Student pilots come alive when they walk through flying school doors. Their eyes sparkle, their voices rise and their smiles are wide. They are energized in anticipation of the challenges and accomplishments in each flying lesson. Their friends would see them as different people when they are at the airport.
The excitement is well founded. Few other sports teach their participants to combine knowledge, skill, experience, coordination, logic, initiative and common sense to succeed in a three-dimensional environment.
Students leave the airport with a heighten awareness of their surroundings and their capabilities. The drive home from the airport gives them time to revert to who they were, but after flying, they’re never quite the same.
We fly because we can
Flying is something most Americans can do. This is one of the few countries where recreational aviation is readily available. Learning to fly and owning an aircraft is far easier than most Americans realize. There are hundreds of flying schools located coast to coast offering lessons toward a variety of licences on different types of aircraft. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to become a pilot; in fact, it helps if you’re not. Successful flying relies far less on academic excellence and much more on the practical application of knowledge, skill and experience. Good pilots are well-rounded individuals with a desire to expand their horizons and have fun.
USA is blessed with an abundance of unrestricted airspace and countless destinations. There are thousands of airports for airplanes on wheels and many more lakes and fields for floatplanes and skiplanes.
US epitomizes the freedom to fly. Few other countries permit personal flying in such a variety of aircraft including ultralight airplanes, amateurbuilts, warbirds, aerobatic and owner-maintained airplanes. Nor do many countries allow aviation associations to lobby, advise, promote, administer and champion recreational flying.
The perfect challenge
Flying appeals to our need to get out of bed. Humans have always searched for more than food and shelter. To live is to seek challenges, try something new, look for action or find a better way.
Learning to fly is our mini Mount Everest. The same sense of adventure that drove the Wright Brothers and others to experiment with flight, drives us to learn how to fly.
And the learning never stops. Flying requires a stimulating balance of mental, motor and emotional skills. Aviation continues to challenge pilots as long as they are flying. No one has ever flown a perfect flight. There is no hole-in-one, no complete game, no winner/loser, no first and second and no perfect score. There is just the satisfaction that you have earned the right to fly again.
Flying accomplishments are easily measured. Each manoeuvre and every lesson are opportunities to feel good about our performance. There are learning milestones at first solo, at the solo crosscountry and the flight test that are not far out of reach.
The gratification continues after receiving an aviation permit or licence. Every flight and each trip holds a promise for a feeling of satisfaction.
Aviation knows no bounds
Aircraft don’t know or care anything about their pilots and passengers. Flying needs no barriers to wealth, race, religion, education, occupation, capabilities, age or gender. In fact, aviation is a great equalizer. An individual’s determination to learn how to fly is what counts.
There is a high level of acceptance found in aviators. Entry into the fraternity of flying is easy. Go to the airport. Would-be pilots are readily welcomed. The only requirement is an interest in aviation and a willingness to carry on this spirit of friendship.
Brings out the best
There are many commercial pilots who could not find a career until they discovered aviation. They include introverts, troublemakers, underachievers, academic misfits and misguided youngsters. Aviation held the key that unlocked their inner best. They transformed. Learning to fly gave them a structured environment, goals, responsibilities, discipline and a sense of self-worth. These pilots never looked back.
Flying is diverse
Few other sports allow participants to operate in such an intricate network. The expertise of aircraft manufacturers, maintainers, suppliers, operators, flight service specialists, air traffic controllers, regulators and instructors are all available to recreational pilots. These professionals are in aviation because they choose. They are attracted to the industry because it is well organized, interesting and filled with like-minded workers.
Recreational pilots have the freedom to use as much of this aviation network as they wish. They may own high-performance, certified aircraft and fly by instrument flight rules from major airports just like airline and corporate pilots. The other end of the scale would be a pilot flying alone in an ultralight or amateur-built floatplane to a favourite remote lake.
Flying is interesting, useful fun in an industry of interesting, useful people.
Aviation is activity
Flying is not a passive sport. Pilots fly because they are doers. It takes initiative and energy to operate an airplane. Pilots are active, in their sport, in their jobs, in their communities and in their other endeavours.
Flying is complete
Few other sports offer year-round, day and night, weeklong action. We can fly for business or pleasure, for a career or a hobby, for relaxation or stimulation, by ourselves or with others and to go somewhere or nowhere.
Flying an aircraft involves risk. So does getting out of bed, drinking water, eating food and walking outside. The level of risk in aviation is considered high but that is largely determined by the pilot. Aviators who know their limits, continue learning and practice regularly reduce the risk.
There are other attractions to flying. Aviation is so diversified that it appeals to a broad spectrum of the population for a variety of reasons.
To find out if flying appeals to you, go to the nearest airport that has a flying school. Tell them that you would like to experience the challenge and freedoms of aviation.
Garth Wallace flew for 12,000 hours as a bush pilot, charter pilot, flying instructor and corporate pilot in Canada. His laughter-filled books are based on the characters he met and the fun flights he survived.