Stuart Ungar Interview

Stuart Ungar Stuart Ungar fell in love with the Cirrus when he sold his medical laboratory business in 2002 and retired from his medical practice. Since then he has logged nearly two hundred hours on Cirrus aircraft and is a regular contributor to this site.

When did you start flying?

When I was a medical student around 1967 I saw an ad in the national papers run by Wills, the cigarette people, who were giving away flying lessons in a competition. And, lo and behold, I won lessons in a Piper Cherokee. I passed my flight test and exams before I passed my medical exams. But the whole thing fell in abeyance until many years later. I got my licence back in the 1990s. I was flying from Fairoaks, a busy GA field just South of Heathrow. I did my twin rating and IMC rating [a UK-only IR-lite].

Business was kind to me. As well as being in medical practice I started up a couple of businesses which were pretty successful. I founded a medical laboratory which rapidly grew and became the biggest private lab in the UK. I sold the business in 2002. Flying up to then was intermittent but then the flying vistas opened because of more time and more money.

Did you look at any other planes apart from the Cirrus?

I’d been casting around to buy a plane. I do believe a chap needs his toys even though I knew it was a daft decision. The only thing that changes as you get older is the price of the toys. I looked at various things including joining a TBM-700 but that fell through when the group couldn’t attract enough members. Then a friend and I looked at a JetProp conversion of a Piper Malibu but it was a bit pricey.

Why did you start flying a Cirrus?

Quite simply: I met Ian Valentine. I thought he was a superb chap both because he was dedicated to aviation but also he was a man with a mission. He had setup FreeFlight Aviation to give people shared ownership in Cirrus aircraft in the UK. I thought this is the way to go.

I’ve got three fundamental fears about flying: 1) getting lost up there, 2) hitting something, 3) structural failure. The Cirrus copes very adequately with all those three fears. Joining FreeFlight meant that I didn’t have to buy a whole plane. It’s going to be run for me and I don’t have to get involved in the admin. And I can go flying more or less as much as I want.

How did you find the conversion?

When FreeFlight was picking up its second aircraft from Duluth I flew over from New York and took the opportunity of seeing round the factory which was most impressive and also taking some flight training in the new aircraft. I’ve flown mainly PA-28 and Piper twins. I got into this plane and I looked at the glass cockpit and then I looked at Torbin (my instructor). I said “slow up slow up – you’re dealing with Stone Age man who’s just been blown into the 20th century!”

How does the FreeFlight group work?

We’ve got a great website which is really supportive. The booking is terribly easy and the communication between the group members is facilitated by it. The group works well because there’s a lot of give and take. One example: I have a close friend who I wanted to take flying for his sixtieth birthday, so I managed to persuade a couple of the group members to give up their bookings on a given day and we planned a convoy to somewhere nice for a birthday lunch. I got three pilots from the group. It was a very friendly family affair.

How many hours do you have now?

Just under 600 total and about 150 in Cirrus

What sort of flying do you do?

I’ve been all over the place: Poland, Denmark, Germany, France and Holland. I have a flat near Geneva and I often fly there. We’re on a mission to eat at all the best airfield-accessible restaurants in Europe so that means lots of day trips to out-of-the-way airports. It’s a tough assignment but we’re working flat out. I’ve just passed my FAA instrument rating and that should allow me a lot more flexibility and FreeFlight is going great guns. When I joined there were two planes, now there are four with another coming soon.

What has been your favourite flight?

I love seafood and am a great fan of Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall. The flight is a very pleasant hour in the SR22. With a taxi booked before take-off to await our arrival at St Mawgan, near Newquay the whole journey takes from my home in central London just over 2 hours door to door. When you have two hobbies, one in service of the other, the enjoyment of the day is more than doubled. The freedom to travel at a whim to places that would normally be a real chore by road is a real bonus particularly in the Cirrus, which is such a wonderful machine, Roll on the Cirrus Personal Jet!

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