Where would you like to go?
Let’s spend a day at the beach! If we leave about 7:30, we can be on the beach by 9:30. If we start back about 4:30 or 5:00, we can be home before dark.
Living here in Mauldin and Simpsonville? No way!
Yes, way. If you are a pilot, with your own personal airplane, it is easy. And it is cheaper than you think.
Let’s go shopping in Atlanta! Fly there in an hour, far above all that traffic on I-85.
Fly to Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Dollywood in an hour.
Fly to Disneyworld, the Kennedy Space Center, and Orlando’s other theme parks in four hours – with never a moment on I-26 and I-95.
Spend your time being there, instead of getting there – and enjoy getting there.
Learning to fly
Any age is the right age to learn to fly. I learned to fly when I was 34. You are never too old to fly; the United Flying Octogenarians (UFO) Club is for pilots over 80. You are not too young to fly – you can take lessons at any age, solo on your 16th birthday, and get your license when you are 17.
Flying – you can afford it
If, as I did, you take about two flying lessons per week, you can get your pilot’s license in 8 months. Instruction costs about $50 per hour.
Once you have started taking lessons, start looking for an airplane. Buying is better than rental; your plane is always available, waiting for you, and the hourly cost of a rental is not hanging over your head.
My first airplane was a two-seater Cessna 150. I owned it for three years, and in that time I flew it to Maine and to Florida. It may not be your ultimate airplane, but it will get you everywhere, it is affordable, and it is fun and easy to fly.
A 150 typically costs about $20,000. Insurance is no more than for a car. A 150 is relatively cheap to fly, making it easy on the wallet – more fun per dollar. Just like a car, you can get a loan if all you have is a down-payment. Should you later want to move up to a four-seater, selling the 150 will get you about what you paid for it – a ready down-payment.
Airports are everywhere – waiting to be at your service
You can rent a tie-down spot for your airplane at Donaldson Airport or Greenville Municipal Airport; the cost is fairly cheap. Hangar space is available, but more expensive.
Every county (except two) in South Carolina has a county airport. There is no need for you to fly into the busy, high-security commercial airports like GSP, Columbia Metro, Charleston, or Atlanta’s Hartsfield. They are all surrounded by smaller, friendlier airports (with cheaper fuel) that are usually closer to where you want to go.
Every airport has “Fixed Base Operators” – FBOs – where you park your airplane, have it refueled, and get any help you need, like arranging to have a rental car waiting, or to call a taxi. Some FBOs even have a “courtesy car” you can borrow for a trip to a restaurant for lunch, etc.
When we fly to the beach, we land at the North Myrtle Beach Airport. The beach is three blocks away – a ten-minute walk. We stop at a sandwich shop on the way to pick up sandwiches to have for lunch. Sometimes, the FBO offers to drive us to the beach in their courtesy van. They drop us off up near the Shag clubs, where lunches are sold right on the beach. We usually ask the FBO to pick us up about 4:30. We take off about 5:00 and are home by 7:00 – a truly carefree day at the beach, with no traffic hassles!
Meeting other pilots
Pilots always welcome new pilots – there are too few of us.
The Upstate Aviation Club meets at the Runway Café on the Greenville Municipal Airport at 6:00 on the second Tuesday of each month. The meeting includes dinner and a presentation about flying. About 40 people usually attend.
The South Carolina Breakfast Club (SCBC) has been meeting for breakfast every other Sunday at 9:00 since 1938. Each breakfast is held at a different airport. In good weather, 30 or more airplanes will fly in.
For both Clubs, there are no dues and no by-laws. Come once, and you are a life-time member. You will meet a lot of great people who love to fly, and make some good friends. When you decide it is time to buy an airplane, the people you meet will know who has an airplane for sale.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) is a national organization that offers great services, such as aviation insurance, and also represents pilots regarding legal and political issues. Joining is recommended; their monthly magazine alone is worth the cost.
Flying is a joy!
The most unforgettable flight for everyone is their first solo flight. After you land, while everyone is congratulating you, and while you are driving home, you will not be able to stop smiling. Your first solo flight is the ultimate high!
The best remedy when feeling worn down: go flying. Head west, out to Lake Hartwell, then north to Jocassee. From there, fly along the edge of the mountains to Table Rock and Caesar’s Head. It is barely an hour’s flight, but the day always feels a whole lot brighter afterwards.
We have flown to many destinations over the years – to Maine, Florida, Texas, South Dakota, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and many places closer to home. But perhaps the most enjoyable flying is to go up just to watch the sunset. The serene calmness of an evening as the sky dims, the lights of towns and cities appear, and the last rays of the sun glint on the lakes, is a deeply moving experience. We really enjoy flying and the places we can reach so quickly and easily, but a flight together just to watch the sunset may actually be the most enjoyable flying of all.
Go flying! You will find something special when you do!
Have a good flight! ■