My flying has recently come full circle. My first flight was in a Piper J-3 Cub back in the 1950s. I worked line service as a teenager in the 1960s to pay for my flying lessons, and in the early 1970s I earned my fixed-wing single-engine and glider commercial and instructor ratings so I could work as a flight instructor and tow gliders in L-19s. Over the next 10 years I accumulated several thousand hours as an instructor and charter pilot. Securing my ATP in 1979 led to the next jump in my experience — flying as a copilot in the Metroliner for a commuter airline in Tucson, Arizona. That in turn led to a job as an international corporate pilot, adding experience in the Piper Seneca, Beech Baron, Cessna 320 and 414, Navajo Chieftain and P-Navajo.
My aviation experience made a huge jump in 1982, when I was hired by FlightSafety in Tucson as a Learjet 35 simulator instructor and later became the Learjet 55 initial ground school and simulator instructor. Then, in 1983 while instructing at SimuFlite in Dallas, I earned my Learjet type rating flying a Learjet 55, followed by a type rating in the Westwind several years later. When I became the manager of military instructor training for CAE-Link in the late 1980s, my time in the cockpit, whether simulated or real, decreased greatly. My logbook shows just a few hours each year with large gaps until I purchased a Turbo Twin Comanche in 1999 to use for my business travel. I flew that airplane 500 hours over the next four years as I traveled around the country presenting my Preventing Human Error Seminar.
Eventually the cost of maintaining a 40-year-old airplane led me to sell the Twin Comanche and return to the airlines for my travel. From 2005 to 2008 I served as an instructor, check pilot and mission pilot for the Civil Air Patrol, flying a Cessna 182T out of Payson, Arizona. In the meantime life’s distractions were mounting. In the November 2010 issue of Flying I wrote about my “Difficult Decisions” to take myself off of flying status because I was under so much stress and had so many distractions that I felt I was not safe to fly.
Three years later my life has finally calmed down enough that I am ready to get back into the cockpit. Besides, I have some grandchildren that want to go flying, and I am taking seriously my own advice in my column last month to introduce people and especially kids to the joy of flying. Although I have had a problem with my left eye for 25 years that required a Statement of Demonstrated Ability, I met the minimum vision requirements for my last third-class medical, so I decided to dispense with the medicals and fly a light-sport airplane. After much searching, I located Parrish Traweek (firstname.lastname@example.org) in San Manuel, Arizona, who has a couple of Ercoupes that qualify under the Light Sport regulations available for rental pilots.
Making the Transition
It would be easy for someone with my experience to be dismissive about getting checked out in an Ercoupe. After all, it is a simple little airplane. The only glass in the cockpit is in the face of the few round-dial instruments on the instrument panel. There are very few systems or procedures to learn. It doesn’t even have rudder pedals — how hard can it be? However, I am very aware that it is just as easy, or perhaps even easier, to kill yourself in an Ercoupe as it is in a Learjet. Every airplane has its own peculiarities and techniques for flying it well, and I wanted to know everything I could about an Ercoupe before I climbed into the cockpit to fly one. The best source of information on an airplane is the pilots who fly it, so I spent $25 to join the Ercoupe Owners Club (EOC, ercoupe.org).