I recently did a flight from DTW to Kalamazoo (AZO). We had some time on the ground to kill, and our gate’s location gave us a great view of the approach end of Runway 17. Several airplanes were doing pattern work, including a Cessna 172 (with a horribly ugly paint scheme, I might add), a Piper Cherokee, and one or two others. A couple were flown by students, as evidenced by the hesitant radio transmissions and the near-misses of nosewheel-first landings. Others were likely someone out just practicing, taking advantage of the clear sky and summer-like March weather.
My first officer and I began chatting about how nice it would be to trade places for a day with these pilots.
The truth is, I can’t tell you how much I miss general aviation flying. I don’t get to do it nearly as much as I would like because of the cost, and when it comes to travel, you can’t beat the free flight benefits of the airline.
But I miss everything about GA—getting dirty on a preflight, being able to turn the radio off, tracing my flight on a sectional (not easy at 400 knots true while in the flight levels), or just taking the airplane around the patch one more time because I didn’t like my landing. If I tried that at my day job, I’d have more than a little explaining to do. They might even deduct the cost of the extra fuel from my paycheck. And I especially miss doing primary flight instruction. I’ve long maintained that if I could make the same income as an instructor as I do now, I’d trade my uniform for shorts in a heartbeat.
On occasion, we will see a 172 or a Cherokee on our TCAS that is flying at or below 1,000 feet just sightseeing or slowly going from place to place, or maybe even nowhere in particular. Once in a while we see those airplanes doing ground reference maneuvers or lazy 8s. It’s hard not to think about how far my own career has come watching somebody else go through those maneuvers that I too had to master.
If you are pursuing a professional career, take the time to enjoy the steps along the way, and if you can pull it off, stay involved in your GA roots. You will miss it more than you ever will imagine. I fly whenever I can, and I keep my CFI certificate active; I worked way too hard to ever let it expire.
There may be a thing or two about GA that I don’t miss—the broken orange juice cans in the Cessnas, not having a weather radar, bouncy fuel gauges, and I’d like to have an autopilot—but the benefits way outweigh the cons. I think I’d like more than anything to be able to fly a cross-country and substitute my iPod for ATC…just once.—By Chip Wright