We all engage in activities to reduce the stress in our lives, expand our horizons, and to simply relax and enjoy our allotted time on this earth. For me, that means spending time with friends and family, reading, fishing, and in low altitude orbit while flying a 50-year-old Piper Cherokee aircraft. Airplane years are the opposite of dog years. We’ve been told that one dog year is equivalent to 7 of our years. For airplanes it’s different. It seems each of our years is worth about 7 airplane years. With that math, my Piper is like to a 7-year-old car. Not new, but certainly serviceable.
Having flown the same plane for over 15 years, you learn its intricacies like how it starts up when the engine is cold or hasn’t been flow in a while or when the sound or the smell or the feel is just not right. You learn these things and more. Several years back, when the plane was still new to me, I had taken a leisurely flight to Lake-in-the-Hills airport near the Fox River and the Chain of Lakes, northwest of Chicago in what is now defined as ex-urbs. At that time, Lake-in-the-Hills had a well-stocked pilot shop filled with all the goodies. Headsets, charts, and all the aviation products and supplies, including a very large selection of aviation related books and magazines. The airport had a second important feature, low gas prices and like every value-oriented pilot knows, it’s worth flying 30 miles out of the way to save 20 cents per gallon. This particular flight was made on a beautiful October day. The sky was clear, the air was crisp, and the autumn colors were peaking. A glorious day indeed. After landing, I taxied to the FBO for fuel and meandered over to the pilot shop. The shop adjoined an aircraft repair hanger and the smell of stale coffee and aviation fuel lofted through the air and somehow always seemed comforting like the smell of cookies baking at the holidays. Reviewing the books, I found a title and author I knew and which I had never read. “Fate is the Hunter” by Ernie Gans, a WWII pilot who flew a C-47 during the war. I remembered the 60” era movie of the same name starring John Wayne. Now any book made into a movie and starring John Wayne had to be read, right? Well, I paid for the book, walked back to the refueled plane, and proceeded to perform my normal pre-flight operations before hopping aboard and starting her up. After the engine checks I taxied to Runway 27 for takeoff and my flight home.
Taxiing out I made the left turn onto the runway. A gaggle of Canada Geese were on the grass, just north of the runway on my right feeding and enjoying a well-earned respite on their long flight south. I remember thinking how paltry my flight skills were in comparison to their innate abilities. Entering the runway, I pushed the throttle full forward after checking all the engine instruments were in the black, the airspeed was alive and the plane had reached rotation speed. I began pulling back the yoke allowing the aircraft to lift off. Done just right, small propeller aircraft don’t jump into the air like commercial jets but elevate off the ground without any undue fuss, seemingly without effort. About 20 feet in the air, over Runway 27, I noticed I had company. It seems a few in the gaggle had decided to join me in flight. Off to my right and ahead, I noticed peripherally these birds taking flight. There flight direction was to the South and directly ahead of me. In an effort to avoid contact with the geese, I pushed the yoke forward leveling off the plane with the thought of allowing the birds to overfly my flight path. I had very few options to avoid impact as I was too close to pavement to turn and too slow to quickly gain enough altitude to over-fly the geese. I flew on. The birds too had few options as they were too close to the ground to dive and too lumbering to avoid the inevitable.
I expected the inevitable to be violent like a pothole in winter, but surprisingly, it was not. As several birds flew into and hit my wings, I saw them fall off and thought myself lucky that none had flown into the propellor, thus not damaging my engine. The plane flew fine and for a second, I considered flying back home. However, with ample runway ahead, my training kicked in and I immediately decided to land the airplane. The landing was uneventful. I exited the runway and taxied back to the FBO before shutting down the engine and climbing down to assess the damage, truly expecting none. Upon inspection I was shocked. The left wing was severely damaged by the impact and my pitot tube was gone taking with it any indication of airspeed. Although loss of airspeed is in no way catastrophic, it would have certainly made the flight home interesting. Upon inspecting the tail, more damage. The horizontal stabilizer (or the wing in back of the airplane) had damage so severe from the impact that it pitched 20 degrees to the left and looked like it had been hit multiple times with a baseball bat. In the end, I was able to convince the insurance company representative that the airplane was not “totaled” and was, in fact, repairable. The repairs totaled over $30,000 but she flies handsoff straight and true and holds altitude. Earning a pilots license is a commitment. Drilled into every good pilot is a dedication to safety derived from training, planning and adhering to a strategy for every flight.
On that October day, I first realized how well I had been trained to fly and that good instructors make good pilots. That safe pilots are not simply those possessing the best stick and rudder skills, but those that train, plan and adhere to a well thought out flight plan. In short, good pilots are prepared. Like good pilots, successful investors train, plan and adhere to an investment policy. They know that the most successful investors are not those that can read the tea leaves nor divine the future. Current events make us all want to hide under our beds and avoid the world outside, especially the world of politics. With all of the issues facing us, some wonder about the markets and the economy’s long-term direction. But at the end of the day, core American traits including hardwork, innovation, entrepreneurship and fearless business confidence drive the economy, drive earnings and drive market values and will always be more important than what happens in Washington, D.C.
As always, we thank you for your business and for your continued trust.
Jack P. Cannata