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Airplane kit, finished product

A writer friend sought my counsel (that sounds SO much better than "hey, what do you think about......?") regarding information for ex-pilots getting back into flying after a long layoff.  My reply to her was:

There should be no such thing as an "ex-pilot" - just as there are no "ex-Marines." Once you become a pilot, you will ALWAYS be a pilot.  You've learned a skill--and some vestige of that skill will be with you always.  Even more important, you learned to THINK like a pilot - to think not only in two dimensions, and not only in a third dimension, but in a fourth - time.  You will never be the same again.

The FAA certificate that you earned doesn't expire, either.  Your authority to exercise the privileges of that certificate may lapse due to the loss of a medical certificate or requirement to complete a biennial flight review - but the certificate remains valid, and after satisfying the lapsed requirements, you may again continue to enjoy the privileges of that certificate.

In over 40 years as a flight instructor and FBO, I've had hundreds of people come back to flying.  Most worry whether they have the skills to continue - but that is the SMALL part of regaining currency and competency.  Most people take less than 10 hours of flight time to get back to an ability to demonstrate flight proficiency for the exercise of their license - even after decades of inactivity.  My experience has been that it takes more GROUND time to refresh your memory on ground school items and the changes that have occurred since you were last active.

A word of caution:  A sign off on a biennial flight review doesn't mean you are as good as you once were - only that you meet the minimum for the rating.  It is the equivalent of just completing your initial flight test.  Proceed with the same caution you exercised when first obtaining your rating. 

I've found that many pilots spend time "preparing" for their biennial (if you are off for two decades, is it a "bi-decade"?) flight review.  Don't waste your money.  Simply sit down with your chosen instructor.  Show him your documents: pilot certificates, old medical certificate, logbooks.  Talk with him or her about the kind of airplanes you flew, and what kind of flying you would like to do now. 

Talk to your instructor about any changes that would affect your medical status since your last medical, or any medications you may be taking.  He can advise you on what may or may not be allowed today - and whether you might want to consider the Light Sport option rather than renewing your medical certificate.  YOU and your instructor will design a flight review tailored for your experience and needs.

Your instructor will outfit you with the publications you will need, and use those publications for your ground instruction.  Don't waste time and money "preparing" for the review by renting an airplane and different instructor--simply go up with the instructor conducting it.  There is no pass/fail with a flight review.

You will train to proficiency - when the instructor indicates you are proficient, the instructor will sign your certificate, and you are done.

There are any number of reasons that people find it difficult to fly - time, finances, unavailability of an aircraft.  The BEST way to remain as a pilot is to NEVER QUIT BEING ONE.  You must make up your mind--"I AM going to continue flying!  Even with limited time or finances, there are ways to "stay in the game."

* Get a "flight buddy" to share in expenses.  You'll still be flying, but at half the cost, and you'll have lots more fun.  There are few activities that are best enjoyed alone--how many of us would go bowling, golfing, boating, or any other sport all by ourselves?

* Be a safety pilot.  If you are appropriately rated, go along with someone practicing instrument flying under the hood.  (Note: if you are in actual IFR conditions, YOU must be appropriately rated and current)  BIG BONUS - if a safety pilot is required (as in another pilot wearing a view-limiting device) you AND the other pilot can log PIC time!

* Even if you can't fly - go out to the airport.  Be one of the "locals." Not only will you make new friends, but you will stay up on what's happening in the industry.  You might even be invited to go for rides - in a lot of different airplanes.  How cool is THAT!

* Join a flying club.

* If you make trips by car, consider making some trips by airplane, instead.  Yes, it will cost you a little more, but the small incremental cost of using the plane on a trip you were going to make anyway also lets you continue to fly.

* Buy aviation books and magazines.  You are reading one right now, so you must have an interest.  There is no better way to keep up with the changes in aviation.

* Volunteer.  Try the Commemorative Air Force.  These people need a lot of help to keep the old Warbirds flying - and you'll probably be able to earn a ride in some REALLY COOL airplanes.  Same for EAA or Vintage hangars.  Don't forget museums and local aviation associations.  Ask your local FBO about any upcoming aviation promotions. They are usually glad to have help!  By volunteering, you can still be involved in aviation, and be around some really good airplanes and some really good people.

* While you are talking to the local FBO, ask if they have any part-time jobs.  It might be a long shot, but most FBO's would much rather have a dependable adult with prior aviation experience than to rely on part-time kids.  You'll make a little money, widen your circle of aviation friends, and indulge your passion for aviation.

* Attend FAA Safety Seminars--they are FREE!  You will meet many like-minded people there (notice a recurring theme here?) as well as "keeping your head in the game."

* Get your Certified Flight Instructor certificate.  With so many of today's young instructors going off to the airlines, local airports have a real shortage of CFI's.  Most FBO's would welcome the stability an older part-time instructor would bring.  Yes, it will cost you some money to obtain it, but you will make that back - and will not have to pay for a lot of your flying ever again!

* Some people like to "fly" with a flight simulator on their computer.  It has never held any particular attraction for me, and I question its effectiveness as a VFR training tool.    Instrument proficiency, yes - proportional to the capabilities of the program and computer.

* Instead of "flying" with the computer, use the computer to visit airplane sites.  There is so much information on the computer to keep you interested and informed.  Aviation weather sites (fltplan.com  Flightaware  NOAA) aviation news sites (Avweb), airplane buying sites (Aircraft Shopper Online, Trade-A-Plane, Barnstormer.com).  Aircraft photos at Airliner.com (they have all aircraft, not just airliners).  Google the aircraft manufacturers and type clubs.  Use Google Earth to view the arrival and departure terrain around an airport.  Copy down websites from articles and advertisements in publications - put them in a folder, bookmark them on your computer.  Visit the websites of aviation organizations--AOPA, EAA, CAF, Soaring Society of America, museums.  Try Googling a subject--for example,  "Balloons" will turn up the Balloon Federation of America.

* Daydream.  Relive past flights.  Sit down at the kitchen table and think through maneuvers, procedures, takeoff, and landing (but don't let anybody see you do it!).  Think of airplanes you would like to fly.  Think of places you would like to visit.  You already have the tools to do so--break out the charts, plotter, E-6B, and PLAN the flight.  Plan your flight in a multitude of airplanes.  Do your weight and balance - set your fuel load, and figure out places to stop for fuel along the way.  Look up airport information.  Get on the computer and get weather information.  The planning will keep you sharp.  Who knows?  The opportunity may present itself to actually MAKE some of the flights you planned!

* Going to be off from flying for a while?  Consider a project airplane-Kit-homebuilt-or restoration.  You'll stay active in aviation - keep airplane friends (and make new ones).  A kit will occupy your time - and when you are ready to resume flying, so is your new airplane! 

Another way to go-consider restoring an airplane.  Perhaps the best bargain in aviation is the restoration of a Piper Pacer/Tri-Pacer.  You can  buy a flyable airplane for $15,000 to 20,000 -fly it a while, then recover the wings over the winter.  There are slip-on recover "envelopes" to make the job easy.  By spring, you will be ready to fly again.  A few years later, you can take off the fabric control surfaces and recover them - they are small and don't take up much room-and you will be a "recovering" professional.

Finally, the fuselage - it won't seem so daunting after you have done the other work.  You will have the fun of flying an inexpensive, auto-fuel burning 4 place airplane - and when you are done, you will have an aircraft worth money.

Off from flying for a medical reason?  There are any number of ways to legally continue:

* Failed your medical exam?  Ask your Aviation Medical Examiner about a SODA (no, not a Dr. Pepper)-a Statement of Demonstrated Ability - a waiver.  Several things that USED to be medically disqualifying are now approved - with a SODA.  (Diabetes under some circumstances, for example).  SODA's are easier to obtain with streamlined FAA procedures.

The initial SODA may take additional time and tests, but a good AME will aid your application.  Your AME may also consult with your regular physician to recommend alternative treatments or medicines that allow you to continue to flyl.  Do so in ADVANCE of accepting treatment or prescriptions.  If you don't ask, you don't get!

* Most people don't realize it, but you may continue to log Pilot-In-Command time even if you do not have a valid medical certificate.  Just take a "Safety Pilot" along.  The Safety Pilot must be appropriately rated for the aircraft to be flown and the type of operation being conducted.  Example: you cannot fly in instrument conditions with a safety pilot not appropriately rated. 

* A Flight Instructor may even give flight instruction without holding a medical certificate if the pilot receiving instruction is appropriately qualified--examples:  aircraft checkout, instruction for an additional rating (i.e. commercial or flight instructor), biennial flight reviews, aerobatics, and flight reviews (as long as the pilot being reviewed is still current). As a general rule, the flight instructor does not have to have a current medical if the other pilot is appropriately rated. 

* If you have a flight instructor rating, use it!  (see above).  Many airports do not have a local CFI, and would welcome you.  If you do not have one or it is expired, GET YOUR CFI--you will be able to continue to fly, and even make a little money on the side.

* Consider going Light Sport.  No further flight test required--your existing Private Pilot (or higher) certificate will suffice.  Like balloon and glider pilots, you self-certify your medical fitness to fly.  When you think about it, even if you DO hold a medical certificate, you are prohibited from exercising it if you have a disability.  Self-certification WORKS.

* Consider getting a Glider or Balloon rating.  For a certified power pilot, the transition is pretty easy.  There is no written test (unless moving up in ratings--i.e. from Private to Commercial).  Your power time counts, and all you have to do is complete the minimum Category requirements and pass an oral and practical test.  You'll not only learn different skills, but these are FUN ratings!  Gliders fly more like jets than single-engine airplanes fly like jets.

* Consider flying a powered glider.  Since these are certified as gliders, no medical is required.  With your valid Private Pilot or higher certificate, you may solo one--but oddly enough, you must be glider rated to carry a passenger.  Some of these glider/airplanes are even good cross-country machines - at our FBO, we have a gentleman that regularly stops here on the way from California to Oshkosh--then goes out to visit his brother out East!

Perhaps the most important part of keeping your flying interests up is to HAVE A PLAN to continue, and the RESOLVE that you will remain an active pilot!

RIGHT NOW - go to a place where nobody can hear you, and say these words - "I am a PILOT!    I CONTINUE to be a pilot!  I will ALWAYS be a pilot!  I AM a pilot!

Then do something to make that happen!


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