6 entries from January, 2011

Dwindling Pilot Population – Inspirational Methods

** This is part 3 of a 10 part series on the dwindling pilot population.

Prior in Series: The Waning Interest

In the last post in this series I mentioned that one reason for the dwindling pilot population is waning interest. So now we will look at some ways to inspire people to keep that interest building.

One big thing pilots can do is donate to their public and school libraries. Buy some aviation books or some training videos, and donate them. I’ve been doing just this at some of my local libraries. Most children in school are not going to read about becoming or being a pilot if the book is not in either their school library or their local public library.

I personally hate Microsoft, but that doesn’t stop me from buying people Microsoft Flight Simulator. As a kid I used to love playing combat simulators that had me flying different fighters from WWII. Computer games are a great way to get people interested in aviation.

Purchase RC airplanes as gifts. The price of remote controlled airplanes has dropped dramatically since I was a kid. Now there is really no excuse for not buying them as gifts for nieces, nephews, your own children, or even your friends’ children. Just clear it with the parents first. If you aren’t sure if they would like that as a gift, buy yourself one and fly it around them sometime to see if they are interested.

Take people to airshows or pylon races. Even some smaller airports put on great airshows throughout the year. use to find out when one will be in your area and get as many people to go as you can. Watching pilots get the maximum performance out of their aircraft is sure to inspire many people to be more interested in flying.

While all of the above are great ways to help inspire people to want to become a pilot, nothing works as well as taking them flying. There is one more pilot in this world exactly because I took him flying. There could be more since I don’t regularly talk to many people I have taken flying, but I have had one person come up to me and tell me they are a pilot because I took them flying.

See if you can get your local newspaper to follow a student pilot all the way through their training. I think many people would find that interesting, and surely a few people will be inspired enough to start training as well.

If you have the resources, create a documentary. You won’t get rich off of it, but creating a documentary of getting a pilot license would be sure to attract the attention of many people thinking about getting a pilot license, but who just are not sure what it is all about.

Those are some of my ideas for inspiring people to get a pilot license. Many people already have a fascination about flight. All we need to do is help feed that fascination so they are more likely to take the next step and start their training.

What are your thoughts for inspiring people to become pilots?

Selling my Cessna 150 – It Was Like Losing a Family Member

When people tell me that their pets are like part of the family, it takes everything I have not to scoff at them.  I have had numerous pets, mostly cats and dogs, in my life, and I have never had such an attachment as to consider them part of the family.  As strange as it may sound, after having sold my airplane I think I now know how they feel.

Watching someone else take off and fly away in my airplane was enough to bring a tear to my eye.  I wanted to run after it while it was taxiing prior to takeoff.  I contemplated running onto the runway, jumping, and grabbing the landing gear just as it took off.  Luckily common sense prevailed, so I’m still alive today and with my freedom as well.

Selling my Cessna 150 was definitely the right thing to do.  My wife and I were starting a family, paying off student loans, remodeling a house, and saving for a new house.  We were at a time in our lives where we had to really buckle down, and that meant selling the airplane and severely cutting back on expenses… even flying.

Two children and a span of 4 years without flying later we definitely made the right decision.  Not only did the money from the sale and extra cash flow help, but as a family of 4, the 150 just wasn’t going to be big enough.

From time to time I look up its N-Number just to make sure it is still safe.  The last time I checked, it was living in Kentucky.  Since that isn’t too far I contemplated calling the new owner to see if I could fly down and see it one more time.  Alas, the pain of our separation is still too great.  I decided I didn’t want to have to relive the pain of leaving “my” airplane behind when it was time to leave.

One of the things that has always helped me deal with the loss of a pet, and probably the biggest reason I don’t consider them part of the family, is that after they are gone, they are replaced.  Sure my long time companion might be gone when fido passes away, but that sadness is replaced by the joy of a new puppy.

Not only was I not able to replace my airplane after selling it, but I don’t see a new airplane in my near future.  We are still remodeling the current house and saving for a new one.  Maybe in another 5 years when we hope to buy or build our new house, we’ll be able to review our budget and save for a replacement airplane.  That is my hope for now at least.

In the meantime, I’ll continue renting a Cessna 172, and dreaming of the day we can welcome a new (to us) airplane into our family.

Dwindling Pilot Population – The Waning Interest

** This is part 2 of a 10 part series on the dwindling pilot population.

Prior in Series: The Series

When I was a young child in the late 70′s and early 80′s I started dreaming about flying. Of course at that time, it was difficult not to. There were so many cartoons and TV shows where the characters were flying.

For cartoons we had “The Transformers”, “MASK”, “G.I. Joe”, “The Jetsons”, and “Under Dog”. For movies we had “Superman” and “Star Wars”. For TV shows we had the flying car in “The Dukes of Hazzard”, as well as actual flight in “The A-Team”, “AirWolf”, and “The Greatest American Hero”.

As I grew up that influence lessoned since there just wasn’t as much flying on TV. Cartoons, movies, and TV shows all became much more planted on terra firma.

When I was in school, I became very interested in reading. There wasn’t much inspiration to be found there either. While there were plenty of books on just about any other topic, trying to find a book on flying was quite difficult. Even today, try searching your public library or your school library for books on flying. If you find even one, I will be quite impressed.

I think most children are naturally intrigued by flight. Most kids still at one time or another spread their arms and pretend to fly. Most kids still look up at the airplane flying overhead and wonder what it would be like to be flying up there.

Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much to help inspire kids to keep them interested in flying. As they grow up they are influenced less and less. Even toy airplanes are severely lacking. About the only airplane toys I see kids have these days are made by Lego’s. Those can be fun to build, but they aren’t exactly sturdy for playing with.

Almost every kid owns a remote control car at some point in their lives. How many do you know that own a remote control airplane? My guess is zero. Sure it takes more space to fly an RC airplane than drive an RC car, but even most cities still have parks.

To make matters worse, most parents crush their children’s’ dreams by telling them it is much too expensive to become a pilot. They make it sound like only the rich can fly, and since we are all average people, we are all destined to keep our feet on the ground.

My parents never crushed my dream of becoming a pilot. In fact it was my Dad going skydiving that put me squarely on the path to becoming a pilot.

How about you? Did you have anyone help you develop your dream into a reality? Do you agree that there isn’t much in print, on the radio, or on TV to inspire children to become pilots?

Next time we will look at some inspirational methods to help turn the tide.

Jump Plane Pilot

** While this blog is not geared towards the commercial pilot, it is geared towards prospective and student pilots.  Since some of those prospective and student pilots will go on to be commercial pilots, I occasionally feature commercial piloting jobs.  This way prospective and student pilots will know what types of jobs are available in aviation. **

Becoming a jump plane pilot is a great way to build flying time to help you land a better paying flying gig.  It is also a good way to earn a little extra side income.  I would like to get a commercial certificate one day so I can fly jump planes for the skydiving club where I went skydiving.

Flying skydivers presents some unique challenges that other flying jobs don’t have.  The most obvious is the shifting cargo.  While you are in the air, the skydivers will either be moving from the back of the plane to the front before exiting, or from the front to the back.  The direction of travel will depend on the type of airplane being flown.

For the Cessnas that I jumped out of, we moved from the back of the plane to the front.  As each skydiver exited the airplane, the rest of us would move forward to help with the weight and balance, but the pilot is constantly having to adjust as the balance shifts.

For us student jumpers using the static line method in Cessnas, we would climb out of the airplane while holding on to the strut of the wing.  We would then slide our hands up the strut towards the wing until our feet were no longer on the step over the wheel.  While we would do this one at a time, this has to create a ton of drag that the pilot is having to battle.

When the student jumps, that drag is instantly removed so the pilot once again has to work to level the wings.  Often at the same time the pilot is working to level the wings, the other skydivers are moving forward so the balance is shifting again as well.

The other challenge isn’t exactly unique to jump plane pilots, but it is much more of a focus than other aviation jobs, and that is fuel management.  While flying a jump plane, it is critical to manage the fuel correctly.

When flying jump planes this means flying a consistent pattern to altitude.  If you fly a wider pattern, you will burn up more fuel which will not only cost the jump club money, but possibly lives when you run out of fuel on your third run instead of having plenty of reserve left over.

This also means getting down as quickly as you can.  You don’t want to be taking your time landing since this also will burn more of that precious fuel.

In addition to providing some unique challenges, flying a jump plane also provides some unique rewards.  What other job gives you the opportunity to watch people plummet from an airplane and get saved by some fabric and strings?

When flying a jump plane the flying is challenging, the people are interesting, and the atmosphere at the airport is always fun.  What more could you ask for?

Dwindling pilot population – The Series

The pilot population has been dwindling for a number of years. This 10 part series is intended to be a look at why that is the case as well as giving a few potential solutions to the problems.

We will look at some explanations for why the number of pilots is decreasing from a flying as a hobby perspective. I firmly believe that if we make flying as a hobby more attractive and attainable the number of pilots will go up. Some of these extra pilots will surely go on to become commercial pilots as well.

In addition to looking at why the pilot population is decreasing we will also look at what we can do to help the situation. Some of my solutions are out of reach for most pilots, but other solutions show that every pilot can make a difference.

Obviously I haven’t hit on the ultimate solution to the dwindling pilot population. This is meant as a way to get every pilot thinking about the issue, and hopefully find some ways to start reversing the trend one pilot at a time.

Each part of the series will be listed below and linked to as they are posted.

What are your thoughts for some of the reasons that the pilot population is shrinking?

Shop Around For the Right Airport

I am fortunate enough to live within 25 minutes of three different airports. If you are in a situation similar to myself, do yourself a favor and do some shopping before choosing one to fly out of.

The first airport that I flew out of, AOH, is the biggest and is more business oriented than the other two. This airport has the newest, most modern airplanes to rent, but this also translates into being the most expensive to fly out of.

At AOH, you will likely see other pilots, but most will be commercial pilots that are transiting the area. It is always interesting to talk to these pilots; however, since there are few locals to be seen, it isn’t easy to build pilot relationships.

The second and third airports would seem very similar at first glance. Both are smaller general aviation airports with little business traffic. They have comparable runways and both rent a single Cessna 172 for roughly the equivalent price. Because of this, I didn’t think the experience would be any different at these airports.

Thinking the experience would be the same, I next flew out of OWX since it was closer to where I worked. Most days this airport is like a ghost town. There was almost never anyone hanging out at the airport. People would come, fly, and leave. This makes it difficult to build pilot relationships.

After changing jobs, I now work closer to VNW, so that is where I am now flying out of. This airport has pilots hanging out most of the time. Every time I go to this airport, I see at least one pilot that is also there.

In my first 5 times flying out of VNW, I met as many local pilots as I did at AOH and OWX combined. This might not seem like a big deal, but it is. It is wonderful to have more experienced pilots around to gather knowledge from.

It is nice to actually feel like part of a community rather than a lone pilot operating from a ghost town. If I could turn back time, I would still learn to fly at AOH because I had such an awesome instructor. However, I would have skipped over OWX. Even though it was closer to where I worked at the time, there just wasn’t that feeling of community that exists at VNW.

So if you have multiple airports to choose from, when shopping around do not only take into account the cost and convenience, but also look at the quality of the instructor(s), and especially the atmosphere and community at the airport.

Doing so will not only make your flight experience more enjoyable, but it will help keep you flying since you aren’t going it alone.

United States Airspace – Special Use

*** This series is meant as a general guide, and is not guaranteed to be comprehensive or even 100% accurate. You should always consult the FAR’s rather than trusting this blog to have the final say.

Prior in Series: Class A Airspace

At anytime throughout your life, hurdles may placed in your way. Sometimes the hurdles are so big or dangerous, we take a detour. Other times with due diligence we are able to overcome them or even bust right through them. Each hurdle is different, but most can be classified into different types.

These hurdles are special use airspace. It is important to understand that these airspaces warn pilots of activities and surface areas that may be potentially dangerous.

Prohibited Area
Sometimes life places hurdles in our way that we simply cannot overcome, and so we are forced to take a detour. One that always gets my blood pressure up is the train that is sitting idle on the tracks.

My options are either to sit there until the hurdle is finally removed so that I can proceed, or I must find a new way to get to my destination.

A prohibited area is that train stuck on the tracks. You cannot go through a prohibited area, so you are forced to plan your flight to avoid them.

Prohibited areas are established for national security and occasionally environmental protection. An example would be the area around the White House.

If you ignore the train on the tracks and try to drive through it, you will surely meet up with some police that will be checking you for drugs. If you ignore a prohibited area and try to fly through it, you will surely meet up with some military aircraft that will be considering shooting you down.

Restricted Area
Do you hate construction projects while you are traveling? I sure do! There are times when these construction sites are impassable. For instance when a bridge is getting worked on around here, the road is often closed indefinitely. In these cases, it is time to detour.

At other times, you can get through the construction zone, but only when the friendly flagger turns the stop sign around so it is a slow sign. These construction zones are similar to restricted areas. You cannot enter a restricted area without permission.

For access into restricted areas, ATC often acts as the flagger, and can give you permission to enter. There are times, however, when you cannot enter a restricted area.

Restricted areas normally contain operations that have the potential to be quite dangerous to aircraft such as artillery or missile firing as well as aerial gunnery. When these activities are happening, restricted areas are completely off limits.

Warning Areas
Have you been driving along and noticed signs warning you of animal crossings, slippery roads, or steep inclines? If so, you know that these areas are particularly dangerous. In fact they are so dangerous that it has been deemed necessary to add these signs to warn you.

Warning areas are like these sections of the road that have their own signs. Warning areas are only advisory, so you won’t have to worry about being escorted by military fighters.

Warning areas are more dangerous than normal airspace. They often are host to hazardous activity, so if you have to fly through them you need to be especially cautious.

Unlike warning signs along the road that can pop up anywhere, warning areas occur over domestic or international waters and start from 3 miles beyond shore.

Military Operations Areas
Have you ever been sitting idle in rush hour traffic while cars are flying past at over 75 MPH in the lane next to you? Wouldn’t it be nice if OnStar could direct you around these congested areas, or just let you through if traffic was light?

Military operation areas are like congested areas during rush hour. These areas are designed for routine training or testing maneuvers. If you go flying VFR through these areas while they are active, you may just feel like you are sitting idle when a fighter jet goes screaming past.

If you are considering going through a Military Operations Area, you should seriously consider talking to ATC. While it is only a dream to have someone guide you while sitting in rush hour traffic, ATC really can guide you through or around a Military Operations Area.

Flying through a Military Operations Area without being in contact with ATC is like trying to go from the idle lane to the 75 MPH lane in rush hour traffic. It can be done, but it can be quite dangerous.

Alert Areas
While driving there are certain areas that it pays to be especially alert at. Intersections with stop lights is one example. When your light turns green, it is definitely a good idea to check that the other traffic has decided to obey their red lights and stop.

Alert areas are the airspace equivalent to street lights. Alert areas often surround high general aviation traffic, unusual aerial activity, or frequent student training.

Alert areas aren’t really all that dangerous by themselves, but like getting the green at a stop light, it is in your best interest to be at the top of your game while flying through them.

Hopefully you enjoyed this series on the United States Airspace. If there is something you feel is incorrect or that I left out, leave a comment and let me know!

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Make Life Happen

Somehow when I was a kid and even a young adult, I knew that the secret to life was to make life happen.  When I was 23, I had a full-time job in my chosen career.  I owned a house, I was a pilot, and I owned an airplane.

I remember thinking back then that I had accomplished my goal of becoming a pilot and owning an airplane.  I accomplished my goal of getting a good job in my chosen field and owning a house.  I also remember thinking that I didn’t have any new goals in life.  Unfortunately I started to become complacent.

Instead of making life happen, I was sitting back letting life happen.  When you sit back and let life happen, it does indeed happen.  Oh boy does it ever!  I lost my good job and eventually replaced it with another job in my field, but I was making only 2/3 of what I was at my previous job.

Suddenly instead of having extra money to invest for retirement every month, I was struggling to find money to fly.  I stupidly decided to keep the airplane, forgo investing in my retirement, and settle for my low paying job rather than finding another good paying job.

Fast forward a few years, and I met my future wife.  I’m not sure if she knows this or not, but she helped me remember that you cannot sit back and let life happen.  You have to go out and make life happen.

For all of you Christians out there who are saying that you are supposed to let God lead your life, I agree with you.  I try to pray every day to have God let me know if I am on the right path or not.  I am once again making life happen, and like my younger self did, I rely on God to help show me which path I am to blaze.

Now here we are at the present, I have a good job, and my family’s only debt is our house.  While I still do not have an airplane, I do manage to scrape together enough money to fly a few hours each year.

The important part though is that I’m not sitting back waiting for life to happen to me.  I am once again working to make life happen.  If you are a non pilot that has always dreamed of becoming a pilot, stop sitting back letting life happen to you.  Start working to make your dreams come true.

If you are a pilot that has hung up his or her wings while raising a family, dust those wings off.  Don’t sit back and let life happen while you are rasing your family.  Instead find ways to make life happen.  You will not only be able to share your joy of flight with your family, but you will also be teaching your children a valuable lesson about life.

There may be obstacles in your way.  So what?  They will be there whether you are letting life happen or making life happen.  Life is sort of like canoeing down a river.  You can sit back in the canoe and let the current carry you down stream, or you can get out your paddle and choose which path through the stream you wish to take.

Either way there will be obstacles in your path.  There might be rocks, logs, or sand bars that are just below the surface waiting to stop your progress.  Or perhaps there is a small waterfall just around the bend.  What would put you in a better position to overcome these obstacles?  Sitting back in your canoe letting the current do all of the work, or paddling along choosing your own path?

I say paddle along, choose your own path, and make life happen.  Just as in the canoe you will hit an obstacle and realize that the stream has passed you by, one day you will wake up and realize that life too has passed you by if you just sit back and let life happen.