What Piloting Has Taught Me……..

I read posts on social media from time to time written by my friends who are able to pursue their passion for flying airplanes. There is nothing quite like the feeling of an airplane rising from the runway for a new adventure, seeing the world from the uncluttered confines of the heavens. I was blessed to have a terrific instructor who had an amazing ability to teach as well as instruct. She was demanding but patient, as old folks are harder to teach than young folks, and I started this adventure relatively late in life. After many hours with her and less than 10 solo, she pronounced me ready for my sport pilot check ride. I procrastinated and the opportunity is past. The lessons will follow me to my grave. Thank you, Jeanne’ Willerth, for sharing your passion and skill in instructing.

If you are to pursue this passion, do it as soon as you can. Lesson number one is the things that happen to you as you age are of great interest to the bureaucracy known as the FAA. They do not take prisoners and will dive deeper into your medical records than Jacque Cousteau in the Mediterranean. A relatively small lacunar infarct, also known as a stroke, many years ago is a show stopper, relegating budding old pilots like me to a limited “license” known as a Sport Pilot Certificate. The stroke was totally asymptomatic, didn’t know anything about it then or now, but only after some thirty thousand dollars in neurological testing could I be considered. The finest medical examiners who must sign off on your fitness to fly advise against the testing as a “denial” would preclude me from flying under any circumstance, including the sport license which requires only a valid drivers license. When the FAA denies you…..you are finished.

On the wing of a beautiful older airplane.

Lesson number two. Airplanes in the air are marvelous pieces of machinery. The FAA and pilots in general, place great importance on experience. On a clear air, visibility unlimited day, when everything is going just fine, you can relax just a bit and enjoy the world below and above. Things happen quickly in an airplane and you might go from a semi relaxed state to one of rapt attention as “something” has happened. Be it mechanical, weather related or any number of scenarios that only experience has prepared you for. Today, experience carries an inordinate price tag, and it is not getting any cheaper. The FAA is almighty, and has passed yet another regulation that has the flying community in arms, and will serve to increase the expense. I have learned there is no substitute for experience in life just has in flying.

Lesson number three is an extension of lesson number two. Airplanes are expensive. You have hangar expense, annual inspections, insurance and the hourly expense of actually flying. All this after you acquire an airplane. The costs associated with flying have and are rising at an alarming rate, with old hangar queens commanding big prices. These expenses are somewhat manageable with an older airplane, if you are a private pilot, but the sport pilot has far fewer options as a result of weight limitations. New airplanes, well, for most of us, are simply not affordable. When your age and experience are not in sync, insurance companies look the other way. A sport pilot ticket is a way to fly, but the limitations are daunting and relatively expensive.

Piloting requires thinking at a level not reserved for a jaunt to the grocery for a loaf of bread. It is a procedure laden experience that requires a lot of knowledge about the airplane, weather, rules and regulations. It offers an opportunity to awaken your mind and apply conscious thought to what you are doing and what the result is going to be of your action. I deeply admire, if not envy, pilots who have and are living their passion. Approach an airplane with the casual indifference we approach the family chariot, and sooner or later, you are going to get in trouble.

I read, a lot. Center in my bookcase is a leather bound logbook, between two airplane bookends. It is the most expensive book on my shelf, as I have invested time and money in every entry in it. It represents a beautiful expenditure of time, in limited supply for old guys, but seemingly unlimited for younger folks. Flying is a passion and I delayed far too long. If you have a passion, and you won’t know until you have tried it, do not delay. Do not let the everyday business of living get in the way of your dreams. I did, and I am now an experienced wannabe. Tip of the hat to my pilot friends…….

Have a great weekend.


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