Sport Pilot: Leaving the Comfort Zone

** We arrived at Franklin, North Carolina’s IA5 just
ahead of the weather system.**

When First Landings, the flight school where I did my Sport Pilot training, announced it was organizing a North Carolina "adventure flight," I was intrigued. The plan was for a group of us to depart early one Friday morning in April from Apopka, Florida's X04 for a long weekend of hiking and whitewater rafting in Franklin, North Carolina, and return that Monday. Another sport pilot and I would fly the Remos while the SportCrusier and Gobash light-sport aircraft would each have a sport pilot and a CFI.

When I confessed to Chris Esposito, one the school’s co-owners and instructors, that the trip sounded a little intimidating, he counseled: “In order to become a better pilot, you need to get outside of your comfort zone, and trips like this do just that, so join us!”

Our own Martha Lunken sounded a similar refrain when I told her during a casual conversation about the trip and that I was a little scared about embarking on the adventure. She sagely advised: “Connie, if you don’t push your limits, you’ll never learn about yourself and how you make decisions. And besides, it will be fun!”

My heart saw the fun in it, and my mind understood the experience I’d gain from it, but Chris and Martha’s words didn’t completely quell the trepidation I felt. After all, as a recently minted sport pilot, my logbook boasted some 50 hours total (likely less than I’d have had if I’d earned my Private certificate). My flights to date had been local, brief and largely free of weather concerns. The trip would take this flatlander to unfamiliar territory spanning three states, not to mention first-time navigation over somewhat mountainous terrain. Plus, I would be sharing PIC privileges with another new sport pilot.

Thankfully, my glass-half-full side won out. If that meant flying beyond the boundaries of the zone I had landed so comfortably in, then game on. Courage was mustered and the trip made. Here are just a few examples of where my limits were pushed on the adventure flight:

Weather. A weather system moving toward North Carolina from the west was posing a possible threat to our trip on the way up. A radar check at Vidalia, Georgia, our midpoint, indicated that, though we might encounter some rain, the bad stuff looked like it would pass to the north of Franklin. Good news for us but we still made quick work of getting back in the air so we could reach IA5 before the storm, and we did.

Elevated terrain. With an elevation of 2,020 feet and a 4,400-foot-long runway, density altitude at IA5 wasn't much of an issue for the LSAs. However, anything higher than a sand dune was new to all of the Florida-based sport pilots on the trip. Flying over a four-lane highway that threaded through a valley surrounded by mountains for 20 minutes to and from IA5 and landing on and taking off from the runway with "rapidly rising" terrain on all sides required extra planning and caution, not to mention a little grit.

Sharing flight time and the right seat. My flight buddy and I shared flying time by switching seats midpoint each way. While in the left seat, it was nice to have someone not only along for the ride, but also whom you could rely upon for help with navigation and radios. That said, I found the right seat situationally and emotionally uncomfortable.

Of course, the trip did exactly what Chris and Martha claimed it would. Leaving that comfort zone provided me with invaluable experience as well as insight into both my weaknesses and strengths as a new pilot. And it was fun! It also reminded me of one of the beauties of the Sport Pilot certificate — that it allowed me to gain aeronautical experience sooner than if I had taken the private route. Chances are I would have still been training and I would have missed this awesome trip.


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