To me, traveling from one point precisely to another is fascinating. Navigation is easy to understand when traveling on the surface of the earth. It is a simple matter of following directions. In other words, you can travel down Highway 92 for 3.8 miles, see the library on the right hand side of the road, turn left at that intersection, and find your way in this manner anywhere on the ground.
Navigation at sea, however, is different. There are no checkpoints on the open ocean with which to check your course. A similar situation exists in the sky. At least in my mind it did, until I learned about the process of going from point A to point B.
In the beginning, learning how to navigate in the air seemed confusing and difficult. I quickly found, however, that it was not. Like many things in life, you just have to be careful in your planning and then follow through with your plan.
I soon learned about the compass, how to determine direction, and how to measure distance. After drawing a line on the chart, it is no more complicated than putting the airplane on a heading and following the line along the ground.
Sure, it can be a little more complicated in reality, but not too terribly so. These are the basics. Today, many new student pilots are dependent on GPS and are unable to find their way around when the technology fails. Back in the early 1970s, GPS was not around and the airplanes I learned to fly in lacked electrical systems anyway. In other words, if you were unable to draw a line on a chart, set a heading, hold airspeed, and determine your checkpoints, more than likely you were going to become lost. The funny thing about student pilots is that they rarely become lost; they only get lost after becoming licensed private pilots and grow a little too cocky.
With 2,100 RPM set on the engine, the Piper Cub flew at a blazing speed of 75 mph. For training, Charlie had a short route that took his students from his airport to Lake Wales and then to the small town of Fort Meade. The trip was 68 miles and took one hour in the Cub. We typically flew the route at 1,200 feet above the ground. This gave us a splendid opportunity to really go sightseeing.
Charlie would take us out one time along each route, the short one, and then the longer. When he was convinced we could find our way around the area, we would fly the routes solo.
On the dual flights with Charlie, we flew with the doors of the Cub closed. Once I was on my own, however, I flew the entire route with the door open.
The first time I took off on the short route to Lake Wales, the path took me overhead The Lakeland Airport. Today the airport is known as Linder Regional. I prefer the old name, Drane Field.
During World War II, many young pilots trained on heavy bombers at Drane Field. As I climb into the morning sky, I think about those skies of so many years ago. Those boys, who were 19 or 20 years old in 1942, are now old men. What they did during their time in the military was perhaps the noblest service of the century.
I think about those young guys as I fly over Drane Field. I look down at the airport, which is now a civilian field. It still bears the markings of a military base. I can see the circular parking spots, or revetments, where they parked the big bombers. I can also see the old ammunition storage bunkers.
I share the same sky in which those young men flew 30 years ago. Today however, the flying I do is strictly for fun. I sense the debt I owe to those brave aviators of so long ago. I wish there were a way I could let them know that I do in fact, appreciate everything they did and all they suffered through so that I could enjoy this day.
Flying beyond Drane Field, I come across a woman in the country hanging out her clothes. I feel like a voyeur; her back yard is fairly enclosed, and yet, I still catch her hanging out her laundry. This does not happen these days; nowadays, we wash our clothes and they go through the dryer.
I miss the smell of sunshine in my clothes.
© 2011 J. Clark