Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Aerodromes And Longevity

A trip to the airport is good for what ails you

One of the hidden dangers of all this talk about "old" is that if you hear something said often enough, even though you disagree with it, it eventually comes true. So, if enough people hammer on you that you're too old to fly, you start to believe it, even though your hands still know the dance, and your mind can still play the music. The trick is to listen to our own heart. Our own brain. We know when we're having problems flying, but most of the time, that's a problem of rust, not age. At that point, we should seek out our local CFI (who's probably fuzzy cheeked but can still help us), not a mortician.

As an instructor, I see the age/rust thing constantly. A person comes to me, and the question they're asking themselves is in their eyes: "Am I too old for this? Is it time for me to hang it up?" When I see that, I know two very specific tasks lay ahead of me. First, I'm going to have to deal with their insecurities, because they'll be reenforced when they don't do well on the first flight. I'll spend a lot of time convincing them that it's the rust, not the years, that they're seeing. Second, I'll have to play shrink and verbally pump sunshine up their skirt, so they persevere through the rust-removal stage and get into the flying part. When they do that, I can literally see the years fall off of them after every single hop. In 10 hours of aviating, they lose 10 or more years. Simple as that.

Those to whom Ma Nature has been cruel enough that they can't physically fly invariably still love aviation, so they can still profit from coming to the airport. I've watched pilots who no longer fly as they sit with a group of much younger aviators at lunch. Even if they don't say a word, you can see the light in their eyes as they listen to tales of derring-do, skillful tips and stupid escapades others have recently survived. They may no longer carry a valid medical, but, as long as they get out there and mingle with people of their own kind, they'll feel the power that comes from the subtle knowledge that they're an aviator. And, incidentally, there's no such thing as an ex-pilot. Just an inactive one.

Before we strap an airplane on for the first time, there's The Dream. Then, if we're lucky, we realize that dream. However, we always knew that dream had a finite limit, and an AME would eventually stamp "Unfit for Aviating" on our butts. Fortunately, now LSA is a way to stay up. But, even if we should choose not to go that route, there's a huge community of fellow dreamers standing with open arms at the airport—at the local EAA meeting and the fly-ins. And, when we associate with dreamers, we can be sure of being counted among the younger ones regardless of how we may look. It's how we act and how we think that counts.

If there's one concrete fact in life, it's that "old" is an attitude, not an age.

So, go out to the airport more often. You'll live longer.

Labels: FeaturesPilot Talk


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