PAST & PRESENT. In Budd’s worn wallet, his new license shares space with his tattered, beloved original.
My new plastic pilot license showed up in the mail the other day, and this is what I think: I don’t like it. It’s new and it’s very pretty, but it looks as if it should be used to buy socks or groceries, not fly. Basically, it has zero soul—it’s nothing like my original license, which oozes character. The new one hasn’t earned the right to be snuggled next to all the moldy stuff I keep in my wallet, and given its shiny, clean-cut appearance, it likely never will.
I was one of the last pilots in the country to convert to the plastic license, and I just barely made it under the deadline. This wasn’t procrastination: It was me not wanting to change something that had literally, and figuratively, molded itself to fit my wallet, my body and my life. My license (I refuse to call it “my old license”) may be a little tattered looking, but it earned its scars honestly.
For one thing, my “real” license has been through the wash far too many times. After the fact, I tried to protect it with “country-boy laminating” (that is, PVC packing tape), but the damage already had been done. However, I’d prefer to view the changes not as “damage,” but as patina that befits its age and experience.
The tired-looking certificate has shared a lot of experiences with me. For one thing, although it was last reissued with a new rating (Lockheed P-38) something like 13 years after I first received my private pilot license, that was still 39 years ago. So it predates my children, both of whom have given me grandbabies. It predates owning my first Pitts. It predates the AZ Redhead. And it predates the last two major geographical chapters of my life: New Jersey and Arizona.
It’s hard to quantify the different airplane types in which my yellowed, old permission-to-fly certificate has ridden—it’s at least 300—or how many thousands upon thousands of landings it has made.
Pilots truthfully can say that there are parts of us in our old cardboard licenses. This is courtesy of the sweat that works its way into them on summer flights. Our DNA is totally intermingled with the DNA of the trees that died so the license could be manufactured. An original license has karma because of the intertwining of lives, both plant and human, which gave it birth and then impregnated it with salty DNA. Plastic can’t have karma because…well…because it’s plastic.
I’m also not nuts about the new layout of the ticket. All of the good stuff gets hidden on the back. I like having my flying history, the endorsements and ratings, on the front rather than having to turn it over.
I heard someone complaining that the numbers are too hard to read (which I don’t agree with, by the way), but then, how many people actually look at their license for their pilot number except when filling out insurance forms? And no CFI has to look that number up—most of us have written it countless times in countless logbooks. For me, the habitual recitation of my pilot number has made me certain that it will be the very last thing to flicker through my brain as I die.
Still, as I look at my thoroughly distressed-looking ticket, it’s with a twinge of sadness: It has been too long since I got a new rating or endorsement—entirely too long. I’m always nudging others to add color to their lives in the form of additional, diverse flight training, but I don’t take my own advice. And, if I did, what would I add to the short list of ratings/endorsements on the back?
If I could afford it, I’d love to have a type rating for a DC-3. Part of me feels that I’ll never be able to call myself a real aviator if I don’t have a DC-3 type rating. I know it’s illogical, but that’s the way I feel about it.
A multi-engine sea rating would be another bucket list item to go on the ticket. I know I wouldn’t have a single use for such a thing, but as with the Gooney Bird, I just feel that it’s something I should do. However, if I’m going to go that route, I’d like it to be in something with round motors that drip and don’t whine. No turbines or square motors for me. I’d like to do it in a Goose. Or maybe a Twin Beech. Yeah, I know: fat chance that’s going to happen.
I’d also like to see indications on my license that I have an LOA, or whatever they’re using today, that says I’m qualified to fly an F-86. Actually, as I’m prone to say, the F-86 is at the top of my bucket list, and I really don’t care if it shows on my license or not. I just want to fly the airplane, period. Again, fat chance!
In the end, I didn’t really replace my well-worn old license with the fancy new-millennium version. Not physically, anyway. I couldn’t find anything in the regs that said I couldn’t carry the make-believe plastic license and my ratty old one. So, when I flip my wallet open, I’m still looking at a yellowed and sort of disreputable-looking document that grants me flying privileges. The flying credit card is right behind it, doing its best to dull its sheen and round its edges so it looks as if it truly is a pilot’s license.
Budd Davisson is an accomplished aviation writer and photographer, CFII and CFIA, and aircraft owner and builder. He has authored two books and lectured at the Smithsonian and NASA’s Langley Research Center. Visit his website, www.airbum.com.