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Wischful Thinking

by Jay Wischkaemper

Addictions are expensive. Cigarettes. Booze. Cocaine. Airplanes. They all cost lots of money. Lest you question my lumping airplanes in with the other three evils, just ask any pilot’s non-flying spouse and you will find almost unanimous agreement that they all fall in the same category.

We don’t normally think of flying being an addiction, but I realized today that it should be. If it isn’t, you probably have no business participating.

Those of you who don’t own your own wings probably look longingly at those who do and think, "If I only had my own airplane, and it wasn’t costing me $80.00 an hour to fly a piece of junk, I’d fly a lot more." Rest assured it isn’t true. When you get the monthly bill for the hangar, insurance, and payment - not to mention the repair bills - you look at the check you’ve just written and ask yourself, "How can I afford the gas?" You get the feeling you’re spending so much owning an airplane you can’t afford to fly it. The reason flying needs to be an addiction is that money doesn’t get in the way of addictions. If you’re addicted, you do it.

It’s easy to talk yourself out of flying. I find myself flying when I need to, not when I want to. I love to fly, but when I think about going up to bore a hole in the sky just for fun, I think about the dollar a minute in direct operating cost and think, "Surely I’m going to need to go somewhere soon where flying the plane will be justified." So I put it off until then, and weeks and months go by without logging a single minute while I’m waiting for a situation where I need to use the plane. I think what I need here is an addiction.

The excuse to go fly came today. My brother had asked me a few days ago if I could run his wife to Odessa to a birthday party for their nephew. I explained to him that I would love to, but I would need to get current. I hate to admit it, but over three months had gone by since I had flown. I had been out of town about half the summer. Several road trips had been taken where the airplane wasn’t practical. I had stops to make in every two-bit hamlet in the state. I found myself in that unenviable situation of having to learn by myself how rusty I had gotten.

On Friday, I learned the flight was off, or at least it appeared to be. Philip and Lois travel a great deal on a certain orange colored airline, and have more free tickets than they know what to do with, so Lois had decided to use one of those to get to Odessa. Dumb! Fly 600 miles and change planes once to make a 108 nautical mile trip! Spend 3 hours making a trip that could have been done in 45 minutes! Use a ticket that could have taken you halfway across the country and back to go one way to a birthday party for a 5-year-old! But I didn’t question it. It was her ticket and her decision.

About 1:30 on Saturday afternoon, my phone rang. "Would you still be available to take Lois to Odessa?" Philip asked. "I thought she went on the airline," I said. "The flight from Dallas to Odessa was cancelled. She’s on her way back to Lubbock," he replied. "Score!" I thought, "That’ll teach her." I was going to go flying.

First, I had to get legal. On the occasions when this happens, I always ask myself why I don’t at least go out and do a few landings regularly to keep it from happening. Asking why didn’t change the facts. Me and that airplane had to go make three landings.

I’m always a little more cautious at times like this. I understand that rust develops on the skills. "Take your time," I said to myself. "Think through it. It’ll all come back." I’m especially nervous on the pre-flight for some reason, but once in the seat and cranked up, the confidence begins to return. Take a little extra time on the run up. Cleared for takeoff. As I break ground the first time, I realize that if the yoke were someone’s neck, they would be strangled. Flying doesn’t feel as natural as it should. I feel like I did on my first solo. Wheels down for the first landing. A little high on the approach, but in a Bellanca, you’ve never too high. It will drop like a rock. Decent touchdown, especially since I haven’t done it in over 3 months. Lots of runway ahead. Take your time. Trim it up. Shove the prop lever in. Power is gently applied. I lift off, but something is wrong. I’m not climbing like I should. Power is right. Everything is normal. Then, about 20 seconds later, I discover the problem. The flaps are still down. Stupid. It takes a while to get to landing number two. Three airliners and an air ambulance are in front of me. I get to do two 360s on downwind waiting to fit in. Finally, the tower slips me between the air ambulance and the 737. "Make short approach, and be prepared to go around" were the instructions. A 757 had landed first, so I needed to be high. The air ambulance didn’t make the first turnoff, and just as my wheels touched, I was told to go around. Well, nobody said how brief the touch had to be. Count it. Landing number three was passable. It was all coming back.

The airliner arrived with Lois, and we all boarded the plane. Clouds at 9000 on a 108-mile trip with the temperature at 95 means one thing - a miserable ride. It was. I dropped them off without shutting down, having no desire to start a hot Continental IO520, and took off for the return. The afternoon had started to cool, and the bumps coming back weren’t as bad. Seeing Lamesa in the distance, I decided to take the scenic tour. I flew over the town to parallel the highway home so I could look down at the poor, pathetic, ground bound souls who were totally oblivious to the revelry taking place a few thousand feet above them. People plodding along in their limited little two-dimensional existence while I relished my freedom. People viewing the cotton fields while I viewed the panorama of the world. People wondering when they would get to Lubbock, when I could already see it. I had a grin on my face as big as a wave on a slop bucket. The highway stretched in front of me, and the GPS read 20 minutes for a distance that driving would take an hour. Switching to approach, the instructions were a left base to 26. A little later, the wind was quoted as 030 at 4. "Any chance I might get a straight in to 35?" I asked. "No problem. Straight in to 35. You’re cleared to land," 30 miles out. Straight in to 35 took me over the fairgrounds where people were enjoying themselves at the fair, but they weren’t having nearly as much as the person 2000 feet overhead. The air by now was silky smooth. The approach was perfect. The plane felt like it was on rails. The landing was superb. What a pity there was no one but me to appreciate it.

As I sat in front of the hangar listening to the sound of the gyros winding down, I realized again why I love to fly, and I thought to myself, "I could get addicted to this."

Texas native Jay Wischkaemper is a successful MassMutual life insurance agent based in Lubbock, Texas. He is a long-time partner in a Bellanca Super Viking, which he uses for both business and pleasure. Jay is a Texas Tech alumni, where he earned a degree in public address and group communication.
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