Half The Time Of Powered Flight – Part 2
Magazine Writer Recalls Historic Aviation Career
July 1, 2021
Flying changed and defined my life. I could do things that others my age could not. I had the ability go places and do things they had never dreamed of. Instead of going off to college as my friends did, I got my Flight Instructor Certificate and continued doing ADULT things-including U.S. Army military service.
You never know what an action or decision will do to change your life-as it already HAD-but that ability to fly and instruct meant that I would end up as a flight instructor/instrument instructor in the Army instead of the combat medic position that was originally designated.
I've always set goals. Advanced ratings, new experiences (gliders, helicopters, balloons, skydiving, seaplanes, jet type ratings, international flying)-as well as avocations requiring specific goals that could be set and attained (marathons, mountain climbing, long-distance bicycle trips, etc.-you either attain them or you don't-but keep trying!).
I've been able to achieve those goals, but new ratings have been harder to come by. I need Airship ratings and Gyrocopter ratings (though I HAVE flown both types).
I set other goals to work for. They included the following:
The FAA Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award: Fifty consecutive years without an accident or violation. For someone that flies A LOT-some years over 1,000 hours-that is difficult-sometimes, you have to work hard NOT to violate some FAA rule-but I made it-in 2013, I achieved the goal. The award DID have the desired effect-for the years leading up to it, I carefully considered whether a rule violation MIGHT prevent it.
Logging 30,000 Hours: I grew up reading about fellow Minnesota pilot legend Max Conrad. Max was a self-deprecating guy that set international long-distance records in light aircraft, like Casablanca, North Africa to Los Angele, California in a Piper Comanche.
Max put his long-distance experience to practical use by delivering aircraft all over the world. (If you haven't heard of him, read his biography "Into the Wind"). In 2015, I achieved 30,000 hours in 52 years of flying-an average of 576 hours a year.
Number of Aircraft Flown: One of the delights of aviation is getting to fly a number of aircraft. Unlike most inanimate objects, aircraft "talk" to you-a good pilot is able to FEEL how the airplane is doing, across a wide range of speed, loads, altitude, and operating conditions-you become "one with the aircraft." It's what sets flying apart from other mechanical pursuits-like driving a tractor. (Tractor drivers, maybe you CAN tell me how a tractor gives tactical feedback to the operator). There is no official record for "Number of official aircraft flown"-though famed British pilot "Winkle" Brown WAS listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as having flown the most. As a test pilot, Brown made the most aircraft carrier landings, was the first to put a jet on a carrier, was a co-inventor of the angle deck, and perhaps most important, flew almost every British, American, and captured Axis fighter for evaluation. Guinness lists 487 different types-though Brown counted 14 different "marks" of the Spitfire, for example-the 487 number includes these subsets-and nobody defined "types." Absent any other agreement, I set my own criteria for "types flown"-I have to make a take off or landing-no "Holding the stick enroute." I also don't include the "Marks"-"suffixes" (an L and an M model 172, for example are the same-but if there ARE major differences (engines for example) I count it as another type. Example: Beech Barons-the straight, A, and B models all have 260 hp engines-I count them as one-but C, D, and E models have 285s-I count that as one. Model 58, Pressurized, and Model 56s series all have their own FAA type certificates-I count each of those types as individual types. Among living pilots, famed pilot Clay Lacy has 365-but he is no longer flying. Many aviation authors are close-they do pilot reports for aviation publications. Barry Schiff from AOPA has 354 at last count. Budd Davisson is a prolific writer for AOPA and other publications, and had 346 at last count. Bill Cox is an international aircraft ferry pilot and has written for Plane & Pilot for over 30 years-he lists "over 330 types" (but again, it depends on how you count them.).
I have 342 unique "types" using the criteria described above. I'm always looking for a unique type to fly and report on-what do you have?
Which brings me to the object of this column-calendar time.
People ask, "How long have you been flying?" If you look at my first
official flight lesson, it was Aug. 20, 1962. That make this my 59th year
of flying-Aug. 20 will mark 60 years. That's a LONG time.
I got to looking back at just HOW LONG-like most people, they think "History started on my birthday"-for those of us born after WWII, for example, that was LONG AGO-but unlike millennials, we don't consider the turn to the year 2000 as being THAT long ago.
It occurred to me that Lindbergh's Atlantic flight, the Golden Age of aviation in the 1930s, and the Wright's first flight seemed SO long ago when I first started flying.
I calculated what the date would be when I would have been flying for LONGER THAN HALF THE TIME OF POWERED FLIGHT-it would be April 9, 2021-(including leap years.). I've arrived at the point of flying for more than half the time the airplane has been in existence!
I will also be one of the last people that can make that claim-
you would have to have started before Aug. 20, 1962, and flying continually to do so. (I do know of several people that qualify-flying longer than I have-but we are a tiny percentage of the pilot population.)
Given that to achieve that "half the time of powered flight" jumps TWO years for every succeeding year, in about 10 years, hardly anybody could make that claim-I would have to fly to age 93 to add those 10 years!
I've been a subscriber to aviation magazines since 1962-and saved most issues-over 8,000 magazines-plus 2,500 books. We lost some back issues in several moves, and about 800 in a house fire three years ago. I've catalogued them in the new house, and in doing so, found an "obligation" to re-read almost every one of them. It's interesting to see the evolution of magazines, ads, and especially, opinion. People talk about the same issues now as then:
• The CAA/FAA rules and regulations.
• The cost of flying-"50 cents for avgas!-and they want $3 to
land at Boston!"
• New airplanes-"The new, affordable Champ-$4,994!"
(it was not a success).
• "Stillborn" airplanes-always "right around the corner" but
• Dubious "pilot aids"-computers, plotters, planning guides-
my dad bought a number of them!
• "The next big thing"-Microwave ILS systems, Loran, "nation
wide plane rentals" (Hertz actually had one for a few months),
Decca navigation, and a long list of aircraft "in development"
(or actually in production) that came and went.
• 10-18 seat commuter airliners were a big deal.
• "I learned about flying from that"-but pilots didn't-the same
mistakes are still made.
• "Traffic patterns"-the controversy continues.
It's fun to read the products, predictions, and problems from long ago-and see how they worked out (or DIDN'T work out!)
At my age, when asked an aviation question, I like to preface my response with "Well, I told Orville and I told Wilbur...!"
Editor's Note: Jim Hanson has been the FBO at Albert Lea, Minnesota, for 40 years. Far from living in the past, he enjoys flying almost anything in aviation. If you have a unique aircraft he may not have flown, contact him at email@example.com or (507) 373-0608. Don't try calling him at home, though, like most FBOs, his wife says "He doesn't live here-he lives at the airport!" Jim says, "AS THE OLD AERONAUTICAL SAYING GOES-"OLD AGE IS WHEN YOUR COURSE CHANGES FROM "TO"-TO "FROM"!