Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Getting Back Into It

Rust removal can actually be fun

Most flight instructors who have flown senior citizens find that there's little to no correlation between age and difficulties in bringing old skills up to snuff. However, every single instructor in that situation agrees that the biggest obstacle seniors have in getting back into flying is their own self doubt—not their ability to learn. Their real enemy isn't the passage of the years, but the rust that accumulated during those years, and rust removal can be frustrating regardless of a person's age.

If someone stops doing anything for a number of years, 10 or 20 being pretty common periods of layoff within aviation, they have to come back into it knowing that their memory banks are going to be clogged with rust. The old axiom, "If you don't use it, you lose it," could have been penned specifically for aviation because it fits so well. So when climbing back into the aerial saddle, the mind-set has to be one of being prepared to start over again, although that's seldom what's required.

If you come back in expecting your skills to be even remotely what they were when you stopped, there will be a tendency during the first few hours to get really discouraged. This is especially true if you're one of the many who got their license, then almost immediately stopped flying. The original skills didn't have time to work their way into your subconscious, so they disappear quite quickly. Low-timers, however, generally come into being retrained with a more malleable mind-set. They expect it to be hard. This can't be said about high-timers.

Quite often, high-timers have a more difficult time psychologically because they underestimate how much the passing years have eroded their skills. They often expect an hour or two to have them ready to rock-and-roll. They're more easily disappointed than a low-time pilot because they have higher expectations of themselves. However, they should also know that the old instincts will come back much more quickly for them than for other folks. They just have to be patient.

And speaking of high-timers, Wayne Massey, an airline pilot still practicing that skill, illustrates that just because you're flying doesn't mean you won't have trouble getting back to your roots. He says, "I flew little airplanes for over 10 years before getting into the airlines but, as I got deeper into my career, I stopped flying GA. Then, after flying 85 hours a month for 10 years, the 'flying bug' hit me again."

Massey continues, "My rust was fully exposed when my very patient flight instructor had to talk me down to get the C172 onto the runway. There was a long stream of reddish-brown dust trailing behind that airplane.

"When my instructor jumped out of the plane and said, 'Okay you're good to go,' I felt like I was making my first solo flight all over again," Massey adds.

"Getting back into GA has brought back all the memories of why I started flying in the first place. I really feel that I let myself down and temporarily lost my dream with those missing 10 years. Now, sitting in my 'office' at FL350, I find myself daydreaming of flying my Aeronca Chief," Massey says.


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