Sunday, November 09, 2008


Yesterday, I had the pleasure of volunteering at this year's AOPA Expo in San Jose, CA. The Expo ran from Thursday through Saturday, and as a volunteer, I was granted free admittance to the exhibition hall floor. My post, however, was at the Aircraft Display, which was at San Jose Mineta International Airport (the FAA wouldn't expand the current airport codes to give them KSJMIA, so they stuck with KSJC).

I arrived at 8:30am, and for four hours, handed out flyers to, well, flyers, and directed people to the port-a-potties and shuttle buses (hopefully I didn't mix that up at any point). At the end of my shift, I took off and wandered around the Aircraft Display for a little while.

My first stop was at Lafferty Aircraft Sales, because they had a bowl of candy, and I was starving. I picked up an inventory list, and am actually just looking at it now for the first time. The actual conversation was mostly about candy. Looking at their list, it seems they have quite a few Beechcraft singles and twins. No pictures = no drool.

My next stop was at the Civil Air Patrol table, where a woman sat with an unruly rescue dog. By "unruly" I mean that his guardian could not get him to stop going up to people and leaning his head against them to get petted. Away, foul beast!! I mean..aww, cute!! In any case, I want to learn more about CAP and think this'd be an ideal way for me to stay involved in aviation. Step 1 is apparently to learn how to fly a 182, which I want to do ASAP anyway.

Next was the Cessna tent. Kind of boring, actually, but I was also really hungry by now, so I went and got some fries.

I then came upon TJ Neff's refurbished 1995 Socata TB-20 Trinidad. Whew. His pitch: For $150K, you get 90% of what you get if you pay much, much more for a Cirrus. Hmm. Well, the plane was really nice, I'll grant you; in fact I've been dreaming of sitting in the cockpit again ever since then. I felt like I was sitting in a race car. It's beautiful; everything's amazingly within reach. The plane does about 155 knots at 12.5 GPH, which seems a bit high to me given other options -- heck, the Diamond DA40 does the same speed on 8-10 GPH and it's not even a retractable OR a constant speed prop (the CS model adds about 12 knots to that on the same fuel burn). Still....very nice airplane. West Valley Flying Club has a Trinidad; I'm going to request a training ride in it.

Then, on to the Diamond display. I've been admiring Diamonds from afar for so long that I had to go sit in one. So I had a seat in the DA40, and...well, it was comfortable...the company rep described it best when he said it's like "flying a La-Z-Boy." Yeah, that's kind of what it felt like. I suppose I actually have to fly it to judge, so maybe I'll try to arrange a test flight if I can find a club around here that has one (I know there's a place in San Carlos, so I could just go there).

So I drove downtown from there and hit the Exhibit Floor. I went from one corner to the other; I saw sunglasses (neat, but ugly), all kinds of avionics -- there's one, I forget what it's called, that replaces the attitude indicator and heading indicator with a tall, thin digital display akin to the attitude/heading displays on a Garmin G1000. Pretty nice engineering, if you ask me, since it can be fit onto an existing six-pack and replace just those two instruments pretty easily. [EDIT: Thanks to reader Colin for informing me that this was a unit made by Aspen Avionics] I talked to an AIG guy about insurance for a while; he looked bored. I talked to someone from a flight academy about whether it was possible to get a job with an airline as a 35 year old with my experience level (of course her answer was "of course!"). I got talked into buying a VFR FlightGuide; it's like the Pilot's Guide that I'd been subscribed to, but (a) covers something like 13 states instead of just CA, (b) is less expensive, and (c) most importantly, is small enough that I could actually carry it in my flight bag. They have a nice looking website service I could subscribe to, but didn't yesterday. Then I stopped by the West Valley display and chatted with the chief pilot Lucy for a bit, and then on my way out, I met and talked with John and Martha King of the infamous King Schools! That was actually really cool; they were really nice.

I feel like I got some interesting data on the "what to do next with this" front. Join an airline? A possibility, though letting go of my nice job (in every way) at this juncture is not on my list of favorable decisions. Buy my own aircraft? Maybe; it sure would be nice, and free me up to make more trips without worrying about reserving and all the other hassles of club aircraft. Let's face it -- I'd love to own an airplane. But it's expensive, and it's a big commitment. I'd also like a dog, which is also a big commitment, but at least a little bit less expensive. CAP seems like a great option no matter what; I will look into that as soon as practical.

I looked around the expo for only about three hours after my volunteer session, but I ended up having a great time! I can only take so much of those settings anyway, and I feel like I got everything I want to out of it.

Now, let's see when that West Valley Trinidad is available...


Colin Summers said...

Aspen Avionics is making the glass panel that slides into the cylindrical holes in your instrument panel. Diamond Aircraft just announced that they would offer the Aspen unit as an option on their DA20.

MKT said...

Thanks Colin! Post edited to reflect this.

Paul said...

Sounds like a great expo! Here's a link to the CAP if you are interested.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to imagine you flying a dog cross-country for four hours . . . now, THAT'S a lot of responsibility. If I could trade in the Civic I would TOTALLY get the flying La-Z-Boy, though. They don't get stuck in the mud nearly as often as a Volkswagen, and they don't shake the mud off all over your leg like a dog.