My dad got his pilot’s license a few years before I was born. In fact, he relishes telling people that my first “memory” of flying came when my mom was 7 months pregnant. There are some details you probably don’t need to hear. There was barfing involved.
In spring, 1996, I was working on a project in Florida; I took myself to the airport and announced, “I’ve been flying right seat for 25 years, I’m ready to learn.” I didn’t tell my parents about my lessons for three weeks, when I soloed on my 25th birthday.
I haven’t flown for awhile; I’ve recently developed a little bit of positional vertigo, and really, who wants a dizzy pilot? But I was thrilled when I was chosen (at random, so they say) by the Daily News to go up in Lear 35 with legendary pilot Clay Lacy, who runs one of the larger charter flight operations at Van Nuys Airport, one of the busiest general aviation airports in the world.
I was able to take a guest, so of course I took my dad, who arrived wearing the shirt I got him after I took my checkride in 1996: a green polo with the words “My daughter is a PILOT too!” stitched in blue on the front breast pocket. He’s worn that shirt so much over the past 17 years I can’t believe it’s not in tatters by now.
I did actually get to fly with Clay one other time many years ago, a ride home after an aviation convention in Atlanta. But I’d never flown in a Lear, and this week’s flight was just for fun. Four of the six passengers were pilots. We took off from VNY, with its freshly repaved 8,001-foot runway (longer than Burbank’s 6,500-foot runway 7 miles to the east), and headed through the Sepulveda Pass, past the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory, over downtown LA, and then Dodger Stadium. We were at about 2,000 feet the whole time.
Then we headed out to Pasadena and circled the Rose Bowl, empty except for the joggers circling the 3-mile path and golfers wondering why a jet was flying so low. Then we turned west again, flew past Burbank and VNY where we started, and skirted through the Santa Susanna Pass at not much higher than the rocky hills, to the Reagan Library. Clay gave us a nice view with a 45-degree bank, which made me sit back and stop shooting photos for a moment (veritgo is FUN boys and girls!). Then he decided to show us what a 1970 Lear could do by punching the engines and climbing at a rate of about 10,000 feet per minute. Thankfully he did that for less than a minute, as we topped out just over 10,000 feet and headed over to Malibu, where we descended (quickly!) and flew up the coast. Here’s a little video of our ride over Malibu – we were at about 1,000 feet (you may want to turn your speakers down as the engines are loud!):
And finally, we headed over the hills and back home to Van Nuys. You can see all of the photos I took here.
When I posted a photo after we landed, one of my cousins reminded me that I live a charmed life. I do.