One day last week, I took the familiar drive to the airport, performed a preflight inspection on Annie, our 1992 Commander 114B, and took off from Runway 3.
The day was clear and cool with a bright, blue sky and a density altitude of minus-500 feet—ideal for flying. This is the kind of weather Annie (like many naturally aspirated piston airplanes) likes best. It was not cold enough to make starting the engine difficult, but at takeoff time, the big-bore Lycoming roared and I felt especially strong.
Many pilots have heard some version of the “50-70 rule” that states an airplane should reach 70 percent of its takeoff speed after using 50 percent of the runway. The rule is somewhat controversial, and while it has worked for me, I have used a modified version since acquiring Annie. I now look for 70 knots at the runway’s halfway point. At that speed the airplane typically is ready to lift off in most cases.
On this day the takeoff roll seemed ridiculously short, and I found myself looking down at the halfway mark from about 200 feet. As we climbed to the north, I began to wish that I could continue in that direction and visit our son in New Hampshire or some of our friends in Maine.
But this was no leisure excursion. It was a specific mission to deliver Annie for her annual inspection.
After a year that passed too quickly, it is time to find out whether or not our aircraft is all set to begin what we hope will be another 12 months of mostly trouble-free service. She has been running well and showing no signs of decline, but one never knows what the A&P might find inside the engine or under all of those inspection covers.
Waiting for that call from the mechanic is a bit stressful, so to keep my mind off the suspense, and how much I miss having the airplane at my disposal, I am reviewing the list of goals I made the day we first parked Annie in our hangar. Have I come close to achieving any of them?
I was supposed to be further along on my instrument training by now, but I am working my way through a ground school and written test prep course. I signed on with King Schools, which helped me succeed on my private pilot exams. The first day of summer is my new deadline.
We have taken progressively longer trips, farther than we ever traveled in the club’s Cessna 172. My family and I certainly have progressed well beyond the $100 hamburger, which is a good feeling. We also have proved repeatedly that the airplane is stunningly faster than the car. Still I have old friends in places like western Kansas and Texas whom I have yet to visit. They are on the list for the coming 12-month period.
Regarding specific accomplishments, the first year’s results are mixed, but the experience of having Annie in our lives has been nearly pure joy. We have not felt even a trace of the buyer’s remorse that one often expects, and she truly has turned out to be our ideal aircraft—just right for our needs.
Looking back on our first year together, what pleases me most is that I succeeded in getting to know the airplane’s controls, capabilities, systems, and characteristics, from how to use the autopilot to recognizing an incipient stall or consistently nailing a stabilized approach.
The process has taken all year and never really ends, but I feel safe saying that Annie and I have reached an understanding.
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