Don’t become a pilot until you’ve read this

You already know it’s expensive and takes up a lot of your time, but there are some downsides to being a pilot that you only realise after you’ve been doing it for a long time.

I’m a pilot of 15 years currently not flying due to medical reasons which has given me a lot of time to reflect on the things I wish I knew before getting into aviation. I have a Commercial Pilots License but I am not a professional pilot, so these learnings are aimed mainly at the hobbyist or amateur pilot. This is for you if you’ve ever thought of learning how to fly, or are currently in flight training, or if you’re already a recreational or private pilot but are struggling in any way.

Whatever your relationship is with aviation I hope you can benefit from my hindsight and use some of these learnings to improve your own personal aviation experience.

It’s boring

If you do the same thing over and over again, you’re going to get bored. Flying is no exception. After the honeymoon period of attaining your license you’re going to find yourself visiting the same airfields, practising the same approaches, and whilst you might plan great adventures that take you far afield, eventually after flying in and out of the same airport multiple times, it can start to feel a bit repetitive.

If you find yourself getting bored with your flying the thing to do is to look for creative ways to vary it. If you can’t vary the destinations then vary the reasons why you’re going to those destinations. If you’ve only ever been to the airport, get out and go explore the local town. Google the top things to do in that destination and be a tourist just like you would if you flew in commercially to a larger city on a holiday. This is how many of my adventures started out, like my Every airport in Victoria challenge or when I took 3 days to Fly The Border of Victoria with just a paper map. Or when I summited the World’s Shortest Mountain which I only discovered after finding a random airport then Googling “top things to do” in that town.

You can also try including other people in your trips, take your family with you to a place you know well and enjoy it from their perspective. Volunteer your time for groups like Pilots n Paws or Angel Flight. Use your flying to help others. Give your flying a sense of purpose which is often the main thing lacking when you’re just flying at the weekends to “get a flight in”. My YouTube channel helped give me a sense of purpose in times when I needed motivation and gave me reasons to fly more. Purpose will relieve you of the boredom and keep you flying for longer.

You’ll bring a dangerous item into the cockpit

Flying is a very perishable skill, if you stop for too long you will have to become a student again and learn your way back into it. Conversely if you are flying consistently for long periods of time you’ll eventually start to cut corners because it’s just easier that way, bad habits will creep in, and unless you want these habits to become threats you’ll need remedial training.

It’s at this stage you may question why you invested all that time and money into something that you now have to keep retraining yourself in. After all you have your license, why should you have to sit with instructors and be a student pilot all over again? Do you really need to fly circuits for an hour with someone just because you haven’t flown for a few months? Surely your experience will get you back to where you need to be.

This is where you need to remove the ego from the cockpit, stop thinking about how retraining makes you look or feel, and start being practical about how retraining will make your flying safer, less stressful and therefore more enjoyable. Thinking that you are above learning at any stage in life is driven by either laziness or ego, neither of which belong in the cockpit of an aircraft. If you had to have surgery on your brain would you choose the surgeon who got their qualification in medical school and decided that was enough, or the one who got the same qualification but then continued studying through their career, looking for ways to improve, striving to learn from others every day that they practised? If we demand this from others then why don’t we demand this from ourselves?

You won’t want to fly with instructors

When our flight instructors tell us we’ve passed and hand over a shiny new license it’s tempting to feel relieved that you’ll never have to fly with that person ever again. But getting to know your instructor and having an ongoing, rather than a one-off transactional, relationship with them will make you a better pilot in the long term. If you develop a good working relationship together you’re less likely to put off asking them that niggling question that you feel silly about or thinking that your experience will help you work through a problem yourself rather than asking for help.

In hindsight I wish I would have done more flights with instructors in between the mandated currency flights over the years. I relied on my once a year Instrument Proficiency Check as the only time I’d need input from an Instructor. If you want to constantly improve at an activity like flying, ongoing smaller lessons are far easier to absorb and retain than infrequent intense ones. Even a quick 1 hour flight every few months to work on circuit procedures or emergency situations rather than waiting for your annual or biennial flight review will, in my opinion, make you a more confident and safer pilot especially when you have to face any kind of abnormal situation.

So don’t let your ego anywhere near the cockpit and benefit from knowing that there are other pilots out there who are better at this than you are, and best of all are willing to share that knowledge with you.

We must be able, at any time, to accept the fact that we could all be absolutely and utterly wrong

Terry Pratchett

You’ll never be as good as that other pilot

Learning to fly will test your self-confidence and elevate your self-doubt like nothing else I’ve done in life. You’ll start comparing yourself to other pilots, you’ll see them having longer, better, more exciting, more viewed, more adventurous aviation achievements than yours. They’ll have a better plane, they’ll go to more exciting places, they’ll have more Instagram likes on their aviation photos than you ever will. The important lesson here (that to be honest took me a while to learn) is that the pilot who has the boring flight, the uneventful drama-free adventure, the flight that is well planned and executed neatly to that plan, is the better pilot!

In this age of social media and pilots on YouTube sharing their epic adventures in ways you’d never be able to replicate it’s tempting to try and up your game to compare yourself to them. But the best pilot is the one you never hear about, the one who doesn’t feel obligated to share their every achievement online, the one who doesn’t end up on the evening news.

In hindsight whilst I love having a platform to promote aviation and encouraging people to live an adventurous life, I do sometimes long to be the pilot that nobody knows about. Just solely focussing on flying and doing that as well as I can. So if you’re worried that you just fly boring flights and nobody really sees what you do, then firstly you’re doing your job as a pilot better than most, and please know there are some people who would love to be in your boots right now.

People can get lucky and win. People can be assholes and win. Anyone can win. But not everyone is the best possible version of themselves.

Ryan Holiday – “Ego Is The Enemy”

Some additional quick tips

You don’t need all that gear – all the other pilots have GoPros, the latest iPad, fancy watches, expensive aviator sunglasses, branded merch, but as we’ve already discussed you don’t want to be that pilot! You’ll get way more out of spending your money on fuel and lessons rather than a hat with some YouTuber pilots’ logo on it.

Take more risks – calculated ones of course. Aviation is a place where you can push yourself within pre-determined quantitative margins to prove to yourself that you can do more than you think. Set personal minimums with your instructor and if the conditions are within those then get out there and fly. Being over cautious is as bad as being reckless. You will never achieve the true satisfaction aviation can give you if you never push yourself, but only push yourself within margins you’ve already set. Making decisions outside of this envelope is reckless.

Eat well, drink less (alcohol), and exercise – yes this may sound a little preachy but I always flew my best when I was well rested and in good physical shape. Being kind to your body gives you the best chance to mentally and physically handle bad situations should they arise but also will mean you can probably do the thing you love for longer. If you like to party or think a few drinks the night before a flight are fine, perhaps aviation is not for you.

Don’t obsess over aviation – make sure you have other things in your life to balance the mental and physical workload flying will place on you and those around you. Enjoy it, think about it lots, but remember you’re also a human being and your existence is not determined by one single thing. Give it your all when you’re in pilot mode, but remember to also be present and give time to others when you’re not. Maybe you’re a partner to someone, a parent, or a friend. Be good to the people around you because when things get hard with your training, and they will, it’s your network of people around you that will be there for you. So don’t neglect them in the good times.

Should you bother with it all then?

Is it worth going through all of this just to enjoy the freedom of aviation? Only you can decide that. Even though I can’t do it right now and my aviation future is uncertain, based on the adventures I’ve had, the people I’ve met, and the unique perspective of this planet that I’ve been privileged to have experienced over the years … for me yes, it absolutely is!

I don’t have any regrets, these learnings made me enjoy aviation even more because as time went on I started enjoying the process and mindset of being a pilot as well as the actual flying. The harder you work at achieving something the more you’ll enjoy it when it’s yours. Would the view from the top of Everest look as good if you were dropped up there by helicopter rather than spending a month scaling the mountain yourself? Of course not. So relish the journey, love the process, learn from my experience, and enjoy the view from the top. Because you worked hard to get there.

The view from the top of the World’s Shortest Mountain – Wycheproof, Australia

2 thoughts on “Don’t become a pilot until you’ve read this

  1. Michael Reply

    Thanks for all the insight Stefan – it gives new pilots like me a lot to think about (I’m a social-media introvert, so that’s less of an issue, but I think the tip about utilising your instructors is a great one that I’ll be sure to do).

    Just a thought: I know it won’t fill that gap of flying a real plane, but have you tried a flight simulator with VR and flying with virtual air traffic control? I’ve just completed my PPL a couple of months ago at Bathurst and use my home sim setup to practise not only planning a flight, but flying the flight with other pilots and with human air traffic control. The people at are pretty friendly and have regular flying events, as do many other VATSIM groups around the world. There’s a bit of technical investment at first, but it’s pretty amazing and feels pretty realistic (to me) heading into Moorabin with a bunch of other VFR pilots on the radio.

    • Stefan Drury Post authorReply

      I’ve only ever experimented with VATSIM but never properly used it as a training tool. That’s a great tip Michael and one that I should look into. Thanks for suggesting that, and I wish you all the best with your flying.

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