Acknowledgements: AIR FACTS - Fredrick Danielson

(Ed.Note: Hi all! After a short Summer rest, here are some wise words from Frederick Danielson for those who may have taken a break from flying for whatever reason, which may help to re-awaken both the required competence and the desire to safely get back in the saddle)

Once you’ve been fortunate enough to leave the bounds of earth, you can’t help but look upwards, eagerly daydreaming of your next opportunity to take to the skies. Life, however, can present various obstacles to keep even the most strong-willed enthusiast grounded. These “hardships” can quickly accumulate and lead to currency lapses, diminish required skill sets, and erode confidence…… How could it have been seven years since my last time behind the controls of an airplane? …  career changes, schooling, and a growing family had distracted me. As time between flights became longer it became easier to focus on other things, and harder to justify the time and expense necessary to remain current

I had to escape this dry spell but was overwhelmed with the daunting challenge of getting myself ready once again ….. The overwhelming feeling was rooted in my new fear of putting myself in an unsafe situation. It had been so long since my last flight that I had lost confidence in my ability to safely operate in the arena I once thrived in.

I had to get back in the cockpit but was unsure of how to kick start my training. With the amount of material I would need to cover and limited financial resources to aid my studying, I was sceptical that it could be done. So I applied an old saying learned earlier in my flying career : “PLAN TO FLY, FLY THE PLAN.” I developed an easy and realistic plan to help take the pressure off.

The first step was to re-engage with my aviation community ….. Aviation is unique as it is filled with people who are selfless and want nothing more than for others to enjoy the thrill of lurching forward after being cleared for take-off. I turned to both professionals and enthusiasts alike for direction and guidance. 

Understanding how important it was to me, a friend and professional airline pilot who still holds his CFII offered me a deal …. If I could fly to the L.A. area, we would take his PA-28 on a multi-day cross country trip …. this became an all-encompassing crash coursein flying, allowing me to safely revisit old skill sets …. new environments ….  the feel of the aircraft as I conducted basic flight manoeuvres such as steep turns and slow flight …. my pattern work, as well as my radio etiquette …. With it being a perfect day, we decided to top off the tanks and embark on the next bucket list leg of our journey.

Having already experienced a first with mountain flying, we continued by orienting our nose away from the mountains and headed west over the Pacific towards Catalina Island …. a first for both of us. We had zero indications of faulty equipment, and both agreed upon a final decision point based on our glide distance for turning back towards the coast if we lost power ….  We committed, and made the same remarkable approach as many have in the past …. This experience was truly incredible as we were the only aircraft in the vicinity, making it feel like we had the island all to ourselves. After taking a break, to eat and to soak in the surrounding scenery, we again took to the empty sky and did a victory lap around the pattern to admire the pure beauty of the island for one last time. 

To top-off the first day back in the left seat we chose Orange County, so that I could experience the congested airspaceof a Class C airport and work with ATC,  sequenced with airliners and landing alongside planes that dwarfed the Cherokee. …. We finally taxied to our resting spot for the night, surrounded by both commercial and private jets. I reflected on my first day back and was in awe at what I had just experienced. 

Day 2 …. We called for a weather brief and planned our tripnorth along the coast. What was briefed along our initial route would have certainly grounded any VFR pilot, but Dan was excited at the opportunity for me to practice my instrument flying. We filed an IFR flight plan and began our trek north. This experience tested the skills that were practiced during the previous day, and I flew the plane as Dan managed the busy LA radios. This was invaluable as it helped me refine my Crew Resource Management skills while being hyper sensitive to the plane’s every input.

Once we broke out of the IMC weather we quickly transitioned back to VFR and followed the Coast Highway, which was mesmerising as we were able to follow the contour of the coast while observing its natural beauty with unlimited visibility. We cut inland over the mountains towards Santa Maria for a quick refuel, and then continued to Monterey for our final leg of the day. 

On the morning of day 3, we examined the weather for both our next planned destination and our home base. Weather was moving into both areas the following day and we made the educated decision to cut our trip short by a day. Although pressing on North would have been unforgettable, the risk associated seemed unnecessary. We amended our plan, headed back South, and after practising instrument approaches en-route at Bakersfield we ended back in the mountains where it had all started. The three-day trip totalled nearly 15 hours of flying and I could not have been happier with the experience.

The trip was an overall success. It was meant to both regain old skill sets while regaining my currency. Dan and I were able to fly around mountains, fly over the Ocean, fly in all types of airspace and weather, and most importantly re-kindle the spirit of adventure through aviation. The trip was incredible and I owe it all to the overwhelming support of the aviation community and aviators like Dan, who will stop at nothing to help share the joy of flight. Without the support, I would have never been able to “Plan to fly, fly the plan”.


Tony Birth