifter E-LSA. She has flown ultralights throughout the United States as well as overseas – South Korea, Israel, Italy, and Puerto Rico. In the spring of 2009 she flew her Drifter from Sandy, Oregon, to Lakeland, Florida, and back, a flight that covered 7,100 miles and took seven weeks. Read about the trip on her blog, Lessons From the Edge. She’ll be blogging nightly on her flight to EAA AirVenture this July. She loves connecting with other pilots; you can e-mail her at TheWanderingWench@yahoo.com. Watch this video about her story.

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