When I bought my first new car in 1995, the dealership sent sparkling balloons to my door the next day. When my wife and I moved into our house, we celebrated with champagne. But when we closed our plane just over a week ago, the experience was so exciting that I wanted to spray the champagne like Formula 1 drivers do on the podium.
But there was work to be done. I had to arrange for the new 1992 Commander 114B to be transported from its longtime home in Lincoln Park, New Jersey (N07) to our hangar at Sussex Airport (KFWN), some 20 nautical miles north.
While I might have dreamed of flying there myself on the day of the closure, the weather forecast was better the next day and it seemed wiser to take my flight instructor with me for the repositioning flight, just to be safe. Also, the insurance insisted. In fact, as part of my insurance policy, I am required to dual fly for three hours before flying solo in the Commander. I also need a total of 15 hours before carrying passengers.
So yesterday I went to New Hampshire to pick up our son from college instead of taking him home for the Thanksgiving break on the new plane. There was no reasonable way to fit all those hours required over the last few gusty days. I also know that I should think more about competence than hours. And on that front, I’m not sure I’ll be comfortable enough to let go of my instructor any time soon.
It has been several months since I flew a complex aircraft on a regular basis and I have to admit I’m rusty. The Commander’s checklist is longer than that of the Cessna 172, and having flown the latter more recently I’ve grown accustomed to its less demanding cockpit. Combine that with the nervous, distracted feeling of being soared in a plane I actually own, and suddenly I need a reminder to pull up the landing gear after takeoff.
My first flight as owner of the Commander felt surprisingly like my early days as a green student. The most basic tasks and maneuvers proved challenging. Even my radio voice failed me as I announced our long-awaited departure from Lincoln Park.
“Commander Seven Mike Alpha, runway one nine, straight ahead, Sussex – Correction, Lincoln Park,” I stammered in an octave reminiscent of my seventh grade self. I usually channel Gregory Peck in twelve o’clock high, but it just wasn’t in me that day. The launch itself was less than impressive as I eagerly took off a bit early and had to pick up speed in ground effect before exiting – essentially an unnecessary soft field simulation.
The former owner recorded the maneuver and later texted me the clip with the comment “I think you shot early”. So true.
Eventually I collected myself and enjoyed the flight to Sussex, including a nice approach and landing, and the triumph of finally being able to stow the plane in our months empty hangar. Best of all, a group of my pilot friends were there to celebrate, which made me feel like I’d crossed a visual line to become a full member of the airport community. They even gave out cigars. Tears of joy flowed.