Reawakening my five senses in relation to airplanes

Now that I have spent a few hours to try to re-acclimate myself to flying a general aviation aircraft, I’ve noticed that my aviation senses have begun to reawaken. I seem to pick up on little things again. Things I haven’t seen or felt in over 20 years.

The beautiful Model 35 V-tail Beechcraft Bonanza
The beautiful Model 35 V-tail Beechcraft Bonanza

Let’s take the sense of sight first. While I’ve not done any research studies on this, for me personally I seem to notice something new to my life through sight first. Whether it be a pretty landscape, a cool motorcycle or an attractive woman, my eyes are the first ones on the scene. Regarding aviation, I began looking at a lot of pictures of vintage general aviation aircraft again via the internet. Many people, even non-pilots, can pick certain aircraft out of the bunch – a Cessna 172, a Piper J-3 Cub or a Model 35 V-tail Beechcraft Bonanza are a few famous general aviation designs. At the airport you don’t see too many airplanes sitting outside, especially in the Midwest during the winter months, so it’s hard to see too many in person. Therefore, I searched airplanes for sale on Trade-A-Plane or Barnstormers. This stirred the knowledge I already had accumulated about general aviation aircraft. By reading the ads, I could further add to my knowledge of terms I needed to know and get a read on the used aircraft market at the same time. A win-win for sure!

Aesthetically, I am drawn to aircraft from the late 1930s to late 1970s. In a practical sense, I know that if I bought an airplane I would not need anything too large or powerful and those planes are the most affordable. I would want to buy a conventional gear (tailwheel) aircraft over others – higher insurance costs be damned! A Cessna 140, a Luscombe 8, a Stinson 108, Taylorcraft B model, and the aforementioned Piper J-3 Cub or even a Piper PA-18 Super Cub all top the list. However, other tricycle gear airplanes also make my list, too – the Cessna 150, Piper Tri-Pacer, Piper Colt and Piper Cherokee.

A 1946 Luscombe 8A at St. Louis Downtown Airport - photo by Scott Allen
A 1946 Luscombe 8A at St. Louis Downtown Airport – photo by Scott Allen

Not only am I re-acquainting myself with identifying aircraft on the ground, but also working to see them while I’m at the controls. One of the things my flight instructor emphasizes is collision avoidance. During lessons I am always watching for other aircraft in the area, both in the air and on the ground. She has my eyes checking for traffic before takeoff, while performing maneuvers, entering the traffic pattern and on final approach to land. Safety is the number one priority.

The next sense that seemed to awaken was sound. My sense of sound likely began to resurface again on the first pull of the starter on the Cessna 150. The sound of the engine roaring to life after a few squirts of gasoline to prime the carburetor was a thrill for sure. But, in other parts of my life my ears have perked up again upon hearing that distinctive engine noise. Sitting inside at work as an airplane or helicopter flies over, for instance, was something that blended into the background several years ago.

Finally, it was my sense of smell that returned a little later. After I’d been in the Cessna 150 a couple of times I began to notice a distinctive smell that is given off by vintage aircraft. I’m not sure exactly which material this smell emanates from, but I do know I have encountered it in nearly all aircraft I’ve ever been inside. That smell is hard to describe.

Before you wonder why I didn’t discuss my sense of touch in more detail, I’ll talk about that one last. You see that’s the sense I’m still working on with my flight instructor, Tammy. While all of my sense in regards to aircraft need work, my sense of touch needs the most work. I do feel I’ve recaptured my ability to fly the airplane, but a smoother touch is what all pilots are searching for and that comes with practice and experience.

Since I don’t drink gasoline or oil, I don’t think I need to mention aviation and my sense of taste in the same sentence. Unless, of course, you want to know how an airplane wing tastes. During preflight, when I put my mouth on the opening to test the stall warning indicator for the Cessna 150 and suck – it has a metallic taste. All I’ll say on that subject is at least I am careful to wipe the bugs off the wing first!