When an idea has merit both literally and metaphorically, I tend to be intrigued. That’s certainly true of the title of this piece. Being successful at pretty much anything begins with a good breakfast.
Now, when I say “good,” I don’t mean tasty. I’m not advocating a lifestyle soaked in sugar, massive quantities of carbohydrates, and heavy cream. I’m talking about a breakfast of substance. Something that provides the fuel to carry you through until your next opportunity to ingest necessary calories.
When I was a kid, my family owned a farm. The Old Cider Mill in Glastonbury, Connecticut, was a mainstay of autumn in the region. Folks would motor in from all over New England and New York to revel in the colors of fall foliage, returning home with a gallon or two of fresh squeezed apple cider, and a selection of apples that included more varieties than they thought existed in the world.
That was the public face of the place for most folks. For those of us who worked the farm there was far more to it. We had to plow the fields, plant the crops, and tend them for months as they came up from sprouts to fully mature plants thick with vegetables.
Anyone who has ever set out for a morning of baling hay knows that a donut and a cup of coffee aren’t going to get the job done.
There’s more to baling hay than driving a tractor that’s pulling a bailer behind it. You have to bale the hay, sure. But then you’ll be loading it onto a trailer, hauling it to the barn, and stacking it in a way that would let it dry out without blowing the barn to smithereens. Yes, that can happen.
And all the while we were watching the skies for signs of rain. Because when I was a kid, rain meant moldy hay, which equated to a butt-kicking from the big man.
That’s the literal version of the story. The metaphorical one relates more to the challenge of learning to fly, finding your place in aviation, and becoming truly good at the aeronautical endeavors you pursue.
Almost anyone can fly an airplane. The physical demands are of no great consequence for most of us. The machine was designed to fly, and so it does. As the old saying goes, if you can push it fast enough, a barn door will fly.
In a technical sense, that is entirely true. Now, controllability is another thing entirely. Not an inconsequential thing either, but another thing, nonetheless.
When we endeavor to learn to fly, we’re faced with a series of tasks far longer and more demanding than those I was confronted with back in my hay-baling days. Once we earn our pilot certificate, we’re more or less on our own to become better, more knowledgeable, and more responsible as our flying career continues — or to become a hard-headed jerk who does whatever he or she wants, regardless of the input of others. Especially, and often, in direct contradiction to what the FAA wishes of us.
How we start down this path, you might say, the type of breakfast we tuck into as our journey into aviation begins, matters a great deal with respect to what kind of a pilot we become.
Half of this equation is down to us, individually. The other half is down to the instructors we choose, the educational opportunities we avail ourselves of, and the frequency of those interactions.
While the FAA mandates we engage in a flight review every 24 months, it’s worth remembering that’s a minimum requirement. We can exceed that by a fair margin if we wish. Each and every one of us should, too.
Now, many will proclaim (at least in their own head), “I’m a good, safe pilot. I don’t need to waste money on flight instructors who are still wet behind the ears and just out to build time while they empty my wallet.”
That’s a common thought in our business. Generally, it comes from the pilots who need and would benefit most from the instruction they so vociferously avoid. The irony of that is hard to miss.
Like so many instructors, I’ve flown small, single-engine piston powered airplanes at the side of military pilots and airline pilots. None of them have ever expressed an overabundance of knowledge about flying — even though they’re aware that on the big pilot scale, they’re the best trained, most experienced flyers on the block.
Each and every one of us would do well to step back, distance ourselves from our ego and our emotional self-defense mechanisms, and shift into learning mode now and then.
If you’re one of those who is particularly irked by young, snot-nosed flight instructors who are wet behind the ears and don’t know squat, let me assure you that you’re perfectly entitled to your opinion. But keep in mind, there are plenty of older, more mature, highly experienced CFIs out there who have flown machines you’ll only dream of, launched off on the sort of missions they make movies about, and have more knowledge in their heads and hands than you or I will ever possess.
Seek out those instructors if you’d prefer. But seek out someone. We can all learn from the CFI sitting behind us, or in front of us, or beside us — but only if we are willing to do so.
Like breakfast, you can eat a good healthy meal, or you can grab a Danish and go. The difference may not be evident until later, but the value of your choices will become apparent at some point. For better or worse.