Flying for Fun


That's the ultimate standard for success, right? Take something that you enjoy, then find a way to get paid for it. So far, I think I'm doing pretty well. Next month I fly down to Bend, Oregon to spend a week at the Cessna (née Columbia) factory. We're taking delivery of a brand-new Cessna 400, and I'm going to pick it up with the owner after sitting in on the FITS course.

In a nutshell, the Cessna 400 is a certified, production version of the Lancair IV kitplane that uses Garmin's G1000 cockpit and GFC700 autopilot. It's got fixed landing gear, unlike the retractable Lancair IV, yet the 310 horsepower twin-turbocharged engine still pushes it to a cruise speed of 235 knots (270 mph, or 435 km/h) at 25,000 feet. The only faster piston single out there is the Mooney M20TN Acclaim, by 2 knots, but it's entirely possible to forget to lower the landing gear. With turbochargers, high speeds, and an internal oxygen system, it's unlike anything we currently rent; before our insurance will cover renters, they will need to receive 15 hours or more of flight training.

Anyway, I digress. I've gotten myself and my job in a spot, for now, that I'm quite happy with. I'm keeping busy with instrument students and local flights in the Grumman, both of which are extremely fun, and I'm really looking forward to the Cessna 400 training. Not only do I get to spend a week learning the systems and how it flies, I'll also be spending quite a bit of time helping renters meet their 15-hour training requirements. I'm also trying to wrap up my MEI rating, but it's not really something I'm driven to do. Everything else is fun, or exciting, or challenging, but right now learning to instruct in a light twin is more a chore than anything else. I'd much rather be taking trips in the flight levels.

This train of thought started with a recent article at John Ewing's excellent Aviation Mentor on the topic of the shrinking pilot population in America. I think part of the problem is that for the most part flying just doesn't seem fun anymore. Getting a private pilot certificate is an intense, exhausting task. The airplanes we fly, Cessna 152s and 172s, are decent enough trainers but are completely uninteresting and do little to inspire passion in their pilots. Would you rather race a Ford Contour, or a Mazda Miata?

An Evektor Sportstar Light Sport aircraft were supposed to be a huge step in the right direction for general aviation. The aircraft, like Evektor's Sportstar on the right, certainly look like a lot of fun to fly. Yet the acquisition costs are high, and FBOs willing or able to rent aircraft to Light Sport pilots are far and few between, often due to insurance that requires pilots to hold a current FAA-issued medical before flying solo. If we could get students into aircraft that are inexpensive, docile trainers and, most importantly, fun to fly, general aviation and the pilot population as a whole could get a very positive boost.

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