Gray Skies Ahead
May 1, 2020
Groucho Marx once said; “Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough”. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that we are not going to live forever. However, while we’re here, we want to enjoy the trip and “squeeze the last bit of juice out of the orange.” Age sneaks up on us while we’re busy living life, but taps us on the shoulder when we attempt to taxi over chocks, forget frequencies, or miss radio calls.
Growing older doesn’t have to result in becoming an unsafe pilot. Whereas, older pilots may experience reduced physical stamina for extended flights, or a loss of motor and coordination skills, it need not mean days in the left seat are over. Older pilots tend to have accumulated more experience and wisdom over the years, which helps offset certain age-related issues. In addition, the FAA has made it easier for older pilots to retain their medical certificate, with the introduction of the Basic Medical certificate option. This provides a means for pilots of all ages to self-examine their health every two years, with medical professional oversight every four. In reality, we are obligated to self-examine our medical status before every flight. There are options older pilots can exercise before hanging up the goggles.
To fly or not to fly need not be a binary decision. Some strategies to lower risk and stay active include using flight following or file IFR (if you can keep up with ATC calls) when flying cross country. Having another set of eyes watching over your flight adds an extra layer of safety. When flying in actual IMC, have an appropriately rated pilot in the right seat. They can handle radio calls and confirm clearances. Transition back to simple, fixed gear, fixed-pitch prop aircraft. You’ve probably been-there-done-that, so this might be a time to enjoy the simplicity of flight. Discontinue flying at night, or bring an experienced pilot with you. Schedule a flight review and IPC every six months to review your performance and highlight any deficiencies. Increase your weather minimums (ceiling, visibility, cross-wind) back to when you were a student. Use a checklist for everything. (you do now, don’t you?)
When you’re not flying, exercise your mental capacity by engaging in challenging mental activities such as playing chess or bridge, crossword or jigsaw puzzles, take a class, take up music, or read.
Remember the old cliché “Age is just a number.” Steve Wittman was flying at 90, Bob Hoover and John and Martha King, were and are, well into their 80’s. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my nap.