Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The View From Above

One thing about me, wherever I go, whatever I do, if I haven't seen the place, experienced the country from the cockpit of a light aircraft, well, then, I haven't really been there. That's just me. So wherever I travel, if I can't fly there in my own aircraft, I work hard to uncover opportunities to at least ride shotgun with another pilot and capture that bird's eye view of the world from on high (but not too high up--that would be like an airliner!).

Why this compulsion? I've been flying in light aircraft since before I could read, and piloting them more than half my life now. I dream of being airborne, floating on air currents the way I flew through lava pinnacles and chutes when scuba diving in the Pacific. I see the ground rushing past me as when I've skydived. And clouds—anyone who has flown the gauntlet of towering cumulous midday in Florida en route to home before they overdevelop into dreaded cumulonimbus knows the thrill. Climbing and sinking to get around a craggy outcropping, weaving a path while always straining for ground contact, the heat-soaked, limp, languid, humidity of the afternoon left ever so far below you. I love it.

I can remember these gold and green fields of Stellenbosch, South Africa, glowing in the buttery late afternoon light of a springtime. The pilot, Marc, offered to take my husband and I for a ride around the Cape Town area in his relatively new RV-10. Robin Coss, of Coss Aviation, a builder of Van's Aircraft,  hooked us up with him. Marc's hangar at the tiny Stellenbosch Aerodrome (good luck finding
it on a map—use Google Earth) was a pilot's paradise, with rare motorcycles tucked in behind the beautiful blue and white RV-10's wings. A classy bar was tucked into a corner for after-flying libations, too.

We pushed the airplane out into the warm afternoon light and clambered up into our seats. The bright MGL dual screen system came to life and Marc cranked the Lycoming up front. We were off shortly thereafter, heading toward Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were held in the apartheid years. From there we turned east, and headed toward Table Mountain, which defines the geography of Cape Town. We skirted the massive mount, weaving our way out toward its point, then around past Simon's Town, Muizenberg and down the beach low, at the request of ATC, dropping under the traffic landing at the international airport.

From there we zoomed up and over the Kogelberg Nature Reserve, dropping down again off the cliffs at Hermanus, where a mother humpback whale and her calf surfaced as we circled, watching us as intently as we watched them.

We broke off after a couple of circuits, not wanting to disturb them much, and with the sun sinking on the horizon anyhow. Zooming back over the cliffs at Hermanus I looked off to see the ever pervasive tendrils of fog stretching from the cap cloud on Table mountain, rushing toward the beaches as the air cooled in the late afternoon.

Sure, I'd driven this entire route in the weeks before this flight, but in just one hour aloft I'd finally seen it—I mean really seen it—and began to understand the diversity and complexity of such an amazing, blessed, cursed, blessed country. That flight made me want to understand it better, know it's people, be a part of it's survival. You don't get that from your seat in row 27. Not even if it's a window seat. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Begin at the Beginning

Not to steal from the Sound of Music or anything but, today, this post, heck, this blog is all about where I am going next. At 50-something this pilot, writer, mom, wife, well, yeah, you name it is stepping, well, not exactly off a cliff and into the blue (nice image--but frankly starting a blog isn't that big of a deal), but definitely heading out on a new trajectory. So, interested? Stay tuned as I begin the journey.

It's a beautiful January afternoon in South Florida, the sky a perfect cerulean blue, the breeze popping just enough to make flying my taildragger interesting. It's an experimental Kitfox IV that's been my "fun and functional" airplane for more than 21 years and we've just resuscitated another cylinder on the more than 10-year-old Jabiru 80 hp engine. This trip was 45 minutes into the wind north to visit my web and internet media expert and good friend Jack Hodgson, of UCAP fame, and my trusty editor from Aviation Safety magazine Jeb Burnside. I must say I compensated for the recent mechanical fixes with a little more altitude, even though it cost me 10 knots of speed (fairly expensive in the Kitfox, which only goes 100 knots full-bore across the ground on a no-wind afternoon). Found the airport sans GPS from no more than 1500 AGL, so at least my pilotage and ded reckoning skills are still intact.

Now we are in the thick of setting up a few good projects, so...stay tuned!

P.S. Wondering about that background image? My buddies from Cape Town can tell you more about it. South Africa is one of the most beautiful and friendly places in the world for light aircraft flight.