Two steps forward and one step back. In early January I took the written exam for the Commercial certificate. I scored a healthy 86% and was anxious to get in the airplane to learn and master the Commercial maneuvers with the goal of a check ride by my birthday at the end of March.
We all know what happened next. As pilots we have had to exhibit some patience in order to try to tamp down the outbreak of the Corona virus. I would like to give a big shout out to my instructors, Mike Jesch [primary] and Christopher Keran [night] and my DPE Dave Koebel. We all had to exhibit patience, pivot and persistence. I am happy to report that on July 5th I took and passed my Commercial check ride in Hood River, Oregon. I hope that understanding and applying the following principles will help you to reach your aviation goals in 2020 and beyond.
The key to living in these times, psychologically speaking, is the use of Three P’s:
To say that these are unprecedented times would be an understatement. Our entire sense of “normal” has vanished like the many scheduled events on our flying calendars. Additionally with many working from home, off work, or recovering from illness, our ability to define normalcy has been decimated.
Personally I had two opposing forces; my desire to complete my training and achieve the Commercial; and my psychotherapy practice that was busier than ever. At the beginning of the pandemic I could have worked seeing clients virtually 24/7. There was [and is] so much need for psychological care. I had to develop some patience during this early transition to “COVID-normal”. Eventually I was able to strike a balance between work, study, and a personal life.
It is safe to say you haven’t lived through a global pandemic of this magnitude, so what I am about to say might seem a little strange. Let yourself be a learner; give yourself some grace. As information changes, life changes, and your feelings change, remind yourself that you are back to being a student-of-life. Try to show patience to yourself and others, as we all process at our own pace.
Humans react differently to stress and trauma. For many the “shock” phase, in which the person feels foggy and is keen to deny reality, lasts longer. There comes a time where the shock wears off and we have to make new plans that line up with the new reality. This is where the concept of Pivot comes in. Flexibility is the key in learning to pivot. Like many of you, I had a timeline for my new rating. Then 2020 said, “Hold my beer” and those plans that included in-cockpit instruction were out the window. Time to change course and do as much as I could on my own.
I used King Schools for my Commercial ticket. Luckily the online content was up-to-date and very complete. Another added benefit of quarantine was that so many outlets [AOPA, EAA, FAAST, Social Flight, etc.] were offering educational content. Owning my plane provided a major advantage during COVID. I was able to practice maneuvers and get the night cross country and required night landings in all while being in complete control of my aircraft environment.
As days turned in to months in our COVID-normal, I found myself drifting a bit. In the “before-times” I used to work really hard, so I could play hard at aviation events. Now the play was all gone, replaced by work, work, work, then zombie. You see, when you are staring at a screen all day your brain downshifts your body to zombie mode. Yet other parts of your brain are on high alert, keenly aware you are working, being observed and on-camera. The combination of sitting for long periods, body on zombie, brain on high alert leads rather quickly to exhaustion or burn out.
After I finished my day, mustered up something to eat, and took my pup Mooney out for a walk, the idea of watching another Zoom video, or online education video just made me cringe. Another factor was that my attention span was about 20 minutes. What I had to do was exhibit Persistence. I set small goals for myself; every day I would do at least one thing that would make me a better pilot.
In late May I talked with my CFI Mike Jesch about his feelings about resuming flight instruction. We agreed to wear our masks, disinfect the yoke/instruments, to use our own headsets and to be as socially distant as one can. We started up the flight training, specifically on the maneuvers. I had watched the King Commercial check ride prep videos repeatedly, read the Airplane Flying Handbook and did a fair amount of ground prep. CFI Chris Keran was on board for the night dual, which turned out to be a hoot from Santa Maria, to Bakersfield, then Fresno, CA.
The reality is, when you are in the air, you are back to being a learner. I had to exhibit the grace and grit I spoke of earlier. I can’t count how many people told me how much they loved flying the maneuvers, how graceful it felt to them. Let’s just say, at the beginning it wasn’t graceful for me. I had to apply my formula; patience in allowing myself to struggle, correct, and succeed; pivot by remembering how I learn best [by demonstration]; and perseverance in sticking to my commitment of becoming a better pilot.
Before I got my instrument rating pilots would tell me that there would be a moment in which instrument flight just “made sense”. I didn’t believe them, until it made sense for me. The same thing happened with the maneuvers and me. Instead of being afraid of the chandelle, power off 180 landing or 8s on pylons, I actually looked forward to it. Voila. All I needed now was a good flight to the Columbia River Gorge from California and the surface winds to take a chill pill in the Gorge.
18 years ago I learned to fly in Hood River Oregon. Nestled in a natural wind tunnel at the base of Mt. Hood, we used to say if you could fly in the Gorge, you could fly anywhere. The 15 years I have been in California erased some of the high-wind memories. Back then it was 18G26 on my PPL check ride. Turns out that the CPL wasn’t going to be much different. Hood River Oregon [4S2] departure Runway 25 280 @10G15, The Dalles Oregon [KDLS] landings-Runway 31 [email protected] 13G21, [email protected] 16G26. There is nothing like demonstrating a soft field takeoff on a warm day with those winds. My track from Foreflight is a sort of Rorschach test… what do you see? I see a T-Rex, taking a bite out of those maneuvers!
When I landed in Hood River after a successful check ride I felt proud of myself. Although the certificate was 3 months “behind schedule”, I am happy to have accomplished it during these trying times. My DPE got out of the plane and headed to his car. I was left on the ramp, gazing over N18213 the C150 that I got my private in all those years ago. The wind was blowing as I tied down Maggie. True to form my tears started flowing shortly after. Memories flooded my mind from 4S2, both good and bad. For today I was focused on the good. Another successful flight of Haywire Airlines and now on to the search for a fountain cherry Coke.