Series Begins Monday, May 12
by ANN Managing Editor Rob Finfrock
"Coming Next Week -- Emergency Procedures, And Dealing With
Strong Winds." Those words, written in March 2007, were
the last I posted on the pages of ANN, until now, regarding my
efforts to earn my sport pilot license. As regular readers might
recall, I had just soloed an Evektor Sportstar at Grand Prairie
Municipal (GPM) and was looking forward to moving on to my dual and
solo cross country flights, taking the written exam... and finally,
Alas, things didn't work out as intended... certainly not the
first time that's happened in my life, but still a bummer. First of
all, I knew I was coming up against a hard deadline for my training
to be completed -- I planned to move back to New Mexico in July.
That wasn't much of a concern in March, however... I still had
plenty of time!
As the weeks went on, however, time became increasingly
compressed. The Evektor suffered a landing mishap in early April
(with another student at the controls) which resulted in a scraped
wing that put the plane out of service for three weeks. I was able
to take the SportStar up solo a couple times after that,
complete with its new, freshly-painted aileron... but that was it.
In late June, 'my little SportStar' departed the side of the
runway on takeoff, went into a ditch and wound up battered on the
taxiway... fortunately resulting in no injuries to the pilot and
his female passenger, but pretty much scrapping the plane in the
I couldn't blame the fact I still didn't have a license on bad
luck, though. Truth is, I could have accomplished a lot more than I
did in the time I had. There were many mornings I'd look at the
sky, and think "hmm, that ceiling looks a little low for
touch-and-goes, only 600 feet above pattern altitude" or I'd call
the AWOS at Grand Prairie and note "uh oh, there's a pretty stiff
crosswind, 10 knots" -- and I'd decide to stay at home, instead of
making the 45-minute drive to GPM.
Go ahead and say it; I have. Wimp! Groundhog!
In some cases, of course, the decision not to fly was a
no-brainer: Spring 2007 was a particularly windy one in Dallas, and
a stormy one as well. But I also shied away from the
less-than-optimal -- but still entirely flyable -- conditions that
might have challenged me, and forced me to learn new things. And if
I kept doing that, I'd never be a pilot.
In fact, soon after I moved back to Albuquerque, I started to
question whether I had the wherewithal to continue with my
training. Maybe the universe was trying to tell me something, six
years since I first thought of becoming a licensed pilot.
Fast forward to this past January, at Sebring. Several people at
the show asked me if I'd ever completed my sport pilot training;
most nodded in understanding when I explained why I hadn't.
One of those people also had an intriguing idea. "You know,
we're going to have a plane in Florida a few weeks before Sun 'N
Fun," said Dave Graham, vice president of Gobosh Aviation. "Maybe
we could free up some time for you to finally get your
THAT definitely raised my eyebrows... and over the next couple
months, plans were finalized. Gobosh was even able to find an
instructor who agreed to take on the challenge of seeing a student
-- with some 65 hours in his logbook, in five different plane types
and with four different instructors, but not a solo cross-country
flight or written exam in the bunch -- through to his
"You've got the desire and the skill, now we just need to get
you the rest of the way. And we will," reassured my CFI, Jim Crone,
in a phone call the Friday before I headed out to Florida.
Over the next two-and-a-half weeks, I think I learned more about
the nuances of flying -- and how to do it right -- than I ever had
before. Here are a few of the things I learned:
- There's a reason John and Martha King are so highly regarded in
the industry for their training acumen;
- I LOVE grass runways! And crosswinds aren't that scary, after
- There are many planes -- even some LSA -- that will let you get
away with sloppy rudder use. The Gobosh 700S is most emphatically
NOT one of them, and I am absolutely convinced that's how a trainer
- I'm less sold on free-castering nosewheels, and non-vernier
throttles on Rotax-powered aircraft;
- Most birds will try to fly away from your aircraft, if they see
it in time... but Florida buzzards apparently think "hey, there's
- There's nothing like flying to an airport you've never been to,
alone; slotting into the pattern with six other planes; and
performing a perfect landing, right on the numbers;
- Seeing the Atlantic Ocean from 2,500 feet after taking off from
that same airport runs a very close second, however;
- Returning from your solo cross-country, only to find your
instructor has already gone to lunch without you, is a fantastic
affirmation... even when you're hungry, and a little miffed he took
- And while I still believe the three sweetest words in the
English language are "I love you," there are three others almost as
wonderful, especially when spoken by a somewhat gruff
"You're a pilot."
One month later, I can't believe it. Starting Monday, I'll
tell you how I finally got there.