Tag: flying


When I was six years old I imagined I wanted to be an astronomer. I was fascinated by the stars. I checked books on astronomy out of the library. But I didn’t really know what it meant to be an astronomer. I couldn’t see it, couldn’t see myself doing whatever it was astronomers do.

Much later, once I’d decided I wanted to be a writer, I can remember sending off stories to magazines like Analog and imagining what it would be like to have one of those stories accepted. It was clear in my mind how it would work. I could see receiving a letter from the editor telling me they wanted to buy my story. It was this vision that kept me writing during the first fourteen years I submitted stories. It was this vision that kept me sending out stories after collecting one rejection slip after another (many of them from Analog). Because I could see it, I knew that one day, I’d sell stories. I made my first sale in late 2006 to Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show.

A few years later, I made what so far was the first of four sales to Analog, the magazine that I dreamed of appearing in from the start. Two of those sales have been fiction, and much to my surprise, two were nonfiction, guest editorials for the magazines.

I’ve recently started writing fiction again, after a five-year bout of writer’s block. I have a new plan now, one that involves writing ten novels over the next ten years, all as practice so that when I retire from my day job at the end of that ten year period, I can try my hand at writing full-time. I’m beginning to see that first novel sale in my mind the way I saw that first short story sale. It’s not a strong vision yet, it’s still fuzzy around the edges, but I think it will clear up as I improve my craft.

This idea of being able to clearly visualize a goal has helped me beyond just my writing. Ever since I was a kid, I was fascinated by airplanes. I wanted to be a pilot. I even considered Embry-Riddle as a possible school when I was looking at colleges. I read The Student Pilot’s Flight Manual as a kid, and I used to sit around drawing Cessna control panels on days when I was bored. Later, when Microsoft Flight Simulator came out, I had a much more realistic way of feeding that particular curiosity.

Finally, in the summer of 1999, I began to take flying lessons at Van Nuys airport just north of Los Angeles. During that time I worked in Santa Monica and commuted home to Studio City each day, often stopping at the airport for a lesson. I remember clearly sitting in traffic on the 405 freeway, heading north, and imagining myself flying. I remember being particularly nervous at the thought of soloing. It’s one thing to have the vision, but something else entirely to find yourself in an airplane, a thousand feed above the ground and the only person who can get you back down is you. But I did solo, and on April 3, 2000, I passed my check ride and received my private pilot’s license.

Me standing outside the Cessna I flow for my check ride, holding my new pilot's license.

Vision helps me in small ways, too. When I am writing something, be it a story, or a blog post, if I can picture the result, and the result excites me, I know I have something good. If I can’t picture that result, I know that I need to go in a different direction. I wish I could easily give up and move in another direction in these situation, but I don’t always do it. And often, when I don’t have the vision, the story or post just doesn’t work.

When I think about the things I have achieved that seemed like day-dreams to me at the story: selling stories, flying planes, I realize that I have been pretty lucky. The ability to use visualization as a kind of barometer for success has been a useful tool for me along the way. I sometimes forget about it, but as I move forward into this new chapter, one in which I am trying to see myself as a full-time writer (albeit ten years hence), I am trying to see that future incarnation of myself more clearly every day.

The COVID Vaccine and the Check Ride

Me, after passing my check ride in 2000.

We are scheduled to get the first dose of our COVID vaccines this week. Kelly gets hers on Thursday and I get mine on Friday. I haven’t been stressing too much about it, knowing that I’d be getting it eventually. But some interesting mental gymnastics took place once I had an appointment scheduled: part of my brain felt relief; part felt a renewed vigilance, as if I needed to walk on egg-shells between now and Friday to be sure I don’t accidentally contract COVID. This seems extreme, since I’ve managed to go a year without doing so.

It reminded me of one other time I felt such extreme vigilance. This was on April 3, 2000, just before 5 pm Pacific Time.

I took my private pilot practical test (my check ride) on that that. After the oral exam, which was easy–my examiner mostly talked about screenplays he’d written, and my instructor taught me well not to volunteer information and answer only the question asked–we went for my check ride. This was a nearly 2 hour flight out of Van Nuys airport during which I was tested on just about everything: take offs, landings, diversions, unusual attitudes, steep turns, short and soft field takeoffs and landings. Finally, as we approached Van Nuys and I’d been cleared to land on the long 8,000 foot runway 16R, I was tested on emergency landing procedures. The examiner had me glide to a landing and then said, “Make sure you are off the runway at the first high-speed taxiway.”

I did all of this, and I knew once I was on the taxiway that I’d passed all of the tests. Because of the emergency simulation I couldn’t land long and the FBO that I flew out of was at the far end of the airport. This mean I had a mile or so of taxiing to do. This was when that vigilance kicked in. I was suddenly very aware that I had an entire mile of slow taxiing in which I could screw things up after performing so well on the practical flight. So I was very careful, I did everything by the book, and eventually brought the plane to a stop at the FBO, turned off the engine, and took a deep breath.

The examiner pointed off toward the building where his office was, “See that rubber tree,” he said, “I planted that tree back in 1955.” He paused and said, “Nice flying. I’ll write up your ticket. Meet me in the office after you get squared away here.” Not long after, I held a white piece of paper that certified I was a private pilot — single engine land aircraft.

I’m feeling that same sort of vigilance now. And it occurred to me that on Friday, after I get my first injection, I will come home with a similar piece of white paper, this once indicating that I have received the first of two doses of my COVID vaccine.

I think I liked the pilot’s license better.

My favorite airport

I just finished reading Skyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker, a wonderful book about air travel written by a 747 pilot. I came to this book via Our Towns by James and Deborah Fallows, which I read back in February. Reading books like these often make me wish I’d stuck with flying. Twenty years and a month after getting my private pilot’s license, who knows what adventures might have been tucked into the lines of my logbook?

Approaching London over the Channel in 2007.

Skyfaring had me thinking of airports, desolate places in our current time, and not my favorite places in the world in general. When I was flying, I never minded airports, and indeed, enjoyed flying into smaller airports with pilot’s lounges and the satisfaction of knowing I could grab a burger while the plane was fueled and didn’t have to pass through security on my way back out to the plane (this was in the days before 9/11, of course).

It’s easy for me to list the airports I dislike the most, LAX being at the top of the list. I flew into LAX five or six times last year and always planned my arrivals and departures to be as early in the morning as possible in order to avoid the crowds and the rush of traffic into and out of the airport. On my last trip through LAX, they’d moved the Uber pickup to distant location and things seemed rather chaotic. I wasn’t looking forward to heading back there.

I don’t mind Washington-Dulles that much. It’s pretty easy to get into and get out of. I find it odd that the underground tram system that have takes you far past the D and C gates so that you spend more time walking back toward the gates than you do on the tram itself, but I like to pretend there is a good reason for this.

I’ve always had a fondness for Van Nuys airport, and for Camarillo airport. Van Nuys was my home base back when I flew, and I often flew out to Camaillo and its luxuriously long runway. (Van Nuys has and 8,000 foot runway and a 3,000 foot runway and I can count on two hands the number of times I was able to land on the long runway.)

Some airports seems too big–Atlanta and Denver come to mind. WhenI fly somewhere, I’ve been on a plane for a while, and want to be out and on my way to my destination. I the quicker I can get from the plane and off the airport property the better. Airports that make you take shuttles and trams from one part to another slow this down and annoy me, although I’m less annoyed if I can pick up train into town directly from the airport. (I know you can do this in Denver now, but the last time I flew in there, the train was closed for some reason.)

In all of the airports I’ve flown into, both as passenger and pilot, there is one that stands out in my mind as my absolute favorite: LIH, also known as Lihue Airport on the southeastern short of the island of Kaua’i in Hawai’i. I’ve flown in and out of this airport twice. My most recent trip to this airport was in 2005, right about the time this blog got its start. But my memory of that airport has stayed with me, and I judge all other airports by it to this day.

At the time Lihue was a fairly small airport. The long runway was 6,000 feet. Much of the airport was open or outdoors, which was new for me. The single best experience I’ve ever had in an airport took place in Lihue at the end of my last trip there. My friends who I’d vacationed with had left earlier in the day. I had a red-eye to LAX and then a connecting flight to Washington Dulles–a long flight. The day before, I’d picked up a couple books in a local bookstore. One of them was Alan Alda’s Never Have Your Dog Stuffed. I got to the airport fairly early for my 10 pm flight. The United counter hadn’t opened yet. Once it did, I checked in, and then headed to the gate to make sure I knew where it was. From there, I went to the bar for one final Mai Tai.

There was an area outside the bar and some other shops that was a kind of open air sitting area. Almost no one was around. The sky was the kind of blue I’ve only ever seen in Hawai’i, and the trade winds were blowing. The air smelled amazing, and the silence was interrupted only occasionally by the rumble of jet engines. It was still something like 2 hours before my flight. It was still sunny. I found a bench, sat down, and began reading Alan Alda’s book. I was lost in words and in the feeling of the trade winds. I think if my flight had been delayed or canceled, I wouldn’t have minded in the least. I could have sat in that spot all night and been happy. It was one of the more peaceful moments I can remember, and certainly the most peaceful, relaxing time I’ve ever had in an airport.

That’s why Lihue Airport remains my favorite airport. I haven’t been back there in 15 years and I imagine it has changed some. But I’ll always remember it as it was on that day.

Flying high twelve years ago today

On April 3, 2000, I took the day off of work. It was a week past my 28th birthday and I had an appointment on my calendar to keep. I’d been working pretty hard for the previous nine months on something that I wanted to do for as long as I could remember. And on that day a dozen years ago, I finally got my shot: I climbed into a Cessna 172 with an FAA examiner and took my “practical” test to get my private pilot’s license. I’d already taken and passed the written test. The first part of the day on April 3 was the oral examination. That seemed to go pretty well. I followed my instructor’s advice: let the examiner do most of the talking and never volunteer information. Turns out, my examiner wanted to talk a great deal about the screenplay he’d written so I just let him go. Eventually, he asked me some questions and I think I answered most of them well. Well enough, anyway, for him to tell me to get the airplane ready for flight.

Next was the practical test. The practical is where you go up in the plane with the instructor and demonstrate a laundry list of skills. Of all the things I had to demonstrate, there was only one that I was concerned about: the short field landing. A short field landing is one in which you have to be able to land the plane on a short runway. To “test” this, you usually have to aim for a marker on the runway and touch down right on that marker. As part of the test, I was diverted from one airport to another–Oxnard airport, which happens to be just across the street from my parent’s house. Approaching Oxnard, I called the tower:

“Oxnard this is Seven-Three-Echo inbound for touch and go’s.”

I was cleared for the touch and go’s but the examiner immediately jumped in: “Who said to do a touch and go? I want you to do a full stop and taxi-back.” (It’s the examiner’s job to try to rattle the student.) I called the tower back and amended my request. I landed and as soon as the wheels touched the ground and I pulled off the runway, the examiner said, “Okay, good, that was your short field landing.” After that I was immensely relieved. I did a short field takeoff from Oxnard and then we flew out over Thousand Oaks and did some other maneuvers, including steep turns, and some time under the hood (to practice low visibility conditions). Finally, we headed back to Van Nuys airport. I was flying north in the downwind pattern for the long runway, 16R and was cleared to land. As we came abeam the touchdown point, the examiner said, “Okay, you just lost your engine. Glide in the plane and I want you to be off the runway at the first taxiway.”

I made a nice gliding u-turn and brought the plane down on 16R and eased her off at the first taxiway. At that point, I felt I had the test in the bag, all I had to do was taxi back to parking. Of course, I had to taxi the whole length of the airport, but I did it. When we pulled into the parking area, the examiner was telling me about a rubber tree he’d planted 40 years ago or so. When the plane came to a stop, he said, “Get the plane tied down and meet me inside. I’ll go make out your temporary certificate. Congratulations. That was some nice flying you did.”

And I was officially an FAA licensed private pilot.

I still carry my pilot license in my wallet despite the fact that I haven’t flown in ten years. I just can’t bear to let go of it. I worked hard for it. I passed all my tests on the first try. It was a big achievement for me. I can hardly believe it has been twelve years.

So long, AOPA

After being a member of Airplane Owner and Pilot’s Association for more than 12 years, today I finally got around to canceling my membership. I first joined AOPA when I started seriously considering taking flying lessons in the early summer of 1999. Of course, I began my lessons later that summer and got my license on April 3, 2000. I flew on and off until 9/11 after which flying became more complicated and I couldn’t fly frequently enough to stay current. I maintained my membership over the next decade because AOPA is a good¬†organization, but also because I worked hard to get my pilot’s license, and being a member of AOPA was a reminder of what I had achieved.

But the truth is, I almost never use its services any more. They produce a great magazine that I receive monthly and end up tossing almost right away because I have no time to read it. (The last few months, I’ve been giving the magazine to the Little Man because he likes the pictures of the airplanes.) So I called them this morning, expecting the customer service¬†representative to talk my out of my cancellation. In truth, the conversation went much like this:

Customer service: How can we help you today?

Me: I’d like to cancel my membership as of my next renewal.

CS: Okay, are you no longer flying?

Me: Not for ten years now.

CS: I understand. I’ve taking you off automatic renewals and your membership will end at the end of July.

Me: Great, thank you.

CS: Have a nice day.

It’s bittersweet, of course. I was (and am) very proud of the fact that I became a pilot. But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.

More overdramatized news: the sleeping air traffic controller

If you haven’t heard, last night, the sole controller at Reagan National airport was apparently asleep while two planes tried to land. As bad as that sounds, the local news here is way overdramatizing the danger to the airplanes and passengers, in my opinion. They are interviewing people at the airport who are saying they are now afraid to fly into airports for fear of no one being around in the control tower. So, as a former (private) pilot, let me make a few clarifications so that you can understand why this overdramatic reporting is annoying me:

  1. Most airports in the U.S. are either uncontrolled (meaning they don’t have a control tower) or their towers operate only part time. The point here being that planes lands safely without a control tower every day.
  2. All pilots are trained in procedures for airports without a control tower, or when the tower is closed. Typically, this means tuning the radio to the tower frequency and reporting your speed, altitude and position to other aircraft in the area, while they do the same.

On my first solo flight to another airport, I left an airport with control tower and flew to an airport without a control tower. I was testing on these procedures during a written exam, oral exam, and practical test. It is not any more dangerous than flying into an uncontrolled airport. When the tower cannot be contacted it essentially is an uncontrolled airport.

There is one exception that I can think of: at busy, major airports, it might be hard to tell from the air whether there are crews on the ground who might be working on the runway. This is the pilot’s call, and if the pilot is not comfortable landing, he or she should not land, and ask ATC for a diversion to another local airport.

That a controller fell asleep is a separate issue and that certainly needs to be dealt with. Many controllers are overworked and many airports are underfunded so that something like this was bound to happen, I supposed.

The local news makes it seem like the people on the two planes that landed (and a third plane that diverted) were in some kind of danger. I don’t believe this to be the case at all. Traffic was at a minimum, two pilots deemed it safe to land, and a third decided he wasn’t sure and diverted. This is standard operating procedure that all pilots train for.

Why the heck can’t the news report that?

Safe landing

Pretty incredible landing yesterday by the US Airways pilot after the bird strike.  It was great to see everyone get off the plane safely with only minor injuries.  I’m not sure the media is getting across just how great a job the pilot, Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III, did in getting the plane down and getting his passengers out safely.  As a private pilot myself, I know the kind of training you go through for emergencies.  Private pilots flying small planes are trained to always have an emergency landing spot in mind.  If you are ever flying with a private pilot, at any time during the flight if you asked where they’d put the plane down in an emergency, they’d be able to tell you.

But it’s more than that.  There’s something called aeronautical decision-making (often abbreviated ADM) that pilots are trained in.  This is essentially making fast decisions with the information at hand, and committing to those decisions.  Often times, accidents happen because pilots don’t decide fast enough, or don’t commit to their decisions.  Yesterday, we saw a pilot make an instant decision and commit to it.  The result was a safe ditching of the aircraft, followed by the safe debarking of everyone off the plane.

And give credit to the ferries and other watercraft that sped to the rescue of the passengers as well.

This is an example of equipment working correctly, crew working correctly, passengers doing the right thing, and rescuers making a quick response and I don’t doubt that it will be taken as a text book model of executing an emergency water landing in the future.  Simply a magnificent job by everyone.

William Kershner

I was sad to learn this morning that William Kershner died a few days ago. For those who don’t know, Kershner was a life-long pilot and flight instructor and is famous within aviation circles. When I was 8 or 9 years old, my dad was taking ground school and as part of that ground school, he had a text book called, A Student Pilot’s Flight Manual. The book was by William Kershner. Even at 8 or 9, I devoured that book, and I had it virtually memorized. I recall taking a practice written test in the back of the book and doing execeedingly well for a 9-year old. It was my first introduction to the fact that anyone who wanted to could learn to fly an airplane. Nearly 20 years later, I got my pilot’s license, and though I had other text books to work from, I would still pull out my old, tattered Student Pilot’s Flight Manual every now and then and study from that.


I got my pilot’s license at Van Nuys airport back on April 3, 2000. If you like flying, have ever thought about getting a license, or just like really good film-making, you should check out this new DVD:


One-six right refers to the long runway (8,001 feet) at Van Nuys airport–the runway from which I made most of my takeoffs (most of my landings were on the shorter 16L). The video looks awesome and I’m ordering a copy today. Thanks to kevnyc for pointing it out to me. (kevnyc was one of the first people to fly with me after I got my license.) Check out the scenes from the video that they have on the web site.

Watching and listening to the “look ma, no hands” video, about the first time you fly solo as a student, brought back a lot of memories and emotions I had on the day that I did my first solo flight in September 1999.

Read about my first solo flight


One last thing before going to bed. I would be remiss in my reputation as a perveyor of date-related facts, if I didn’t point out that 7 years ago today, September 21, 1999 I did my first solo flight ever–in a Cessna 152:

[From my diary, 9/21/1999]: Solo! I did it. I flew a plane by myself (while Pete [my instructor] sat on a bench and watched) and did a total of 5 takeoffs and landings. It was absolutely incredible. I have been waiting for this ever since I was a little boy and it was well worth the wait. I’m elated. It still hasn’t hit me.

I still have my “shirt tail” from that day, a tradition committed against student pilots who complete their first solo flight whereby the instructor rips off your shirt tail and decorates it to commemorate the flight.

Unreasonable Me

Yesterday, I ranted about the lack of reason and critical thinking, and among other things, how it leads to supremely idiotic email. I don’t want to give the impression that I am a perfectly rational being myself, that I am some kind of R. Daneel or Spock. So I thought I’d list a few of my idiotic irrationalities.

The one at the top of the list is my irrational disdain and hatred of political flyers placed on my car. (The hatred comes into play when you don’t notice the infernal things until you are buckled in and they are placed in such away that it is impossible to reach around them and pull them off the windshield without getting out of the car!) I don’t know the rationale behind these flyers. To they really earn votes this way? If everyone thought like me, they wouldn’t! When I got to my car this evening, I had not one but two of these flyers on my window.

The first one was SIMMS for Attorney General and the second one was for Peter Franchot, who has the original tag line: New vision. New leadership. Our values. Something we’ve never heard before from a politician!

This reminds me of how operating system software is marketed: Faster. More efficient. Powerful. All it means is that the previous version sucked and in this “new” version, they are trying to fix all of the things that worked in the original version.

So why is my disdain and hatred for these flyers irrational? Simple: I would never consider voting for someone or something for which one of these flyers was stuck on my car. Yes, it’s insane! It makes no sense at all! And it’s me! If a flyer was placed on my car telling me to vote against Proposition Armageddon, and that my vote alone would prevent the destruction of all life on Earth, I don’t believe I’d be able to overcome by passionate and fearfully irrational hatred of these flyers. I’d rather let the world destroy itself. At least then there would be a guarantee of no more flyers.

Maybe I’m not being clear on how irrational I am about this. If God Himself placed a flyer on my car, asking for my vote, I’d refuse.

Incidentally, when I got home from work, I had five of these flyers in my mail: Flo Hendershot for Country Council; Vote No on Doug Gansler; Elect Eric Olson; a second VOTE VOTE VOTE for Flo Hendershot; and Rushern Baker, for whom I could not determine what his campaign was about.

Today, I believe I am superstition free. It took a while to get here. In fact, I got rid of my longest standing superstition about 2 years ago. I have no fear of flying (I was a pilot for crying out loud!) I also have no fear of crashing. Airplane incidents are few and far between, and the training you go through to cope with airplane problems is far, far more substantial than what you go through to get a drivers license. But whenever I got on a commercial flight, I always read the the Safety Information Cards and followed along with the video, even though I knew the whole thing by heart. Doing this, I told myself, meant that nothing bad would happen on the flight. Is that not nuts!

About 2 years ago, when I was flying with increasing frequency, I finally told myself that I was being ridiculous. I make fun of superstitions left and right and am a vocal proponent of reason. And yet, here I was thinking that my reading the safety card would keep me physically safe. It took some effort, after all, what if I didn’t read the card and there was a problem. Coincidence! I told myself. No necessary connection! Finally, I got on a plane one day when I was particularly tired and I said to myself, screw it. I put my on my iPod headphones, blasted the music and went to sleep. I woke up 2 hours into the flight. It was a perfectly average flight. I’ve flown 2 or 3 dozen times since then and I never read the information cards (unless its on a plane that I am unfamiliar with, in which case it makes sense, if only to know what to do in an emergency.)

I stopped believing in ghosts, flying saucers, alien abductions, ESP, astrology and all other forms on nonsense sometime between 6th and 7th grade. I tend to get annoyed when friends and family members mention silly superstitions of their own, but I usually keep it to myself. Does it hurt me that they believe that nonsense? Still, as you can see, I have some irrationalities of my own. I hope that I am working my way through them by recognizing them as irrationalities, even though I still retain them. Maybe one day, I will be free of all of this silliness, but I don’t know. Some of it, like the bit about the flyers, is deeply ingrained in my personality.

And so when I occasionally mutter my mantra: “Against stupidity, the gods themselves content in vain,” you can be sure that from time to time, I am talking about myself.