Before leaving home, I picked up the phone and dialed Bama's number at work. To my chagrin, he answered on the first ring and quickly OK'd the weather conditions and the flight.

"Hey,'re ready. Call me when you get back and we'll talk about it."

According to the flight plan I'd filed with Flight Service, N7289S was set to depart the DeKalb-Peachtree Airport at 5:30 p.m. local time. The expected route of flight was east to Athens, some 55 miles; then northwest to Gainesville, some 40 miles; and back to Atlanta. A total distance of 135 miles as the crow flies.

The flight was to be conducted under "visual flight rules," i.e., separation from other aircraft would be the pilot's responsibility. Navigation was to be by "pilotage." The flight's progress would be measured by visual reference to natural and manmade landmarks the pilot could see from the air.
The estimated time en route was one hour and 30 minutes and the aircraft was carrying enough fuel for about three hours.

Legal, authorized and ready, with flight case and maps in tow, I made my way to the local aerodrome. I parked the car next to the fixed-base operations building at the airport, walked inside and deposited two coins into a coffee machine. Plop. The cup dropped and coffee started to spew. I reached for the cup and dumped its contents right down the front of my shirt and best flying slacks.

"Having problems, Ron?" inquired one of the corporate jet jockeys.

"Nope...trying to get a cup of brew under my belt before starting on a little cross-country flight this afternoon."

"Well, you'd better be more careful flying than you were with that coffee!"

"I will be. By the way, what's the wind doing?"

"Right down the runway at 10 to 15 knots, last time I looked. You shouldn't have any problems today!"

Thus reassured, I strode out on the ramp to where the little green and white Cessna trainer N7289S was parked.

"You're a good bird," I thought to myself as I patted the chrome spinner and started a meticulous pre-flight inspection. Satisfied with the results, I climbed aboard and arranged the small cockpit of the two-seater just so.

"Let's see. I'll keep my navigation log in my lap on this clip board...the chart should be within easy reach over here on the right seat...navigation plotter in my shirt pocket...flight computer between the seats...pencils. What did I do with those stupid pencils? Ah, got my pen...great!"

Seatbelt cinched and buckled, I leaned over and shouted, "PROP CLEAR!" out the tiny window above the left door--a common practice to alert any passers-by that I was about to start the engine. After a couple of turns, the little Lycoming 4-cylinder wheezed once, coughed twice, then sprang to life--shaking the entire plane like a wet dog after a bath. All of the preflight tension soon disappeared, as I became 100% absorbed in what was happening. After months and months of training, I was finally the pilot in command of this flight!

Unclipping the microphone, I cleared my throat, mashed the push-to-talk button and announced, "Peachtree Ground Control, this is Cessna Seven-Two-Eight-Niner Sierra...rear Executive ramp...ready to taxi."

"Seven-Two-Eight-Niner Sierra, Peachtree Ground. Taxi to Runway Three Four. Wind is three-two-zero at one zero, altimeter three-zero-zero-two. Use caution, as the area behind the Executive hangar is not visible from the tower. Contact tower on one-two-zero-point-niner when number one and ready for departure."

©Copyright 2002 David Ray Skinner/SouthernReader. All rights reserved.