Years ago I read a passage written by Richard Bach that has stuck with me. While I can’t quote it, and frankly I can’t even remember which book it comes from, Richard left the impression that flight instruction was a noble calling.
He wrote about the satisfaction that comes from passing on to a new generation of aerial travelers the lessons we learned as we became pilots ourselves.
I read that passage as a non-pilot, professional musician, living in New York City. The avenues there are essentially deep canyons of glass and steel, not hardly conducive to the pursuit of general aviation. But that is where I caught the fever and that is where I started my aeronautical journey. And yes, I was able to earn my CFI along the way.
So far, so good.
This past weekend I had the pleasure of delving into an aspect of instruction I hadn’t considered when I first read the works and words of Richard Bach. But it’s one I’ve come to find tremendously satisfying.I had the honor of standing in front of a hangar full of pilots who are well out of currency, but have made the decision to get back into the air. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) calls them Rusty Pilots, and you may be surprised to learn that the road back to active status is not as time consuming, stressful, or expensive as you might have imagined.
It helps me a great deal to have seen this relationship between instructor and rusty pilot from both sides. Like so many general aviation pilots, I fell away from currency for a period of years. That wasn’t my intention, of course. It just sort of…happened.
A change of jobs, a move, the purchase of a house, the birth of a kid or two, an illness — all these things and more can lead to a short break from flying that becomes a bit longer, then extends until you start to get the impression your flying days might be behind you.
Not necessarily. Getting back into the swing of things is actually a fairly quick process. It can even be enjoyable.
And lest you think you’ve got extenuating circumstances that will rule out a return to flight for you, there have been some changes over the years that might open the cockpit door a little wider than you’d thought possible.
When you get right down to it, Rusty Pilots only need to complete a flight review. A mandatory minimum of one hour of ground instruction and one hour of flight instruction. That’s all.
There’s no written test, there’s no application to file, and there’s no requirement to take a check ride with an examiner. You can do it all on your own at the local flight school, or with your buddy who owns an airplane and holds an instructor’s ticket, or you can start in a group of similarly lapsed pilots who are motivated to give flying another whack.
A fair number of Rusty Pilots are intrigued to find there are multiple paths back to active status when it comes to their health and wellness. While the only option used to involve a visit to an Aviation Medical Examiner to obtain a medical certificate, that’s just one of three options now.
Even if you were an Airline Transport Pilot in the past, you can opt to exercise the Sport Pilot privileges of your existing ticket, which allows you to fly again without obtaining a new medical certificate. You’ll be limited to flying Light-Sport Aircraft, but considering the LSA market includes legacy models like the Piper Cub, Aeronca Champ, Luscombe, and Taylorcraft, being a sport pilot can easily be seen as an area of specialization rather than a limitation.
BasicMed has only been an option for a few months, but thousands upon thousands of pilots have chosen to avail themselves of this medical certification model that involves taking an online course, visiting a state licensed doctor (perhaps even your own general practitioner) for a relatively generic physical exam, and that’s pretty much it. You get to fly again without the stress, additional cost, and worry that may come from a visit to an AME.
You can also continue to visit your Aviation Medical Examiner to obtain a medical. I still opt for this method, but that’s me. You can pick the method that works best for you with the full blessing of the FAA.
So that brings me to standing in front of a hangar full of lapsed pilots who are eager, but anxious, to find their way back into the cockpit. I teach. I tell stories. All of them are true. Some result in a chuckle, or even a full-blown laugh from those assembled throughout the hangar.
Together we review the material, we talk, they ask questions. I answer. We enjoy ourselves. But that’s not the best part. It’s good, but the real satisfaction comes from something that comes later. As I’m packing up, when my part of the process is done.
My greatest sense of pride in teaching Rusty Pilot seminars comes when I see students who had just been sitting before me, scheduling their first instructional flight in years. And there have been many such moments.
Richard Bach was right. I love how good it feels to help a motivated individual get back into an airplane and find success again.
Of course I’m not alone. There are others who present these seminars as well and as often as I do. Maybe even more so. Chris Moser, Pat Brown, Kay Sundaram, Andy Miller, Norm Isler, Mark Grady, Yasmina Platt, Meg Godlewski, Mark Boguski, Brian Schiff, Ron Timmermans, General Aviation News’ Air Racer in Residence, William E. Dubois, and others teach the seminars.
No matter where you are, no matter how long it’s been, you can almost certainly get back to flying status if you want to. There is a small army of talented CFIs who are willing to help.
Hey, are you busy this weekend? Wanna get back to flying?