The Cessna 172 that I flew in.

The Cessna 172 that I flew in.

On Labor Day weekend, I had my first visit into the world of general aviation. A friend of mine, Joe from Flying for Smiles, was in town for the weekend and we agreed to meet up for lunch. He had a fantastic idea. He suggested that we meet up at the Orlando Executive airport and fly to Ocala to have lunch at an aviation-theme restaurant. This was quite exciting for me. I’ve driven by that airport for years and had never taken a flight from there, so that was cool. I was also looking forward to seeing how things work from the cockpit.

Fortunately when the day arrived, the infamous Florida afternoon thunderstorms didn’t appear and we were able to go flying. Sitting up front I noticed all sorts of little things, like how little pressure it takes to fly a plane. It’s not like driving a car where turning the wheel 90 or 180 degrees is normal. My friend for the most part used only slight turns to get the plane going where he wanted it to go. Another thing was how little runway the plane needed to get off the ground. In the time that much larger planes take to accelerate, we were off and flying in just a few hundred feet. The same goes for landing. Sure, big jet planes can go farther and faster, but since smaller planes need a lot less runway, there are many more places they can land at.

One of my favorite parts about flying in passenger jets is during takeoff and landing where the plane is close enough to the ground that I can make out a lot of details on the ground. Since we were cruising around 2,000 most of the time, I got to literally enjoy a bird’s eye view (since there were birds flying at our level) of Central Florida the whole way.

One thing that fascinated me was listening to all the radio chatter. I’ve listened to air traffic control feeds before through websites like Live ATC. But actually being part of that traffic and seeing other planes making calls brought the whole system to life for me.

Inside the cockpit

Inside the cockpit

Once we got to Ocala, it turned out the restaurant we wanted to go to was closing just as we walked into the door. That turned out to be the theme of the day as it seemed that every place between Orlando and Ocala had closed for the holiday weekend. But half the fun of travelling is the journey itself, so it wasn’t a big deal that places were closed (we ended up eating lunch not far from Orlando Exec instead).  The whole experience was quite enjoyable and sitting up in the front has given me a new perspective into how aviation works. It was also fun way to spend time with a new friend and to get to know him better.

It’s one of my goals to fly a plane at some point, and I’ve started doing a lot of reading and research into the topic. The biggest challenge at this point is the cost of training (somewhere in the ballpark of $8,000-11,000 to get a private pilot license), which is a problem for many potential pilots. But it’s certainly not an insurmountable obstacle. I’m already brainstorming ideas around it. I hope the day will come soon where I can stop staring at the sky all the time and be a part of it instead.

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