While working in high tech in Silicon Valley, I qualified for my California Real Estate Broker’s license and ended up buying property in the High Desert of Southern California. I worked out a schedule with my employer where I worked about three days in the office and the rest of the week from home. (I suppose I was way ahead of my time, as this was pre-pandemic.)

Two years prior, both out of a desire for adventure and also as a way to honor my father who was a military fixed wing and rotorcraft pilot, I took flying lessons and received my private pilot’s license and instrument rating.

I had a unique commute.

Once a week after work, I would take rail and then a cab to the Palo Alto airport, where my plane was parked. I would get fueled from the airport fuel service, do my preflight check, and then taxi out to the runway while talking with the tower. I would take off above the bumper to bumper rush hour traffic and fly over the California Central Valley, sharing radio space with the airliners, enjoying the beautiful stars and moon. For anybody needing to take a break to spend time alone, I imagine camping in the desert, sailing across the ocean, and piloting yourself home from work probably belong to the same class of escape.

As I would descend at my home town municipal airport, the warm smell of the high desert air provided comfort. I would land, taxi to the parking area, tie down the plane, then walk 30 yards to my car and drive the mile to my home.

One time the fuel service person did not fully return the fuel cap on the wing into its fully locked position. I did not see this during my preflight check. As I accelerated down the runway and rotated for takeoff, the spraying fuel, sucked out of the wing through the loose cap, became a torrent. I called the tower and informed them I would need to turn around and come back. “Negative, no emergency, but I will need to reseat the fuel cover.” The tower directed me to do a left turn pattern instead of the customary right turn pattern over the San Francisco Bay. The right turn pattern is for noise abatement over the residential area to the west of the airport. I landed, taxied off the runway, shut down, and reseated the fuel cap. As I taxied again, the tower asked what kind of plane it was because it was an older generation low wing aircraft based out of my hometown airport. I let them know the model. They said they thought it was cool.

One time I forgot to close my VFR flight plan. One of the reasons you open a flight plan is so that if, at your expected time of arrival, you don’t check in to close your flight plan, the US government will start looking for you to rescue you. VFR stands for Visual Flight Rules. This means that you can’t fly through clouds. IFR is Instrument Flight Rules. You’re still responsible for looking outside the aircraft and avoiding collisions, but air traffic control has more responsibility to maintain aircraft separation and to keep you safe as you fly. One reason to file an IFR flight plan is if you expect to need to fly through the clouds. An IFR flight plan gets automatically cancelled when you land. For a VFR flight plan, you need to radio in or call in to air traffic control to make sure they know that you are safely on the ground.

Another time when returning from Silicon Valley to the California High Desert airport where I was based, I forgot to close my VFR flight plan. At 5:00 AM the next morning I woke up in a panic and realized I had forgotten to close my flight plan. I picked up my cell phone and saw numerous attempted calls which I had not heard because my cell phone ringer was off. I dialed back the number and profusely apologized, identifying myself as the pilot for whom they had left various messages. The gentleman at the other end happened to be the one who was on duty looking for my aircraft, and he said he hadn’t called out the rescue team because he had called the small airport where I was supposed to have landed. The one person at the airport who in this small town also lived at the airport had awakened, walked outside, and found my plane intact and tied down, so they were able to positively conclude that I was OK.