Learning to fly didn’t come easily to me. I was not a quick learner and took more than the average amount of hours to reach each milestone. I consoled myself with the thought that people who take longer to learn things learn them more deeply.
I wasn’t particularly confident either. Many were the times that I enjoyed the guilty relief when the cloud base was too low or the visibility too poor for my next lesson. Sometimes it felt like being told you’d got an unexpected day of school, which in effect it was.
When I was in the air there were times when I sat, tense and nervous, wondering what I was going to do wrong next and how could I keep control long enough to avoid some kind of disaster or the shame of screwing things up in front of instructors and spectators.
Money was always tight too. Lessons were delayed because I ran out of cash so progress was delayed while I earned more or found some way to borrow enough to continue.
The lack of continuity made learning to fly a longer process than it needed to be. It took seven long years, not seven weeks, or even seven months.
And having finally taken delivery of my Private Pilots Licence from the CAA in 1991 I asked myself, “Was it all worth it? Was it all worth the sleepless nights, money worries, nerves, and anxiety?”
The answer is of course yes, it was all worth it. Nothing can take away the feeling after the first solo, or the times I drove away from the airfield in my beaten up old car (or one I’d borrowed for the day) feeling ten foot tall, with a big stupid grin on my face because I’d just returned from a solo flight, there and back, with map and stopwatch.
Practice would have made perfect. For a number of reasons I didn’t get the chance to fill my logbook with PIC entries, building on these foundations. Repetition nurtures confidence and develops skills. I wanted to be the kind of pilot you see side-slipping an aircraft in to drop the wheels gently down on the numbers having flown a relaxed flight over hundreds of miles.
Driving a car eventually became effortless, and I made some progress driving lorries but there weren’t enough opportunities to practice reversing 40′ trailers onto loading bays to get it down to a fine art.
Navigation for truckers in the 1980s wasn’t easy either, without the ubiquitous apps and satnavs of today. If your map book didn’t pinpoint your destination you had to muddle through with frequent stops to ask for directions, which wasn’t convenient for the drivers in the queue that had built up behind you.
People who fly a lot or fly for a living become such experts, possessing skills that I have no chance of mastering myself, but goals such as this are personal and relative. Once that licence has your name on it nothing can take away the achievement and what it means to you personally.
I passed the exams, I passed the navigation test, and I passed the general flight test (GFT, as it was then known). If I never fly solo again at least I know I climbed one mountain and was rewarded with the view on the summit.