Aircraft—November…7…3…2…8…Golf…departing runway 2…1…to the north
Unicom—No other reported traffic…Have a safe trip…
Getting my wings
Managing airspeed and controlling the airplane is what it’s all about. All airplanes have specific characteristics pertaining to the type of plane it is, all airplanes fly a little differently, but the basic principle is this: an aircraft will remain stable and fly at a fast enough speed or an aircraft will become unstable and fall out of the sky without enough speed. The pilot’s responsibility is to know those speeds and recognize warning signs and be ready to react to maintain control of the aircraft.earning to fly an airplane is not hard to do, it just requires a desire to learn and special training.
I never learned to fly until 2000, at age 45, when I started managing Big Sandy Regional. You really don’t need to know how to fly to manage an airport but it does help. I have been around aviation ever since my brother, Larry Joe Cox, became a helicopter pilot about forty years ago. He is an excellent pilot and has many hours in Bell helicopters and takes special training every year at the Bell training facility in Texas. He is currently flying for a company in Lexington.
I was sitting in the office my first year managing the airport when a gentleman walked in and asked to speak to the new airport manager. I said, “Yes sir, that would be me, how can I help you?”
“I’m also new on the job, at the Paintsville/Johnson County chamber of commerce and I would like to invite you to speak at our luncheon sometime soon.” he said.
“I’m not sure I would have all that much to say, don’t think it would take very long to tell what I know about running an airport,” I said.
“Our meeting just lasts about an hour and we would just need a few minutes from you talking about the airport and your background. It doesn’t require you to talk all that long. I’m sure our members will be asking lots of questions and that will probably take up most of the time. I’ll pencil you in for noon, next Thursday, if you like.” He said.
I agreed to the meeting and started thinking about what I could say about the airport that they probably didn’t already know. I took lots of pictures of the different aircraft and the beautiful sunrises, sunsets and cloud formations when I started running the airport, so I took my pictures with me when I went to the meeting. The chamber of commerce had just a few minutes of business to discuss then they turned the floor over the me. I was introduced as Big Sandy Regional’s new airport manager.
I handed out my pictures to be passed around while I was talking and told my audience the facts about our airport, Big Sandy Regional is owned by Floyd, Johnson, Magoffin and Martin Counties and controlled by a board made up of members from each county. The airport runway is 5,000 feet long and 100 feet wide, with a parallel taxiway that runs the length of the runway. The runway is large enough to handle almost any corporate jet and our airport should always be considered an important part of our counties’ business infrastructure, just like our four lane highways, our runway is an important part of our community. There is a saying in aviation, “A mile of asphalt will take you a mile but a mile of runway will take you anywhere in the United States.” We are located only one mile from Eastern Kentucky Industrial Park and it’s not unusual to have business fly into Big Sandy to do business there. (just last week a plane from Texas visited Boxvana)
As I thought it would, it only took about five minutes to tell all I knew about our airport so I asked my audience for questions. The very first question I was asked was, “How long have I been a pilot?”
I told the lady asking the question, “I’m not a pilot.”
She responded, “Oh my goodness, you run our airport and you don’t even know how to fly an airplane!”
I said, “To be honest, you only need to know two things to run an airport, pump gas and cut grass.” Everyone laughed but it is the two jobs that I do the most. In the spring time when grass is growing, you never really stop cutting it, by the time you have all of it finished, where you began is starting to need cut again. Airplanes need fuel and that’s how I make my living, selling gas to the planes and the helicopters.
Driving home after my lunch with the chamber of commerce I started thinking that the lady was right. I should get my pilot’s license, I didn’t need it but if I ran an airport, I needed to know how to fly a plane. When I got back to the airport I called the man who had taught just about everyone I knew how to fly a plane, Larry Short from Allen, Ky.
I set up my first flying lesson with Larry and met him the following day. Larry is an excellent instructor and he loves teaching people how to fly. His daughter is a pilot for American Airlines and Larry got her started. When she first got her license they flew from Kentucky to the Pacific Northwest, down the coastline of Washington, Oregon and California, then across the southern route to home. As long as Larry has students to teach, he’ll fly 8 hours a day, he loves to teach.
The way Larry teaches is about half hour of ground school each day and about an hour flight instruction. That way you don’t get too bored with the school part and the flying part really keeps you interested. On the first flight lesson Larry wants you to get the feel of how an airplane responds to your commands. You also try to maintain straight and level flight, that sounds easy but to a new pilot it’s not. In a turn an airplane starts descending because it is losing lift and you have to pull back on the yoke to compensate for the loss of lift. That becomes instinctual after a few lessons but not so at first.
After straight flight, steep turns and slow flight, you start your stall training. It’s really important to NOT stall an airplane, when an airplane stalls it stops being an airplane and turns into a rock, it will literally quit flying and fall out of the sky. Your instructor teaches you stalls so you can recognize when a stall is going to occur and how to prevent it from happening, and if it does happen, what you have to do to stop it. Larry took us up to 3,500 feet about sea level and had me level off. To do a power on stall, you pull the power back half way and start pulling the nose of the plane up, the plane will start losing airspeed because it’s trying to climb but doesn’t have the power to climb. As the nose of the plane gets higher and higher the airspeed gets slower and slower until the stall warning horn sounds and the plane starts shaking slightly, it’s telling you, it can’t do this, it’s about to quit flying-and then it does. The nose will turn downward, the plane will drop about 100 feet and as it drops it will pick up some airspeed and start flying again. A Cessna 172 is a very forgiving airplane, with power on a 172 will actually correct itself and start flying again and give you another chance to add power and take control of the plane.
The power on stalls didn’t scare me at all, it was actually fun to understand what the plane is and isn’t capable of doing. The power on stall is to teach you to not try to climb faster than the airplane is capable of flying. The power off stall, or more commonly called the approach to landing stall, is a whole different animal. Larry took us back up to 3,500 feet to give us plenty of altitude to recover the airplane. This stall is to teach you to not get too slow when you are coming in to land, how to recognize it and how you must quickly react to the loss of altitude to recover.
We leveled off at 3,500 and pulled the power back to idle speed, the plane slowed down and Larry told me to hold it level for just a few seconds and slowly pull the nose upward until the stall light came on and the plane starts to buffet (shake). You are supposed to have your hand on the throttle and be ready to quickly add power as soon as the plane breaks. I had my hand on the throttle but I wasn’t expecting the plane to break so quickly and fall so rapidly, to be honest, it shocked me how quickly it happened. The plane broke nose first straight toward the ground, I took my hand off the throttle and grabbed the yoke and pulled the plane back to level without adding power, the worst thing I could do. Larry quickly yelled, “I’ve got it.” I let go of the yoke and Larry added power and leveled the plane off, we had probably fallen about 800 feet in a matter of seconds. It scared me and I think it scared Larry too. He looked over at me and said, “Were you not going to recover this plane? You didn’t add power, you didn’t do anything!”
I said, “Yes, I did do something Larry, didn’t you hear me scream?” When the plane broke that quickly it totally took me by surprise. I was expecting a stall like the power on stall and I learned an important lesson: if we had been landing and I stalled the plane like that, there wouldn’t be enough time to recover that close to the ground. We went back up and I was ready for the stall the second time and I never forget that lesson when I’m coming in to land. You must maintain proper airspeed until you are over the runway.
The next lessons are all about take-offs and landings. Crosswinds landing, tailwinds landing, short field take-offs and landing and such. Then you are ready to solo. There is no scarier felling than when your instructor gets out of the plane, signs you off to solo and tells you to go do three take-offs and landings, all by yourself. My hand was shaking when I started the plane and as I started taxiing out to the runway, but my training kicked in when I got ready to take-off. I felt less nervous, I knew what I had to do, I knew I had to do it on my own and I had to execute what I had learned. Three take-offs and landings without any problems and when I pulled back in and turned off the plane, was I ever proud of myself. I wasn’t a pilot, I had a long way to go to get my licenses but at that moment I knew I could do it.
I had the luxury of talking to other pilots while I was learning to fly. One day as I was doing some solo work, practicing my take-offs and landings a state police pilot who had flown in the governor was watching me do my landings. He asked me how I felt things were going. I wasn’t too happy with how I was progressing and he, Capt. Whitt, told me, “Gary, flying is all about peaks and valleys, you just have to push yourself out of your comfort zone until they become comfortable. Be patient, things will come together, all pilots go through what you are feeling.”
Navigation is the next step, you have to do dual cross-countries with your instructor and learn to talk to air traffic controllers, after several dual trips you have to do short and long solo cross-country trips. I never felt more lost in my life than when Larry sent me to Bristol Tri-City airport by myself and over to Elizabethton, Tennessee, airport to pick him up. I was expecting to go to Huntington, West Virginia and then Portsmouth, Ohio, his usually training route where I would recognize some landmarks but he needed to drop-off a plane in Elizabethton, I knew nothing about that area. That was also before GPS was being used in most planes. I just knew I was lost all the way to Bristol and I was so glad that when I called into Tri-Cities and they answered and cleared me to land. I did my next solo long cross-country to Louisville, Bowman Field and Hazard and after that one I figured I was getting a handle on the navigating and talking to controllers, another peak and another valley like Capt. Whitt had told me.
When you get all of the requirements in and a minimum of 40 hours training, you get signed off to do your private pilot’s check-ride, where your instructor takes you to a designated check-ride instructor to see if you have been trained properly. Larry took me to Bill Hall at Huntington Tri-State airport. The check-ride instructor makes you do all the things your regular instructor did; stalls, emergency landing, steep turns and such, and if he is happy with how you handle the plane, he awards you your private pilot’s certificate. With that piece of paper you are a pilot.
You can’t imagine the smile on my face when Mr. Hall handed me my certificate, what a relief it was! I radioed in ten miles to the north, inbound for landing and my son-in-law, Kyle Runyon, said, “I can tell you passed by the excitement in your voice!” He was right, too. When I landed at Big Sandy I did a perfect, squeak, squeak, landing and Larry looked and me and said, “That was a perfect landing, where has that been all this time?”
I looked over at Larry, grinned and said, “Larry, I’m not a student pilot anymore, I’m a pilot now!” We both had a good laugh!
Aircraft—Big Sandy unicom…Cessna…7…3…2…8…Golf…inbound for landing from the north…
Unicom—No other reported traffic…winds calm…do we have a new pilot on board?
(Gary Wayne Cox is airport manager of Big Sandy Regional Airport owned by Floyd, Johnson, Magoffin and Martin Counties)