I suspect that most of our readers, like me, took flying lessons after the first couple of try-out flights because it was just plain fun. Who can forget the first solo, first long cross-country, private pilot check ride, and first passengers?
My dad, who was learning to fly at the same time I was, was my first passenger after I received that coveted private license. But my mother was my most memorable first non-pilot passenger, because she hated flying. “Slow down! You’re turning too fast! What was that noise? How long will this last?” Those were her first statements to me, while we were taxiing out for takeoff! Honest.
Certainly high on the list of flying firsts is that first ownership experience. Mine was a Cessna Cardinal. What a thrill it was (and still is) to know that the airplane, helicopter, glider, or whatever it is that is sitting out at the airport, in your back yard, or tied at the slip at the lake is actually yours and only yours.
Since that first Cardinal, the list of aircraft I have owned includes light and heavy singles, three different 310s, even an Enstrom helicopter. Very few bad experiences with these aircraft, as well as the many others I’ve had the privilege of flying, come to mind.
However, plenty of “fun” memories are stored and easily recalled. Zipping back and forth across the country for business and pleasure; not having to deal with the hub and spoke airline system very often; landing the helicopter in my back yard and taking neighbors for rides; viewing the New York City skyline by night, and the Grand Tetons by day, just to name a few. And, of course, there is always the fun of planning new trips to add to the log book and photo file.
I think this “Just for Fun” aspect of flying often is lost by many pilots over the years. For some, it is because the love of flying turned into just another job, somewhere along the way. I hate it when I see that happen. You can always tell, too. And a nervous passenger I make, when I think I am being led through the sky by a pilot who isn’t enjoying what he is doing.
That’s why I never took up any offers to work for airlines. I know myself well enough to realize that I would hate the repetition and I love to fly too much. Thirty-four years and some 12,500 hours, all general aviation, have passed since my first solo and not once have I regretted not applying to the airlines. I truly admire those who did, and still love what they do. It’s the airline pilot who still gets up in the morning, anxious to get to the airport because he or she loves the job, that I want in command of my or my family’s flights. And, as I begin my 14th year as an EMS helicopter pilot, I love it as much as my first day on the job.
But how about you? Do you own an airplane but have lost that “Just for Fun” feeling when you fly it? Be honest. Does this bother you if that is the case? If so, admit it and do something about it. If you haven’t flown your plane in awhile, get it and yourself checked out and get back into the air. And do it with a plan. Don’t just go boring holes in the sky. I mentioned, last month, that my favorite flying “fun” exercise is to shoot landings. It has always been that way. Not only is it fun, but if you set standards for altitudes, touch-down zones, smoothness, airspeed accuracy, pattern shape, and the like, then you also become quite proficient in short order.
Go for another rating. Try some airports you’ve never visited before. Check out the event calendars and go to a fly-in. Take some kids for a ride, or plan a trip where “get-home-itis” is not in the equation. After all, you want to enjoy this.
I think we sometimes get caught up in all the mess of IFR, regulated airspace violations, maintenance hassles, GPS and moving maps that crowd our laps. For some, meeting the challenge of managing all of this proficiently is what makes flying fun, but others can easily get too busy with all this mess to have any fun at all. Some of the guys I know who enjoy their planes the most don’t even have radios in them.
As we close out another year, let us — who are lucky enough to own our own airplanes — remember that for every pilot who owns an airplane there are three others who wish they did. So if you have been idle, not enjoying your flying, or neglecting your plane, why not change this soon. Airplanes are not meant to sit at the airport and rot. That’s one of the worst things you can do to your plane. They are meant to be flown, and it’s supposed to be fun to do. Put some teeth into a New Year’s resolution next month. Go flying more, and do it just for fun. After all, isn’t that why we learned to fly in the first place?
Guy R. Maher has been actively involved in aircraft sales and type-specific training since 1972. With more than 12,500 hours in general aviation airplanes and helicopters, he currently flies an IFR EMS helicopter, is an FAA Aviation Safety Counselor, and provides consultation and testimony on operational and safety issues for legal proceedings.