Ex-PHC footballer reaches for the sky
After meticulously going through preflight inspection, Lonnie Bascome slowly taxis the Cessna 172 Skyhawk towards the end of the runway and awaits clearance from the control tower.
It's something the Bermudian pilot, a former midfielder for PHC Zebras, has done countless times since he started working for Blue Sky Flights.
A US Airways commercial jet glides in over Clearwater Beach on its final approach. Only after it has touched down and passed the tiny Cessna's starboard wing, is Mr Bascome allowed to take off.
With Royal Gazette photographer Akil Simmons and yours truly on-board for the ride, Mr Bascome throttles up; moments later wheels lift off the ground. We are airborne.
“Every time I get in that plane it is a feeling of excitement,” Mr Bascome said. “It's a sense of euphoria because I'm flying and now taking people flying around the Island in my free time.”
Mr Bascome has been flying for the company for nearly a year now.
He was inspired to become a pilot by an air show he saw when he was a youngster.
“The Blue Angels did an air show here a long time ago and once I saw them do their demonstration that was it for me,” the 31-year-old said. “It was just one of those things I wanted to do and I had the backing of my parents [Lonnie Sr and Judy] to keep that dream alive.”
Mr Bascome enrolled at Florida Air Academy in 1998; a football scholarship took him to Jacksonville University.
“[It] had an aviation programme with Delta Connection Academy flight school and that's who I flew with,” he said.
“At the time I was very active in sports and had a soccer scholarship, so juggling my time between academics and sports was a challenge. But the end goal was to get my flight ratings, my wings, so that became my main focus and it was not challenging after I made that decision.”
The Pembroke resident had to fly solo from Florida to North Carolina to earn his pilot's licence.
“That was my first long cross-country flight and I have logged just under 400 hours of flying altogether,” he said.
Mr Bascome graduated in 2009 with a bachelor's degree in aviation, operations and management.
He began flying for Blue Sky Flights on a part-time basis last May, taking locals and tourists on aerial tours.
“Blue Sky Flights has received great reception from the tourists and the locals, if not more from the locals, because it gives them a different perspective,” Mr Bascome said. “To see the Vixen shipwreck [off Daniel's Head] from above or the developments of the America's Cup, or Horseshoe Bay from a bird's-eye view, let alone the reef structure, it's a fresh and different experience and that's the beauty about flying in this outfit.”
There are two landmarks that the Department of Airport Operations officer has taken a particular liking to.
“I like rocking my wings over Horseshoe Bay,” he said. “But the most rewarding thing is flying over my parent's house and letting them know I am coming through.”
It goes without saying the courage and skill required to fly an aircraft no matter how big or small.
“It takes a little of knowhow and getting used to flying,” Mr Bascome said. “The biggest thing is just corrections because you are going from two dimensional to three dimensional, so you have to stay level not only horizontally but vertically. You also have to be confident and trust in your training and ability in yourself.”
Mr Bascome said his friends are often surprised to learn he can fly.
“They're like, ‘You're the one flying that plane?! I see it all the time',” he said. “Not all of my friends know what I went to school for.
“My family and friends couldn't see me when I was flying here and there in the United States. But now flying in Bermuda is a real sense of pride because family members and people who I have grown up with see what I have been doing all of that time in the States. It's very rewarding.”
While he enjoys being at high altitude, Mr Bascome admits he misses playing football for PHC.
“As much as I want to be in the sky, I want to be on the field as well,” he said.
“My plan is to go at it for the second half of the season but my team-mates joke around and say, ‘You belong in the sky'.
“They tease me and say I can't get in the team. But that's all right, I know I can.”