Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Learning to Fly

By Toni Ann Buchalski       

Interview with Robert J. Buchalski Jr. 

Throughout your life what would you say is one of your most memorable experiences?
Robert: One of my most memorable experiences was my third solo cross country trip while working towards my private pilot's license.
How old were you when you completed this third solo cross country flight?
Robert: I think I was around twenty years old.

What kind of an aircraft did you operate?
Robert: It was a Cessna C-152 airplane. It had two seats and a single engine. It was white with blue trim.
Why was a third solo trip necessary to complete?
Robert: I needed three cross country solo trips, a minimum of ten hours of solo flying and a minimum of twenty hours flying with an instructor.

Where did the third solo cross country trip begin?
Robert: It began at the Linden Airport in Linden, New Jersey.
Where was the trip supposed to end?
Robert: I was scheduled to take off from Linden Airport, fly to and land at Harrisburg International Airport in Pennsylvania, and finally land and complete the trip at Cape May County Airport in Cape May, New Jersey. This trip had to be a total of five hours minimum as a requirement in achieving my private pilot's license. 

Why was this trip so memorable to you?
Robert: I had planned this trip numerous times before actually going through with it. The frequency, flight plan and fuel consumption had all been calculated. However, I could not control the weather, which is why this trip was so memorable. This cross country flight took place around August in 1979. I arrived at the Linden Airport an hour before takeoff. The weather was below minimum for en route ground track. Basically, the V.F.R., or visual flight rules, stated that there had to be at least a three mile pan of visibility. The visibility on that day was around one mile.

So what did you decide to do then?

Robert: I decided to hang around and wait about an hour for improvement. After this hour there was enough improvement for me to move on and really start my trip.
Were you nervous about takeoff, or even nervous about flying alone in general?
Robert: Not really. The Delta pilots at Linden Airport told me to stay in contact with the control tower at Harrisburg International Airport and to request a special V.F.R. permit to land if needed. 

Was the flight successful from Linden to Harrisburg?

Robert: After the pre-flight routine, the fuel check and the filed flight plan, I took off. Two hours into the flight I called Harrisburg and advised them that I had the intention to land with A.T.I.S. information, A.T.I.S. meaning automated terminal information service. The trip was very uneventful and the visibility was extremely poor. I had forgotten to ask for a special V.F.R. permit, so the control tower was a bit confused by my A.T.I.S. I notified them that I was a student pilot working on my third solo cross country trip.

Was the control tower helpful?
Robert: They could sense that I was a little hesitant in regards to landing due to the visibility and the fact that I was flying solo. They asked me if I had any requests. This triggered my reaction to ask for a special V.F.R. to land at Harrisburg.
What did you do after landing?
Robert: I parked the plane and refueled. In the pilots’ lounge I had the Delta pilots sign my log book confirming that I had completed half of my trip. They were in disbelief that my instructor had such confidence in me flying solo under such poor conditions. One pilot signed the book "arrived alive." 

Did you stay overnight at the Harrisburg International Airport?
Robert: No. I actually got back in Cessna C-152, received my V.F.R. for departure and was on my way to Cape May County Airport. Due to the circumstances, I requested flight following. This allowed me to talk to air control to ensure I was on the right course and to be notified of the altitude and any possible air traffic.

Did you encounter any problems on your way to Cape May County Airport?
Robert: The visibility was only at one mile. I really couldn't see where I was flying to. I crossed the Delaware Bay diagonally. I was three thousand feet over the water with only one mile visibility. The trouble for V.F.R. pilots in this situation is that there is no horizon to look at. A pilot could become easily disoriented and lose control. 

Did you lose control at all?
Robert: I remember talking to the controller. If I missed Cape May County Airport then I would still be flying out over the water, unsure of where land was. The controller heard my nervousness and helped guide me a little more because he knew I was still a student.
Did you successfully land the plane?
Robert: I lowered the nose of the plane slightly, and as a result I had a visual of the Cape May County Airport.

What happened after you landed?
Robert: I got my log book signed by more Delta pilots to confirm that I had completed another portion of my trip. After four hours of flying solo, I rested for one hour at Cape May. I refueled the Cessna and took off again.

Where were you headed to now?
Robert: I was headed back to Linden Airport. The visibility was still extremely poor so basically hugged the ground. I flew the entire shoreline from Cape May to Sandy Hook at five hundred feet above sea level. I even took a spin around New York Harbor. I landed at Linden Airport with my total flight time estimated at five hours and twenty minutes.
Was your third cross country solo trip successfully completed?
Robert: Yes.

What made you want to fly?
Robert: I found it very interesting and focusing. A lack of focus is what causes people conflict and life threatening accidents. I liked the challenge of staying focused. It has helped me throughout my life.
If given the opportunity, would you do it all over again?
Robert: Yes, I would like to do it all over again.

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