Perhaps the headline should more correctly read, “About Me,” because I’m the head-chef and bottle washer here at Plane Tales. But no (sane) man lives alone and I can’t separate myself from my family, so trust me, there’s plenty of “us” around here.
Still, I’m breaking from tradition and hogging the “About Us” page of this website and using it as a resume of sorts.
Me: Commercial Pilot. Ground Instructor. I’ve flown 22 different types of airplanes. Oh, and a helicopter once, too, just for the hell of it. I have a degree in Aviation, and with that and a couple of bucks I can get a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Yes, I’ve never once, that I can recall, made a single penny flying.
Instead, I make my living at my other great love in life: Writing. I started off as a journalist back in the pre-cellphone days of smoke-filled newsrooms, pounding away at a manual typewiter. Over the years, I think I’ve covered pretty much every subject under the sun. Oddly, however, it never occurred to me to combine my two passions of flying and writing. At least, not until recently. So how did that happen? Well, right on a year and a half ago, my life took a bizarre twist. And it all started with a question from a child. My child.
This is the story: My son, Rio, knew in a general sort of way that I “used to be” a pilot. Now, people have many sour words for the Federal Aviation Administration it seems, but one thing I always liked about how they were set up was the way in which pilot’s licenses were issued back in the day. A license never expired; once you were a pilot, you were ALWAYS a pilot. Of course you kept your “permission” to exercise that license by having a current medical and flying often enough, and a few other oddball rules. But still, I loved the fact that to the grave I would still be a pilot. It was an achievement that could never be taken away no matter how broke or busy I was.
And like many young pilots, I let my flight privileges lapse. Marriage, work, child, money, then still less money. Flying just didn’t… couldn’t… fit in for many years. But I was still a pilot in my heart, and I was proud of the achievements of my youth.
But then at some point, maybe at about nine years of age, my little guy was old enough to want to start building model kits. We built submarines, ships, trucks, cars, and finally… aeroplanes.
That’s what led to the question: Daddy, what’s it like to fly a plane?
Right then and there I decided that rather than describe to him what it was like, I would show him for himself. I wanted him to feel the heady rush of barreling down the runway; the elation the moment the heavy machine breaks all the rules of sanity and soars majestically into the sky; the explosion of joy and pride as your skill leads you above the ground, leaving mere mortals trapped behind.
But there were some problems.
I had not flown for a decade. I was now 50. And I had a health issue that, while not making it impossible to get a medical, made it stressful, expensive, and time consuming. But, we’ll do anything for our children, right?
Long story short, in the process of getting my rusty wings ready to fly again, I learned of a new category of plane and pilot that had been added while I wasn’t paying attention: the Light Sport Rule. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say, if you are a licensed pilot with a valid driver’s license, you can fly certain types of planes with no medical certificate. It seemed to me a simpler way to go for the type of local, low-and-slow flying I wanted to do with my kid. We didn’t need to go anywhere fast, we didn’t need a lot of cargo, or anything else. We just needed to break the bonds of gravity and party with the birds. And maybe fly to a neighboring airport for an overpriced lunch–the famous “$100 hamburger.”
I found a Light Sport school at a nearby airport and jumped through all the hoops necessary to get current again and was able to take my kid flying. And then I took my wife. And my then mother. We became a flying family.
But it didn’t stop there.
Because one day my wife went for an oil change and came home with a new car. It turns out we have awesome credit. The same week, the guy who owns the flight school I was renting from started talking about Legacy Light Sport airplanes.
These are old planes that just happen to fit the new definitions. He owned one Light Sport at the time, a very expensive all the bells-and-whistles modern light sport, and wished he could pick up one of these older plane to take the pressure off of the schedule. But he also had a wife, two kids, two mortgages, and the payment on the fancy airplane.
Well, one thing led to another and we struck a “lease back” deal and I was off airplane shopping. He had thought, and my research confirmed, that we should be able to score one of these old planes for about $20K, spend another $10K fixing it up, and we’d–quite literally–be in business.
It didn’t end up working out quite that way.
Maybe someday I’ll tell you the whole story. But the reader’s digest/Twitter version of it goes something like this: My serial entrepreneur 88-year-old mother, whose CD’s were only netting her about 1% interest, hijacked my little business venture. And thank God she did, because our $30,000 two-month adventure ballooned into a $70K year-long stress-fest that then fell flat on its fucking face.
In the end we had spent more than we could ever get back out, we were not able to go into business, and we had hardly flown “our” plane at all. It had spent most of its life with us undergoing a long and painful refurb that still gives me PTSD. For decades I had dreamed of owning an airplane, and when the dream came true it, was more of a nightmare.
Sell it for half of what you have in it, or keep a damn expensive “toy?”
Well, like a starved cat that shows up on your doorstep, sometimes things that come into your life and become part of the family are just that: Part of the family. We decided we could no more get rid of this plane than we could get rid of one of the cats (although there are days that I seriously think about it… Getting rid of the cats, that is. Not the plane. I’m not an idiot.)
Now, I’d spent most of the last decade writing about various issues surrounding healthcare. It has been both rewarding and profitable. And I have no plans to give that up. But it’s become… Well, not boring, exactly, but less exciting than it used to be. I woke up one morning and decided to turn my pen to the sky.
So here I am. I sent out queries and landed several assignments, so the new emphasis of my career is off the a good start. But I knew I needed a home base of sorts. Sort of a home airport for my writing. Plus, I’m having some great adventures that I really want to share with the world, not just with those who experience them with me.
I have some great tales to tell of amazing things that have happened in our plane, and I bet there will be many more Plane Tales in the years to come.
Come, fly with us.
I enjoyed watching the video of your Ercoupes test flight. Wondered if the gyro problem was vacuum regulator related or if you needed an additional Venturi?
I understand your frustration with having invested so much into bringing the airplane up to date. I’m facing much of the same cost / benefit considerations with my 172. You have a beautiful Ercoupe to enjoy and, if you think you spent too much on it, just imagine what it would cost to purchase a brand new one (if brand new was an option)! You are still ahead of the game.
I am a light sport pilot and need to have my bi-annual review done… problem is I can’t seem to find a plane and a pilot to give me the test… where were you training for your light sport? I live in Belen, NM about 100 or so miles to the west of you.
Just read your article about weight and balance in Flight Training. This excellent article has one flaw–bales of cotton do not “weigh almost nothing.” A bale of cotton weighs 500 lbs. Yes, it’s a trade standard. You would be better off putting the elephant in the tail!
Yep! You are so right. My bad, I was thinking sacks of cotton balls, but wasn’t clear in my word choice. FT Mag also received letters to the editor with the same complaint, but luckily they didn’t ground me! I guess this illustrates one other important point on weight and balance: You really need to weigh what you are trying to balance!
The New Mexico Pilot Association has been working with Santa Rosa based rancher to “re-do” a ranch strip along the Pecos between Santa Rosa and Sumner Lake. If you are not part of NMPA, you should be. If you are, then there needs to be a link to your blog from NMPA site.
R. McMinn, Lincoln, NM-Saint Billy country
Guilty as charged… I’m not a member of NMPA. I’ll get right on that. Thanks for your input and I hope the ranch strip comes to pass. The more places to land the better!
OK… We are now members!
What’s the best way to contact you regarding questions on the Ercoupe? Thanks!
On a desktop computer we have an email link on the top right. It’s right under the calendar and is labeled “contact us.” On a mobile device you need to scroll to the bottom. I look forward to hearing from you!
Just finished binge-reading every blog from the beginning. I thoroughly enjoyed them all. I’m an Ercoupe lover and hope to own one in the very near future. Unfortunately, my heart keeps getting broken when I fall in love with a potential purchase only to find out that it has center spar corrosion, or hasn’t been flown in many years, setting itself up for engine corrosion and all other manners of bad stuff. I know there’s no perfect Coupe but I don’t want to start of with one having known major problems. I’m not in to projects. There’s one out there somewhere with my name on it. I’ll keep looking.
Is there a way to “subscribe” so that I get a notification when each installment is posted? Or do I just need to come back to your website on certain days to look?
Hooray for binge reading! Thank you for your kind words. You are correct that finding the right Coupe can be heart-breaking. Tessie was #3 for us, and even then a scary number of issues escaped the pre-buy. And of course, old airplanes keep developing new problems. I will say, however, that with the exception of some on going issues with the doors and some occasional nose wheel shimmy, we’ve never had to have anything fixed twice!
If there’s a way to subscribe, I’m not sure what it is… sorry. But I put a new story up every Friday morning. Occasionally, I post something mid-week, usually about an article that’s been published, or something like that, but if you check in every Friday (or any day of the week that you like) you’ll never miss anything. Let us know when you find your Coupe.
Just read your outstanding article on baffles. If I may add:
Air is laminar and clings to the cylinders. Velocity air was once thought to be efficient, but it failed to dislodge the clinging air that just wants to stick to cylinders, and that air gets hot so it doesn’t properly cool the cylinders. Pressure air, like you describe, is of less velocity and helps to dislodge the laminar hot air that clings to the cylinders. Yes, to achieve pressure air the baffles must guide and any gaps must be closed. There is usually a gap at the oil cooler that is a big hole, so that must be closed with whatever material an owner chooses. Baffle corners can be RTVd together so as to eliminate that leakage point.
A Twin Comanche owner placed a video camera with wool tufts and oil dye spots so as to see air movement in his cowling in flight, and came up with the same conclusions that you reflected on in your article. What’s the payday? He develops almost one inch extra manifold pressure than a similar aircraft with ‘ordinary’ baffles, so he is faster and can climb higher.
My only real point is to emphasize how pressure air dislodges laminar air, resulting in improved cooling.
I have never flown to an airport with hi density altitude like in New Mexico how do you adjust . I fly a piper arrow 200 and was planning on going to Alamogordo , NM We have a cabin there and the drive from Austin, TX is about 12 hours vs 4 hours flying.
Hi Bill. A quick comment on the “Where does the name Cockpit come from. When I took up sailing in the mid sixties I was interested to discover that the outside seating and steering stations of sailing vessels were always referred to as “ the cockpit” as were parts of the vessel associated with it as in cockpit scuppers cockpit lockers and cockpit seats. It was obvious to me that this designation preceded our use of the term in aviation by centuries at least. The natural adoption of it by aviation was also obvious since airplanes were craft invented to ply the “ ocean” of the air and the use of many things nautical were soon adopted by aviators. Including even the “ Captain and his four stripes which I wore proudly during my 35 years with the airline . Enjoying over 60 years Of flying now. And still sailing too gratefully. Best. Mike Hoffman USAirways ret.