Sometimes the experts are wrong

When you’re working toward earning your private pilot’s license, and you’re not sure you’re gonna have the time or the cash flow to make it happen, most of the self-proclaimed experts will give you one piece of advice.

Whether it’s a column in a flying magazine, a message thread on a Facebook aviation fan page or a couple of CFIs opining on your favorite podcast, they all chant the same mantra:

If you don’t have the money to fly regularly – at least once a week -- then stop.

Quit floundering in the wind.

Take a break from flying.

Save up your money. For weeks. Months. Years, even. However long it takes to build a cash mountain that will keep fuel flowing in the tanks on a continual basis. THEN start back up again.

If you can’t go weekly, don’t go at all.

At least that’s what they say.

Travis first flightMy first flight was on June 11, 1994. My parents had a rule:  Until I graduated high school, no motorcycles and no airplanes. Well, I was now a brand new high school grad – and I still remember my first flight that hot, humid, hazy Saturday morning with instructor Mark Loring. According to my logbook, we were up for 0.7 hours in a Piper Warrior (I’ll always love you N9886K), and we practiced climbs and descents, level turns and dutch rolls out of Bowman Field (KLOU) in Louisville, Kentucky. When it was over, I celebrated with deep-dish sausage pizza at the Bearno’s across the street from the airport.

I couldn’t believe I had my first entry in my Pilot Logbook.

I couldn’t believe I had a Pilot Logbook.

Eventually, my family got into the flight school business. I had easy access to aircraft and flight instructors. Looking back, I can’t believe how spoiled I was. I was allowed to work the desk at the flight school in exchange for flight time – and soon I was well on my way toward getting my PPL ticket. My first solo was on July 31, 1997. Then came my solo cross countries. My long solo-cross country.

But then, suddenly, things changed.

Our family got out of the flight school business. I moved out of the house. Graduated from college. Launched a new career. Gas prices went up – and my disposable income went down. In the meantime, a handful of evil, selfish people decided to fly airliners into buildings in New York. I changed careers again.

I didn’t get my PPL.

Instead, I took a break from flying. In fact, the very idea of spending money on flying airplanes was laughable. I would still look back on flying wistfully, but as far as I was concerned, it wasn’t in the cards. My medical expired, my sectionals and FAR/AIM s were WAY out of date, and my Jeppesen flight manual gathered dust on my bookshelf.

MY break lasted 16 years.

If you look at my logbook, you’ll see two entries right next to each other. They’re only centimeters apart, but the time they span is breathtaking: one reads Feb. 20, 1999. The next reads June 13, 2015.

I can’t really point to one single thing that brought me back to flying. I guess it started during a 6 a.m. Thursday morning men’s Bible study group at Southeast Christian Church. One week I was asked to summarize my life – from birth until the present day – and flying came up.  The guys at my table asked if I was still doing it. I wasn’t.

Then I read “Jungle Pilot” by Nathaniel Hitt, about the life of missionary pilot Nate Saint. I started volunteering for Mission Aviation Fellowship – an evangelical Christian organization that sends general aviation pilots to serve unreached people in isolated regions. I became friends with some of our missionary pilots – and helped some of them move overseas. I even got the opportunity to visit some of them out in the field.

Ultimately I realized that maybe the experts were wrong. Maybe I didn’t have to go once a week. Maybe I could just go once a month. Maybe once every six weeks. Even if I never got my license, at least I would be in an airplane again. At least I would be flying.

Do you want to fly?

Do you have cable TV? Take my advice:  cancel it.

That’s one flight lesson. One flight lesson a month right there!

The experts are wrong. Don’t do what I did and take 16 years off, thinking flying is out of your reach. If you love flying, and you can only afford to go once a month, then just go once a month. Or once every six months. Or once a year.

Here is a link with Flight Schools and Recurrent Training facilities all around the world, tell the experts to take a hike.

Yes, I know you won’t progress very far toward getting your certificate on a once-a-month regimen. Yes, I know students who go more frequently will get their PPL much faster. And yes, I know every expert says you’re wasting your time. But at least you won’t be giving up entirely.

And it’s not wasting your time if you simply love flying.

Travis PIC

As I write this, I’m looking at my shiny blue private pilot certificate. I passed my check ride – at Sporty’s no less! – on Sept. 1, 2018. Ultimately, I did have to increase the frequency of my flight lessons, but that wasn’t always an option. I’m glad I hung in there, even during the dry spells.

I’m working on my Instrument Rating now. My goal is to eventually get my commercial ticket, and my CFI. Then my flying will finance itself.

Maybe I’ll get there and maybe I won’t. What I do know is I hope to keep flying a part of my life some way – even if it’s only volunteering or reading a book about it – for many years to come.

Sixteen years is far too long.

TRAVIS K. KIRCHER is a private pilot – as well as a lifetime student – based in Louisville, Kentucky. His home airport is Bowman Field (KLOU). He is always ready and willing to tell you about Mission Aviation Fellowship – and you can find out more about it by visiting www.MAF.org