About That Pilot's License

I thought that flying an airplane would be so cool - and it was....  I couldn't wait to learn about every dial, gauge, lever, switch, handle, control, radio, etc...  Oh the technology..  And also - I'd be able to get anywhere - quickly and easily. 

What I didn't expect was how intense and frightening things are when you are trying to control three dimensions instead of two.  I drove a car - and loved it...  But no amount of driving a car prepares you for the experience of flying an airplane. 

And NOTHING can prepare you for the skills you need to master before you get a license.  Here's a very short list:

  • SLIPPING - this is the skill of flying an airplane "sideways" - essentially moving straight ahead while the nose is pointed to the side.  This is used for landing in a cross-wind.  Think:  walk down the street with your upper body facing 45 degrees left.
  • STALLING - this is the fun you have when you intentionally bring the nose of the aircraft higher and higher until a death buzzer starts ringing and the wings can no longer provide lift.  Exciting things ensue.
  • SOLO - That's right - nobody in the other seat to save your butt.  You are ALL ALONE up there - busy trying to remember everything you need to get back on the ground in one piece.
  • POWER ON STALLS - see stalling BUT you still have engine on full power.  Essentially - you're headed toward VERTICAL before the wings no longer provide lift.  Far more exciting than stalling.
  • SPINS - The fun just keeps coming as you get to recreate the classic scene from every WWII air war movie.  Ground is coming up quick and your plane is just spinning mercilessly to the ground.
  • CROSS COUNTRY - This is where you prove that you didn't study enough about navigation techniques to get from one point to another.  Oh yeah - and you have to go to at least two other airports - oh yeah - and you also get to do this at night.

Spoiler Alert - I never got my license.  I could handle SLIPPING the airplane.  I SOLOed.  I experienced STALLING - I think I made it to POWER ON STALLS.  But then - some primal part of my brain - whatever part handles personal survival - kicked in and demanded that enough was enough.

Do I wish I finished? Not really.  I'm sure that having a pilot's license would be awesome, but I've heard private pilots say that what they really have is the opportunity to buy the world's most expense hamburgers by renting a plane and flying a couple states away only to eat at the airport's lunch counter and then fly home.  

And in an emergency - who would I prefer to have flying an aircraft that I'm aboard?  Well the answer is ANYBODY BUT ME.  Clint Eastwood said it all in Dirty Harry:  "A Man's Got to Know his Limitations."  How true.

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