“A Pilot Again!” Greg’s June, 2014 Flying Carpet column

GregBrownFT714_1570edeSmw1200Back in the cockpit after nine years away

What a kick, for Mary Katherine Jackson to experience her dad piloting an airplane. Sure, she knew his credentials, but their previous father-daughter flight was nearly beyond memory, when she was just six years old.

Richard Jackson crafts exhibit prints for fine-art photographers. The day we met, he was printing National Geographic’s iconic, “Afghan Girl,” cover photo for famed photographer Steve McCurry. Only when we later began working together did I learn of Richard’s aviation background. As a US Air Force combat photographer in Viet Nam, he documented military action from such legendary aircraft as the F-100 “Thud,” C-130 Hercules, and Chinook and Huey helicopters.

Following his tour, Richard qualified as an instrument-rated commercial pilot. He’d accumulated 1,100 hours and was training for his CFI when personal and career pressures derailed his flying during a busy period of his life.

GregBrownFT714_1566eSmw1200Then, 2½ years ago, Richard and I flew from Flagstaff to Phoenix to proof some prints. Remembering his piloting background, I offered the controls as we taxied out. He never returned them.

Seven years after his previous flight, Richard expertly took off, negotiated traffic and radar vectors to Sky Harbor International Airport, and landed, all from the right seat. Based on the joy in his eyes and his virtuoso performance, I urged him to get current again.

“One of these days, I will,” he replied. While Richard’s piloting passion and skills clearly survived, the requisite resources, motivation, and time had yet to converge. More concerning was something unspoken. Experience tells me the confidence to go back to piloting erodes long before the competence does. Flight proficiency usually returns quickly even after a long hiatus; the bigger obstacle is turning the key and driving to the airport. And the longer pilots are away from flying, the less likely they’ll return to it…

READ THE WHOLE STORY in this month’s Flying Carpet column, “A Pilot Again!” (Please allow a moment for the article to load.)

Photo: Richard Jackson treats daughter Mary Katherine to a ride, on his first command flight after returning to the cockpit.

(This column first appeared in the June, 2014 issue of AOPA Flight Training magazine.)

©2014 Gregory N.Brown