I advanced the throttle of the Piper Warrior, and as my instructor and I accelerated down the runway I scanned the usual items – engine gauges, airspeed, the runway centerline. Everything seemed to be in good order. I don’t think I forgot anything, and of course I had done all the checklists. I tracked the centerline relatively well, but my crosswind correction seemed a bit heavy. Okay, corrected that. 55 knots. Time to go. I bring the nose up slowly; it’s heavier than I remember. Then, as we lift off the runway and climb into the air, I put an end to my more than five year hiatus from flying.
My feet feel comfortable on the rudder pedals, and they seem to remember what they’re supposed to do. I appear to have developed a slight aversion to high pitch attitudes as my climb airspeed is consistently 5 to 8 knots high. I reach for where the trim wheel was in the Cessna Caravan I last flew and find empty space. My instructor helpfully directs my attention to the electric trim (something the Caravan also had, but I’ve always been one of those trim-by-hand types.) I get the trim dialed-in to my satisfaction and take stock of the situation. We’re flying, folks. The weeks of apprehension melt away, and as I turn toward the practice area I relax into a familiar old routine.
The rest of the flight review went well. My studying and preparation had paid off, and as I had been promised by several people, the stick and rudder skills came back to me in a hurry. I earned my endorsement. Afterwards I was elated. My excitement, however, was overshadowed by a question: Why did I wait for so long?
Years ago I left my last flying job to join the family business. This required moving my family across the country to a town near where I grew up. After the move we were busy getting settled and established in new routines. At work I was busy learning my new role and responsibilities. Flying seemed like a distant concern. Months turned to years. My sister had a baby, my brother got married, and in no time my wife and I were welcoming our own child into the world. So much was happening in our lives, and it was all important.
My thoughts on flying in the years since the big move could be summed up as “Yeah, I should do that…” There were a number of issues to resolve before I could fly. My medical had lapsed, my last flight review was far too long ago, I was unfamiliar with the local flight schools, and of course there was the whole time and money thing. As time went on tackling even one of these issues seemed ever more daunting. It’s not that I didn’t think I could do it, or that I didn’t know what to do, but each step would take effort. It was simply too easy to put it off for another day.
Over five years later after finally getting current again, a friend of mine asked me what made me decide to get back in the air now? I thought for a bit and just said it was well past time and I didn’t want to wait anymore. Thinking back, that was partly how I started taking flying lessons in college. I had wanted to learn how to fly since I was a child. When I was in college I realized I’d never have a better opportunity. The reasons for putting it off no longer outweighed my drive to do it.
How to Get Started… Again
I would love to say that one day I simply decided I am going to learn to fly and that I just made it happen. In reality it isn’t that straightforward. A lot of things happened in college to break down different barriers to my learning to fly. I was attending Purdue which has a major aviation program. The campus sat beneath the base and final legs of runway 23, so there were constant reminders flying overhead all day. Since I could fly for college credit, student loans were available to ease the financial demands of flight training. After my freshman year my roommate was a student in the aviation program. Finally while taking an EMT class at the local hospital (long story) I actually met the person who would become my first flight instructor – by this point it felt like the universe was sending me a sign. I learned to fly and went on to a 15 year career in aviation before I quit for what I thought would be “a little while.” I found getting re-started to be almost as challenging as taking the first steps years ago.
This raises some questions: How many prospective pilots never start their training? How many new pilots never finish because life gets in the way? If I had 3,300 hours and found it daunting to get back in the air, how does a prospective pilot with zero experience feel? Flying is a dream for many, but for how many people does that dream go unrealized? That, in a nutshell, is the purpose of this project. I shudder to think how close I came to letting another year or two go by without flying. Who knows what might have happened in that time. In my own way, I hope I can contribute to the success of my fellow pilots regardless of where they may be in their flying adventure.