I met Brittany by total happenstance. While on a visit to her local airport, she wandered into the tidy, well-appointed meeting room where I was chatting with a business associate.
Brittany is in her mid to late 20s. She’s ambitious, owning her own small company at such a young age. But she’s looking to the long-term, too. When she happened onto the meeting I was engaged in, she was preparing for a flight lesson.
She’s recently become a student pilot. With 15 hours or so in her logbook, she’s at the exciting stage of the process. She knows enough to know she’s got a lot to learn, but she’s mastered the basics sufficiently to be working on the task so many of us struggle with for a lifetime — landing the airplane.
Her ultimate goal is to become a professional pilot. I’m told her preference is to become a corporate pilot, but anyone who has much experience in aviation knows her exposure to the various options she’s not even aware of yet will open her eyes, give her imagination fuel to work with, and cause her to change her mind repeatedly while she works her way toward the job she finally decides to stick with. Or not.
Maybe the corporate world is perfect for her. Only she knows where the best fit will be found. I’m perfectly happy watching from a distance as she earns her certificates, builds her logbook up, and finds that first flying job that will get the whole thing rolling for her.
There is no flight school at Brittany’s local airport. There hasn’t been for some time. The population just isn’t big enough to support a flight school — a situation that is more common across America than many of us in more densely populated areas might imagine. So, she’s chosen to pursue her goals by joining the local flying club. It works for her. And that’s great.
Her other option was to move away, spend far more money, and enroll in one of the big flight schools that are so successful here in the Sunshine State. She wasn’t opposed to that, but she wasn’t excited about it either.
Fortunately, she was able to find a solution that’s more cost effective, more convenient, and leaves her to continue living near her family, which is also her emotional support group.
I suspect Brittany will be successful in the end. Even if she doesn’t know exactly where she wants to end up yet, she thinks she does and she’s doing something about it. That’s commendable. Enviable, even. She’s going for it. Good for her.
On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve come into contact recently with a handful of big iron fliers who all have the same goal: To get back into small, piston engine, propeller driven airplanes. Strangely enough they all expressed the same reason for their shift in focus at this mid-point or later in their careers. They want to enjoy aviation in its most affordable form and involve their kids, their spouses, and their friends in the process.
Basically, these jet jocks all want to get back to GA so they can ramp up the fun factor in their lives. And they want to do it with somebody in the other seat. Somebody they can share the excitement with in a meaningful way.
It’s so rare for the captain of an airliner to invite passengers up front to take the stick for a while. In fact, if you’re less than 80 years old, you’re probably not even aware that used to happen now and then. But it did.
Ironically, perhaps, the secret sauce for both Brittany and the airline guys is the same. Even though she’s climbing the ladder towards an ATP and they’re descending in the direction of single engine propeller-driven machinery, their salvation can be found in training. All of them can achieve their dream by simply booking time in an airplane, finding the right CFI, and learning the tasks that are required of them.
In Brittany’s case, she’s working on the basics of how to control the aircraft from takeoff to touchdown. For those transitioning from turbines, they need to learn about airspace, and what rudders are for, and how to round out for landing at something less than 100′ AGL.
The good news is they can all do it. Whether you’re stepping up or stepping down in the equipment you fly, training is everything.
It’s encouraging to me that the folks I’ve been introduced to who are on this journey, both upward and downward, have fully bought into the value of training.
Of course, training doesn’t have to be drudgery. It can be fun, too. By the time you read this I’ll have been through my own training experience in the form of a flight review.
Like many of my colleagues and all my fellow flying club members, I do a flight review annually, not bi-annually. It’s good for me. I always manage to learn something. Whether it’s in a light twin, or a single engine landplane, or in a Super Cub on straight floats as I’ll be doing this time, the experience broadens my exposure to various aircraft, puts me in the cockpit with flight instructors who all know something worthwhile that I want to know, and to this point in my career every single flight review I’ve been on has been a truly enjoyable experience.
No matter where you are on the big ladder of aviation, you can always go up, or down, or sideways. Seek out what interests you. The full spectrum of aviation is so vast it’s almost impossible to experience it all.
So, go wherever the wind blows your imagination to. And should the going get tough for a minute to so, remember to enjoy yourself.
But you already knew that, didn’t you?