Pilot After 50 – Too Old to Learn to Fly? New Aviation Video Series
Way back in ancient times, before the world’s collective knowledge was in my pocket and when I was still a somewhat irresponsible teen, I had both interest and opportunity to pursue a private pilot’s license. That irresponsible part, though… I didn’t get it done, but I always figured I’d get back to it “one day.”
Thirty-odd years later, during the dark times of 2021, I was working part-time as a chauffeur and waiting for a client at a small suburban airport. Standing outside the FBO (Fixed Base Operator – essentially a gas station for airplanes), enjoying the blue sky weather while I waited, I observed a little, red, single-engine airplane airplane taxi up.
I watched, with a touch of surprise when the pilot climbed out and proceeded to clean up the plane. He was tall and lanky. Rail-thin, actually, with thinning white hair. He moved slowly, perhaps with some difficulty. I estimated his age in the upper eighties. Maybe he just had a hard life, but I thought of him as a 90-year old pilot.
Something happened to me at that moment. I saw myself in that old man’s shoes, gingerly climbing out of a cramped little Piper Cub, my back aching, hands trembling.
I considered my own age. I’d just hit the big five-oh. Thirty years had gone by. “One day” better be today, I realized. As the years tick by, they accelerate and I find myself on the back side of that curve. I was enrolled in flight school the very next day.
I will admit, I didn’t fully grasp what I was in for. I had recently studied for a commercial drivers license so I could drive the big limo busses and I passed the requisite written and practical exams for it without much bother. This was not that.
I’m not in an income bracket one might normally associate with aviation as a hobby. I’m not making doctor or lawyer money, so I tried a protracted, “pay as you go” approach, taking lessons as I could afford them from my regular earnings. In my case, that meant no more than one or two lessons a week – usually just one. Typical lessons, consisting of one hour of ground instruction and one our in the air were running me about $400 each.
I figured it might take me a little longer to earn my private pilot certificate that way, but I grossly underestimated how much more that approach would cost me, both in time and money than if I’d just taken out a loan to get it all done at once.
Between my inefficient scheduling approach, having to take months off from flying at a time, and too-frequent instructor changes, It ended up taking me almost two years to accomplish my goal and become a licensed pilot. I had about 100 hours of flight time when I took my practical exam or “check ride.” Thankfully I passed on the first go, because I was pretty well broke by then!
As the ups and downs of being a student pilot after turning 50 went on, I was picking up some useful wisdom that might be of interest to other prospective pilots – especially ones in their 40s, 50s or 60s. Not necessarily about how to fly a plane, but particularly about how to be a good student. I decided to create a video series on the subject. It took a while to get around to it, with everything else I have going on, but the first episode has arrived on the YouTube channel for DanMcGrath.net.
Future episodes will get into the specifics about flight school, lessons, strategies to get the most out of it and whatever I find interesting about it all.
Episodes of Pilot After 50 will be mixed in with the channel’s other regular content, but will also be grouped in one playlist.
Please check it out and let me know in the comments (either here or on YouTube) what topics you’d like to see me tackle in future episodes.
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