Seeing Clearly in the Fog

By George Karamitis, EAA 144192

This piece originally ran in the February 2022 issue of EAA Sport Aviation magazine.

Driving to the airport that particular morning, I had my doubts about whether I would be able to get a flight in. But I wanted to fly so badly that I was more than willing to just sit in my hangar and wait out the fog. It was early and I would still need an hour before official morning civil twilight for a 30-minute before official sunrise takeoff. Oh, I know, it’s early, but old people just wake up early.

After parking the car and opening the hangar doors, I begin, as always, with a cursory look at my Quicksilver MX, scanning for anything irregular, like fuel leaking, low tire pressure, or anything that would get my obvious attention. Seeing nothing, I began my usual thorough preflight. Preflighting this little aircraft does take some time, even though everything is in plain sight. And after many years of doing preflights on all sorts of various aircraft, I have learned to follow a prescribed pattern. That way, if any interruptions should happen, I will be aware of where I left off and will be able to continue with a thorough preflight.

Completing the task, I took a seat in one of my favorite chairs and looked outside. The hangar alley has a few external lights that amplified just how thick the foggy mist was. It seemed like I could reach out and grab a handful. I thought that this foggy morning may be just what I needed. Us pilots are not always alone in a setting like this — in that special place where our aircraft is with a weather situation forcing us to take pause. Seems like I am always in a hurry, except when in the air with my 37 mph aircraft. This offered me some time for quiet reflection. So, letting go of the thought of an actual flight, I turned my thoughts inward and just looked at my 1983 “Quick.” As fellow flyers, you’ve sat and looked at your aircraft, too, I bet. You know what I am talking about. My aircraft and I have been together for some 16 years. We first became acquainted in 2006. It was still in boxes where it had spent its first 23 years.

Freeing the Quicksilver from the boxes and putting it in a flyable condition was an enjoyable task. Preparing for the first flight was going to be a little different from some of the other Quicksilvers that I have owned because this early model MX had spoilerons operated by the pedals —individually or together — while the control stick operated the rudder and elevator. Right now, I wouldn’t trade this particular setup for anything. We’ve been through some interesting times together. Living on a golf course a close 3.3 nm from the airport, I was invited to drop in for morning coffee. I willingly obliged. The coffee was good, and so were the homemade doughnuts. During this 16-year period, I dressed my aircraft up a bit with a new sailcloth, a tapered stabilizer, and some nice wheelpants. But, as it turns out, it preferred to rough it. We reverted to more of a blue jeans look with larger tundra tires and saddlebags.

Still sitting in the hangar with the lights on and the thick fog very visible, I had several pesky mosquitoes causing me some aggravation. Remembering that my bride always tells me “George, just shut the lights off,” I did just that. But instead of returning to the chair, I approached my Quicksilver, stepped over the spoiler lines, tension, and nose struts, and easily backed into what I refer to as the center seat. Placing my feet on the spoiler pedals, my left hand on the throttle, and my right hand on the control stick, I was in a flying position both physically and mentally.

I don’t think I made any airplane sounds (though I’m not sure), but I was in some deep thought sitting in my ultralight in a mostly dark hangar as the fog lingered outside. I was indeed flying. And in that special place, in that foggy morning, it became clear to me just what enkindles my love for my ultralight and this type of flying. It is the wide openness that allows all of my senses to experience the totality of flight. The wide openness presents a sight picture that is not duplicated in most aircraft. The various sounds that can be identified are not heard in an enclosed aircraft. You get the smell of a musty morning takeoff or the earthen aroma of a freshly plowed field. There is also the feel of the wind on your face that, after a while, pilots can identify with a certain airspeed. And speaking of airspeed, the ability to be seated in a fixed-wing aircraft flying through the sky at 37 mph is a real experience. And, on some days, you can head into the wind and throttle back ever so slightly to park in midair. After years of professional airline flying with a full panel in front, above, and on the side, and thousands of hours in general aviation aircraft from J-3 Cubs to light twins, I can do all this with nothing in front of me.

My trance is briefly interrupted by the sound of a siren. It seems to be going past the airport and out into the country. I easily fall back into my special place. I want to be there.

For me, the most thrilling part of any flight, whether in the big jets or my simple ultralight, is the takeoff. Aerodynamics aside, it still happens with a certain wonderment as the aircraft, whether an ultralight or a big 747 jet, breaks ground and heads skyward. In the airline world, a takeoff is always a computation of numbers. The takeoff weight of the aircraft, airport elevation, and various meteorological components are used to compute V1, takeoff decision speed; VR, rotation speed; and V2, safe climb speed. Although in a big jet it’s more precise, the thrill of rotation and breaking ground is still an exciting feeling. In the general aviation world, it’s all about that certain speed that will cause the aircraft to break ground and begin flight. That initial part of flight again brings a certain amount of excitement, but the feeling of what is happening is transmitted to all of my senses in an ultralight. Trust me, I have flown them all.

Mentally taxiing my Quick to the end of the runway for a takeoff in the early morning, I usually have the whole airport to myself, except for a resident Florida panther. Holding short of the runway, completing my final checks, I announce my intention to take the runway. Taxiing into position and lining up with the centerline brings that certain special feeling as to what is about to happen, as well as the excitement. For most pilots, lining up is not a mundane event but is accompanied by a slight increase in pulse. I advance the throttle, and just seconds into the acceleration, the feeling of the flying wires begin to tighten. The wing is actually reaching for the sky. I am not just the pilot, I am the actual airplane. We are one. The sight of the runway falling away is further evidence of flight. The wind on my face is the correct amount; the engine sound is the sound that is familiar.

I am briefly distracted again as the sound of the returning siren takes me out of my special place. Again, I don’t believe I was making any airplane sounds, but my hand on the throttle was in the takeoff and climb position, and I was actually moving the control stick. Once more, it was easy for me to fall back into that special place to finish my takeoff.

Fellow pilots, I liked where I was, all alone. It may have been “indefinite sky obscured visibility zero” outside the hangar doors, but it was “clear and visibility unrestricted” inside my being. Despite being held back by the weather, I was still flying. Oh, I know the wheels never left the ground, and I would not be able to log any flight time. But in that special place, I satisfied my yearning to get airborne.

As they say, all good things must come to an end. The same holds true for all good trances. The sky was becoming brighter, but the fog was still thick. Sitting in the center seat, I gave some serious thought as to what I had just experienced. It was a reflective review of me and my attachment to this 1983 Quicksilver. Yes, I have had other Quicks and other general aviation aircraft, but this particular 38-year-old Quick and its 80-year-old pilot are one.

I know you fellow aviators can identify with what I am talking about. I am sure you also have sat in your particular aircraft and given some thought to the same things I have expressed in these few lines. We all have a story to tell about our individual aircraft. After all, we are all birds of a feather. I’ll admit, I was still a little bummed out for not being able to physically fly, but I made up for that several days later. The time I spent in the hangar that foggy morning was reflective indeed. For me, the foggy outside made for a clear inside.

George Karamitis, EAA 144192, is a retired TWA captain, holds an ATP with B-727 and B-747 type ratings, and has been a CFI for more than 50 years. In 2013, George received the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award for more than 50 years of accident-, incident-, and citation-free flight.

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