I love flying. I used to love airline travel more than I do, but I am enjoying absolutely everything about taking lessons for my Private Pilot's certificate. Buckling up in the Piper PA28-181 Archer II, taxiing, lining up on the runway and pushing the throttle to the firewall is the most fun I've had in ages. Yes, of course I understand that I'm on the baby slopes end of the aviation spectrum and there are far more exciting aircraft than an Archer, but that really isn't the point.
Then, one day my instructor mentioned to me that he was off to do his day job at the weekend. He works for a base in Maryland that manages aircraft for their owners. As he is effectively working for the owner when he flies his regular ride, he is operating under FAR Part 91 (General Operating) rather than the more controlling FAR Par 135 (Commuter and On Demand Operations). The PC12 NG is single pilot certified and that leaves the right seat free. So, would I like to come along?
Er, would I? I took time to consider how this opportunity might come again. I considered all of the millionaire owner-pilots that I know that might have neglected to mention that they were millionaire owner pilots. I waited until he'd finished asking and said calmly, "Sure, that would be great, thanks".
Thus, on Saturday morning, dressed as smartly as an owner would expect of their pilots, we set off on the forty-five minute drive to the airport. We were met with this:
It's a Pilatus PC12NG and is beautiful inside and out. Well, maybe it's got a face only a mother could love, but it certainly has ramp presence. "It is just like a big Archer", my instructor lied. Yeah, an Archer with a PT6 in the nose. First things first: training on how to use the huge cargo door and how to close the cabin door without the folding steps banging as they swing shut. This will be my job when we pick up our passengers as it will allow the real pilot extra pre-flight time in the cockpit to reduce any delay.
The plan was to fly IFR from Maryland to a small airport in New Jersey, pick up a small group and whatever they wanted to bring back and then deliver them safe to their home airport. On the outbound leg we would be empty; the return would be entirely at the passengers' schedule. FADEC controlled start-up was much simpler than the sometimes cantankerous little Archer and after lining up on the taxiway, my instructer said "over to you, but watch out for the toebrakes, they're a little sensitive". I get to taxi? Cool. He was right about the brakes.
"OK, when we get clearance, line it up on the runway and push the throttle full forward". I get to takeoff? Uh, ok. Um. Seriously cool.
"The magenta symbol is the Flight Director. You keep the yellow triangle nicely tucked into that and it will take us where we're going". I guess those wasted hours on MS Flight Simulator weren't wasted after all.
I have to admit that for the forty minute flight my eyes were transfixed on that little pink icon. The only time I looked out of the window was when the traffic passing from 9 o'clock, 1000ft above was suddenly an Embraer 145 that seemed to fill the top of the screen as it passed from left to right. One thousand feet separation looks like much less than it sounds.
I relinquished control for the approach and landing, and did so happily. It gave me a chance to watch the C-17 that was sharing the airspace with us and then to see the man at work. Once down, a quick blast of reverse pitch brought our speed down handsomely.
And then we waited; people don't buy an aeroplane to be on our schedule. As the passengers arrived, we were polite and courteous. Unload the car? Sure. Load the bags and effects into the aircraft? I'll just pop the cargo door open and pass them in for the pilot. Wait for the group to board and close the door without the steps banging. Glad I practiced that, I looked like I knew what I was doing.
Then back to home base with my instructor showing what serious experience can do for you. Fly the aircraft, listen out for air traffic control messages, negotiate for shortcuts, keep watch for other aircraft. I aspire to this level of time management and I will practice.
When all was said and done I thanked my instructor for the opportunity. Now that I think about it, next time I see him I'll thank him again.