Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks


Learning to fly is about discipline, desire and skills—not age


When I'm signing autographs on the flight line, people like to tell me their stories about flying. I find it fascinating that so many people have a lifelong dream of learning to fly, and interesting that many people start taking lessons at midlife and older, sometimes even in their 60s and 70s. Some people start flying later due to personal circumstances, time and money. Occasionally, they have an aviation career in mind but often start flying for other reasons, like taking on a new challenge, doing something that gives them a feeling of accomplishment or for the sheer joy of piloting an airplane. The airplane doesn't know the difference between a 16 or a 60-year-old, and any day is a good day to start flying.

Recently, a friend in his mid-40s, Brad, told me he had always wanted to learn to fly. When I asked him what was stopping him from taking lessons, he had the usual excuses, including how he was possibly "too old," "didn't have the math background" or just didn't have the "right stuff." I knew he had what it takes, so as a friend and a flight instructor, I decided to give him some advice and encouragement.

After discussing his concerns about age and background, we disregarded them pretty quickly. Mid-40s isn't "too old" to start learning anything, and since he had a high-school degree, he had all the math skills he needed to get his license. As far as having the "right stuff," I knew he had the discipline and desire, but would he have the patience? Learning to fly is demanding—both physically and mentally. We expect a lot of ourselves, and mastering the fundamental skills we need requires patience, because so much of it is repetition and muscle memory.

Like a lot of aspiring flight students, he wasn't sure where to start and wondered how to go about choosing the right flight school. My friend lives in an area where there are several airports, so he had several to choose from. My advice was to start by finding the right flight instructor. I believe one of the key ingredients in a successful flight-training experience is having a CFI who takes the time to understand you and your motivations.

We each have a different learning style, so finding an instructor who understands yours, and who gets along with your personality and shares your sense of humor, can make the challenge of learning to fly a fantastic and successful experience.

When he searched around and found the right instructor, he was excited because they had great rapport. Then, I encouraged him to tell me about his lessons. I wanted to use my experience to help with the inevitable "learning plateaus." Like every student pilot, he had good days and bad days, but at midlife with a successful work career behind him, he was like a lot of Type A "go-getters." He loved the challenge but had very high expectations of himself, so there were days when he was impatient. We discussed his frustrations, but I found out that, most of the time, all he needed was a word of encouragement. Happily, he found just the right flight instructor, and things have worked out well. My friend just soloed and is on his way to getting a pilot's license. I'm happy to have been a small part of it.



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