An Aviation Journey…

On the day of the last flying club general meeting I’ll be attending (as I’m dropping out of that club), I’m reviewing my logbook.  Just over 300 hours total time, with just under 300 hours of the in single engine land airplanes.  While the trips/vacations were great fun, the journey to the certificates was the real adventure.  My interest had been there my entire life, but had been deferred for many years for a number of reasons.  Let’s focus on the training portion, joining this journey right at the beginning of the actual training.

A relative had recommended an instructor up at KTTF, so that’s where I started.  I gave them a call and the recommendation was to start with a ground school class that was just forming.  As I recall it wasn’t too terribly long, perhaps a couple weeks, and I was off to that first class full of excitement!  I arrived at the airport and found my way to the classroom.  A couple other students were already there, and several more trickled in as we waited.  Everyone was abuzz with the excitement of finally moving forward on our dreams of flight.  Some students had waited years, saving up money the whole time, others were more like me and had just recently decided to go for it.  Well, we waited.  Then we waited some more.  Finally, we decided to call the instructor and find out what was going on.  It turns out that the class was cancelled!  Not only had no one told us, but the reason was astonishing!  We were told there were not enough students to make it economically worthwhile for him.  How that could be, I did not understand as there were about a dozen of us in a room with perhaps 20 seats at most.  I’ve had much smaller college classes!  We were told that maybe another class might be forming in another couple months.  That right there ended my time with that first instructor as I found the whole situation unacceptable…

On the way home from KTTF that night after deciding that I would not be returning, I was pondering my options.  About halfway home I remembered KDUH was on the way.  Not knowing if they were open or not, I figured I’d take a chance and stop in.  It’s a small place, but they were open and very friendly.  I walked out of there that night signed up for a free ground school, with a Cessna ground school package in hand, and signed up for a flight lesson with what would now be my second instructor (Mark)!  This was the most exciting time, in just a couple short months I made a ton of memories!  Being out of work at the time I had the flexibility of scheduling the training flights in the late mornings that Autumn when the weather was often beautiful.  Flying in a Cessna 172 also gave great views, with the wings not blocking the ground.  However, the airlines conspired to add a new challenge.  After completing ground school, and roughly 15 flight hours in, the airlines came calling and hired away ALL the flight instructors…

A couple months later, KDUH finally managed to line up another instructor for me to fly with.  Instructors were very hard to come by for awhile, and the focus was on getting students done that were closer to checkride time.  Myself being so early in the process had to wait.  While the waiting was a bit annoying, my experience so far had been good, so I waited.  Finally, a new instructor was found, so 15 hours in and on my third instructor!  Unfortunately, I never really meshed with that new instructor.  We did a couple of hours of ground school that didn’t go too well.  Flew one flight, which also didn’t go that great.  Some instructor/student pairings just don’t work out well and you have to know to move on.  The bad news was that there were no other instructors there to move to.

At the recommendation of a friend I then looked into a flying club over at KTDZ.  There were four active flight instructors there at the time, so I looked at the list and started with the one that had the most impressive collection of ratings.  We got together, talked for awhile, discussed my goals, his availability, and decided to move forward.  So, here I am now still under 20 hours and am just signing up with my fourth instructor, Tom!  I also transitioned to a low wing Piper Warrior as I always liked the looks of them (more like the “real” airplanes in the books I read growing up).  By then I was also working again, so had to stick to the evening time slot for training.  Great Lakes region evenings are not the best time to be flying as that’s when the thunderstorms like to roll through.  There was many a cancelled flight.  Despite being on the schedule twice a week there were times I only flew once in a month!  Still, there were also good weeks when I flew twice.  Finally, it was checkride time!

After passing the checkride, I made a point to getting checked out in the rest of the club airplanes and working on cross country hours so I could get started on the instrument rating “upgrade”.  Along the way I met and flew with my fifth instructor (Dave).  The bulk of my instrument training was with Tom, but I did fly with Dave too occasionally.  Notably, Dave was the last person I flew with right before my instrument checkride.  I had gotten signed off by Tom and decided, the evening before checkride day, to get a few extra takeoffs and landings in the airplane (Liberty XL2), since it’s pretty pitch sensitive and I wanted to be at my best.  The airplane failed that night, as the fancy FADEC system decided it did not want the engine to run right.  Dave happened to be at the field and graciously volunteered to go up with me in the trusty ol’ Warrior so I could get the feel for it and take the checkride in it instead the next day.  I hadn’t flow it in awhile, but I did have most of my primary training in it.  Switching airplanes at the last minute like that made me very nervous, but Dave got me through the practice checkride flight, and the DPE seemed to think that the last minute change wouldn’t be more than I could handle.  He made the point that the certificate didn’t say what kind of airplane it was good for and that I very well could be in that one for my first real solo IMC flight (as it turns out, that came to pass…).

That checkride under my belt and I spent the time to get my High Performance Endorsement in the club Cherokee 6.  Definitely a good experience as it requires more planning, and things happen faster.  Many fun trips were had at this point as I finally felt like I could exercise these hard won privileges!

Finally, after not doing much more than keeping up on currency requirements, I decided I needed to do something more.  The Complex endorsement was my choice.  No club airplanes met the requirements, so I started looking around.  Finally over at KUSE I found a couple.  A C172RG and a Piper Twin Comanche…  Not being a fan of the performance of a retractable 172, I signed up with instructor number six, Tijmen “Tim” to get my complex in a twin!  It was such an enjoyable experience flying that Twin Comanche that I went ahead and did the multi-engine checkride!  A bit expensive, but since it doesn’t take that many hours it was reasonable.

Upon reaching this point, there wasn’t a whole lot more to do locally.  There are many more ratings, but either we don’t have the aircraft available locally (think seaplane or airship), or they’re extremely expensive and thereby out of the running (helicopter).  Upgrading from Private Pilot to Commercial is something I also pursued, but only briefly and half-heartedly as it required a lot more dedicated flight hours and retractable gear airplanes.  I didn’t mind driving all the way out to KUSE for the few hours that the Complex and Private AMEL took, but to do that for all the hours I’d need for my Commercial, well, that was just going to be too much.  So, went back to KDUH and flew with instructor number 7, Nick, to get a glass panel checkout.  So, back to the first place I flew, back to a C172, but this time with advanced avionics!  Felt like being back at home and I enjoyed how much closer to home it is than any other place!

Now, back to the beginning where I’m leaving the flying club.  This is not the end of the journey, but simply a change in direction.  I found myself not flying (and not learning/growing) anymore.  KTDZ, where the club airplanes are located, is not convenient for me at this time and the extra drive time really killed my desire to go flying.  I also hate to rent airplanes closer to home when spending the money on monthly dues out at the club.  Despite loving my flying club, I have to leave it in order to be free to fly…

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