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#41 Why We Fly (and Why We Quit)

General aviation sure does encompass a lot of different flying activities.  But I’ve always been somewhat morbidly fascinated by only one of them.  And that one is the persistence of some folks to simply fly very conservatively from one place to another when weather permits and to do only that.  They never deviate from the type of flying they learned in primary training.  They always use a written checklist in a simple airplane and they avoid like the plague any maneuvering flight beyond some pretty tightly defined and “safe” parameters.  I have a hunch that this kind of flying produces an ennui which eventually leads to these fliers to hanging it up.  After all, why should you continue with a fairly boring activity which costs you a fortune and doesn’t give you much bang for your buck?

I meet a lot of people who are former pilots.  A lot of them.  They all hold a pilot certificate and none of them have flown for years.

“So, what’s the answer,” you may ask. Well, there may not be an answer.  After all, folks gotta do what folks gotta do.  I have no responsibility to try to “save” former fliers.  I do, however, have a theory that many of these folks could

salvage the time, energy and money they spent to earn that right to fly.  Are you dying to know what it is?  Well, okay.  Yuh ready?  Acro and soaring.  Yup, flying aerobatics and checking out in a sailplane.  I firmly believe that those two activities can provide a level of stimulation that just can’t be found in any other kind of flying.  And I don’t want to disappoint any of my readers by suggesting that they pursue either of these activities the way that some advocates might like them to.  No, this may shock you, but I’m not a big fan of the conventional pursuit of either aerobatics or soaring

In the case of aerobatics, I don’t think that competition is a worthwhile goal.  Why not simply practice the maneuvers that give you pleasure and just work on mastering those while working on your own ability to judge “G” force and to manage the energy of the airplane.  Naturally, you’ll want to find a good instructor and a proper airplane in which to practice.  It’s pretty hard to beat the Citabria and Decathlon for affordable acro.

Soaring robs the pilot of dependence on the engine.  It makes him understand the air through which he flies.  It offers the challenge of simply staying aloft.  Now that’s a kick in the pants for a lot of us.  You can get soloed in a glider at lots of soaring centers and you can find instructors you like there.  Lots of glider people

 are into gadgets and gizmos   I’m not.  My advice is to learn the fundamentals without becoming dependent on technology.  And if you’re a man who expects his wife to chase him on cross countries, you’d better make sure that she shares your enthusiasm for that arrangement.  If you’re a woman, you’ll probably be better at this than most of the men, so don’t put up with any of their crap.

So there you go.  Acro and soaring.  Two activities which I think share a purity and closeness to the physics that can make our flying so much fun and challenging.  Glad I could help.

Now go out there and swoop!


5 comments to #41 Why We Fly (and Why We Quit)

  • I can see where you are coming from with the idea that aerobatics and/or soaring could enliven many of the pilots who have dropped out, for what ever reason. However, I have another theory.

    I have been a pilot for over 40 years. I have flown multitudes of different aircraft. I have flown across the country and piddled around locally. I flew aerobatics for about 15 years, competition even. I flew Decathlons and Pitts. It was fun and definitely kept my interest level up, but the expense is what finally got to me. I currently am in the business of snorkel and scuba diving. I own a full service dive center in the middle of the United States, a land locked state. I hear the same statements regarding scuba diving I do flying…’s too expensive. Now scuba in itself is certainly less costly than flying, but when you live in hundreds of miles from any ocean, it gets expensive to travel.

    When I first got my license, prices were way less than today. of course we have to factor in the valuation of the dollar then versus now, but in general I still think costs were more reasonable. The cost of aircraft has increased significantly due to FAA requirements, liability insurance, required avionics, etc. Rental rates are extremely high and even if you are fortunate enough to own your own aircraft, the cost of fuel, hanger and insurance is a killer.

    On top of all of that we have the “senior” citizen pilots. Those who, like myself, have been around a long time but maybe have a little difficulty with the FAA medical. Bring in the LSA’s, that will solve that problem, or will it. A typical LSA will cost over a hundred grand. Take the mortgage, add in the operating costs and a per hour rate is still unaffordable for the masses.

    AOPA thinks flying clubs are the answer. Perhaps, but will they bring down the hourly cost enough to make flying affordable again. Probably not if they are using late model aircraft.

    I currently own a 1950 Cessna 140A. Nice little aircraft. Burns about 4-5 gallons of fuel an hour, has affordable insurance rates and on top of all that, the little wheel on the tail makes it fun to fly. I firmly believe if flying clubs and/or FBO’s went back to some of the early model aircraft that are affordable so they could keep hourly costs down, we would see a lot more of our licensed pilots coming back into aviation. We would also see more new pilots, especially younger ones, who could now afford to fly.

    Yes, I love aerobatics, and I am sure many others would as well. However, unless you own your own plane, finding aerobatic available aircraft, especially at an affordable rate, is pretty rare. Around these parts you are talking well over a hundred dollars per hour for the lowest end aerobatic capable aircraft, and even though that may be reasonable to some, it is a lot for me, and I would hazard a guess many others, in this economy.

    So that’s my take on our dwindling pilot situation.

  • Ron’s point is very well taken and it’s one that I didn’t address in this article. It’s always been a question of worth, hasn’t it? If it’s worth it to you, you’ll fly. That’s assuming that you are getting the bang for the buck. I was tackling the subject from the standpoint of the bang, not the buck. All will have to decide whether flying is worth it to THEM. Thanks for your input, Ron.

  • Ray Block

    Is this the same Ron Bland who worked for Northwestern Air Service in Anchorage back in 1975 or so?
    I enjoyed your comments. In Alaska flying is almost mandatory if you want to go out very far from civilization. Cross country flying is not boring up here.

  • Sorry Ray, not the same Ron Bland. Been to Alaska many times however and I can imagine extended time flying there would be anything but boring. Just watched a youtube video on STOL contests. Amazing what you can do with big tires and a lot of power.

  • James L. Hibbert

    As a retiree, flying is now out of the question. However, many other things are out of the question. On both ends of the age group, young with a family, older with limited or fixed income, flying is out of the question. Could the combined brain power of pilots, who think they are smarter than the rest of the population solve this problem? I challenge you.

    James L. Hibbert AGi Commercial, Instrument Taildragger endorsement, Twin rating

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