Flying Your Own Aircraft Unlocks New Destinations

Operating on your own schedule makes time for longer, more rewarding flights.

Far from home, our Commander 114B shares the Dayton International (KDAY) ramp with a Lear. [Credit: Jonathan Welsh]

Student pilots often arrive at their first lesson with a list of destinations in mind. In my case, the desire to fly to some of my favorite vacation spots and visit friends scattered across the country drove me to seek instruction after years of hesitation.

A reality check occurred during my first solo, when navigating the pattern and returning to the runway that I had departed a few minutes earlier seemed like enough of a challenge. Later, during the cross-country solo flights many students recall fondly, I enjoyed the thrill of being alone in the airplane but wondered at times if I had the stamina and concentration needed to fly much farther than 150 nautical miles or so.

Indeed, for several years after receiving my private pilot certificate, most of my flights were short: 34 nm from Sussex, New Jersey (KFWN) to Cherry Ridge, Pennsylvania (N30); 41 nm to Sky Manor, New Jersey (N40), and 60 nm to Greig Farm, New York (9NK4). Part of the problem was limited access to my club’s Cessna 172. It was difficult to reserve enough time to go far. The Cessna, despite being a wonderful design, also lacked the speed, handling, and comfort of models designed for long-distance travel. While my destination wish list had grown long, I would not begin to seriously dig into it until I got my own aircraft.

The arrival of our 1992 Commander 114B last year coincided with a growing desire to plan longer flights, such as 317 nm to Stonington, Maine (93B); 444 nm to Dayton, Ohio, and 1,263 nm to visit an old friend in western Kansas. Finally, we could start competing against the airlines, not just the family car.

The airlines may have little to fear, but we have already made some of the long trips on our list and plan to stretch out even farther this spring and summer. With every airborne outing, family members become more comfortable with personal aviation and come up with new ideas for destinations. It takes a while for general aviation to seem “normal” to folks who did not grow up around “airplane people,” but we are getting there.

On Sunday my wife, Alexa, and I flew to Montauk (KMTP) on the eastern end of New York’s Long Island for lunch and a walk on the beach. At 122 nm, it is not far and takes less than an hour in the Commander. Still, because it is more than three hours away by car, usually in terrible traffic, we had never visited despite years of wanting to do so. The airplane allowed us to accomplish in a few hours what otherwise would have taken all day and probably resulted in an overnight stay.    

Perhaps the most encouraging part of the flight was spotting airports we have already visited, including Fishers Island (0B8) and East Hampton, New York, (KJPX), and Block Island, Rhode Island (KBID). These are all places that recently moved from our wish list to our logbook.

With thousands of airports in the U.S., we are unlikely to run out of compelling destinations. And as we continue to increase our flying frequency, I might finally log the 100-hour year that has been painfully elusive.

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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