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Feature Article

Matt Debski, Aircraft Owner WVFC

Welcomed to the General Aviation Family

I passed my private pilot practical test in the fall, so as the days grow shorter I always recall my practical test and my first few flights after I earned my certificate.  One of my more memorable flights, about a month after my private, was a welcome into the national pilot community.  During the Christmas holiday, I returned to Michigan to join my parents and siblings.  Duane, a father of one of my close Michigan friends had been apprised of my new certificate and invited me to join him and his daughter for a breakfast run.  (His daughter, Katie, and I are now married.)  I was excited at the chance to join him for a flight outside of California.  December in Michigan is a stark contrast to California.  We broke through the ice holding the sliding hangar door shut and pulled the Warrior onto the taxiway at Detroit's City Airport.  After preflighting, we departed the relatively quiet airport.  The positive aspects of cold-weather flying were soon apparent: swift climb performance even for a Warrior, unlimited visibility, vividly blue skies, and smooth air.  We headed west toward Jackson, not far from where Katie's father grew up.  Less than an hour later we were at the much smaller but much busier non towered airport, enjoying a diner-style breakfast.

After breakfast, Duane asked if I would like to fly the return leg.  I leaped at the chance, surprised that he would allow someone to fly his plane; that is, someone with as few hours as I had and having never demonstrated competence to him.  He walked me through the departure from Jackson and we were off on our return leg to Detroit City.  At this point, I assumed that Duane would take over for the landing.  I'd never landed anything other than a 152.  The Warrior seemed completely different: a low-wing, a bigger engine, and a Johnson bar for the flaps.  We entered the pattern at Detroit City and turned to final.  It became apparent that Duane trusted me to land.  He coached me through the round-out and flare; it was a little harder than it should have been, but passable as a first landing in a new make and model.

That flight opened my eyes in several respects.  First, I learned that flying in Michigan isn't that much different from flying in the Central Valley of California.  In fact, California offers terrain similar to conditions found throughout the coterminous United States: mountains, deserts, plains, heat, cold, coasts.  Of course the charts have the same symbology and the controllers use the same phraseology.  I had understood that on a theoretical level but that flight brought it home practically.  It's always a good idea to take a first flight in a new area with a pilot familiar with it, and Duane was the perfect guide.

Additionally, Duane made me feel welcome as a peer pilot, even though he had many more hours than the paltry sixty I did.  I'm sure he was much closer to the controls than I realized at the time, during the landing, but his implicit confidence buoyed my own.  I now also felt welcome to the national aviation community with a certificate good around the country, not just in the Bay Area.  I was so proud to enter that flight from Jackson in my log book.  Since the flight, Duane and I have met in Oshkosh for AirVenture and our families have flown together both in the Bay Area and in Michigan.  This summer he purchased a Skylane and this fall he moved to the Las Vegas area.  Katie and I have already made one general aviation flight to Las Vegas and I'm sure many more flights from both sides are in our future.  This arrangement is the ultimate utility of general aviation.  General aviation -- flying -- brings our whole family closer together, literally and figuratively.