Because I am a lucky duck, I got to go flying in a Piper last week. My first small plane experience!

I met my coworker’s Dad at Palo Alto airport. The plan was to fly across the bay to pick up two of my coworkers (one of them his daughter) at Hayward airport.

I watched him go through all the preflight checks. I didn’t want to interrupt so I just kept my mouth shut and tried to remember everything. Then we got in the plane. Controls and gauges galore! He said I could ask any questions I wanted, but I didn’t want to be distracting or talk over air traffic communications so I continued to keep my mouth shut and tried to remember some more.

Taxi. Get in line. Rev the engine. Our turn. Here we go!

It’s amazing how little speed it takes to get a plane off the ground. I could feel us gliding through the air as we climbed. Kind of trippy. Crazy cool.

A lever here, a knob there. Punching in numbers (air traffic frequencies). Punching in more numbers (transponder code).

Neighborhoods. Infrastructure. Trails.

Lots of tennis courts.

A few minutes later, Hayward. We did two landings, the first for licensing currency. Picked up my coworkers and we were off again. Same drill.

Spotted some REMOVE BEFORE FLIGHT tags on planes at the airport. That’s the first time I’ve seen them used for their intended purpose.

We flew north up the East Bay. I picked out my old apartment in Berkeley as well as the lab I worked in. Then we headed west over Angel Island and swung north again to head toward Mount Tamalpais. At this point I remembered that I’d forgotten to turn on my GPS to track the flight. Oh well.

When we reached Tamalpais we turned left toward the mountain to swing south. It was pretty amazing to look straight out the window and see the mountain level with the plane.

We got permission to fly through SFO airspace, so we headed back to Palo Alto straight down the Peninsula. Saw an A380 taxiing at SFO. It made the adjacent 737s and A320s look like toys.

Lots of helicopters along 101. Traffic reporters?

Hung a left over Moffett Field and then we were back on the ground in Palo Alto. That was so cool! I asked tons of questions at dinner about all the controls. I wanted to know what each dial and lever did and how that affected the plane. I learned about airspaces (they’re shaped like inverted wedding cakes) and air traffic communications and fit this into everything I’d heard over the course of the flight.

This flight demystified a lot about my understanding of basic plane function and air traffic procedures. I am so thrilled and grateful to have experienced it.

I was super tired when I got home and fell asleep a couple hours before my usual bedtime. I think my brain was overwhelmed by everything it had just taken in. I haven’t observed and learned that intensely since I was a kid.

Maybe that’s why kids sleep so much.


  1. So cool! I’ve known a couple of private pilots in the past and they tell some fascinating stories. I love the way small planes are like old cars or motorcycles, everything is simple (lots of gauges, true), non cluttered and anything you do directly affects the performance of the machine. I used to watch the show “Flying Wild Alaska” (pretty much the only reality show I ever watched) because those guys were bush pilots flying tiny planes into and out of some crazy situations while dealing with icing, weight, center of gravity and bears (oh my!) :-D

    As far as kids, watching Blair and Abi grow up made me realize that to a kid, today is the most amazing, sad, terrible, wonderful, great, scary, fun, etc. etc. etc. day of their life. As was yesterday and as will be tomorrow. Without a real frame of reference built up yet, it’s got to be a wild ride being a kid. Everything is new and needs to be learned. No wonder they take so many naps :-)

  2. So much fun! My first experience in a Piper Cub was when I was 9 or 10, living in rural Minnesota. A local guy had one and would often take kids up for short flights around the area. He flew to our place in the middle of winter and landed on the frozen lake!! I still remember how the world looked so different from above than from below. Mind-blowing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *