Hundredth Hour: Buffalo Burger Redux

My brother and I are not two peas in a pod as pilots, or as people. We got into this at the same time and progressed equally smoothly, but we are quite different in temperament, and subtly different in the things we do well. Our parents think we are equally good pilots who have an agreement to always praise the other one. This could not be further from the truth. In our own way we are quite competitive, and it has really helped that we can talk about the parts of flying we do well and the parts we don’t. Since there is little overlap in our weak areas we make a good flying team.

I’m better at landing the airplane than Colin. I think this is a direct result of a large difference in our personalities. I love adventure and change and challenges and am apt to throw myself into them without thinking particularly hard about the consequences. I also am lacking the imagination needed to feel fear under most circumstances. This has led me to revel in trying out new airplanes. Given a choice between one I know and one I don’t, I will always opt for the unknown even if it seems inferior. That’s why at this point I have flown ten types of airplanes and fourteen tail numbers while Colin has flown six. I delight in getting up in a new plane and figuring out the glide angle that gives me the approach speed that makes for a smooth transition from flying to rolling.

Colin is better at flying than I am… better in two important ways. He is smoother at controlling the airplane, which comes from thinking further ahead of the plane than I do, and he is more aware of where he is relative to the ground, the destination and the launch point. The first ability is partly due to a far greater familiarity with the airplane. Colin has sixty-three flights in low wing Pipers and I have only forty The second talent is innate and has nothing to do with experience. I am easily lost and will never have any idea what the ground should look like at any point on the chart. That is something Colin is just better at. Colin, without an autopilot, can nail a heading and an altitude and hold them within twenty-five feet and five degrees for an hour. I can manage five minutes before my mind wanders.

All this is by way of explaining how I ended up in the right seat of 2902S, the Piper Archer, doing pattern work at Torrance. Colin wanted to get the landings in the Archer nailed before he headed up to Fresno with Nell and the boys for Thanksgiving. We did three touch-and-go’s and then headed out to Catalina for lunch. The landings ranged from good to excellent, though Colin is a harsher judge of the final BANG than I am. As we circled the airport it seemed right that I should be giving advice on how to stabilize the approach, how to catch the glide slope and when to start flaring. Since I never held the controls I had no feel for the ground effect, but other than that it seemed I was making appropriate comments.

The moment we left the pattern for our buffalo burger at the airport in the sky I should have been in the left seat. Colin got us up faster and smoother than I would have, made the appropriate turn so cleanly that, since I was looking for an airguide, I was shocked that we were pointed in the correct direction already. He then got on to SoCal approach for flight following. After the controller expressed some disbelief that our final altitude was twenty-five hundred feet she watched our blip all the way to Two Harbors. Colin did the flying part as though there was a working autopilot.

Colin took us off from Catalina and flew us to John Wayne. John Wayne is a seriously busy Class C airport. It is easily the most challenging airport traffic-wise in Southern California. We were number four behind a 757 and after being asked to do a three-sixty for spacing ended up doing a shot-bird short approach with full slip and chopped throttle. He put us right on the numbers and we landed with a perfectly acceptable thump. A quick taxi to Signature and I was waiting for a ride to work. The commuting possibilities seem pretty good. It was far shorter than the drive to work and a hell of a lot more fun.

As we fly around together there is no doubt we are getting to be better pilots. This flight was my one hundredth hour of flight time and I feel competent in low wind, clear sky conditions in the area we know well. I am adventurous enough to try to fly anywhere; the interesting thing is going to be seeing how often I tread too close to the edge in learning my limits. Colin, I suspect will not tread closely at all.

There is a Thursday airport hop planned. So far it is nine airports, then work, then a few more. Wheeee.

I really want an airplane.

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