When You Can’t Always Fly

Life has a way of throwing the unexpected at us.  We lose our medical certificate, break a limb, run out of money to train, start a new chapter in life, and the list goes on and on.  While we’d like to think that all licensed pilots are out there every day flying, or even once a week, the truth is that many of us aren’t able to fly.  It’s a shame that so many that are licensed can’t fly for various reasons – I’m among those that don’t fly even though I am licensed.

In October, I went through a flight review after not having touched the controls for the better part of a year.  It isn’t easy to not be able to fly – I’m surrounded by students that spend most days out in the Cessna working on their different ratings and eventually graduating nearly ready to apply to a regional airline.  For various reasons, I’ve decided to focus on finishing my Bachelor degree instead of spending my time and money on flying.  However, I really miss being around the flying community, even though I can’t fly on a weekly or monthly basis.  So, the challenge in the last few years is figuring how to stay “in the know” even when I can’t get behind the controls.  I admit I’m not the best at it since I transferred to UND, but I’ll pass on a few tips that I’ve picked up over the last few years.

Get Involved in Something, Anything!

There are some really great organizations out there that are aviation-related with chapters all over the country.  A few that come to mind immediately are the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA).

CAP is a volunteer organization that is more than just about flying.  Seniors (+21 years old) mentor Cadets (12-21 years old) in subjects such as Aerospace, Search & Rescue, and Leadership.  It’s more than an aviation club – it’s the chance to be involved in future generations and build friendships for a lifetime.  There are many squadrons in each state and the National membership dues are very affordable.  Did I mention many of the training sessions and activities are FREE???  You get out of CAP what you put into it and there are many opportunities to train as Search & Rescue pilots using subsidies from the U.S. Air Force.

AOPA is an outstanding program centered on protecting the freedom to fly.  In the words of AOPA: http://www.aopa.org/About-AOPA/Governance/Mission-and-History-of-AOPA

“We protect your freedom to fly by…

  • advocating on behalf of our members,
  • educating pilots, nonpilots, and policy makers alike,
  • supporting activities that ensure the long-term health of General Aviation,
  • fighting to keep General Aviation accessible to all, and
  • securing sufficient resources to ensure our success.”

Like CAP, AOPA also has a yearly membership fee, but it pays in more ways than one with education materials, pilot resources, insurance and financial services, and much more.  No matter whether you are a student pilot, or a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), AOPA has the membership for you.  Student memberships are just $35 for the first year, in addition to a free 6-month membership, and the Regular membership is just $59 per year.  This also give you access to applying for AOPA members-only scholarships (maybe you can get money to start training again!).  In addition, AOPA also has recently started hosting “Fly-Ins” all over the country to encourage its members to get out there and meet each other in a fun and relaxing setting.

EAA is my personal favorite when it comes to General Aviation.  Like AOPA, it is comprised of many people in General Aviation and also has great regional and state events.  In addition, there are many chapters in EAA all over the country that host fun events weekly or monthly.  In addition to providing many pilot resources, EAA is also a huge advocate for homebuilt and experimental aircraft and aviation history.  EAA has its headquarters in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and boasts a huge museum focused on aviation history and general aviation.

In addition, it hosts the biggest airshow and trade event for general aviation in the country every summer.  People from all over the country and world flock to Oshkosh to fly their planes in, purchase aircraft, parts, and much more.  There are hundreds of free information sessions and hundreds of people volunteer every year to help pull off the great aviation get-together.  It’s worth it to attend and the aerobatics shows are spectacular.  Like all of the previously mentioned organizations, and the many others out there, EAA strives to build a community of pilots from every walk of life and continues to foster general aviation in America.

Find a Training Buddy…

Sometimes we all need that friendly boost to keep on track with something, whether it be flight training or something else.  Find a friend and pick something to get involved with together.  Spread out, make new pilot friends, and find a way to contribute.  CAP, AOPA, and EAA are all great organizations with some fantastic volunteer opportunities members.  Another way of staying active is finding flight schools or individuals that host seminars or information sessions.  CAP, AOPA, and EAA do that on a regular basis in addition to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  Such activities are fun to do with friends and I’ve enjoyed hanging out with my pilot family while participating in the WINGS program.

The FAA has a great program called the WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program.  Instructors all over the country volunteer their time covering various safety topics to pilots through seminars and informal gatherings.  This program is helpful in maintaining proficiency and currency for those in general aviation. The instructors that host these seminars give credit towards each licensed pilot for each session attending (1/2 credit, 1 credit, etc.).  The seminars are often combined with a flight with a CFI practicing certain maneuvers, etc., that each pilot does on their own.  There are various phases a pilot can work on and any completion of a phase is equal to completing a Flight Review .   In the end you’re a safer pilot and you’re good for another 2 years!

Do Some Reading…

Whatever your reading preference, there are many great publications out there in print and online for students and pilots alike.  Many students can pick up free subscriptions of Plane&Pilot, Aviation for Women, etc. In addition, there are some great publications out there from the FAA such as the Advisory Circulars which are have many different topics including airports, safety, and much more.  Also, many flight schools such as UND have issues of many popular aviation magazines just laying around for free!

Now Go Learn Some Stuff!

 I admit that it’s easier said than done when it comes to keeping current and staying proficient in aviation. However, just reading, volunteering and attending seminars is half the battle.  The other half is giving yourself consistent goals to work towards.  I know life sometimes throws us things we didn’t expect, like not being able to fly, but there is so much we can do in the meantime.  So, hang in there fellow aviators, and keep your chins up!



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