If you love the rush of adrenaline there is nothing quite like the thrill of flying a small private plane, in addition to the excitement and status, flying a private plane creates a whole new world of possibilities that open up like an oyster displaying a magnificent pearl. A weekend or day trip thought too far to drive becomes a possibility when you fly a private plane.
Million Air Hangar
On a beautiful blue-sky September morning, we drove to the Westchester County Airport, Hangar M, entered the Million Air building, and took the elevator to the Performance Flight office. Ashley, the personable Office Manager, who is also a pilot, made us comfortable and answered our pre-flight questions as we waited for Chief Pilot Nick Gregory, who would be our flight instructor.
Luxury Experience followers know that while The Adventure Kids love their adventures, you can rest assured that we do not rush headlong into an adventure without thoroughly checking out the company and the safety factors of the equipment. Whether we are diving, paragliding, skiing, rappelling, dog sledding, or off on some other exciting adventure, we always do our homework.
Lewis Liebert, an entrepreneur and a self-described adrenaline junkie who enjoys racing his Porsche 911 and is a PADI certified diver, had taken a "discovery flight" at a flight school, and from that experience, he became hooked on flying. In 2007, Lewis created his own flight school, which he named Performance Flight.
Lewis Liebert, Owner Performance Flight
What we especially appreciated about Performance Flight is Lewis' eye for detail where safety is concerned and his commitment to providing excellent customer service. Let us face facts, while one enjoys adventures and thrills, no one wants to be cruising at an altitude of 3,500 feet and find out that there is a mechanical problem with the aircraft.
Performance Flight is truly a "luxury experience" in that they use state-of-the-art, fully loaded Cirrus planes for training, specifically the SR20 (2-seat plane) and the SR22 (4-seat plane), which are known for their safety features. Speaking with Lewis Liebert, he stated that the reason that he selected the Cirrus planes is that they are the absolute best. To give you an idea of the quality of the planes he uses, the Cirrus SR20 costs around $415,000, and the Cirrus SR22 costs around $750,000 fully loaded.
One of the highly advanced safety features is the "Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPSTM), standard equipment on every Cirrus aircraft, indicative of the visionary commitment to general aviation safety. The parachute system is designed to protect occupants in the event of an emergency by lowering the aircraft to the ground after deployment. CAPSTM revolutionized general aviation safety by providing an additional measure of safety to occupants, similar in theory to the role of airbags in automobiles. No other certified general aviation aircraft manufacturer in the world provides this safety feature as standard equipment.
Elaborate Cirrus SR22 Cockpit Display
In the event of an in-flight emergency, pulling the red CAPSTM handle on the ceiling inside the cockpit deploys a solid-fuel rocket out a hatch that covers the concealed compartment where the parachute is stored. As the rocket carries the parachute rearward from the back of the airplane, the embedded CAPSTM airplane harness straps release from the fuselage. Within seconds, the 55 ft diameter canopy will unfurl, controlling the aircraft rate of descent. The final landing is absorbed by the specialized landing gear, a roll cage, and Cirrus Energy Absorbing Technology (CEATTM) seats."
Since its inception in 2007 with one plane and one employee, Performance Flight has grown to a fleet of 25 aircraft. Lewis Liebert's philosophy is simple, "Treat others as I would want to be treated." His clientele include C-level executives, actors, celebrities, entertainers, and business owners who want the very best, which is what he and his team of instructors and pilots deliver.
In addition to its flight school operation, Performance flight rents and charters its aircraft, as well as manages a fleet for owners, provides service and maintenance, and has a buyer acquisition program.
Another key factor contributing to the success of Performance Flight is the level of quality and commitment of the team and the experience of the instructors, hand-picked by Lewis, who not only have many years of flying experience, they have many years of teaching experience and maintain a high level of current flying hours.
Feeling confident about our flight school selection, we were ready for our adventure to begin! Our instructor was Chief Pilot Nick Gregory, who "Tri-Staters" may know as the handsome and personable Fox Channel 5 meteorologist, who has a passion for flying and weather. Flying for a total of 31 years, and 18 years as an instructor, we could not have asked for a better or more patient instructor.
Chief Pilot Nick Gregory
As Edward is an adrenaline-addict who has raced Formula Fords, Open-Wheel cars, Shifter Carts, and Cam Ams, the thought of learning to fly a plane held great appeal for him as it did for Debra, however as you cannot shift student pilots mid-air, so for this adventure Debra would ride shot-gun behind Chief Pilot Nick and photograph the lesson. An experienced photographer whose work has appeared in numerous publications and international newspapers, she is used to photographing in unusual places and was ready for anything.
After a classroom briefing from Nick about what we would be experiencing during the in-flight lesson, we made our way to the plane. Stunning was the word that immediately came to mind to describe the Cirrus SR 22. White trimmed with sky blue, "our" Cirrus SR 22 had a wingspan of 38 ft 4 in/11.68 m, a length of 26 ft/7.92 m, height of 8 ft 11 in/2.7 m, cabin width of 49 in/124 cm, cabin height of 50 in/127 cm, and a base weight of 2293 lbs/1040 kg.
Nick Gregory and Edward doing a Pre-flight Inspection
Before we could board the plane though, Nick and Edward had to complete a thorough inspection of the exterior of the plane; checking off each step of the process to ensure the safety of the flight. Confident in the inspection, we were ready to board. Stepping onto the designated area and reaching up to hold onto the grip bar, we felt a rush of adrenaline shoot through us as we entered the plane knowing that our adventure was about to begin.
Debra -Ready for an Adventure!
Up, Up, and Away!
Donning headphones equipped with microphones that would allow us to converse with one another, and securing our 4-point safety harnesses, we settled back, and listened as Nick gave Edward a briefing on the "how, what, and when" of the aircraft cockpit and how they would proceed.
Edward and Nick Going Over Last Minute Details
Edward: After a walkthrough of the pedal controls for braking, and adjusting the wing flaps, Nick introduced me to the main control, the "side control stick." The control stick is located on the far left side of the plane and is held by the pilot in their left hand. The location of the stick opens up the cockpit for the elaborate flat panel digital display. As this is a training plane, there is a similar set of controls (pedals, and control stick) on the passenger's side for the instructor. With my heart pounding, I listened as Nick called in our flight to the tower and we received our runway clearance and number.
"Pilot" Edward Giving Thumbs-Up
Nick took the controls as he pushed the throttle forward and we started to taxi to our runway. We pulled off to the side to do a set of required last minute checks, which allowed a MUCH bigger passenger jet maneuver in front of us and take off. Now it was our turn. Nick steered us onto our runway and then he turned the controls over to me for the takeoff. With the plane accelerating down the runway, I pulled back on the control stick to raise the front nose of the plane, and all the time I was hoping that the noise from my pounding heart could not be heard over the headphones.
Approaching Runway for Takeoff
As we started to climb to our takeoff altitude of 2,600 feet (866 meters), I could feel the 310 hp engine kicking in while Nick talked about how when you point the nose of the plane up, you increase drag on the rear of the plane and that you are actually slowing the plane down. Thus, as you start to reach your planned altitude, you need to push the control stick forward so that the nose levels off and/or points down a little so that you can continue to accelerate.
What Traffic Jam?
Now that we reached our planned altitude of 2,600 feet, he instructed me to take it up to 3,500 feet (1,167 meters). I eased the control stick back to point the nose up and we started our climb. When we reached our planned altitude, Nick told me to not become mesmerized by the graphics on the incredible digital cockpit display, but to lock my eyes in on the horizon, to feel the plane, and to keep the plane's nose just a bit below the horizon. One of the cool components on the control stick is the electronic trim, which sits on the top of the control stick and is controlled with your thumb. It is similar to the little thumb mouse control that was on old laptops, which would allow you to move the laptop's screen pointer without a mouse. In the case of the electronic trim control, it allows you to do slight leveling adjustments without having to move the control stick.
In-flight Instrumentation Reading
The electronic trim came into play as Nick had me make some turns. It was good that we started to do turns as it took my mind off my nerves and the adrenaline that was rushing through me. With a slight bend of my wrist to the right along with a bit of a pull back on the control stick I started to turn right. The slight pull back on the stick during the turn allowed for a smoother and balanced turn, and once I was out of the turn, I did not have to do as much with the stick to maintain the altitude and to level the plane. The electronic trim allows the pilot to make slight adjustments to the plane via a small nudge on the thumb size control. With just a nudge forward on the control, you can drop the nose a bit and pick up some speed, or if you are a listing a little to the right, with a slight nudge to the left on the electronic trim, you can trim your plane level.
Views of Western Connecticut
As I got more comfortable with how the plane reacted to the movement of the control stick, I started to incorporate the electronic trim into my flying repertoire. We reached a top altitude of 4,000 feet (1,333 meters) as we cruised around the western section of Connecticut. Nick commented that when you reach higher altitudes, you lose performance, thus when we started to fly along the coastline from Bridgeport, Connecticut towards New York City, we descended to an altitude of 2,500 feet (833 meters).
Flying along the Coastline
I was getting a thrill out of turning the plane left and right and how you could feel the plane "talk" to you through the combination of the visual elements and the feedback on the control stick. It was exhilarating to receive such powerful feedback across your senses, which is similar to the rush that I get when racing a car. In my mind, there is no other feeling like the feeling when your machine "talks" to you and you listen.
After an incredible tour of the skies, it was time to call into the Westchester airport and let them know that we were on our way home. The airport controller acknowledged our presence, provided us with a runway, and noted that the approach altitude for Westchester is 1,500 feet (500 meters). I started my decent to 1,500 feet and centered the plane to the runway lines. This is when my heart really started to pump.
View of Airport
It was one thing to take off, another to buzz around the skies, but now I was aiming the plane down and approaching the airport, and I could feel my heart pounding. I listened as Nick told me to keep the plane centered on the runway line, to keep the nose down, but not too much forward, so we could gradually descend. I was on an adrenaline high as I watched the ground rapidly approach as we centered the plane to match-up with the runway. We throttled back to slow the plane down, raised the wing flaps, and smoothly landed at which point Nick told me that I had done more than 75% of the landing as he let me have control. Now on the ground, it was time for Nick to take over the controls as he taxied us to our designated area.
What a Rush - Let's Go Again!!!!
Debra: Throughout the years of sharing adventures with Edward, one thing that I never thought I would ever hear from him was, "Debra, this is your Captain speaking." I actually liked hearing that, and I look forward to repeating the experience again, and perhaps the next time I will be at the controls.
Nick Gregory Securing the Cirrus SR22
Back on the ground, we completed an inspection of the plane, and confident that it was in perfect condition, we tied-it down and secured it for the day. It was an incredible day of flying, one that we will certainly never forget. Now, whenever we hear the sound of a small plane flying overhead, the adrenaline rush floods back over us, recalling our day in the sky with Chief Pilot Nick Gregory and Performance Flight. Once bitten by the flying bug, it is hard to turn back, and we cannot wait to take to the skies again for another lesson. As Lewis Liebert so succinctly stated, "Your life is about to change."
Edward Nesta, Nick Gregory, and Debra Argen
Whether you are interested in taking lessons to obtain a pilot's license, or you are looking for a memorable birthday, anniversary, or congratulatory gift in the form of an "Experience Flight" Performance Flight will create a lasting legacy.
Watch the video of our experience on Luxury Experience's Facebook page: www.Facebook.com/LuxuryExperience
Thinking of taking flying lessons?
How old do I have to be before I can start taking flying lessons?
"You do not have to be a particular age before you can begin to take flying lessons. That said, however, you do have to be at least 16 years old before you can solo an airplane (14 years old for operation of a balloon or glider), and 17 before you can be issued a pilot certificate. Therefore, it may not be particularly efficient from the standpoint of cost and flight hours to begin lessons too early."
How old is too old to begin flying lessons?
"Say "student pilot" and most people think of a youngster chasing a dream. In reality, today's fledgling is likely a middle-aged adult who is not only chasing, but actually fulfilling a lifelong ambition to be a pilot. The average student pilot today is in his 30s, and the typical average active pilot is a decade older. In addition, more than 25 percent of all U.S. pilots with current medical certificates are in their 50s. And some pilots learn to fly after they retire."
For additional information on Performance Flight, visit the website: www.PerformanceFlight.com.
Westchester County Airport
136 Tower Lane
West Harrison, New York 10604
Contact: Lewis Liebert, President & CEO
For additional information on flying, visit: the website: www.AOPA.org/LetsGoFlying
The Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association, LetsGoFlying (www.AOPA.org/LetsGoFlying) is a valuable resource for anyone interested in learning to fly. The website provides a database of flight schools across the United States, many of which offer steeply discounted introductory flights.
Telephone: +1- 800-872-2672
Follow Performance Flight on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/PerformanceFlight.
Follow Let's Go Flying on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/AOPALetsGoFlying
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