Friends in High Places – Flying Private

I’ve been flirting with the idea of getting my Private Pilot License for some time. When a friend of mine, who recently finished the licensing program, offered to take me on a flight, I jumped at the chance. I’ve said before that I don’t particularly like flying. What I meant to say was, I don’t like flying commercial airlines: the bumbling crowds, the TSA, surly flight attendants, the TSA, luggage restrictions, the TSA, luggage fees. The list goes on. Somehow, in my mind, private flying eliminates all that; pilot and passengers breeze easily through highly efficient regional airports, unburdened by the need to cater to the lowest common denominator or protect against the worst elements of society. Flight schedules can  be arranged to accommodate a toddler’s nap schedule. Baggage restrictions and fees are a thing of the past. There is always a direct flight wherever and whenever I want to go and, since I would be the pilot, the plane won’t leave without me.


Classic styling.

So, today I went flying and learned what private flying is really all about. We flew a loop out of the South Valley Regional Airport, near Salt Lake City, that took us over the Olympic Park outside of Park City, past Jordanelle Reservoir, into Heber, through Provo Canyon, and back to West Jordan, UT. When the day started, a smoggy haze had settled into the valley, diffusing the bright sunlight and making the entire eastern portion of the sky nearly blinding.


We flew in a neat little (1978?) Cessna 172N, rented from a local flight school. The finishing was vintage and the quarters were tight. I was pretty sure the front seat of a private plane – any private plane – was likely to be more spacious than those lousy cattle-class Canadair Regional Jets that I often find myself crammed into. On this count, I was mistaken. Nevertheless, the pre-flight check went smoothly and quickly and after getting situated in my seat, which required only modest contortions, we took off.


Cessna 172N - our ride for the day

It took only a matter of minutes before we ascended above the haze into a beautifully clear sky.


Big Cottonwood Canyon from the air

The next two pictures were taken as we flew above Parley’s Canyon, the primary route from Salt Lake City to Park City. The first is a southbound view showing that the northern slopes of the mountains have only modest amounts of snow.


Southward view over Parley's Canyon


Out the other side of the airplane, the south-facing mountainsides, which receive direct sunlight for much of the day, are nearly devoid of snow. There has been an unusual dearth of precipitation along the Wasatch front, which lowers the drama of the scenery but not the joy of the flight.


Northward view over Parley's Canyon


Further along, we passed the Olympic Park and had a pretty great view of the ski jumping ramps. The Olympic Park was home to several of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games and will play host to a future blog post! Stay tuned…


Olympic Park, home of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games


Park City with Deer Valley in the background.


Park City from above

By this time each winter, Heber Valley is usually buried in snow. Strangely, there’s hardly a trace. Mt Timpanogos looms large in the background as we make a quick stop before continuing on to Provo Canyon.


Mt. Timpanogos from Heber Airport


We only encountered small amounts of turbulence as we passed through Provo Canyon. I imagine this can be a pretty thrilling ride when the winds pick up.


Emerging from Provo Canyon looking south towards Mt. Nebo


It was a little saddening to make the final turn around the point of the mountain and back into the smog of Salt Lake Valley. It was a stark reminder why it feels so nice to get out of town sometimes.


Valley smog settling beneath the mountains.


I fear I’ve stepped onto a slippery slope. Flying in a small private plane is certainly a thrilling and refreshing experience. Previously, I had hoped and imagined that private flights might be a good alternative to flying commercial. However, despite some of the advantages presented by private flying, the reality of slower travel speeds, limited travel distances, and high costs make most forms of private flying a poor replacement for commercial flights. Commercial carriers simply can’t be matched in terms of speed, cost, and efficiency (yes, I said efficiency, even factoring in the TSA).


Still, there is a lot to be said for private flying. Although it is not often a viable alternative to commercial flights, I think it is a remarkable experience on its own. It provides the sense of freedom and mobility that has been largely beaten out of commercial flying. It gives the pilot and passenger a unique perspective and closeness to the local geography. Best of all, it exposes the willing traveler to destinations and landscapes that would otherwise go unknown. I still don’t know how much private flying I will be able to do, but I do know that I like it.


Thanks, Nate, for a great flight!

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