Plane & Pilot
Saturday, September 1, 2007

Back In The Saddle

Returning to the cockpit can be exhilarating and difficult, but worth every frustrating minute

Back In The SaddleThe first thing I did was introduce myself to her. I did it quietly as I touched her spinner and as my flight instructor ambled off to untie the right wing. The last thing I needed was my instructor thinking I was crazy for talking to a machine. This was, after all, a machine—a complex assembly of aluminum, cables, spars and wires. There could be no life in this 2,000-pound craft of the air, but I knew better.

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Most of all, those two hours brought me back to life. My eyes took in the sunlight and the sky in a new way. Everything looked and smelled different. I ambled back to the FBO with a new swagger to my gait. I would no longer be tied to the ground and—unless some act of God prevented it—I would never, ever give up this amazing thing called flight. I know where I belong now, and my home is the sky.

Prepare Yourself First

Your climb back into the cockpit can be greatly simplified by doing a little homework.

• Renew records: Make sure the FAA has your current address. Paper pilot certificates should be exchanged for the new plastic ones at

• Renew medical: You’ll need a current medical before you’ll be legal to fly solo or carry passengers again; offers a list of medical examiners in your area.

• Training materials: Get a good training manual or multimedia pilot course (ASA, King Schools and Sporty’s are good resources). The name of the game is relearning what you’ve forgotten and learning what’s new since you last flew.

• Current AIM: Even browsing through the Airman’s Information Manual will teach you a great deal. It’s all here, from radio phraseology to airport markings and more.

• Safety information: AOPA’s Air Safety Foundation offers a goldmine of interactive courses and articles on vital safety topics. They’re free, so take advantage of this amazing resource.

• Online forums: There are a number of online aviation forums offering vast amounts of information and advice. Search the Web for “pilot forums.”

• Magazines: Subscribing to a monthly publication like Plane & Pilot will keep you current on technology, techniques and the latest in aircraft and avionics.

• Organizations: Join AOPA or EAA. Each has its strengths and differences, but both have many benefits for members.

• Flight review: (Previously known as the biennial flight review.) This is your ticket back to flying legally. It’s a proficiency evaluation with a CFI. FARs say it must consist of a minimum of one hour of ground instruction and one of flight instruction, but your instructor will tailor it to your proficiency level.

Useful Resources On The Web

FAA Airmen Certification
Update your address, get a replacement certificate and download forms.

AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association):
A vast resource of articles, forums, statistics, software and advice.

Air Safety Foundation:
Interactive courses, safety reports, accident analysis and downloads.

EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association):
Loads of pilot services, resources and youth programs.

Radio Work:
Depending on how long you’ve been out of the cockpit, you should brush up on your radio skills. Live ATC feeds let you listen to the busiest environments in aviation on your computer’s speakers. (Comm1,, offers CD-ROMs designed to help aviators communicate effectively with ATC.)


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