Your connection with the sky

Getting Back into the Cockpit Again

by Chris Findley, CFI

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What do you do when you look up and realize that its been 2 years or 10 years since you last flew?  Getting back into the plane can seem a little intimidating.  As I often work with people who are getting back into flying after a break, I've found that the longer the break, the more apprehensive the pilot is about their ability to recoup their knowledge and skills.  I know, I was in that position myself.

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I had a 15 year break from flying.  After earning my degree in Aviation Management and my Commercial, Multi, Instrument and CFI ratings from Auburn University, I was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army and entered active duty.   Between getting my feet on the ground with the military and shortly thereafter getting engaged and married, I just slipped away from flying.  It was never a conscious decision, but just something that happened.  After a couple of career shifts over 15 years, an almost comical turn of events got me back in the pilot's seat.  It was mis-handled mail.

I went to my office mailbox one morning to find a single piece of mail-- Plane & Pilot's Annual Guide to Aviation Careers.  I thought it ironic as no one at my office knew my background in aviation.  Why was this in my box?  I kept it and over my lunch break began leafing through it.  Something within me awakened, a long-lost passion for flying and a hunger to feel the response of the flight controls in my hands once again.  But I was nervous.  Would I remember everything (or anything) a decade-and-a-half later?  Would my skills in the air be miserable or would they return?

I found a great flight school and happened upon a patient instructor who helped me stretch my wings once again.  Now today, as I work with pilots returning to the air after a break, I understand their situation.  For those who feel the desire tor flight coming alive again within them, I'd offer this advice:  "Do it!"   If you love it and miss it and have a burn for it-- life's too short to procrastinate!  Start the process today!

If this describes you, here are a few things I found to be helpful in my process of starting my flying again:

1.)  You will remember more than you think! You will most likely tap into a reservoir of information that you didn't realize was still there.  Much of the info you learned during your initial training will simply need to be revisited.

2.)  You'll fly better than you imagined. I was amazed at how much came back to me once I started flying again.  The "feel" of the airplane was still there, much to my relief.

3.)  They'll be more to learn and more airwork to be done. While numbers 1.) and 2.) are true, there will still be things you need to brush up on or learn.  For me one of the biggies was airspace.  In the 80's I remember TRSAs and ARSAs and TCAs.  A, B, C, D, E and G airspace was new territory.  So was GPS.  We didn't have it in when I learned. (But I do LOVE it!)

4.)  Don't let the jitters get to you. It is usual to feel a little anxious, especially your first couple of times solo again.  My first solo after coming back into flying was a big event for me.  I was a little nervous, even though I knew that I knew how to fly.  Don't let the jitters grow any larger in your mind than simply that-- a few jitters.  A little anxiousness keeps you sharp!

5.)  Be patient. For those who have been out of flying for an extended period of time (years), I suggest that you not jump right into a Biennial Flight Review (BFR).  Log a couple of hours with an instructor just to stretch your wings.  Take your time with the BFR, mine lasted about 6 flight hours.  That was OK by me.  The most important thing is that you are competent and safe, not that you zip through the BFR.

So what are you waiting for?  Get back in cockpit!  Find a great instructor and get started today!

Here are a few helpful links on Returning to Flight:

AOPA's "Getting Back into Flying" Site is an excellent source of information on returning to flight.

I had a great time talking with Jason Schappert (AOPA 2008 Collegiate Instructor of the Year) about this very topic:


Chris' Radio Interview with Jason of

9 Responses to “Getting Back into the Cockpit Again”

  1. Chris -- Interesting post. I'm a retired US Air Force pilot with 5,000 hours in 6 different USAF aircraft (5 jet and 1 turboprop including well over 1,000 hours as a jet instructor), but I've been out of the cockpit for 20 years since retirement. Now I have a business reason to fly again and I'm about to take my first instructional ride. I don't find I'm so much infected with the jitters, but patience is a real problem for me in that I can't WAIT to get rid of the pesky 12 year old instructor in the right seat and GET ON WITH IT.
    I keep telling myself over and over to be patient -- two decades is a long time out of the cockpit
    -- things have changed (including me)
    -- the 12-year-old has things he can teach me
    -- things I really need to know
    -- important things

    Be patient. Your post helps reinforce this.


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