I woke up early - 6:30am central time - and grabbed a quick shower and a bite to eat in the hotel lobby. Brewer (the broker for the airplane sale) picked us up in his truck at 7:30. We headed over to the airport (Hawkins Field) and watched the mechanic continue the pre-buy inspections. He went over the airplane with a fine-tooth comb, and if I had been the buyer, I would have really appreciated the work. As it was, I really wanted to get out of there. The plan (as I understood it) had been for the inspection to be done early that morning, and then for the buyer to fly the plane with his instructor and with Dan, and for the decision to be made and Dan and I on our way home by noon. It was going to be close, because I was supposed to work at 5pm. I called work and talked to them, they said it would be OK if I could get there by 6pm. As it ended up, the pre-buy wasn't done until about noon. The mech had found some things that needed fixing, so Brewer called the seller to renegotiate the price while the buyer, his son, his instructor Langley, and Dan took it out for a demo flight.
I stayed on the ground. I didn't really want to sit in the 3rd row of seats in a hot plane, bumping around in the thermals. When they finally landed, we all thought that a deal had been made. Langley flys a Piper Meridian turboprop plane for a woman who goes to Ashland, KY, from Mississippi, fairly often. As it happened, he was going that very afternoon, and offered to take Dan and I back with him. Dan suggested that I ask him to let me sit in the right seat and get some flight time in the plane. We all talked about it, and Langley thought it was a great idea. The Meridian was at a different airport, so we all started driving over there. About half-way over, Dan got a call from the seller of the Cherokee 6 - no deal, and we need to fly it back. This was very bad, I wouldn't have been able to get to work until about 9pm, way too late. While I was putting a flight plan on file, Dan got another call. They had actually reached an agreement, and the plane was sold. We were good to go for the Meridian ride home.
Upon arriving at the plane, I was quite impressed - what a sharp plane! It looks fast just sitting on the ground. This plane is a 6-place plane, 2 seats at control stations and 4 rear seats in club configuration. Leather interior, air conditioning, and XM radio were just a few of the amenities. It has a service ceiling of about 30,000 feet, and a turbine (jet) engine that turns a huge, 4-bladed propeller. Langley did the preflight inspection, ordered some Jet-A from the fuel truck, and oversaw the loading of the plane. We taxied out and took off, over to Oxford, Mississippi, to pick up the owner. On this short leg, Dan flew up front with Langley, while I watched and snapped pictures. It was just about a 20 minute flight over to Oxford. When we taxied over to the terminal, the owner and her son were there waiting on us. We all got out, introductions were exchanged, then we got back in the plane: Dan and the other passengers in the back, Langley and myself were at the control stations. Shortly after takeoff, he asked if I'd like to fly. Of course! It was actually a fairly normal experience for me - just pitch for airspeed, set power to maximum continuous thrust, and keep the climb speed up. As I got more comfortable with the plane, I took on more duties, like communicating with air traffic control. It was an interesting experience for me, because everything was the same, but different too.
For example, below 18,000 feet, you just report altitude as "six-thousand feet." Above 18,000, however, they term altitude as "flight levels." So 20,000 feet would become "flight-level two zero zero." I kept getting tongue tied, trying to get it out in just the right manner. Also, I'm very used to calling myself "Cessna" to ATC. This plane was a "Meridian," however, so I had to try hard to make my radio calls the right way. I called us a "Cessna" a time or two, just because old habits die hard.
I've got to say, the XM radio is worth it on that plane. There have been very few moments in my life as cool as hurtling for flight-level 270 (27,000 feet) at almost 200mph through a clear blue sky while listening to Led Zeppelin, the Doors, and other classic rock songs.
While we were flying, Langley and I talked about a lot of things. He asked me about high-altitude physiology, the effects of thin and cold air on aircraft performance, oxygen use requirements, and emergency procedures having to do with altitude. Turns out, he was giving me a high altitude endorsement free of charge. This is normally a hard (or at least expensive) endorsement to get, because it involves paying to use a plane that can fly that high. Now that I have the endorsement, I am allowed to be the Pilot in Command of an aircraft operating above 25,000 feet.
Our trip was very short, under 2 hours from Mississippi to Ashland. Here is a shot of my flight instruments while at 27,000 feet. Notice the altitude on the right side, and the speed at the bottom. Our true airspeed was 265 knots or so, and with a tailwind our groundspeed was above 300 knots. This is about 365 mph! Note also, that the outside temperature (the OAT) was -25 Fahrenheit. Thats cold! We were warm inside the plane though.
On the ground, I got Langley to autograph my logbook for the flight time and the high altitude endorsement. I was thrilled of course, and it was only 6pm. I got to work in Huntington, WV an hour later - only 2 hours late (they were understanding and not mad at all, lucky me!). I collected my pilot fee for flying the Cherokee 6 down, and called it a day. The best part though, was talking to Langley on the ground after the flight. He told me that I was very professional and that if I ever wanted to come to Mississippi, he would have a job for me doing something. He owns a flight school, and has a ton of connections, and I most definitely appreciate the offer.
What a fantastic trip, and if its a sign of things to come - aviation was the correct career choice for me, these 2 days were an absolute blast.