According to my logbook, I have now doubled my hours since I took my checkride. Essentially, this means that I have flown as many hours as a private pilot as I did a student. There are, of course, different ways to analyze a logbook. For example, my number of individual flights remains greater as a student, but if I count student solo flights, I have flown more times alone than I have with an instructor. Also, I have spent more months as a private pilot than I did as a student. Nonetheless, since pilot experience is universally measured in hours, I count my doubled hours as a personal milestone.
With this in mind, I look back and ask myself, have also I doubled my pilot knowledge and flying skills as well? Indeed, this is harder to measure, but if I am to go only by the mantra that a good pilot is always learning, then I have to say yes.
Flipping through my logbook, I think back and remember some of the things that I learned on specific flights. What’s even more inspiring is to look back just a few entries to a flight I might have taken only a month or two ago, and compare that level of perceived experience to the knowledge that I feel I’ve gained since that time. Since I try to mentally digest and recount the events of every flight that I take, (largely the purpose of this blog) I always feel confident with the level of forward momentum that each new experience bestows upon me and my flying abilities.
Let’s go back to that mantra, “a good pilot is always learning.” It seems so apt, and not just because you gain hours, which translates into experience with each flight you take. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, flying is not only in my blood, it’s in my brain. I don’t want to stop learning about it, and I certainly can’t stop reading about it every chance I get. I’ve even found myself listening to aviation podcasts on my iPhone when I walk around town and do errands. One in particular that I like is The Finer Points, by Jason Miller.
Of course, from the most basic standpoint, the more you know, the safer pilot you’ll be. If I can’t afford to go flying every day and gain firsthand experience at this point, at least I can fill my brain up with knowledge that I read from some book, article or website. In that way, I always have something to look forward to for the rest of my life.
I seem to be insatiably drawn to pursuits in life that offer a lifetime of learning, whether they be music, photography, climbing or aviation. Just as there will always be a new piece or style to learn and perfect on the guitar, there are so many aspects of flying, there will always be a more perfect landing on a shorter strip with a new type of airplane. It will never end, and that’s what excites me so much about flying. Actually, it’s what excites me so much about life. If you’re not going to spend all of it learning and improving at the things you love to do, you might as well hang it up and quit.
Of course, playing the wrong chord on the guitar will never get you injured or killed. In that way, flying is much more like rock climbing. Flying carries inherent dangers and risk, and a seriously botched landing can, at the very least, hurt. Obviously, as with climbing, the more knowledge, experience and cool that you have when and if that epic moment rolls around, the better prepared you’ll be to come through it alive and unhurt.
I think that the main reason that I love learning about flying so much is that I’m so excited about what I might do with it in the future. Having only scratched the surface, I have a LONG way to go and MANY more hours before I’ll be ready to do some of the things that I hope to do with it in the future, like land on the crest of a mountain ridge in the Wrangells in my own plane and then get out and go for a hike. Or, land with skis somewhere and get out to make a few turns. The list goes on.
To put things in perspective, one year ago, I hadn’t even soloed yet. From that standpoint, I have indeed come a long way and that inspires me as much as anything. Do I still make mistakes though. Of course, who is perfect? Fortunately, it’s only been little things, like forgetting to turn the transponder to ALT, or forgetting to put my heels on the floor and thus riding the brakes a little during takeoff (only once!) I still have the occasional bounced landing, but so do the 1,000-hour pilots that I’ve flown with, so I’ll go somewhat easy on myself. As I said, little things, and I’d like to keep it that way, so I’ll keep filling my brain with knowledge every chance I can get.
I look forward to my next milestone, which right now, is my 100-hour mark that I’m quickly approaching. More importantly, I look forward to the gained experience that will come with that mark, as well as each and every other mark that I pass during my life of flying.