Your Ideal Aircraft Lets You Fit More Errands Into One Day

A pilot’s visit with his college son would not have been possible had he been driving.

There was not much traffic to contend with at KLEB. [Credit: Jonathan Welsh]

When my wife and I bought our Commander 114B a year ago, we made a wish list of flying destinations as well as friends and relatives we could more easily visit thanks to this time-saving machine.

Then came the little indulgences, like a recent trip to Lebanon, New Hampshire (KLEB), to meet our older son for lunch and help him with some car trouble. He is in college in nearby Hanover and while the distance is driveable, it typically takes five hours. Annie the Commander can make it in just over one.

On this particular day, I had planned to fly to an earlier work-related appointment and was able to bundle the errands neatly and, if all went well, I would enjoy the rare accomplishment of two missions in one day. The weather was gusty—one of those days when every leg of the trip has a headwind component and all landings are crosswind. But it was still a nice, sunny flying day, just warm enough with a few scattered clouds.

The best part of a trip like this is knowing that I will not be held up by highway traffic jams over which I have no control. It is a rare road trip that is not prolonged at least somewhat by traffic that often congeals for no apparent reason. How many times, after setting off before dawn so we can finish a 500-mile trip in time for lunch, I struggled to reach our destination before dinner?

Flying, despite the pressures of planning, loading, briefing, and actually piloting the aircraft, is a far more relaxing endeavor because I am not worried about encountering road construction, accidents, or holiday volume around every bend. There are far more serious problems one might face aloft. And pilots might have to wait for days before the weather is appropriate for traveling by air. Still, I look back on dozens of long family vacation trips by car during which I looked up, saw an airplane overhead, and dreamed of flying the same route in my own aircraft someday.

While heading to New Hampshire on my recent jaunt, I looked down from 4,500 feet on traffic creeping through Massachusetts on Interstate 495, a road I have traveled often and rarely enjoyed. Every highway looked clogged as I cruised easily overhead. I wondered if any of the drivers happened to look up and see my airplane making good time and fading into the distance as their tempers flared.

My arrival in Lebanon was largely friction-free. I borrowed the FBO’s crew car for the drive to Hanover, where we installed a new battery in my son’s car, grabbed lunch, caught up on current events, and said our farewells as I dropped him off at his rowing team’s practice. Squeezing this visit into the day was surprisingly easy with Annie but would not have been possible in the car.

Less than 30 minutes later, I was calling ground, ready to taxi for departure to the south. The controller instructed me to hold briefly while a Hawker Beechcraft 900 cleared the taxiway. That wait of less than a minute was my only delay of the day.

You might think the trip home would have benefitted from a tailwind, but the breeze had shifted against us yet again. Despite this, I got back in time to pick up my younger son from his high school sports practice. It was not the first time the airplane has played a role in the elusive work-life balance.      

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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