Stranded In The Southland

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Learning to Fly

I've always been interested in aviation, but I always hesitated to learn to fly. I guess I was worried that I'd spend the money to get trained up, and then find myself unable to afford to keep up with the flying.

At this point, I'm going to have to keep paying on my mortgage, so I might as well be playing on a flying habit, too. I'm gonna go for it. If nothing else, it'd be pretty cool to be able to fly in to work, instead of driving now and then.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) has a whole bunch of (what seem like) solid suggestions for picking a flight school. I figured that I wanted to train at an airfield with a tower, so that I can get used to dealing with air traffic control. I'd love to fly out of the closest airport, Brackett Field, although I guess I'd be happy to fly out of Chino, as well.

I checked out four different flight schools:
  • I started by checking out a pleasant place down in Chino; the owner is a retired teacher and coach, and seemed to have a similar philosophy to many of my favorite driving instructors. This was probably the most expensive place, but it seems like a strong possibility.
  • Next, I checked out a place at Brackett that seemed to cater to international students. When the front desk staff showed up in a Mercedes with an iPhone, I kinda wondered if maybe the profit margin in this flight school game wasn't a little high.
  • Across the runway was another school. Their prices were reasonable, and their aircraft fairly new, although the owner wasn't particularly charismatic. I was kind of disturbed when he spent some time trashing the other nearby flight schools; I'm not usually comfortable dealing with folks who bad-mouth the competition -- it doesn't seem very classy. This was an inexpensive school, though.
  • Finally, I checked out a non-profit flight club down in Chino; they weren't very organized, but they were certainly friendly, and cheaper by far than any of the others. I even took a 'discovery' flight with this school.
The discovery flight was a blast -- we went up in a Grumman TR2, which is a two-place, low-wing monoplane. I enjoyed helping remove the tie-downs and preflighting the aircraft, but I have to admit that I was little put-off by the bald tires ("Oh, yeah, we keep running them until the cord shows. We'll throw on new tires with the 100-hour inspection.") and the fact that the vertical speed indicator showed that we were losing 60 fpm which taxiing (apparently this is the only instrument on the plane that actually can be adjusted, but dude was all, "Gee, we'll have to zero that some time -- for now, just remember that it's off by 100!).

OTOH, as we pulled up to do the motor run-up, a vintage P-51 slid up next to us, just behind us for take-off. Chino's a pretty cool airport.

I knew that flying required a light touch, but the TR2 was incredibly sensitive -- when the instructor let me make a turn, I managed to put us into a 45-degree bank with what I thought was the tiniest, most delicate of movements. The instructor let me fly the plane a little bit, although he kept a pretty tight hold on the controls (after that bank, I guess I couldn't blame him).

I'm not really sure which school to hook up with -- I had some doubts about each of the different folks I talked to. I'd love to fly out of Brackett, but I don't think that the international folks are the right match for me, and I have some lingering doubts about the trash-talking owner of the other school. I don't want to make the extra drive to Chino (given the eight hours a week I already spend on the road), but the two schools down there definitely seemed cool. Argh. I think I'm gonna just take a single lesson from the folks at Brackett and see how it goes...


Yow, Why Didn't I Blog About Buying a House!?

I just looked over the blog, and realized that I blogged about many of my two-hour hikes, but barely mentioned buying a house. Wild.

Well, it was totally crazy, anyway. We started looking in January, triggering months and months of obsessive reading of housing blogs and constant searching on-line. My family moved something like eight times while I was growing up, plus my mom always very interested in real estate, so I was all too familiar with the process of finding a house. And, (thanks, mom!), all too obsessive. :-)

After a couple of months of searching in the incredibly white-bread community where we were renting (and where we could only afford bland 50's-era boxes south of the tracks), I managed to convince M. that it'd be cooler to try to find a house in the historic district in the considerably-more-diverse (and crime-ridden) town to the south.

We managed to find a cool old place, built in 1922, that was in reasonable shape. Like many California homes of that era, it is built out of redwood. Yeesh, yeah, the whole thing, trim, studs, rafters, garage, the whole bit. It's kinda crazy.

I had some serious doubts about buying, given what appeared to be an over-heated and over-priced market, but my mom the finance professor and M. convinced me to take the plunge in mid-June. We'll see how it works out, post-mortgage crisis and post-Fed-dumping-of-money.

So far, I have to admit, it's been great to have the space, but a total PITA to keep up with the gardening and all of the rest.