A “lest we forget” reminder of why ALL new planes should be welcomed into the GA market:
Last weekend I was in the D.C. area, doing publicity for an Atlantic Monthly piece. (Since this is a politics-free zone, i won’t mention the topic, but check it out – July 2000 cover story.) I had wanted to meet Bruce Holmes, director of NASA’s Agate/SATS efforts to modernize the GA fleet, so on a day off the publicity circuit, I arranged to rent a plane in the DC area and meet him at the Newport News airport, 125nms to the south.
Well, I was nearly an hour late getting there, because the 172 I rented:
Started out with Com2 INOP;
Had the transponder fail just after takeoff, so controllers couldn’t see me and I couldn’t get flight following as I had hoped. Went back to my departure point, had it looked at, and took off again. It failed for good 10 minutes later;
Had Com1 semi-fail halfway through the trip. I could receive just fine, but my transmissions were readable only when I got within about 3 miles of the other party. I could communicate with the Newport News tower to land – but only just.
And this is not even to mention the general shit-can aesthetics of the plane, a C-172XP built during the Carter administration.
Because it was a clear day, I was able to make the return trip flying essentially NORDO / NO-XPDR, at a low enough altitude that that was legal and seemed safe. (The route involved the VFR corridor between the Dulles and National Class B space, which always gets one’s attention.)
But it made me think: why has GA run into market resistance? It’s because the products available, unless you’re rich enough for a corporate jet, have been so unbelievably shoddy. The rental choices available at the typical FBO remind me of the miserable product selection in the main department store in Hanoi, when I visited it in the pre-market-opening mid-1980s. I have never felt as grateful to Cirrus, Lancair, and others who I hope will enter the small plane market as when I got out of that shabby crate at the end of the trip. While Bruce Holmes may have been mildly peeved to be kept waiting so long, perhaps he was heartened to see this reminder of why his efforts are needed.