The most rewarding activities in life are often challenging to master, and that certainly includes piloting. No wonder student pilots sometimes wonder if they should quit.
The good news is that although learning to fly is difficult, it can and will be mastered by virtually everyone who sticks with it. Are you the only one having a tough time mastering flight? No! These learning challenges affect literally everyone who pursues flight.
Rather than write a pep talk of my own, I thought you might be encouraged by hearing from some other formerly-frustrated flight students who overcame challenges of their own to fly, and are now enjoying the benefits. Is it worth the hassle and trauma to become a pilot? Read the following exchanges from others in your shoes, and then you be the judge. ©2009 Gregory N. Brown.
See also my Learning Plateau post, and
From Jeanne Peterson of Minnesota:
There are days when I feel discouraged and think about quitting because some things seem so hard to learn. I am taking instruction at a private flight school, and I think that I miss out on the time that students spend talking to each other about their flight experiences and challenges when they take their classes at the college and then come to to the flight school for their flight training. I have a couple of friends who are pilots but don’t understand the amount of time and training I’m putting in. One doesn’t like to fly above 700 ft or land at towered airports because its too complicated. I have a hard time relating to that type of flying when I’m trying to learn things the right way. Thank you for taking the time to respond to my comments.
Thanks, Jeanne Peterson
To encourage Jeanne, I forwarded her the following email from Linda Anderson of Iowa:
I’m a new private pilot (at 60 years of age) and never dreamed flying would woo me the way it does! The sky! That bluebird color of invitation, that open door to adventure, that place welcoming those who soar, who sail across the expanse and touch the edge of earth! The glorious, endless, ever-changing sky! How I love it!
My husband was a student pilot when we met and married well over 30 years ago. But purchasing a farm and 5 children kept him grounded for about 28 years. Then when he decided 2 years ago to renew his passion and start flying again, I simply had to join him in his adventure – I wasn’t going to be left on the ground when a whole sky full of opportunities awaits! My first lesson was one of those crazy things that takes place and you walk away and say, “Oh, yeah! That’s what it’s all about!”
I loved my flight training though the challenges I faced working full-time and trying to help my aging and ailing parents all too often kept me on the ground. But it also provided the stress relief I so needed. Lifting myself up out of the difficulties through flight and my faith certainly gives me a sweeter, purer, more focused view of life.
We purchased a Cessna 172 in June and have had so many wonderful adventures and met so many neat folks! Every pilot has a story to tell and most are willing to share their experiences! It’s great to be able to glean bits of advice and learn from other pilots. We love those weekend informal pilot forums at some of the airports we’ve flown to. Usually we just happen upon an impromptu group and join in, always welcomed. What a neat sense of a wide and diverse community! Yes, romance and adventure do indeed draw me into the skies!
What happened next shows why it is so important to build your own support network of fellow pilots and students:
I recently emailed you wondering if 48 was too late to learn to fly. At that time you forwarded me an email from Linda Anderson of Winterset. I just wanted to thank you for that email. It was such an encouragement to me. I emailed her about her flying experiences and we have become friends. Whenever I’m discouraged, she encourages. We share more than our flying experiences but that is so important to be able to talk to someone about flying.
Linda and I have never met but are making plans for this summer. I live in central MN and she lives in central IA. Since I first emailed you I have almost 40 hours in my logbook in a Cessna 152. It has been a difficult winter to get flying time in especially with the bitter cold weather we have had in January in MN. I haven’t soloed yet but if all the stars align, the temperatures rise and the winds die down, my lesson tomorrow morning could be the one. If it is I will be so excited, if not I know it will be soon. At times I have been discouraged thinking it is taking me so long to be able to solo but then when I put it in the perspective that 40 hours is ONLY one week worth of work then it is truly amazing what I have accomplished so far. If someone would have put me in a plane on a Monday morning and told me that after five days of work, maybe by Friday evening I could fly that plane all by myself, I’m not so sure I would have believed them. CFI’s are so amazing and patient.
Since I first emailed you I have since turned 49 this past week. I am still on track with my original goal of completing my certificate before I turn 50 in January of 2010. Its a goal that I know see as obtainable through the encouragement from you, Linda and other pilots who are constantly asking me how my flying is going.
Thanks again, Jeanne
I also asked my pilot friends, Phil, Chevy, and Mark, to share with Jeanne their wisdom and encouragement as older pilots who have recently completed the process of learning to fly. I asked them to include whether and why they feel it was worth the challenges to become pilots, and to include photos of “life after becoming a pilot.”
Chevy’s pep talk:
I hope that the three of us can be of some encouragement to you. You are to be commended for this endeavor, and I’m betting you’re becoming an excellent, wise, and SAFE pilot! And yes, it can get discouraging. I had a heck of a time figuring out the “round out.” Finally, my instructor said, “Chevy,” what do you see when you look at the cowling? I said, “I’ve never really seen the cowling!” (I’m 5. 6″) I was sitting on a pillow, but apparently it was about one inch too thin. That day we added a second cushion, and my round out problem went away for good. But it sure was frustrating! I think it’s especially so when, like you, I’ve “been there, done that” in a lot of ways, and I just couldn’t GET IT. But I did, and you will too. SO glad you’ve taken up this challenge!
For context, here’s my story: About a month before I retired from the Air Force, I joined the flying club at my base, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. At the time I was 54 and change. I started ground school and flight training in August 2004. I finished ground school eight weeks later, and rather than follow the conventional wisdom “Take your FAA Knowledge Exam ASAP,” I decided to wait. I had done very well in my ground school written stage checks, but I just didn’t feel I KNEW the material. So, I took another six months to study and well, I was the only member of my ground school glass to ACE the test. I kind of felt the same way about taking the practical test, too. So, I trained for 16 months, accumulating about 100 hours before I took that test, and, again, did well. Since then, I’ve found a flying partner (my former flight instructor, who’s 83, an active CFI at our club, who has over 5000 hours (many of it as a career Air Force pilot, the rest as as CFI), and who skis 20 weekends a year), and we take short cross countries. From these experiences, I’ve learned a little about instrument flying, including GPS, too. I fly once or twice a month, and that’s wonderful for me and my schedule. I continue to read voraciously (I still take AOPA Flight Training) and I photocopy articles that cover “weak spots” I need to focus on. Then the next time I have an opportunity to fly (solo or with my flying buddy), I’ll pick an issue or two to focus on, and apply it. Last week I focused on what to do if my seat slips back on the rails during takeoff (answer: pull back on the throttle, not the yoke!).
I hope these comments are helpful. Please feel free to contact me anytime, Jeanne. Best wishes and happy flying! Gray hair (or no hair, guys) rules! :} PS: I’ve attached a photo after my first lesson in August 04. The aircraft is a T-41 C, the Air Force’s souped up version of the Cessna 172. (210 hp; fuel injection). Great when your field elevation is 6200 feet! :}
Carl “Chevy” Chevallard, PhD, LtCol(USAF, Ret), Colorado Springs, CO
Phil’s pep talk:
Greg asked me to share some of my thoughts and experiences about flying. There is so much to tell that I don’t know where to begin. I will say that learning to fly and getting my pilot’s license is the greatest thing I’ve ever done. (Next to getting married, of course, in case my wife is reading this). I earned my license at the age of 57. Now I am 59 and am determined to earn my instrument ticket before I turn 60. I’m currently taking IFR lessons from Warren Crain at Pigs Can Fly in San Luis Obispo, Ca. I mention his name because Greg probably knows Warren.
I went thru three instructors before I earned my license. The first had a bad temper, the second, who was only 19 years old at the time, went to work for an airline before I finished up, and the third finally got me to the finish line.
Like everyone else I had a problem with the flare, but Greg Brown was kind enough to give me some pointers that really helped. Plus he hooked me up with Chevy who had recently got his license. Hi Chevy.
I fly mostly to Sacramento Executive and to John Wayne to visit kids and grandkids. There’s nothing like flying. Keep your eye on your goal and don’t get discouraged if you have a little setback. You will feel so proud the day you get your license.
I’ve attached a few photos you might enjoy. One is of beautiful clouds that I flew around on my way back from SAC. The other is of two “young eagles” that I took up one day last summer. They loved it.
Phil Ferdolage, California
Mark’s pep talk:
My name is Mark Harris. Greg Brown asked me to drop you a note regarding my experience in learning to fly. I just turned 47 a couple of weeks ago and have had my private pilot’s certificate since the end of March of 2008. So I’m a relatively new pilot with about 160 hours under my belt. I’ve always wanted to learn to fly, ever since I was a kid, but waited until my kids were older and I had little more discretionary funds to learn. As soon as I received my certificate I bought a 1/2 share in an older 182 (pictured below on a trip I took to Tucson, AZ).
During my primary training I caught on quickly to most things in flying. The one area that dogged me was my landings. For some reason I just couldn’t get it. And my CFI wouldn’t let me solo until I could land consistently. Go figure…
I read every article, read books, and listened to every podcast I could get my hands on that I thought might help me master my landings. I even contacted Greg with my concerns via email which is how we originally met. While I was extremely frustrated I knew intellectually that I would get over this hump, but that didn’t’ make my frustration any more palatable.
My CFI was smart enough to recognize my issue and changed the focus of our training to include an earlier-than-planned cross country flight along with other maneuvers to take my mind off the trouble I was having. After a while, the landings started clicking, slowly at first but getting noticeably more consistent. I was actually landing on the centerline of the runway now.
It got to the point where I was feeling confident about my landings and I was “willing” my CFI to jump out of the plane so I could solo. One day he did! And I felt more confident with him out of the plane than I did with him in it. I did my 3 landings without incident and he took my T-shirt and wrote all over it and hung it up in the training room. He took my picture next to the plane (below). That was Halloween day of 2007.
It was all worth it. I use my plane for work almost weekly and fly all over the state of Arizona and recently made a flight into John Wayne Airport (SNA) in the LA basin area.
I know that you will do great, just keep heading towards the ticket. You’ll be glad you did. If there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know.
Mark Harris, Arizona
You all are so awesome with your suggestions and encouragement that this morning at my lesson I aced every landing, and when it was all said and done my instructor told me that I would have passed my check ride with flying colors on all the areas we spent time on this morning. At the end of my lesson he endorsed my logbook for soloing and told me to schedule a lesson that meets the standards of our flight school for weather, our weather was deteriorating this morning, take him up for 3 landings and I’m good to go. Yeah!! Finally! He said, “You finally figured it out!” I told him I cut back on my caffeine this morning and that I had lot of great advice for landings in the past 2 weeks from some very special friends. Thanks everyone! Jeanne
Jeanne’s big day!
Well, I finally did it this morning. Eight months since I started lessons and 40 + hours in the plane but I did it. It was another cold morning in Upsala and at the airport as well.
The metar for this morning when I flew was 120@ 6kts 10SM CLR M14/M21 and by the time I finished soloing it had warmed up slightly. to 150@ 11kts 10SM CLR M11/M18. Overall it was a beautiful sunny morning.
When I got to the airport this morning I started my preflight, had 4872B fueled up and then realized that the front strut was collapsed and had to have some nitrogen added before I could take it up. It is due for its 100 hour next weekand they are going to replace some seals. Nick was giving me a hard time because when he got out to the plane for us to leave I had the engine cover off so they could put in the nitrogen. He joked that I was being a little thorough this morning.
Nick and I went up and I did three landing for him and then the next when I came down too hard but he said he would count that towards my five. I told him he was being generous. The next landing went good even though the winds had started to pick up. After that landing we did a full-stop and he asked me if I was ready to solo. I said I was kicking him out that I had waited long enough.
I taxied to the run-up for 13 and then to the hold short line and called the tower for take off. I got to hold short for three landings before I could take off. Off I went for my first solo take off and it was so much fun. I turned left downwind and did my flowcheck on downwind, turned left base, turned final and came in to land and realized that I didn’t like how I was set up to land, too high and off center so I called the tower for a go-around. I applied full power, put the carb heat to cold, and realized something didn’t feel right then I noticed the flaps were still down. So I brought them up and around I went. Then next 3 landings went good and then I taxied to the ramp and did the shut down and put the blanket on and the chocks. Nick met me at the plane and took the attached picture. It’s not the best picture of me but I don’t care-I soloed…finally.
Nick told me when he heard me call for the go-around..I wonder if she’ll come down now that she’s finally up there. Its been an ongoing joke, that the reason I couldn’t land the plane, my husband said was that I didn’t want to come down.
I can hardly wait until I have my first solo cross-country. I loved the quiet time in the cockpit today as I waited to be cleared for take-off just listening to the tower and other pilots in the pattern. I reflected how much I have learned in the past 8 months. Maybe if I had known ahead of time how much there was to learn I might not have taken on the challenge but that first trip up had me hooked and I will never look up again without longing to be there.
Thanks again, Jeanne
PS: Attached also is a picture from Winterset, IA of Linda Anderson and I when we met last weekend for the first time since you introduced us through e-mails.