Living at the Airport



I lived at a regional airport for a year. A nice little place, two runways, some hangars, a terminal that saw only partial use, and only one regular commercial flight going in and out of it. I lived at the flight school where I’d had my first lesson. Why? I needed a place to stay after a stormy breakup with a roommate, and I was friends with the owner.

But what was it like? To me, it was heaven. The Department of Natural Resources Hueys spooling up every morning, the sound of turbines going by, the Fire Patrol birds going out in the morning, the fuel trucks driving by. Watching the flight museum’s P-51 Mustang roar by on Saturdays. I loved walking through the hangar in the morning and saying hi to the three mechanics. I could get up and take a flight in the mornings, using the time I earned working the Hertz desk on the weekends. I also did a lot of volunteer work at the flight museum nearby, helping with events and such. In fact, I soloed a plane before I ever soloed a car!

It was a good life, for a time, where I could just work and live and bank my rent money and spend time with flight students and mechanics.  Eventually I had to really learn to drive, and I bought a house, and I got all responsible and stuff.  I broke away from the owner of the flight school because of some serious irreconcilable differences.  I still treasure those airport memories even though they are bittersweet.

Learning to Fly: Turning

Turning in an airplane is interesting. On the ground, when you are taxiing, you steer with the pedals, not with the wheel the way you would in a car. Most modern trainers have two main tires that are fixed in place under the body of the plane, and a smaller one under the nose that can be steered. Some aircraft have the small wheel under the tail instead of the nose, and those are called “tailwheel” or “taildragger” to distinguish them.

When you are taxiing on the ground, you push with the main part of your foot to keep the plane centered on the yellow line, and if you need a bigger correction, you point your toes to use the brakes. Just a touch to one side or the other usually does the trick. One foot works the brake on the right main tire, the other works the left, so if you need to stop straight ahead, you’d better use both feet! Moving the yoke or wheel gets you nothing but a laugh from the instructor, unless you are in a crosswind and need to work the aileronn on the wings.

I was lucky not to have driven a car much when I was learning to fly. I didn’t have the reflexes to override, always wanting to use a steering wheel. In fact, when I flew solo for the first time, I still hadn’t driven a car without an instructor present! That didn’t mean I was instantly good at taxiing, of course. It still took some practice. After all, planes are not as good moving on the ground as they are in the air. But eventually I was trundling merrily down the center of the yellow line on the way to and from the runway.

Turning in the air is even odder for the uninitiated. Then you get to use the control yoke, using the ailerons to tilt the plane to the right or the left. It’s just like leaning on a bicycle if you are going around a turn really fast. You use your feet too if it’s a really steep turn, because now the pedals control the rudder instead of the nose wheel and the brakes. It can be fun, watching the horizon tilt to a fifteen, thirty, forty-five, or even sixty degree angle!

There are other considerations when you are turning in the air- wind speed, how fast you want to turn, what you are using as a reference. One of the things new pilots learn is S turns across a road, and turns around a point. That helps them with precise flying and putting the plane exactly where they want it, with no guesswork. So if you see a little plane circling around a particular area, over and over, when there isn’t really anything around to look at except maybe a barn in the middle of open country, that might be a student pilot out in the practice area, learning how to turn.