I recently visited my hometown of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. I haven’t been back nearly enough. Some things haven’t changed. Other things have changed a lot. I got to spend time with a few people who were deeply influential to me while growing up. I took Lauren to see some of my childhood homes, and we saw a Lyle Lovett show at the Virginia Theater. Incidentally, we ran into Lovett at the Austin Airport while leaving for Champaign. He spoke with us for a few moments and seemed as stunned as we were that we were all on our way to the same show. Everything you’ve ever heard about him is true.
I made a point to rent an airplane and go flying. Urbana’s Frasca Field is where my dad bought me a plane ride when I was nine or ten years old. It was a cosmic experience for me. I got checked out in a Cessna 172 at Central Illinois Aviation, and the next day took Lauren for an aerial tour of the area. We went out over endless miles of corn and soybean, then turned in and did an aerial tour of the campus and cities.
Later, we took in the University of Illinois homecoming game against Purdue. We walked through West Side Park on several evenings, and I caught myself missing this place.
This weekend I started training toward my instrument rating. My flight instructor is a great teacher and will be a good fit. After about an hour of ground instruction, we logged 1.8 hours in the flight simulator. We did basic attitude instrument flying in the clouds and shot an instrument approach through the rain.
It’s been a long, hot summer here in Austin. We’ve had more than 50 days of temperatures hitting 100 degrees or higher. As I’m not particularly fond of flying in excessive heat, I grounded myself for much of the summer. But today’s high of (only) 90+ degrees seemed like a good time to go flying and reset my currency in preparation for the upcoming cooler flying season.
After a methodical preflight, however, I did one final check of Foreflight radar just before starting the engine and was dismayed to see brand new thunderstorm cells popping up throughout the area. These new cells were tracking directly toward my planned route.
It would have been easy to go. It’s easy to feel pressured to make a go decision after so much time has been invested in the flight. I certainly felt that mental tug toward a poor decision today. I found myself trying to justify a go decision. Maybe I could beat the storms? Or I could route between them? Both were poor decisions, I concluded, and I started the humbling process of shutting down the airplane, packing my headset and sectional chart and securing the plane before driving home.
I’m grateful for the instructors over the years who stressed to me the importance of always being willing to walk away from a flight. One mental trick I use is to assume the flight will be a no-go all the way up to the completion of the Before Takeoff checklist. This way, both the airplane and the conditions need to convince me of their airworthiness. NTSB accident and incident reports are full of pilots who became too invested in their flight and continued on into poor weather or with unairworthy equipment. Mature pilots will resist that powerful temptation to fly when conditions or aircraft tell them to go home.
I’ve been flying more to build time and prepare for instrument training. This week we flew to Llano and met some guys who were waiting as a mechanic replaced a magneto on their Maule. We also met Larry Snyder of the Ercoupe Owners Club, who had flown in from Arkansas for lunch. After a stop in Fredericksburg, we headed back to Austin and encountered some moderate turbulence west of the city, resulting in a PIREP. Foreflight continues to be an amazing tool for managing flight plans and other details.
Like many pilots on vacation, I often find myself staring skyward and wishing I could stop at a local FBO and sign out an airplane. Doing so isn’t especially difficult, but it does requires a checkout and enough paperwork to make the endeavor more chore than adventure.
But thanks to OpenAirplane and its Universal Pilot Checkout concept, I can now easily rent from about 100 operators in more than 32 states using little more than my iPad.