Sunday, March 20, 2005

My first Airplane - The Cessna 150 (A.K.A. "Super Flea")

Thursday, March 25, 2004

It strikes me as I day dream about the purchase of my fist airplane, a 1973 Cessna 150L that though it is not my dream plane it is truly for me one of the world’s great airplanes. The lowly little Cessna 150 and its twin sister the Cessna 152 have done so much more for me than any other aircraft type. They certainly are not the airplanes that show up in my dreams but they are the airplanes that most frequently show up in my logbook and in my life.

It is a strange relationship that pilots have with the Cessna 150/152 (C150), I would not be surprised to find that as much as 75% of modern day pilots were taught to fly in the C150 and its line, This humble little ship has proven itself over fifty plus years of service yet like the Rodney Dangerfield of the aircraft world this little ship gets no respect at all.

I find it interesting that as I speak with friends of mine who are pilots who do not yet own an airplane and tell them that I am buying an airplane their initial reaction is one of excitement, “Really? Great! Wish I could own one. What type?”

“Oh, a little Cessna 150,” I reply.

And then it happens, the interest and excitement and even jealousy so previously evident in their face fades away.

“Oh, that’s nice.” They say, not quite looking you in the eye. If I could read their mind I bet I would hear them say, “I thought he said he owned an AIRPLANE. A 150? Don’t waist my time.”
Then right there in front of me with a smile on their face they start to put down my airplane!

“Oh, well when I buy an airplane, I am going to get a Mooney or a Skylane. You know something you can actually DO something with. I mean the 150 is OK I suppose, if you like that kind of thing, but I always found it too small to be practical. It’ll barely seat two people, it climbs like a dog, it’s very uncomfortable and it is much too slow. I mean what can you really do with a 150 anyway? You know what I mean?”

Actually no, I don’t know what you mean. I know what you think you mean, but I also know you do not know of what you speak.

I do know that in five years from now with several hundred more hours in my logbook, and many adventures under my belt spent with my airplane, you will still not have bought your “REAL AIRPLANE.” You will still be renting Cessna 150s on the weekends to stay current, and occasionally renting a “REAL AIRPLANE” for a quick day trip, or you will tag along with a friend in their airplane. I know because I have been there and I have discovered another way.

No a Cessna 150 is not going to impress your friends. It is in no way a SEXY airplane and will not break any speed or time-to-climb records. Still why does the little Cessna 150/152 threaten us pilots so? Why are we afraid to be seen flying one? Why is it that so many pilots feel so uncomfortable with the idea of owning a Cessna 150 or 152?

Could it be that they are afraid that Cessna 150/152 is so synonymous with flight training that everyone who sees them flying one will assume that they must still be a student pilot? I mean why else would someone fly a Cessna 150? Once you have your license you “graduate” to bigger, faster airplanes right? Isn’t that how it works?

Or could it be that we are afraid to admit that maybe we have not yet learned everything there is to know and that this little airplane still has much to teach us after all?

And so as I ponder these questions and wrestle with my own demons over my not owning a “REAL AIRPLANE” I think back over the many gifts that these unassuming little ships have brought me.

It was in a Cessna 152 that I first took controls of an airplane and slipped those surly bonds and it was in that Cessna 152 that my instructor taught me the intricacies of flight. In that little flying schoolhouse I learned of stalls, and of spins. In that tiny classroom I learned of short field and soft field landings. It was in that diminutive little ship that I learned about pilotage, dead reckoning, and electronic navigation. The little Cessna taught me the effects of the wind and of pressure altitude on an airplane. It was in that little 152 that I first wrestled with cross winds and turbulence and in that little 152 that I made my first “greaser.”

It was in a Cessna 150 that I first learned to talk to an airplane and how to listen and understand how it talks to me. It was the Cessna 150 that taught me how an airplane can become an extension of yourself, think “turn left” and she turns left, think “climb” and she climbs, no less instinctive than placing one foot in front of the other. All these lessons and more taught by a patient, forgiving, yet strict tutor made of plastic and aluminum.

It was from a Cessna 152 named N307DW that Steve Brierley, CFI stepped out onto the school parking apron one crisp April morning telling me, “Now give me three full stop landings and I’ll meet you back here.” and with that closed the door on what then appeared to be a huge empty cabin.

It was in that same Cessna 152 that I taxied into position onto the active runway for the fist time alone, for the first time marveled in how quickly the little 152 lifted off the runway and how quickly she climbed to pattern altitude.

I can still remember myself laughing as I turned to express my amazement to my instructor only to find an empty seat beside me. Strange, that after so many hours squeezed into the seats of Cessna 152s with my instructor how completely cavernous that cockpit felt that day. Like the back seat of a Cadillac Elderado it seemed roomy and comfortable. I flew my new best friend around the pattern like a well-practiced pro. Upon my third touch down, words of congratulations from more new friends in the Air Traffic Control Tower. “Welcome home, well Done, PILOT.”

It was in a Cessna 152 that I flew my first solo cross-country flight. One of those milestones of life made all that much more special when I arrived at my destination to find my entire family there to greet me and buy me breakfast at the airport cafĂ©. It was under the wing of that Cessna 152 that for the first time in my memory, my father; so overcome with pride in seeing his son descend from the sky, on time, alone in that wonderful little flying machine, threw his arms around me and said, “Good Job Son, I am proud of you.” I remember being shocked for these were heart-felt words, with a tear to prove they were true, spoken by a man who normally spoke to his son in much harsher tones. I had previously thought that I was a disappointment to the man, but like so many shattered myths before, it took this little Cessna to show me that it wasn’t true.

Some months later with a fresh pilot’s license in hand, it was in a Cessna 150 that for the first time we flew together. Just father and son, high in the sky on our way to a museum and to see the rocky coast of Maine. Few words were spoken during that flight but my father could not have sat taller in that little Cessna’s seat.

I like many pilots do, moved on to bigger and faster airplanes. I would fly in four seat Cessnas, and high performance singles; I’ve flown nimble little bi-planes that were as comfortable flying up-side-down as they were right-side-up and big lumbering flying boats with supercharged four-hundred seventy- five horse power radial engines mounted on each wing.

So many different airplanes with different personalities, different capabilities and different lessons to teach. I flip through my logbooks and remember them all fondly, cherishing each memory, and loving every single one. Yet peppered hear and there between the entries for the Mooneys, the Grummans, and the Pitts Specials, are the little Cessna 150s and 152s, visiting time and time again like a good old friend.

On one day there is cross wind landing practice, and on another a joy-ride up the coast. On yet another day I see we flew into a little grass strip in Livermore Falls, Maine and took my grandmother and her little dog up to see the town in which she grew-up and raised her kids.

“And look Nana, there is your house,” and “look There…There is the Church where you and Bampa got married.”

And still gazing out the window she replied, “Look at how small it all looks,” and “You would never believe you could fit an entire life from There-to-There.”

And now another first is added to my line of firsts with the little C150. More lessons that the little ship has yet to teach me. The lessons of aircraft ownership, and stewardship.

I find it quite fitting that my first airplane is to be a Cessna 150, a type that has given me more than any other and a teacher with still more wisdom to impart. I have great adventures planned and many more stories to write. My new old friend the Cessna 150 and I have a bright future indeed. I can think of few airplanes deserving of more respect.


flywiseman said...

I really enjoyed My first airplane. Last week i bought my first plane and it too is a C150. I am proud of it although it could use some cosmetic's. She will take me on adventures that only my plane could take me on. I will build hours and learn from her to be a better pilot. Some day I may own a larger plane in order to take the whole family on a trip but for now it will be one at a time with the kids and wife. But life will be great on this adventure of ownership. I just know it will be.

michel bissonnette said...

My first plane was a 1967 150, c-fdno. I will never forget her, like a first girlfriend i guess. The day i sold her was the sadest day. And now, 20 years later, after having flown many more hundreds of hours in 172, grummans and warriors (all rented), I am now looking at ownership once more. My financial mean are now allowing me the luxury of a 182, but strangely, it is the little 150 that is drawing my attention. My local airport has two 1966 low time for sale and they both have new paint and upgraded avionics. I guess you CAN go home again....