Illustrations by Chris Gall
Becoming a Pilot Again
“Why don’t you just go to the airport and go flying?” Those were my lovely wife’s exact words. I should have them memorized; I’ve heard her say them, oh, 5,000 times over the past 12 years. Not that she’s nagging in any way (all pilot husbands should be so lucky). She just knew how much I missed being up in the air.
So why did I stop doing something I loved? That’s a darn good question. I wish I had an equally good answer. I honestly don’t know why I stopped. I don’t like to say that I quit flying, because my aim was never to quit — I was always going to get back into it someday. That day just never came.
I’ll bet there’s a good chance a lot of you are in the same boat. We invested a lot of time, effort and money into earning our pilot’s license. And when it was new we flew, and flew, and flew. And then, for any of a number of reasons, we stopped. Now, being a pilot has become just a point of conversation. “Yes, I’m a pilot … ” My wife’s response to that? “You’re not a pilot if you don’t fly … ” Truer words have never been spoken.
Re-Earning My Wings
With the passing of the new year came my firm resolution to get back in the cockpit. I’d said that before, but this year was different. We hadn’t moved since I’d last updated my certificate, so I didn’t have to worry about contacting Oklahoma for a new one. Check that step off the list. Step two was to go online to the FAA’s MedXPress system and fill out the forms to get my third-class FAA Medical. No sense in getting all pumped up about flying if I turned out to be medically unfit.
When I last did this, I filled out the forms in the doctor’s office. Now it’s all done electronically. Once you fill out the forms, you’re given a registration number, which you take with you to the aviation medical examiner’s (AME) office. They use it to complete the form and register it with the FAA.
According to my AME, the third-class physical itself hasn’t changed. I met all the FAA’s criteria and was given my third-class medical certificate, which I immediately placed in my wallet.
Taming TAA Anxiety
I decided that I was going to do my flight review in a Cessna 172 with Garmin G1000 glass-panel avionics. If you’re going to jump in, might as well be in the deep end. Was this a good decision or a bad one? We’ll see. Out of curiosity, I contacted my friend Eric Radtke, president and chief pilot for Sporty’s Academy, and asked him about the academy’s experience with long-out-of-the-cockpit pilots getting recurrent in an airplane with a glass panel or, as the FAA defines it, a technically advanced aircraft (TAA). His short answer: It isn’t for everyone.
“We do get students who are hesitant about these new avionics. If you’ve been away from something for a long time and you get back and see something familiar [e.g., analog instruments], that can do a lot to put you at ease,” he said. “Seeing something completely different, like a panel full of the G1000 screens, can be quite intimidating. It’s the same information, just presented in a totally different way.” Amen to that, brother.
Radtke suggested that before actually flying, I spend some time with either video tutorials or online courses on the G1000. So I did. I got Sporty’s Garmin G1000 Checkout DVD and I signed up on Garmin’s website for the “e-learning G1000 VFR” tutorial training. Both were wonderful and provided step-by-step tips. Even for sunny-day VFR, there are a lot of G1000 techniques to get familiar with. I lost count of how many hours I spent with the materials.
I also knew that because it had been a decade since I had last flown as PIC, the G1000 wasn’t the only thing I would have to learn or relearn. There have been a lot of changes in airspace, regulations, weather and many additional areas required to fulfill the flight review requirements. I’ve always been a fan of Martha and John King’s friendly training style, so I signed up for the school’s online Return to VFR Flying Kit. It was like spending time with old friends and was a great overall refresher.