So you want to become a pilot?

A friend recently told me that he was intrigued with the idea of becoming a pilot.  He had just taken a charter flight with his wife and kids and they had all marveled at the ease and convenience of  the small airplane (C-421) ride. The kids were happy, there was no stress around departure, plenty of room for luggage, and the time savings to get to their vacation was immense. He also marveled at the freedom inherent in the trip . . .upon the return the pilot suggested they go into an airport slightly closer to their destination:  ”How could he could change that on the fly?”

Like most general aviation pilots, I get asked frequently about becoming a pilot. Flying has the incredible power to delight and amaze with it’s grace, efficiency and mystique.  Flying also intoxicates with it’s beauty and freedom. . .who among us hasn’t looked out at the under-cast from FL360 and been awed.   These are many of the reasons why we all love it so.   No doubt every pilot recalls when the bug first bit . . for me it was in 1976 when I first saw a picture of the Concorde (I was 7).

I told my friend that flying is really a life-long endeavor, and it is pretty serious business.  In order to assess whether it was right for him, I suggested he answer (to himself) three questions.

1)    What kind of person are you?
This sounds like a cheesy interview question, but it’s not. . Are you detail oriented and focused or do you get distracted easily? Do you like learning new things or do you need to be an expert? (Hint, there are very few expert pilots!). Do you have patience or no time for that? Are you humble or do you like being right?  These are phrased in a manner to suggest the “right answer” but these are serious questions that takes some self-awareness.  Flying involves countless judgment calls on behalf of the pilot:  is the weather beyond my ability? How rusty are my skills right now?  Should I take the time to weigh that bag before I throw it in? Who flew the plane last and how does that make me feel?  Flying requires you to check the ego in the parking lot and make some very unpopular decisions:  cancel the trip to grandma’s for Easter (with a plane full of kids), canceling last minute on a business trip.  All of these are things that we do in the name of safety.  We learn to always have an out, or an option so that these choices are less painful, but no-going is part of flying, maybe a bigger part.
2)    Do you have the time?
No, do you really have the time.  It takes about 70-100hrs to get your private, call it a year of work, but this is just the beginning. The ticket is “a license to learn” as we all know.  Real proficiency and skill come from regular dedication to this learning, in the form of a flight or two per week, every week, almost always, and regular continuing dual instruction.
3)    Is this your passion?
It really helps if the answer to this one is yes, because in the early years bouncing around in a 172 is a far cry from piloting a TBM, Eclipse, or even a Bonanza for a weekend of skiing.  Most of us pilots love it all, but many a friend has embarked on the path of aviation only to discover that it is often pretty un-sexy:  over-nighting due to weather (for days?) in the middle of nowhere may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but if you’re passionate about it, these aspects are just as enjoyable as a greased landing.

There are some fantastic student pilot resources on the web, and IMHO the best place to start is AOPA.   More to come on this topic, and please comment with some good student links.

Safe flights!

Explore posts in the same categories: Learning

2 Comments on “So you want to become a pilot?”

  1. Jack Says:

    Excellent questions any future pilot should be able to answer.

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