..Jon Simonds..

Come Fly With Me

When I first heard Frank Sinatra's "Come Fly With Me," the last thing on my list of things to do was to fly an airplane. So, when I climbed into the cockpit of a four-passenger Cessna 172, at Dolphin Aviation on US 41, in Bradenton, Florida, I could already taste the breakfast I had eaten all over again. 24-year-old flight instructor, Brandon Borders assured me I would do fine while photographer Alin Diamond nervously fumbled for his camera, in the seat behind me. Neither one of us had ever boarded anything smaller than a commercial jet. The Cessna 172 we sat in didn't have the width of my Chevy Blazer.

This whole insane assignment came about as a result of an invitation to fly a plane from Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), a not for profit group founded back in 1939. Cirrus Aviation's, William L. Welde, also located at Dolphin Aviation, is a retired airforce pilot and a part of the AOPA family. He is dedicated to mentoring pilots for small private jets where, in countries such as Japan, hailing a cab has taken on a whole new meaning. It was Mr. Welde who set up our introductory flight, which had me aging a month a minute.

We put on our headsets and co-pilot Brandon Borders told me to forget the instrument panel, for now. He pointed out the things I had to remember. He explained, while still on the ground, the plane is steered (and most importantly, stopped) with the two pedals my feet rested upon. He told me to keep the nose over the line running down the middle of the runway. He pointed out the throttle to my right and explained, "to build speed you pull the throttle out and to slow the aircraft down, you push it gently in." The steering wheel was for pulling the plane up into the air and dropping her back down. To turn in midair, one need only find the right touch of the pedal and the steering wheel.

"Ready?" he asked.
I said, no, but that didn't really seem to matter. We took off down the runway and I tried to keep the nose of the aircraft over the yellow line. If this were a car cruising down US 41, there wouldn't be a single Law Enforcement Officer in the entire country who could have resisted pulling me over for DUI.

With some small stroke of luck, which is a foolish way of missing a miracle, we were airborne. We were cruising over the waters of Bradenton-Sarasota at speeds that surpassed 100 mph and it hardly felt like we were moving at all. This was the coolest thing I had ever done in my entire life. I was making 360 degree turns, both left and right, for the better part of an hour before returning to the airport where I wisely surrendered the controls for a safe and remarkably soft landing to Brandon.

During our time in the air, Brandon told us about a 13-year-old who had been flying for three years and was on the verge of becoming a licensed pilot, as one can acquire their license at the age of 16. High School students who aren't quite sure of what to do with their future may want to consider a career as a pilot and can find out some valuable information on AOPA's web-site, flighttraining.aopa.org.

Corporations may also want to investigate AOPA's web-site. On demand charter jet service is a growing industry and may be coming to the Sarasota-Bradenton area. Instead of booking a dozen tickets on a commericial flight, fighting long lines and the added stress of getting to the airport on time for the commercial carriers flight, it may actually be more cost effective to charter a smaller corporate jet willing to depart at your convenience. Check-in is a lot simpler and conducting business is much easier on a small jet filled with co-workers.

No matter where you are in your life, a high school student, or a top notch executive, piloting a plane is only a phone call away. AOPA's Project Pilot offers a free introductory flight at an area flight school. The experience is unsurpassed, but I have to warn you, once you've lived the thrill and ease of soaring through the sky, driving will never be the same again.

Photo credits: Alin Diamond (plane and aerial view); Kaitlyn Simonds (Jon in car, above).

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