Approaching the age of slowing down ( I hesitate to say ‘Retirement’), I have been toying with the idea of returning to an endeavor I long ago dreamt about and pursued numerous times, but always had to set aside for other more compelling undertakings…How did John Lennon phrase it “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”? I’m talking about learning to fly (and returning safely to earth, that most critical part).
I’ve been up in those little underpowered and quite flimsy little planes several times, usually on some ‘Free Ticket” promotion or coupon-book-type-offers where the guy with the plane lets you ‘take the controls’ when you’re at least 5,000 feet up and he will have plenty of air left to save you both in the event of your stalling the aircraft. I’ve done that ‘discovery flight’ thing 3 times…once just off the Air Base I was stationed at in the 70’s, once at the University of Illinois’s local airport during the 80’s and once in the 90’s with a buddy of mine who built and was flying his own airplane (that last trip was rather short…I got a little nervous on that flight). The problem was I never had the money to pursue lessons or plane rentals, etc.
So, after many years and eventually leasing out our family farm, the wife and I returned to the little Arkansas town where our kids, and now grandkids, had settled in and had the time (and a little more money) to pursue my dream of flight once again; and it all started up just like it had those other times before…those darn little coupon books.
This time, at the local airport, I discovered that the next series of ground school lessons was starting up the following week and, because I was a veteran, my fee was discounted by two-thirds and I could enroll for a mere $100.00.
I jumped at the chance.
The following Saturday, as I drove to the upcoming class (starting promptly at 9:00 a.m. sharp) the morning songbirds sounded unusually angelic, the radio was playing “The Best Day Of My Life” and I was in a state of euphoria I hadn’t felt for at least 20 years. I almost didn’t need an aircraft for flight that day, even though the class was all about airplane engine systems.
I was not, by far, the oldest person there; several ‘rusty pilots’ were recertifying and boning up on new FAA rules and regs., etc. while there were also 4 adults there who had not experienced their 25th birthday, yet. Several of the students had already finished their flying hours and just needed to pass a written exam to get their ‘wings’, or the license from the FAA. That piece of paper that still had the images of Wilbur and Orville Wright printed as the watermark, making official any doubts an observer might ponder.
I continued attending this ‘school’ for about a year before I was ready to take the written test and start the flying hours in the air with an actual airplane, but several rather difficult hurdles presented themselves to block my way.
One, there was this rather arcane (I considered) rule that one had to pass a medical exam prior to taking to the air; as an elderly(and portly) grandfather of six, my outlook on passing was considered sketchy, at best…High Blood Pressure, Overweight, Former Smoker, Type II Diabetes, and Sleep Apnea all were screaming out to me “Don’t even try, You Fool” …I was certainly going to have to go on a program, to say the least….fortunately most of these medical issues were lifestyle related and I was told that with a little work, I could still pass a medical and get my ticket to fly. In addition, the FAA was reviewing the whole medical processing issue because there was a looming pilot shortage and, apparently, all those medical challenges were becoming very common in the younger population as well. In fact, many would-be pilots were dropping out upon reaching the same level I was currently holding steady at, for now, a little too long. Suddenly the dream was starting to fade from view, the reality of the task had taken a darker tone, the complexities of life were, once again clipping my wings and holding me down.
It was all distilling out to numbers. Even if I passed the medical, and flew the 40 plus hours needed to get signed off by a Certified Flight Instructor and passed all the exams, I was still required to log at least 100 plus hours annually to maintain my competency, not to mention maintenance costs, plane ownership versus rental costs, etc., etc., etc. My dream was not only crashing into the ground, the flames were starting to reach the sky. In a nutshell, the costs of flying without doing so as a career, were fast exceeding my current annual salary, and might even include half of the wife’s income, as well. What happened?
Then, the dawn emerged and I began to see the light. I was looking at everything in the wrong way. I had been merely considering the costs of flying as an outlet, a hobby, a pastime, I needed to look at flying as a necessary part of getting around, like our cars. Did I look at our Chrysler as a total expense, without return? Was the maintenance on it preplanned and budgeted for on a per annum basis? Hell, no. We needed it to get to work, and the beach and the grocery store. If it broke, we fixed it…didn’t matter how much the repair was going to cost, we got it fixed. Period. Maybe I should look at the costs of flying the same way. I could buy a plane for 25,000 to 45,000 bucks…just about the cost of another car. For garage (hanger) space, we had a local club who needed rental planes and would even split costs for inspections, overhauls, etc. with owners so that the students had enough planes to fly.
I had to look at the reason I was flying…to save time, to get places in HALF the time, or, even sooner. I was going to have to rethink the whole transportation thing completely differently. Now, I could work 250 miles from my home, it was only a 25 minute commute by plane…I was currently driving 25-45 minutes a day , and we lived only 28 miles from work. WOW. This is more like it. Not to mention the fact that I would no longer need to sit in traffic…with over 15,000 airports nationwide, I could always find an airfield within a few miles away from a destination from just about any location.
So, I guess I’ll sell my 2010 Chrysler, buy a Cessna 172, rent it to the local club with the caveat that I can fly it whenever I need to go anywhere, and life will be good, The future is here…why isn’t everybody flying to work? The GPS is on, the Highway in the Sky is currently under construction and we’re so…easily called away.
Tom Raup is a veteran of the USAF, and has an MS in Animal Sciences. He’s a graduate of the University of Illinois with a BS in Agriculture, and held careers in Electronics Tech, Database management, and managed a 1300 acre family farm the last 20 years. Tom left high school as a long haired, ultra liberal peace-nick, living the Mother Earth lifestyle for 10 years who came to his senses after Jimmy Carter’s economic fiasco. He’s lived and worked towards his current belief system as a former Tea Party Conservative, and a Libertarian who believes in, and wholly supports Trump’s agenda and policies. He’s currently enjoying watching the world return to a place we all can prosper, and greet the future with high hopes and full expectations of greatness.
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