Your connection with the sky

Unfinished Business – Picking Up Where You Left Off

C172s on the ramp at Tradewinds Aviation (KPTK)

Today, I talk to a huge chunk of the would-be pilot population. Those who have some time at the controls but have stopped training for whatever reason.

Hey, I’m with you. I launched on my first training flight 21 February 2001. I ultimately received my private pilot certificate in February of 2004 with something like 98 hours in my logbook.

What happened in the interim? Life, of course! My first officer, Cole, was born in December of 2001. A series of instructors became unavailable to me for various reasons. I changed home airports three times. And there was that event on September 11, 2001 (at which time I was training at an airport that was under the Class B shelf of another large airport and was therefore restricted from flying under most circumstances). I'll bet you have similar stories and every one of them is just as valid and I get it.

But I stuck to it over the course of all that time, flew whenever I could, and then reserved a couple of weeks during which I trained hard to get well above PTS standards and then nailed the checkride.

Here are a few thoughts on how to get back into the sky.

You build up a lot of rust on your wings and, when you depart from flying for a long time (my longest was about nine months), you spend the first couple of flights getting the rust knocked off so you can pick up somewhere close to where you left off. Go into your first few lessons humble and don’t expect to nail anything at all. Listen, watch, and fly as well as you can. You’re not out there to grease every landing or hit your own wake on every steep turn. Demanding a lot of yourself is for those couple of weeks before the checkride. If you go back to the airport with reasonable expectations, you’re a lot more likely to be in a good state of mind to let all of those prior flying experiences come back and become second nature again.

You have a unique perspective as a returning trainee. You probably know what does and doesn’t work for you. You’re had an opportunity to reflect on your prior training and really sort out where your challenges are. Use this opportunity to take charge of your own training! Audition a few different instructors and maybe even a few different FBOs. Ask for a training syllabus from each instructor and make each explain how he or she is going to get you over the goal line. The point is that you’re a better consumer of aviation training services than you were when you first started and this is your chance to take the bull by the horns and line up the resources that you’ll need. Never, never, never leave your flight training up to someone else. It’s up to you to constantly identify what you need and to proactively come up with a plan and, in consultation with your flight instructor, to execute on that plan. Take advantage of this re-start and your more savvy outlook to make the process work for you.

If you’ve been training under Part 61 (the less-regimented and most common kind of training), consider finding a Part 141 school at which to finish up. Part 141 schools are much more regimented but usually involve less time to finish. You’ll take a haircut on the hours you’ve already flown under Part 61, but you might end up finishing more quickly, depending on your circumstances. I started under Part 141, did a lot of flying under Part 61, and then finished up at a Part 141 school. You’ll want to sit down with an instructor and your logbook to determine whether finishing under Part 141 is right for you.

Don’t think you can get the whole thing done in one sprint? No problem! Make the trip at Scout’s Pace. When I was a kid and a member of a certain youth organization, I learned that you can cover a lot of ground quickly by running for a minute, walking for two minutes, and then repeating the cycle. "Scout's Pace." Train in planned bursts (the “running” phase) and then give your other obligations their due for awhile (the “walking” phase). Make your “runs” at least a three weeks long with training at least twice a week. If you train at least that much and that intensely at a stretch, you’ll likely get and retain skills that are rust-resistant and that will carry over to your next “run.” Hey, it’s not the most efficient way to do things, but it sure beats never becoming a pilot. And, after all, more flight hours means – well – more flying! Which is kind of the point, right?

Lastly, some more good news. With relatively few exceptions, flight time doesn’t expire. It’s all there in your logbook waiting for you and, except for currency issues or that magical three hours of prep within 60 days prior to your checkride, it doesn’t evaporate. And you’ll probably be surprised by how much comes back to you once you get behind the panel again. Besides, very, very few people sinish in the minimum 35-40 hours required by the FAA. the average is something more than 60, so don't worry too much about time.

The basic message here is that there’s absolutely no shame in coming back to flight after having taken your first few steps. Lots of people do it! I did it! Several times! If you stick to it, you have a great chance of becoming a newly-certificated private pilot.

C’mon back to the airport! That wonderful perfume of recently-combusted 100LL and freshly-mown grass is waiting for you. I did it. Lots of people have done it. You can do it!

3 Responses to “Unfinished Business – Picking Up Where You Left Off”

  1. Couldn't have summarized it better myself. I started my PPL training in July 2003 and quickly ran up 100 hours just "having fun" with the airplane before my employer and I parted company and cash flow became an issue. Resumed in the summer of 2007 and got 8 flights in to knock off the rust before I started traveling extensively on my new job and had to shelve the flying. Kicked off my flight training again in the summer of 2008 and passed the flight test after 26 hours, then wrote and passed the written just before Christmas. It's been a long, long trip, but personally satisfying and worth every penny. Next stop: my CPL.

  2. Hi!

    This is great advice for people. "Life" sometimes has a habit of getting in the way of things we like to do!

  3. Congrats, SaabGuyYYZ! We've very similar, even for different reasons. You and I are proof that one can always go back and most of the elements will be there waiting. They may be rusty, but, after all, the penalty for all that rust is that you have to fly. Fly? No problem!

    I presume that the YYZ in your username is for Toronto Executive. I just figured out the tie-in with the great Rush instrumental and the Morse code identifier for the VOR there. Wonderful stuff. If you happen to run into Alex Lifeson, please tell him that I'm a huge fan and would love to have him on my show, Airspeed. (Yes, I'll contain myself and swear never to reveal the phone number. I know that the guys are fiercely private folks and I respect that.)

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