You know what’s really cool about this question? I feel uniquely suited to answer it. And not just, “I have an interesting side point,” or “How about a funny anecdote?” I think I’m in a position to really nail this one.
A long time ago, in a galaxy… OK, so it was 1988 in San Diego. Fine. As a precursor, my step-father had his license when I was a kid, but didn’t fly very much, and not at all after I turned 10; it was just too expensive. I’d taken a single airline flight, my first, at age 18 and had signed up to fly with the Navy just a few months before starting lessons—it was a college-completion program, where I owed them 4 enlisted years if I didn’t get my degree and complete Aviation Officer Candidate School. Yes, I’d tied a lot into my love of watching airplanes.
Cessna 150 – This was a neat little plane with 10° more flaps and 10 less horsepower than the 152. A nice combination to get into more trouble.
Cessna 172 – In order to fly more complex aircraft in the Armed Forces Flying Club, you had to get checked out on something similar, first. In order to fly the next plane, I needed an hour in this one.
Cessna 177B – One of my best friends was invited to a wedding in WaKeeney, Kansas, about a thousand air miles from San Diego. As a last hurrah in the civilian world, I offered to fly him there. With a 60,000′ CB over Liberal, the local law suspecting us of running drugs, nearly overheating in Truth or Consequences, NM, and other interesting occurrences, it was quite an adventure.
Beechcraft T-34 Mentor – The primary flight training aircraft of the day, this was the program used to separate the jet, patrol, and helo pipelines. This was also where simulators started to lose their heady luster and represent work.
North American T-2 Buckeye – The Navy’s primary jet trainer for decades, the “Guppy” was used to train pilots in inverted spin recovery well after it handed its role over to the T-45. It was so stable and predictable, though, that it was a jet that could just barely kill you.
Douglas TA-4J Skyhawk – “Heinemann’s Hot-Rod” was the first really cool jet that we flew and it was a lot of fun. Single engine, single navaid, single radio, you were in extremis on take-off. “Pull the RAT, take a trap” seemed to be the final two steps of every emergency.
McDonnell Douglas T-45 Goshawk
– As an added bonus after we’d received our wings, our small cadre was told we’d be testing out this new trainer’s ground school. They did give us a couple flights afterward, though, so that was neat.
Grumman A-6E Intruder – The venerable warhorse was on its last round through the fleet and it was an honor to be part of the legacy.
Chengdu J-7 – As part of a short exchange program while we were off the coast, some of us went in to fly with the Pakistani Air Force and several of their pilots came out to fly with us on the carrier. I spent the day with the training squadron and went out with the CO and two students. We did some practice bombing and strafing, and even mixed it up 1 v 2. It was a blast.
McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet – You actually fly the A and B in the Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS), but it was the C that I flew in the fleet. They were just standing up the Super Hornet FRS when I transferred to the Reserves.
Piper PA-44 Seminole – In order to get my Airline Transport Pilot license and remove the “centerline thrust only” limitation from my licenses, I needed some time in this little guy, which amounted to about 8 hours, including the check ride. Landing the carrier jets I was flying meant always keeping the throttles moving and when I did that in the PA-44, the crusty instructor warned me, “Now, don’t be jimmy-jocking the throttles!” I’d never heard the term, but never forgot it.
Boeing 727 – I sat side-saddle on this one, never actually having piloted it, given my lack of seniority when it was retired. I did “protect essential,” though, which is a term all flight engineers carry with them to the grave.
McDonnell Douglas MD-88 – I was surprised how much fun it was to fly an airliner when I got to this plane. I thought it was going to be dull stuff, but the challenge was still there, just in different ways. I actually only flew this for 14 months, in two 7-month stints, before and after I was furloughed (and out of the cockpit for 4 1/2 years due to that and added military commitments).
Boeing 757-200, 757-200ER, 757-300, Boeing 767-200, 767-300, 767-300ER – These are all actually part of the same category and I fly them all regularly and interchangeably. Each is a delight (though the 757-300 is a bit of a pig). When I went through the school and saw how many more systems minutiae was automated, I understood the phrase, “Boeing builds aircraft, McDonnell Douglas builds character.”