Finding Your Ideal Aircraft That’s An Aluminum-Clad Time Machine

Flying lets you fit more activities into each day.

Sometimes squeezing more activities into each day means flying home after dark. [Credit: Jonathan Welsh]

Over the weekend my wife and I experienced the magical power of a light piston airplane to add hours to the day. At least that is how it felt.

On Sunday morning our college-age son’s rowing team was competing close to home in New Jersey where it was easy for us to watch and spend a few minutes catching up before he had to get on the bus and head back to campus in New Hampshire. It is a five-hour drive by car, longer on the bus. But there was a tempting wrinkle.

After the racing ended, our son’s coach mentioned that local athletes could spend the rest of the day with their families as long as they had a way of getting back to school, since the bus could not wait. Indeed, we had a way, called general aviation.

One of the reasons we bought “Annie,” our Commander 114B, was to figuratively shorten distances between us and the family members and friends we like to visit, many of whom are hundreds of miles and a day’s drive away. We wanted to spend more time together at destinations and less in transit. And we wanted the transit to be more fun and satisfying. Annie certainly has taken care of that. Every trip is an adventure, never a slog.

But having our older son away at college for the first time and missing him very much upped the sense of urgency regarding airplane ownership. I convinced my wife that having the option of flying would result in easier, more regular visits. Any weekend could become our own special Parents’ Weekend, I told her. And a flight of about an hour and 15 minutes does not eat up the day and leave you exhausted the way a five-hour drive does. In this way the airplane is a time machine, turning out minutes and hours that we would not otherwise have.

That is what happened on Sunday. We drove our son home after the races, went out for lunch, visited friends in town and, around 5 p.m., got to the airport. We lifted off about 30 minutes later and, with a headwind, landed in Lebanon, New Hampshire (KLEB) around 7. Had we driven instead, we would not have reached Hartford, Connecticut, yet and would have spent another three hours or so on the road.

And what about getting home? We almost certainly would have needed to spend the night in New Hampshire, which would have been a disruptive start for the work week. But as aircraft owners my wife and I simply shuttled our boy back to campus in the airport crew car, said our good-byes and were airborne again by 8:30 or so (long good-byes). The Commander saved us so many hours of travel that we were able to pack in real quality time with family and friends that would not have been impossible otherwise.

The bottom line is that the airplane gave us the option of spending the whole day with our son instead of just an hour or two watching him race. At this point in life, such opportunities are increasingly rare, and precious.

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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