Flying magazine for pilots flying airplanes and helicopters in the Southwest
SW Aviator Magazine Aviation Magazine - Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah
General aviation flight magazine
current past airport classified events links contact
SW Aviator Feb/Mar 2001
SW Aviator Magazine is available in print free at FBOs and aviation-related businesses throughout the Southwest or by subscription.
- - - - - -
Airshows, Fly-ins, Seminars
2001 Aviation Events Calendar
The web's most comprehensive database of Southwest area aviation events.
- - - - - -
Site of the Minute
Featured Site:
A continuosly changing collection of links to our favorite aviation related web sites.
- - - - - -
Used Aircraft For Sale
Search by:

Or enter a keword:

Post a FREE Classified Ad
- - - - - -

Story by Jay Wischkaemper, Photo by Lisa Wischkaemper

One of the perks of the life insurance business is the ability to travel to some fairly interesting and exotic places and have someone else, namely your company, pick up the tab. When I’m fortunate enough go to those places, if there is an airport or air museum within reasonable traveling distance, I always seem to find myself in close proximity. I have a friend who, every time he gets close to some far-away airport, like Hong Kong or Tel Aviv, would rent a plane and go flying, and as a result, has entries in his log book from a number of very interesting places. I’m not into hopping in an expensive rental airplane at every airport I visit just to say I’ve flown there, but if there’s something worth seeing from the air, I’m all for it. My last company trip took me to the Island of Hawaii, better known as the Big Island. Here, there is definitely something to see, and it turns out that renting a plane to see it is by far the most efficient way to do it.

The Kilauea volcano has been spewing lava for a number of years. It flows through lava tubes down to the ocean, where great clouds of steam burst forth as the hot lava meets cool water. I had been to the place where the lava enters the ocean, and it’s impressive, but I had always wanted to see the source of the lava. There is only one way to get a close look into the crater, from the air.

There are three methods of taking a look. The most popular, because it’s the most advertised and probably has the most pizzazz, is the helicopter. Due to the cost of operating a helicopter, it is also the most expensive. It will set you back about a hundred bucks for a 40-minute tour. In spite of that, it’s the way most people choose. There are a couple of fixed wing services that offer an hour tour out of Hilo for about 90 bucks. For those of us who fly however, there is the third method, which is renting one of those fixed wing planes and doing the flying ourselves.

I had checked out the possibility of doing this before I went over. It seemed the only choice I had in aircraft rentals at the Hilo airport was Sporty’s Academy (recently renamed Hawaii Flight Training Academy). That didn’t particularly bother me; they have an excellent reputation in the aviation community. I didn’t expect any bargains, so I wasn’t surprised to hear the plane would be $104 per hour, and the instructor was another $49. Okay, so this is Hawaii. It would still be cheaper than a helicopter.

The next challenge I had was my 18 year old daughter, who kept whining about how cool it would be to ride a helicopter. I kept reminding her how cheap it would be to take the airplane. The cool versus cheap argument went on until we learned that my home office was paying the cost of certain activities for us, a helicopter ride being among the options. The helicopter ride they offered didn’t go over the volcano, but at least it was free, so the dilemma was solved. Fly over the volcano in the plane. Ride the helicopter on the home office nickel.

I called on Friday to schedule the plane for Saturday. I was told there were no instructors available for Saturday on such short notice, but that there would be a “check pilot” who could fly me. He wasn’t an instructor, so I would have to sit right seat, but I could fly from the right seat. Since it was the only option available, and since I haven’t flown a 172 for eight years and figured I would be about as incompetent from one side as the other, I agreed.

We arrived at the academy at about 12:30 for our 1 p.m. flight, as instructed. The academy is in a small building on the opposite side of the airport from the passenger terminal. I had imagined a much larger operation, similar to the Sporty’s in Ohio. No matter, I was here to go sightseeing! Our 172 was nothing fancy, but adequate for the job; equipment consisted of a couple of KX170’s and a transponder. All of the academy’s aircraft were clean and the interiors were nice.

Jeff, our pilot, was professional and accommodating. He had no problem with me doing the flying, but said if there was a time that I wanted him to fly while I got a better look, he would be glad to take it. We agreed that he would handle the radios while I handled the airplane. I warned him about my lack of recent experience in type, and gave him full permission to take over if he felt the need.

It turned out that Jeff was also an excellent tour guide. We got the same tour we would have paid $89 apiece for, but the whole tab was only $133, and we could have had a third person go along if anyone had wanted to. Jeff took us down the coast to the point where the lava flows into the ocean. Then we climbed to 3500 feet to go over the top of the vent and over the crowd of helicopters 500 feet below. Jeff did take it for a few turns over the volcano while I admired the scenery below. We then went back to Hilo to look at some waterfalls, which, surprisingly enough, were about four miles off the end of the runway. I’m sure the controllers at Hilo love all the tour planes and helicopters swarming on final to runway 8.

Obviously, anyone you rent from is going to require a checkout from an instructor, and for the time something like this takes, it’s smarter to just take the instructor along for the flight. Besides, when you’re doing sightseeing at a place like this that has a great deal of traffic, you need someone along who knows the rules. I wouldn’t have known what frequencies they use, what altitudes they use, or any of the other things I would need to know to stay out of trouble. I also wouldn’t have gotten the great narration that Jeff provided.

So if you happen to make it to the Big Island, and if you’re planning on seeing the volcano from the air, make it a point to do the flying yourself.

The Hawaii Flight Training Academy (formerly Sporty’s Academy Hawaii) operates at both the Hilo and Kona airports on the island of Hawaii. For more information, call (800) 538-7590 or visit their web site,

Click here to return to the beginning of this article.
The material in this publication is for advisory information only and should not be relied upon for navigation, maintenance or flight techniques. SW Regional Publications and the staff neither assume any responsibility for the accuracy of this publication's content nor any liability arising fom it
SW Aviator Magazine • 3909 Central NE • Albuquerque, NM 87108
Phone: 505.256.7031 • Fax: 505.256.3172 • e-mail:
©2001 Southwest Regional Publishing, Inc.