Something happened over this past weekend that could be seen in one of two ways. It was either a perfectly ordinary event that is hardly worthy of notice to anyone but those directly involved, or it was a remarkable achievement deserving of applause.
I’ll let you decide.
The story involves my friend who, for the purposes of this story, we’ll call, Sal. Here’s the scenario: Sal got up, packed a few necessary items into the car, drove about an hour to an airport, pre-flighted and prepped an airplane, then flew solo for more than an hour.
As I said, it’s either a perfectly ordinary event hardly worth our noticing, or a remarkable achievement. Personally, I tend to side with the latter.
Sal used to fly quite frequently. It was his job, as a matter of fact. He flew for a large government organization and not just any aircraft, but aircraft festooned with weaponry of various types. He flew big, fast, high-flying machinery.
Yet he and his cohorts weren’t unfamiliar with the exhilaration of low and slow flight. Minus the slow part. They did fast and low. Very fast and very low.
It was a departmental requirement, really.
Now all good things come to an end, and the day came when Sal’s deal with his employer had run its course. No longer would the large government organization give him aircraft to fly at will, for free. Sal was on his own.
And like many pilots who find themselves without a sponsor — the aeronautical equivalent of a sugar daddy — Sal found it to be quite a challenge to find a suitable airplane to fly. So, it came to pass that flying slipped down his priority list, down below housing, food, and getting the kids into a decent school.
You know how it goes.
Here’s the thing, though. Although flying may not be an individual’s job any longer, or fit the family budget, or sync up particularly well with the individual’s free time schedule, the desire to fly never leaves you. Not entirely.
Certainly not when you lay in bed and remember the elation of pulling back on the stick just enough to make your wheels leave the ground. Or what the accomplishment of a real squeaker of a landing feels like. Or when you’re in the yard and the sound of an engine draws your attention, as well as your imagination, upward to the wild blue.
So it was with Sal. The desire was still there, even when the practicality of the endeavor was not working in his favor.
For the sake of brevity, let’s jump ahead in the story. Sal found a flying club that had the same aspirations he did, and many remarkably similar problems. The club had a lot going for it, but it was missing some important components – like an airplane.
Yes, the flying club Sal chose to join, the one that would hopefully help get my friend airborne again, had lost their airplane lease.
Problems are there for the solving.
Sal and his compatriots searched the couch cushions, dug deep into the pockets of pants going into the laundry, and maybe dipped into a savings account or two. In the end they found enough extra dollars to buy an airplane. A good one, too.
Sal, lacking a bit of confidence and not being entirely up to speed on the methods civilian pilots used to get from the hangar to being airborne and back into the hangar again, began attending Rusty Pilot seminars offered by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. I’m not sure how many in the end. At least three. Maybe four.
But attending them worked. Understanding was achieved. Confidence began to well up inside my friend, which made the next step in the story obvious.
Let’s go flying!
Because we’re friends and I’m a CFI, we flew together a time or two, or three, or four. It wasn’t an instantaneous process.
Light general aviation aircraft don’t fly in quite the same manner as military aircraft. The tolerance most passengers have for roll rate is well below that developed by young, ambitious, highly competitive combat pilot types. So, we toned that down a bit. We also learned about exotic new controls like the mixture knob, carburetor heat, and cowl flaps.
It was a process. But it was a thoroughly enjoyable process that ended with Sal getting up into the air all on his own the other day. That’s an event worthy of celebration.
I share all this with you because I care, and so do you. If you fly, you know the draw of the hangar. The call of the runway. The allure of getting back into the air whenever the opportunity presents itself.
If you used to fly, but currently don’t, you know exactly what Sal was experiencing in terms of withdrawal. It’s not easy to come back after a long absence. As more pages on the calendar flip past it seems to get even more difficult, bordering on hopeless.
I know. I’ve been there, too.
But know this. Really know it. You can come back. You can get current. You can make use of BasicMed, as tens of thousands of pilots before you have done. Take advantage of programs like AOPA’s Rusty Pilot seminars — which have put thousands of pilots back into the air, with confidence.
And make use of the flying clubs in your area, even if that club is facing some tough times of its own. You may find that helping the club overcome its issues can go a long way to helping you get over your own.
It worked for Sal. It can work for you (or that lapsed pilot you see at work/church/school/etc.), too.
Let’s do this!