Taking someone for their first flight in a small aircraft is always rewarding, but making the flight to an airport I’ve never visited makes the reward even sweeter.
I had the chance to fly two of my new co-workers to a private airstrip on a golf course in Wisconsin, and it was another great reminder of the cool factor that being a pilot embodies, as well as the intense impact one short flight can have.
It was a brilliant sunny, but windy, day and we planned to fly to Voyager Village, a small golf resort roughly 30 minutes south of Duluth, Minn., by Cirrus, for a long lunch. The runway, a well-kept paved strip that parallels the first fairway of an 18-hole championship course, was the perfect destination to demonstrate the benefits of general aviation.
My passengers Jill and Jessica had little to no experience with flying in little planes. While Jill had taken a short discovery flight once before, Jessica had never been up in a small plane.
“Are you ready for a little rodeo flying today? It might get bumpy shortly after we take off,” I warned them as I fueled the plane and completed the preflight.
I had checked the weather before heading out on the ramp and there were reports of light turbulence, but both of them were up for the flight and excited about our lunch date.
“Jill, why don’t you sit in the left seat.” She looked at me with a look of confusion and said she thought that was the pilot’s seat. “It is!” I grinned. “Jump in!”
Minutes later we were airborne and heading towards downtown Duluth. As we flew over the lift bridge, Jill recalled her first flight in comparison to this one: “The plane was a ’78. It was cold, noisy, and difficult to see. This is a smooth, sophisticated ride!”
I offered her the flight controls, and with a little coaching she guided us towards Voyager Village.
As we approached the resort, I inhibited the terrain warnings and explained that the runway we were going to was not in our GPS system.
“To the airplane, it looks like we are landing off-airport, so the terrain warning system will alarm near the ground,” I explained.
This heightened the excitement around our flight, giving us the feeling that we had the keys to a secret castle.
We overflew the golf course and the runway to check for wind conditions, wildlife and golfers, then made left traffic for Runway 4. On short final, I found myself oddly dividing my attention between the runway, my airspeed, and the golf cart cruising down the first fairway off to my left as I was not entirely confident that he was aware we were there. I couldn’t yell “fore” prior to landing, so I just revved the engine a few times and remained ready for a go-around should he decide to veer onto the runway.
After an uneventful landing, we taxied to the ramp area across from the clubhouse and tied down the plane.
“I must say I felt a little like a rock star,” Jill beamed as we proudly strode across the approach end of the runway to the restaurant. “I imagine us in slow-motion with some grand cinematic soundtrack, hair blowing in the wind, walking in to just grab a quick bite. You know, business as usual. No big deal. We do this every Friday, right?”
Though there was no hint of snow, winter brown still had a strong hold on the landscape and there was a chill in the air. Both golfers and aircraft were scarce, so soaking in the sun on the deck of the Voyager Village Grill while dining on $100 hamburgers would have to wait until a summer visit. Instead, we opted for the cozy indoor atmosphere for $100 fish tacos (which were delicious) and a round of Arnold Palmers!
Once we had finished our lunch and signed the guest book — “Ladies who lunch! #FlyingForFoodFriday” — we were ready to head back to work.
Though the air was not any smoother on the return trip, Jessica commanded our craft with authority and kept us on track towards home. When we landed, she looked at me and said: “If I had a plane, I would be doing this all the time! I’m definitely excited to work towards my private pilot license.”
It was the perfect end to a phenomenal flight. When we departed, we were three colleagues just recently introduced. When we returned, we were kindred spirits bonded by the wonder of flight.
I was reminded by the Leonardo da Vinci quote: “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
Jill and Jessica: I look forward to catching your eyes turned skyward, and I’m excited to fly with you again.