Deep within the hearts and souls of those who fly is a desire to repeat the experience. Whether our last flight was three days ago, three years ago, or three decades ago, the flame still burns. We want to fly. We occasionally dream of flying. And we plan to one day, someday, fly again.
That’s an amazing series of thoughts. Amazing because a century ago the full population of pilots in the United States was so small the entire group could have fit into the same theater to see a show. Even as late as 1929 there were still just shy of 10,000 pilots in the entire country.
Today, the pilot population is significantly larger. The equipment we fly is immeasurably safer. The airspace is much better defined and the handheld technology we have available to even the most miserly of pilots is almost unimaginably affordable.
Their hair may turn gray, their faces may wrinkle with age, but their hearts remain hopeful as their eyes turn skyward to seek out the source of a sound that could only be a piston engine at altitude.
Once we’ve flown, we live to fly again…someday.
Fortunately, someday can roll around pretty much whenever we want it to. Getting back into the air isn’t the hardest thing in the world to do. In fact, it’s fairly easy. And it might not even be all that expensive.
Like anything else in life, it all comes down to how creative you can be and how well you network in your search to find a deal that works for you.
Just because your brother-in-law, Bob got current in a sleek new whiz-bang machine with all sorts of glass and gizmos in the panel, doesn’t mean you can’t get just as current and have every bit as much fun flying a 50-year-old classic for less than half as much per hour at the local flight school or flying club.
It’s my good fortune to meet up with a few hundred lapsed pilots a year. Part of what I do is help them get back into the saddle, using the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Rusty Pilot initiative as a springboard to propel them back into the cockpit.
Invariably, the folks I deal with leave the seminar with a smile on their faces, an endorsement in their logbooks, and a renewed dedication to finish their long overdue flight reviews.
Thankfully, a good percentage of those Rusty Pilots follow through and book that next flight. They get current again, and they get back into the air where they’ve been dreaming they’d be again. They’re stoked, they persevere, and they’re successful, which makes me very happy indeed.
It’s very common for attendees to ask me to recommend a flight school or a flying club where they can get back into the game more conveniently. Sometimes I can make a recommendation. Other times I can’t. Generally because the person I’m talking to has come such a distance to attend the event I have limited familiarity with the options available at the airports near their home.
This past weekend I presented an AOPA Rusty Pilot seminar in Vero Beach, Florida. It’s a beautiful facility located roughly half-way down the east coast of the Florida peninsula. It’s a hotbed of aeronautical activity located just a stone’s throw from beaches you wish were closer to your house.
The administration building is flanked on one side by Piper Aircraft’s manufacturing facility. On the opposite side of the building sits FlightSafety, which trains massive numbers of pilots who have their sights set on a career in the cockpit.
To this quaint little town came a room full of lapsed pilots, all hoping to get back into the cockpit sooner rather than later. This particular group ranged in age from late teens to late 70s. That’s not unusual, in my experience. What’s also not unusual is to find that some of the folks have traveled far to get there. Very far, in fact.
One visitor to last weekend’s installment drove from Archer to Vero Beach, a trip that involves more than three hours on the road even under the best of circumstances.
I often have people in the room who have driven two hours or more. In fact, it’s rare to hold a Rusty Pilot presentation when a significant minority of the attendees haven’t traveled a considerable distance to get there.
This encourages me tremendously. The limiting factor I’ve found isn’t the level of interest or the number of potential participants. Rather, it’s the size of the meeting room. People don’t come to these gatherings to complain about third class medical reform (although I am often peppered with questions on the topic) or to complain about the cost of fuel, aircraft rentals, charts, headsets, or ADS-B installations. They come with a few questions, some perfectly understandable trepidation, and high hopes that their time at the controls is not over yet.
If desire is the primary determining factor of whether an individual will find their way to the airport, an aircraft, and into the sky, I’m of the opinion that our industry is poised at the precipice of a mini-boom that may revitalize our view of what general aviation is all about.
In terms of educational opportunity, transportation, and fun, we’ve got everything going our way. Let’s embrace it the way these Rusty Pilots have.
Full speed ahead, y’all.