The Happiest Hour Among Total Flight Time

By Scott Spangler on March 20th, 2023

Aviators track their flying lives one hour at a time. No matter where they are in their aeronautical journey, just starting or finally resting on retired wings. Every hour is important. Some were more exciting. Others were more meaningful because they taught an important lesson. Some lessons made the DO-NOT-REPEAT list. And then there is the hour that deserves some thought and reflection—the happiest hour.

Finding this hour was not an effortless endeavor for me. Checkrides didn’t make the initial list because I find little happiness in the deep end of the pool of performance anxiety. Successful outcomes offered the reward of relief, not happiness. Flying the trench from Arlington, Washington, to Anchorage, Alaska, fell from the list because no single hour stood apart from the sum of my ultimate aviation experience. The same goes for the air combat and formation flying courses at Sky Warriors in their blue camo T-34s.

Paging through my logbook, that was not the case for my 15-hour tailwheel transition course at Stick and Rudder Aviation of Watsonville, California, the “Academy of Flight and Taildragmanship.” On the eve of Kitty Hawk Day, December 16, 1996, I flew my happiest hour in an 85-horse clip-wing Piper L-4 with instructor John Coplantz, who grabbed two rolls of toilet paper before we walked to the bright red airplane, its white lightning bolt segmented by the Piper’s yawning bifold doors.

Toilet paper was not part of the lesson’s preflight briefing. Our mission was three-point and wheel landing practice combined with 180-degree power-off approaches in a moderate crosswind blowing 10 to 15 knots across the Watsonville Muni Airport (WVI). But the course synopsis foretold of comprehensive training — and fun. For example, after “Pitch Attitude Flying,” it says, in parenthesis, “Look, Ma. No airspeed indicator!”

Using an airplane to subdivide a streamer of toilet paper was something I’d only read about, and the tacit promise of another new experience made me eager to tackle the lesson objectives. With them successfully flown, John told me to depart the pattern and climb over Monterey Bay. At some higher altitude I don’t now remember, John dropped the first roll from the L-4’s front seat.

Watching it unroll, John challenged me to cut a 5-foot length from the top end of the streamer with the left wingtip, then to cut another segment with the right wing midway between the tip and where the strut supported the wing. With the Cub’s clipped wings, that’s not a lot of wing to work with. John continued to issue his challenges over the battery-powered intercom (Stick & Rudder’s 85-horse training fleet of two Aeronca Champs and the L-4 don’t have electrical systems).

I was having so much fun swooping, turning, and shortening the slowly-falling streamer, I didn’t think about the mechanics of flying. As I focused on my target, the Cub told me what it needed by the sound of the engine, the wind passing by the open door, and the feel of the stick and rudder and seat of my pants. And that, I’m sure, was the point of the exercise, but as the setting sun glittered off the bay, all I wanted was altitude and the freefall of the second roll.

So, what about you? What has been your happiest hour? Don’t be shy! Share it with us in the comments. Scott Spangler–Editor


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One Response to “The Happiest Hour Among Total Flight Time”

  1. harmonyair Says:

    Each pilot experience varied emotions while high up in the sky. It’s great to know about your experience.
    Pilots should enjoy every moment of flying to make the experience more memorable, while also focusing
    on the mechanics of flying as that was the critical part of the training.

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