Towards the end of summer, I had a TSA agent pull me aside and ask me some questions about flying. What was probably a simple question by him turned out to provide a bit of friendship between the two of us. I learned that he had his commercial pilot's license but only had a little over 300 hours, a time sadly limiting for him. I, too, have been through those terribly frustrating days of not having enough flight time to get a job and not being able to get enough flight time to get a job. I didn't envy his position at all.
(In all seriousness, I really DO feel for him. I came out of flight training with 327 hours and landed my first-ever aviation job as a flight instructor. This was in the ever-so-painful flight year of 2008, and I was quickly laid off 28 days later because the company didn't have enough students. I was dejected, to say the least. I went a month with no job before landing a position mapping the country in a Cessna 172. I wanted to fly for the airlines, and I was confident that my 900 hours at the end of my first season would do just that. I was way wrong. The minimums for even a regional airline shot up to 2500 hours, a barrier that was demoralizing. I just plugged away, one hour at a time. Sometimes painful, sometimes enjoyable. I would not see my first airline job until I had over 1800 hours. So, yeah, man, I get it. I know the frustrations.).
But what excited me was that I learned he had a Piper Cherokee that he rarely flew! I think he thought I was a bit out of the ordinary when I asked if I could fly with him! He didn't understand why I would want to fly in something so small when I flew nearly every day in something way bigger! That's just it!!! Every day, I am told where to fly, when to fly, what altitude to fly at, how much fuel to take, what the weather is going to be at my departure/enroute/destination, and on and on and on. The 121 airline is so regulated it's beyond safe. And it's fairly simple! But what we often miss out on is the joy of the freedom of flying! The ability to fly low, check out houses from the sky, fly over lakes, circle back around for another look, drop in for the classic $100 hamburger. The ability to have fun.
I was more than excited to fly with him. And he was more than happy to oblige. So back in October 2011, we took his 1978 Piper Cherokee out for a little fun flying over the beautiful "hills" of central Ohio. I treated him to a little lunch and pie, and he treated me to some enjoyable flying below 2000 feet. We continued to stay in touch, and he continued to ask questions about how to move to the next step.
Well, insert January and February 2012. He called me up to say that he had left his job as a TSA agent (gladly) and picked up a full-time job elsewhere. He also let me know that he had sold his Piper Cherokee (financial reasons...I understood but was sad to see it go). But he asked if I would still be interested in flying with him! OF COURSE!!! So one day in January, we set out and did some approaches in a Cessna 182RG. He was admittedly rusty, but I was thrilled to be able to teach him how to better shoot the approaches. We had a fun day flying just under two hours, and I was thrilled to pass on some real-world flying knowledge. Sometimes I forget just how much I do know. Not in an arrogant way. But I literally shoot ILS approaches nearly every day. He doesn't do them but a few times every six months! "Rust happens" in flying.
Well, I received yet another phone call from him. "I'm going after my multi-engine rating." !!! I was thrilled for him. He really can't get picked up by any airline without it, so it's a step in the right direction. He still won't get paid without his CFI rating, but this is one he really wanted. So I met with him a couple of times and tried to make the blur of Vmc make sense to him. I was quite dismayed to see just how much I had forgotten myself!
But he took me out for dinner and drinks a couple of times and listened to me as I explained accelerated slipstream, spiraling slipstream, P-factor, torque, and on and on. He thanked me profusely for instilling some knowledge in him. And I could barely understand that as I was thrilled to impart some knowledge to him!
Well, I was flying on February 16 when I received a simple picture text. It showed a Piper Apache with a feathered propeller in flight. I had told him that the craziest moment is looking out your window and realizing that the engine really is not running! The propeller isn't spinning...nothing! It is fully stopped. Before his training, he just seemed fascinated with that image. Well, now he had it. A fully-stopped propeller just a few feet from his seat. He just had to share. I loved it.
Two days later, I received another text that every pilot loves to hear. It was simple...
"Passed the checkride!"
That was it. I received it between two of our flights that day...between loading and unloading passengers. But it was the best part of my day. Another one is in the ranks. Another pilot is flying with two engines. It's hard to explain, I guess. Thousands of pilots get their multi-engine rating each year.
I guess it just means a little bit more when you have a tiny say in the outcome. I certainly won't take the credit for his hard studying, but what a joy to share in a friend getting his multi-engine rating.
Flying really is fun.