December 1, 2022

Finding Your Perfect Plane: Bringing Home the New Baby

When I bought my first new car in 1995, the dealership sent sparkly balloons to my door the next day. When my wife and I moved into our house, we celebrated with champagne. But when we closed our plane a little over a week ago, the experience was so exciting that I wanted to sprinkle the champagne like Formula 1 drivers do on the victory podium.

But there was work to do. I had to arrange to get the new 1992 Commander 114B from his longtime home in Lincoln Park, New Jersey (N07) to our hangar at Sussex Airport (KFWN), about 20nm north.

While I could have dreamed of flying there myself on closing day, the weather was better the next day, and it seemed to me more advisable to have my instructor with me for the repositioning flight for safety. Besides, the insurance company insisted on it. Indeed, as part of my insurance policy, I have to log three hours of double before flying solo in the Commander. I also need a total of 15 hours before carrying passengers.

Which is why I drove all the way to New Hampshire to pick up our son from college yesterday instead of bringing him home for the Thanksgiving holiday on the new plane. There was no reasonable way to squeeze all those required hours over the last few gusty days. I also know that I should think more about skill than hours. And on that front, I’m not sure I’ll feel comfortable enough to release my instructor so soon.

With the passing of the keys, the author is ready for his first flight as an aircraft owner. [Credit: Frank Catanese]

Several months have passed since I last flew a complex aircraft on a regular basis, and I have to admit that I am rusty. The Commander’s checklist is longer than the Cessna 172, and after flying the latter more frequently lately, I’ve grown accustomed to its less demanding cockpit. Combine that with the nervous, distracted feeling of getting on a plane I actually own, and suddenly I need a reminder to raise the landing gear after takeoff.

My first flight as a Commander owner was surprisingly like my early days as a green student. The most basic tasks and maneuvers proved difficult. Even my voice on the radio failed me when I announced our long-awaited departure from Lincoln Park.

“Commander Seven Mike Alpha, departure runway one nine, straight ahead, Sussex – correction, Lincoln Park,” I stammered, in an octave that reminded me of my seventh year. I usually channel Gregory Peck in Twelve o’clock high, but it just wasn’t in me that day. The takeoff itself was less than impressive as I eagerly took off a bit too early and had to gain airspeed in ground effect before exiting, essentially performing an unnecessary soft ground simulation.

The previous owner recorded the maneuver and texted me the clip later with the comment, “I think you shot early.” So true.

I finally picked myself up and managed to enjoy the flight to Sussex, including a pleasant approach and landing, and the triumph of finally stashing the plane in our hangar which had waited, empty, for months. Best of all, a group of my pilot friends were on hand to celebrate, making me feel like I’d crossed a figurative line to become a full member of the airport community. They even distributed cigars. There were tears of joy.