Why Learn to Fly?
Taking the Plunge
Two years ago I finally took the plunge. I had always wanted to learn to fly. In fact during my teenage, I harboured dreams of becoming a professional pilot. Unfortunately, due to a combination of factors, this never came to be.
Fast forward to 20 years later and I found myself revisiting my old dream. I enrolled at the local flying club and did a pleasure flight (just to check if I would have the guts for this thing). It was a nice summer evening. I felt at ease in the cockpit of the two-seater Cessna 150, next to my instructor, who was barely out of their teenage years.
"Sign me up for the lessons!" I said as soon as we landed. The 40 minutes in the air had convinced me that this is where I belonged. The take-off run was the most exciting thing I ever experienced, such adrenalin. I really wanted to get the Private Pilot License and start exploring the skies on my own. Little did I know that in the time it took to achieve a PPL, I would learn a lot about flying. And I would learn a lot more about myself.
Sign me up!
1. You are never too old to fly
Although I was almost clocking 40 years, I had lots of fun learning how to do the pre-flight checks, running up the engine for take-off, climbing, turning, descending, stalling, spinning and even the mock emergency simulations. I had heard rumours that the older you are, the harder it is to learn. Actually, there is scientific evidence that in some types of motor skills, older people learn faster than the kids. I guess this is one time I was glad to be old. There are even cases of people in their 70's and 80's successfully taking flying lessons. So, if you feel the need to learn to fly, go for it.
2. It can be expensive but it is worth it
Ah, the economic woes and the reality of our capitalist world! Gasoline costs, instruction fees, aviation medical licenses, flying manuals - all these add up to inflate the flying costs. There are obviously ways to spare yourself enormous bills and you will need to get creative. For texts, there is no reason not to approach a pilot and get reading material instead of purchasing new sets. Yes, some of the material may be frayed along the edges but it will save you a couple of bucks. You don't have to buy the brand new headset with noise-cancelling features if it is going to break the bank - there are cheaper options. When things improve, you can always upgrade. The idea is to avoid getting stressed about your financial situation so find ways to let your wallet keep the dollars intact, if you can.
3. Flying is as much about people as it is about machines
Before each flying lesson, you will need to deals with lots of people. From the airport security, to the flying school administrators, to the instructor, the fuel attendant, the air traffic control people...For an introvert like me, it can be overwhelming. However, think of these people as family. Deal with them professionally and cordially. Grab a beer/coffee with them when you can and learn about their lives. The plane will still be waiting for you in the hangar as you form lasting relationships with the flying community.
4. You learn to manage risks
When you go up there, you will encounter many decision points. Always take the safest option. I recall an incident I had during my training. It was a solo flight and suddenly I hear the engine running in a "funny" way. I immediately turned back towards the airport, intent on landing. I barely made it back to the runway. If I had convinced myself that I was some type of macho pilot and start fixing things up in the air, I would have lost much time and maybe I would not be writing this today. So, go ahead, be confident but never lose caution.
Even More Lessons
5. Sometimes even the best laid plans...
There is nothing as frustrating as showing up on the airfield, prepping the plane, taking the instructor briefing, strapping yourself in the cockpit and then the mother of all storms rolls in and closes down your plans for the afternoon. You cannot go home, you cannot fly. How do you deal with this? Accept it, it will happen more times than you can count.
6. Whatever you learnt in elementary school and high school will help
Back in school, I was a whiner. I did not see how some of the stuff we were learning would ever help me. Well, flying does remind you why you learnt maths, physics, geography and the like. It's a wonderful refresher as you learn to calculate ground speed, plot your navigation plans and read the weather charts.
7. Prepare to read (a lot!) and get knowledge
Rudder and stick skills are important, right? We all agree. However, when things go wrong, it is the theory that you have memorised that will help you decide what to do. That is why there is a lot of reading. You will encounter texts and texts on navigation, radio telephony, flight planning, principles of flight, air law, human performance factors and the like. You will need to memorise key parts of the airplane manual (for the type you are flying) and even though you will fly with checklists, it is good practice to memorise some of them as the checklist could be inaccessible during the flight! Go ahead, get your reading glasses and prepare to study.
8. Proceed at your pace, take your time
When it came to being released for solo flights, I was the last student to be signed off for first solo. I was very frustrated. I kept on messing up the landings and I needed to demonstrate 3 squeaky clean landings to the instructor before she could sign me off. I ran into an old instructor one afternoon and he told me to take time off the flying. I did not fly for 3 weeks. I returned to the airfield, performed three landings with an instructor and I was cleared for solo. Sometimes you just need to ease the pressure off yourself. Go and do something else. Then come back and fly.
9. You will learn to pay attention, always
Flying taught me to pay attention. It is the small things that can kill you. Failing to check the plane properly before the flight. I have taken this lesson to other things. For the first time in my life, I find myself very fastidious about checking my car before reversing out of the parking spot. That is as it should be.
10. You will (must) have fun
What more can one add to this. You are defying gravity, free like a bird. Surely that is worth having a grin on your face?