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Oh The Places You'll Go
By Eric Wilkins
Posted on 6/9/2020 1:26 AM
What a year 2020 has been. Corona-virus, murder hornets, racial tension dividing the nation... It's been a strange year for this Army Aviator, as I left the United States for an overseas Army-sponsored vacation in February, and have since seemingly watched the world implode. Starting back to work on my long overdue degree online, I got my start writing blogs for an Intro to Aeronautical Sciences class and have kept it going. My hope is that we can turn off the media and use the wonders of the internet to remind ourselves of the privilege to explore we get through our mutual passion for the sky. Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, and FlyingTV all offer us the ability to share in other's flying adventures as well to share our stories with complete strangers from around the world.

I began flying in earnest in 2009 after completing Basic Training for the Army Reserve and attending Metro State College (now University) of Denver. A lucky job at Rocky Mountain Flight School working the front desk and providing shop help at the adjacent maintenance facility gave me the opportunity to expand my flying experience with a CFI early on. When it came time for my first dual cross country, my instructor offered me a unique opportunity to share my passion with my mother, a now-retired Air Traffic Controller at Jeffco Tower (it's still Jeffco to me!). While I had been learning to fly in the school's 152, we took the 172 for the cross country, allowing the opportunity for my mom to back seat drive and criticize radio phraseology from the back seat on our way to lunch in Wyoming. While I don't recall where we went to lunch or what we ate, I do recall the big hug my mom gave me after we returned to BJC, and the "constructive criticism" received in route. This was one of my first very special memories of flying, being able to share my love of flying with my mom, easily my biggest supporter throughout my now 12 years in the Army Reserve. Cheyenne remains one of my favorite 100$ steak dinner destinations outside Denver.
Parked at Lubbock Aero for my friends wedding

In 2017 I accepted a position with Envoy Air, the original American Eagle, in the fledgling Rotor Transition Program. By this point I was a PC (Pilot in Command) for the Army on the HH-60M Blackhawk at Ft. Carson but still only a private pilot in airplanes, so I needed to time build the requisite PIC and cross country time to complete my instrument and commercial multi-engine ratings. So I embarked on a series of cross country trips, flying a DA-40 to Lubbock, Texas for a friend's wedding (I beat the guests who flew Southwest by a little over two hours, thanks to their connection in Dallas) and a long cross country overnight in Kansas City. For this trip I took my friend Isaac, working on his ratings as well. While I was logging all the time, Isaac got the opportunity to see how practical GA can be, and learned some valuable lessons about summer weather in Kansas and the fallibility of the iPad. In all this trip took us 13 hours round trip, in large part because of an area of unforecast low ceilings and forecast headwinds going west. In this trip I discovered my love of Kansas City barbecue and aviation mentorship, teaching lessons to the young up and coming aviators among us and giving them real world experience.
Parked at Kansas City Downtown
After transferring from the Blackhawk to Army Fixed-Wing, my idea of cross country became considerably more international. In 2019 I was part of a crew which flew three C-12V's (King Air 200) from Colorado Springs to Okinawa over the course of two weeks. International requirements, airspace, and flight planning become crucial when attempting something like this, with the longest leg spanning more than 8 hours from the Aleutian Islands to northern Japan. Unforecast weather greeted us at nearly every stop, requiring one diversion to Cold Bay, Alaska, and several unplanned days in Misawa and Tokyo. Presently deployed overseas flying the Army's Citation Ultra, I fly across borders on a daily basis. Accents, local customs, COVID-19 considerations, and extreme high temperatures are briefed constantly to ensure our passengers get where they need to go in a timely fashion. It's a good reminder that any aviator must constantly stay in the books, continually striving for perfection we know we will never meet. But the high-paced life of Army Aviation has also reminded me to embrace the joy that comes with flying a 152 around our beautiful foothills.
The Army UC-35A (Citation Ultra)

I once flew an airline trip from LaGuardia, where I'm based with my airline, to Raleigh, NC for a longer overnight. My captain asked if I had any plans when we get to Raleigh. Yes, in fact I'd coordinated with a fellow pilot I met through Instagram and we were going to go flying in a 152 he rented to a small strip with a BBQ joint. When asked why after a long week of flying I'd choose to spend my free time flying some more, I laughed and pointed out that sometimes when you fly for a living, you have to remind yourself why you chose this profession. We had a short little 152 flight to the smallest paved runway I've ever seen, enjoyed some great food, and swapped flying stories. This short little flight reminded me not only of the simple joy of flying out to dinner, but also how close knit our aviation family really is. Whether flying Army helicopters, fighter jets, heavy airliners, or a little Cessna 152, pilots share a love of the sky. As the old saying goes, ask a pilot about flying, and you'll hear a love story.
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