Late January 1998

Last week something new happened to me. In all my years, It had never happened before. I wanted to go flying, I had the time, the plane, and the day. The plane started easily and ran smoothly. I looked to the hills in the distance and noted the sun glinting off of the icy trees. It would be a pretty flight I thought. It hadn't been a great day at work, and this would be a good therapy flight.

All set to go, I called the tower for clearance, but got no reply. The awful reality of operating at a big airport like Elmira hit me all at once. If you don't have a radio, you don't fly. It seemed so incongruous to sit in a plane that was anxious to fly, but was stuck on the ground.

Frankly, I hate aircraft radios. Electronics was my first love, and I have a fairly good background in it, but electrons and avions are separate entities to me. I looked into the sky and at the sparkly hills and longed for the simplicity of Dundee, where radios are not needed.

I could be wrong, or maybe I am just exaggerating, but it costs almost as much to maintain a typical stack of aircraft radios as it costs to maintain the rest of the plane. Even most smaller planes now have at least one communications and navigation radio, and a radar transponder that reports the plane's altitude to the controllers on the ground. It is not uncommon to see a second communications radio installed mostly as a backup. To go out and buy this modest radio package, with accessories and installation, could cost five thousand dollars.

Lets check value here. Five thousand dollars is more than twice what I have paid for all five of our family's cars, and it is more than half of what I paid for our airplane. If electronic stuff doesn't like dirt, heat, cold, or vibration, does it really make a lot of sense to put a bunch of it in a small plane? Why not just set the money on fire, if you want to get rid of it so quickly?

These thoughts go through my mind as I wonder what to do with my airplane. I want to do some traveling, and having a radio allows the option of using bigger airports if they are more convenient. All airspace within 30 miles of the biggest hub airports are off limits unless the airplane has transponder equipment. Flight itself has never been inexpensive, flight in the busier areas carries an even higher admission fee.

I'd like to think about a real radio though. One that I could use almost continuously on long trips, and one that would compliment the pleasure of the flight. How about a nice FM stereo/ CD player? I have never flown with music, and I can't help but believe that it would heighten the experience. Maybe soft muzak for flights across long stretches of wooded hills and secluded lakes. The Stones, Doobies and BTO for the cities, some Lynrd and CDB for the southlands, and legions of country singers for most everywhere else. Soft love songs for the night, sad songs for cloudy days and bright songs for sunshine and white puffies.

With a good forecast of winds aloft, so that ground speed could be planned accurately, a whole flight could be choreographed. Songs could be programmed from the CD changer to match the different phases of flight and to match the scenery that was being traversed. Turn when Billy Joel says "you may be right or you may be wrong..." Remember to descend when Petula Clark sings "Downtown". Expect to cross the river when "Proud Mary" plays.

Navigation for the right- brained. We could call it Associative navigation, or "A/NAV" for short. Might I become rich this year, pioneering a novel, relaxing, and inexpensive form of aerial navigation?

The answer is no. I can dream, but aviation's gatekeepers are a pretty humorless lot. No A/NAV, not even an FM/CD. Just a boring old radio to for occasional communication with faceless voices. At least the scenery is enjoyable, and for that matter, a healthy engine always makes good music for its keeper.

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