Not long ago, I was flying commercial from LAX to Boston Logan. As I settled into my seat in the back of the bus, I was chagrined that, right behind me, sat a young boy of maybe six or seven. When he started to kick the back of my seat, I gave his father one of those looks, but the kicking never really totally stopped. That’s what I get for a $300 ticket, I thought to myself—unwashed masses in steerage. Fast-forward to our plane racing down the runway and lifting off: I’m absentmindedly looking out the window when this same kid behind me reminds me with only a few words why I learned to fly.
During takeoff, right as the plane’s main wheels break ground and while we’re still over the runway, the kid behind me yells to anyone and no one, “Look, we’re flying! We’re flying!”
I couldn’t help but laugh, since he seemed so surprised, but to the kid’s credit, it brought me back to the time I was learning to fly and felt the same whenever I hauled back on the yoke of the little Cessna 172 I flew during training. And though learning to fly and progressing through ratings was never a picnic, there are few things that bring such satisfaction.
A few years ago, while taking an accelerated course for my instrument ticket and flying a cross-country across literally half the country, my instructor and I stopped for the night at a casino hotel in downtown Reno, Nev. I was tapped of energy and the pressure was on—my checkride was already scheduled for four days hence. I was feeling very unready and was nervous I’d tank for the feds. And, being under the gun and all, I unfortunately had no time for the green-felt jungle beckoning in the casino a few floors below. I’d have much rather been at the blackjack tables deciding whether to hit or stand than deciding holding-pattern entries.
Sitting there in what seemed like the littlest hotel room in the Biggest Little City in the World, I felt oversaturated with instrument minutiae and desperately needed to clear my mind. After a bit more than a week of intensive instrument instruction, I had plateaued—I’m told it happens to the best of us. And though my instructor assured me I’d be ready for the big day, I was truly doubtful. It wasn’t the first time I’d experienced doubt on my road to becoming a pilot—or a better pilot.
Indeed, my introduction to flying was rather inauspicious and, frankly, a turnoff. If I didn’t love flying as much as I do, I would have walked away after only one flying lesson—which went like this.
I was in college in Dallas, Texas, and not knowing better, eenie-meenie-minie-moed my way to a local flight school at Addison airport. I had never really flown a plane before, and on that 1.4-hour intro flight, learned all too clearly what a stall, and then a secondary stall, was. I had no idea what was going on or why it was happening, I just knew that we were falling and then we were falling again, with the fertile Texas plain smack dab in the center of the windshield. I was not happy. That bastard scared the bejesus out of me, and I didn’t return to flying until almost 10 years later when I walked into a flight school recommended by a photographer/aerobatic-pilot friend.
Long story short, that referral did the trick, and I’m forever glad I stuck it out, persevered, worked hard and got my private-pilot certificate. Of course, it’s impossible for me to personally recommend a flight school to you, but this special “Learn to Fly” issue is chock full of the advice I wish I had received before I ambled into that disaster of a flight school in Addison, Texas—things like what to look for in a prospective flight school and in a prospective flight instructor. And if you’re looking at making aviation your career, we also list some of the top aviation academies where you can start your journey to a rewarding livelihood.
And if you’ve already found a good school and have even soloed, no doubt you now understand the exhilaration and satisfaction of personal flight and maybe sometimes you even feel like that little kid behind me on the airliner.