For the most part, who wins that match depends on how you define the field of play. A 750 nm to 1,000 nm flight in the Cirrus is fun, and I can avoid the security lines, parking lots and airport food. But the tradeoff is that 1,000 nm is a long way to go even at 200 knots. A fuel stop, even when not necessary to complete the flight with reserves, is often still a good idea.
No matter how you cut it, the costs are pretty high, especially if you’re traveling alone. But if you’re already committed to flying yourself, which many of us are, and if you’re already paying hangar rent to begin with, well, traveling by light airplane makes a lot of sense. The cost of fuel is just part of the commitment.
In many cases, the door-to-door times between flying Southwest and flying yourself even on a 1,000-mile trip will be very close. And if the airline trip were to involve a connection, the light airplane option will often make the Cirrus a clear winner for me.
Light airplanes can beat the big boys on such trips in many cases, but as the trip gets longer, this is less and less the case. Where you’re planning to go is a critical consideration. A change of airplanes is the norm these days on most domestic airline flights, which can add hours to the process and expose you to airport terminal life in ways that will make you long to be droning along in your single. This I know for a fact.
The one area where small airplanes excel, I can attest, is in short regional flying, flights of around 500 nm or less. These days I never even look at the airlines for these kinds of flights. Like most pilots who fly for transportation, there are several flights that I keep in my favorites folder for quick access, such as from Austin, Texas, to Wichita, Kansas; Kansas City, Missouri; or Albuquerque, New Mexico. On any of these trips, I can plan to have lunch at my destination and be back at home in time for dinner that night or, if I have plans for the evening, in time for lunch the following day. Try that on the airlines and you’re in for a struggle. Add to that the facts that ticket costs for regional trips can be shockingly high and you can’t always get flights when you need them. Not to mention you get to go through security twice in one day. No, thanks.
I’ve found the case just as compelling for even shorter flights. Even though there’s frequent service between my hometown and both Dallas and Houston (trips of around 200 nm, give or take), the little airplane is a better, faster bet. I could drive, but that’s not about to happen. Why not? The trip to north Dallas, where I had a photo shoot the other day, is about 4½ hours with evening traffic. Multiply that by two and it’s an entire day of driving. In the Cirrus, it’s 1¼ hours block to block. It’s a no-brainer.
Just the other day I had lunch with some folks from Sporty’s and ForeFlight in Houston. I woke up, drove my son in the middle school car pool, went to the airport, flew to Hobby, had some great barbecue while doing a little business, and then got home in time to take the dog to the park before it got dark.
Try that in your Toyota.
When Lane Wallace came to Flying a dozen years ago, she assumed a position that we at the magazine only half jokingly called the “Baxter Chair of Hangar Flying,” referring, of course, to our late great columnist Gordon Baxter. For years in his popular Bax Seat column, Gordon spun tales (some of them reportedly true) of his crazy flying adventures. Lane arrived on the heels of Baxter’s reluctant retirement from these pages amid much skepticism that anyone could take Baxter’s place. It’s hard to try to fill the shoes of a legend, and Lane didn’t. Instead she succeeded beyond all expectations with her column, Flying Lessons, in being Lane.
As it was with Baxter, Lane’s directive was simple: to communicate her passion for flight to the readers of this great magazine. While many of these readers love powerplants and aerodynamics, navigation and technology, they also want to read about a different side of flying, a side that’s not easily quantified. It’s the right-brain side, the emotional, artistic and creative side of what we do, on which Lane focused her considerable talent. Some if it is pure nostalgia, granted, but who among us doesn’t love to talk about our first airplane or that great cross-country adventure from years past?
Lane wrote about this kind of flying with passion and in a way that connected strongly with many of our readers. Over the years she wrote about her experiences flying her beloved “spam can” Cheetah, about her opportunities to hobnob with aviation legends like Harrison Ford and Patty Wagstaff, and about her chances to fly some pretty cool hardware, from blimps to spy planes. In her swan-song Flying Lessons column this issue, Lane recounts many of those adventures, so I won’t go into detail here. Suffice it to say, however, that she has provided a great deal of reading pleasure to many pilots, myself included.
So it’s with sadness that I bid goodbye to Flying Lessons and urge you all to read Lane’s compelling farewell column. But it’s with happiness too, knowing that a fellow aviation writer has gone in search of new challenges and new paths. And it’s with gratitude for the many enjoyable columns that Lane has given us over the years.