Become a pilot even when your life sucks

So you want to get a Pilot’s License? That’s brilliant, you’ve just taken your first step towards the ultimate freedom. But do you ever get those doubts on your head that hold you back? Do you ever tell yourself it’s just not going to happen, you can’t afford it, you don’t have enough time, you’re not smart or experienced enough, or maybe other people in your life have told you it’s not a good idea to do it.

If that’s the case I’m here to tell you that if aviation is your dream but you have doubts as to how that could ever happen for you then there are ways to achieve your aviation goals and squash those annoying, persistent doubts that are occupying your mind.

Any of these sound familiar?

It’s too expensive

Yes let’s start with the most common excuse I hear. Now I’m not saying flying is a cheap exercise. It’s no chess club or drawing class. The hobby of aviation costs money, but let’s be honest, so does everything. And if you want something bad enough you’re going to have to budget for it. The only difference with aviation is your budgeting has to become a much bigger part of your life than it would for other hobbies.

Your first bit of homework is to find out how much a Pilots License costs. Not by doing a Google search or by reading articles on the Internet, but by calling your local flying schools and asking them. It varies from country to country, airport to airport, and nowadays there are often different levels of becoming a pilot that can often get you flying solo without the expense of a full Private Pilot’s License.

Call your local flying schools (all of them, not just the one you like the look of the most) and ask how much a basic solo endorsement would cost you. Here in Australia we have something called a Recreational Pilots License (RPL) – which allows you to fly as a Pilot in Command of a single-engine aircraft (< 1500kgs MTOW) within 25 nautical miles from the departure airport. The great thing about starting small with the RPL is that all the flying you did to get to that point counts if you then wanted to go further and get a full PPL. And all those hours count if you want to get your Commercial License, then Airline Pilots License and so on and so on… Basically, start small.

Your first step is learning how to fly. Just fly. So make your first milestone your first solo, or a sports pilots license / RPL. Not the full PPL. Any flight school who wants your business is going to invite you in and work on a plan with you. So ask them to breakdown the stages from your first flight, to first solo, first navigation solo, and your flight test. And put a rough estimate next to each step.

Then, break that first cost down and work out how much you can put aside each month and therefore how long it will take you to get to that amount. Setup a ‘flying’ savings account, preferably one with rewards for regular deposits. Then transfer your monthly amount into that account until you’re at 80% of your total. This is the point when you call up the flight school and tell them you’re ready to start. You’re still going to keep saving as you’re flying so you’ll make up the remainder in between lessons, and you’re now spending savings rather than your daily cash.

Don’t pay on credit. If you can wait and save over a period of time rather than borrowing to start flying it will may mean you achieve your goal slower but you’re more likely to achieve it. Better to start in a year’s time from now and not take on any debt than start now and get into borrowing problems.

Easy right? But hang on, where is this money actually coming from? Well you’re going to have to make some sacrifices, and this is a theme you’ll hear throughout this article. You’re going to need to look at your monthly expenses and decide what you’re going to replace with flying. Is it the money you spend on drinking, movies, fast food, travel, Netflix subscriptions, other hobbies? What expenses are you going to cut in order to put that money into your flying savings account? Open up your Internet banking site, take a look at your last 3 months expenses, and start cutting.

If you want to get more practical tips and advice on how to pay for flight school watch this video below:

I don’t have enough time

Two thoughts on this one – firstly nobody has enough time for anything. Ask anyone how things are and we’re always “really busy” or “having a hectic week”. And secondly we all have the same amount of hours in each day. Nobody has any more, we just choose to fill those hours differently.

When I started flying it was at a time when my daughter had just been born, I was travelling 2 hours a day to a 5-day a week job which, and when I wasn’t caring for my daughter at weekends all I wanted to do was sleep on the couch. My closest airport was an hours drive away. I had so many reasons why I couldn’t find time to fly, but the desire to fly was just so strong.

You can find time, you only need a few hours a week, you just have to get better at organising what you’re doing with your time.

Just like you’re going to do with money, take a look at your weekly schedule and see what you’re going to cut and replace with flying. What’s it going to be? Watching TV, drinking with mates, browsing social media, sleeping in, reading blog posts…? If you list all the things you do in a week you’ll quickly find some that you can replace with time at the airport and suddenly you have the time to fly. Just like you’ll have to do when you’re in the cockpit, you’ll need to prioritise what’s important and put aside distractions, so be considered with your time and don’t use it as an excuse.

I don’t know anything about aviation

Nor did I. I’m from a technology background, my only connection to aviation was the airshows I used to go to when I was a kid. You don’t need to come from a family of pilots, you don’t need to have an aviation degree or be able to quote the lift equation at dinner parties (I still have to look that one up for exams). You just need to WANT to fly. Learning is a key part of aviation, once you start you’ll never stop learning. So start with 0 experience and 0 knowledge, the only way from there is up (literally).

A small plane – you’ll get used to these

But I’m a bit scared of small planes

I completely understand this one. When I climbed into a Cessna 152 for my first Trial Instruction Flight my knees were shaking. I was so close to pulling the plug and cancelling. I’d never been in a plane so small. But the desire to know what it was lie to be in control of an aircraft pulled me through that. I was shit scared through most of the flight, I flinched when we took off and hated the thought of climbing and not being able to see over the nose (where has the ground gone…?). But when we landed, I was smiling like a child again.

If you’re scared, you’re not alone. But like any fear the only way to beat it is to face it. And the more times you face it the smaller it becomes. I don’t think the fear is ever completely gone, nor should it be. A healthy respect for what you’re getting yourself into will keep you on your game whatever you do but especially with aviation. But don’t ever let that fear control you and stop you from moving forwards. Just take it at your own pace.

Drift corrections – looks like gibberish now, but so did the words you’re reading now before you learned what they meant

I’m really crap at maths

It’s a bit of a misconception that pilots have to be great at maths. Most of my training was spent learning ‘rule of thumb’ methods to keep maths out of the picture altogether. Using the wing to calculate heights, using something called a “1 in 60 rule” to calculate distances, reading wind speed off a screen and halving it to calculate the crosswind component, simple multiplication to calculate glideslopes.

Having an understanding of and ability to do basic maths is important of course, but that’s all it needs to be – BASIC! A good instructor will teach you to take the complication OUT of the cockpit, to keep it simple. You don’t fly a plane by being able to solve complex equations. The most in-depth calculations often happen on the ground when preparing for a flight, and you’re allowed to use calculators! So trust your training and don’t let numbers be a barrier to getting started.

My parents/friends/inner voice told me I can’t do it

Ok I have to take a deep breath here and not get annoyed. Nobody should tell you what you can and can’t do for a choice of career or hobby.

When I was 16 I told my high school careers advisor that I wanted to join the RAF and without hesitation they told me I was “too tall to be a pilot”. So like any 16 year old boy I shrugged, went to the pub, and ended up studying computer programming at University. Idiot! Clearly my desire to fly wasn’t strong enough back then as I should have ignored that advice and discovered for myself that being 184cm tall is NOT too tall to be a pilot. The photo below proves that.

Me being 184cm tall AND a pilot at the same time – 16yr old me should have done his research

If your parents or teachers or advisors or friends tell you that you can’t become a pilot, for whatever reasons, just stop and think – why not? If it’s for any of the reasons listed above, hopefully this article has helped you realise they’re wrong.

It’s no secret that I love Casey Neistat on YouTube, he has a brilliant video that destroys any notions of “can’t”. If you’re still doubting yourself, please watch this:

…then tell me you “can’t” learn to fly.

It’s just not the right time for me

It’s completely fair to think that right now isn’t the right time to start your training, this could be for the financial reasons discussed above, or due to other personal circumstances. If waiting means you can afford to start training and will be able to commit more fully to it, then by all means wait.

However if you’re in a financial position and are willing to commit the time to flight training but you just don’t feel ready, then you have to ask yourself what are you waiting to be ready for? If it’s not a good time because your life is busy then I would ask yourself will there ever be a time when you don’t think your life will be busy? And if you answer to that is no then see the “I don’t have enough time” section above.

It’s flippant for me to assume I know what your personal situation is, and only you can decide when you are ready to commit to a block of training, but I would say two things. Firstly, if you wait until you’re ready, you’ll be waiting for the rest of your life. You’re never ready you’re just prepared enough to get started and work the rest out along the way. Secondly, you never know what health issues may be around the corner for you and if you’re in good physical condition right now then perhaps taking advantage of that is a good idea. Trust me, health issues can come out of nowhere (see this video for example).

You CAN get your private pilots license

I apologise if I sounded a bit harsh in this article. That was not the intention, but I’ve heard these doubts and excuses a lot in the past and it saddens me when I see them coming between a potential aviator and their dream.

I wanted to help you see that the excuses you’re making for not learning to fly are exactly that – excuses. If you want something bad enough, you have to get out there and grab it with both hands. Drop everything else, and focus on how you can get that thing that motivates you so much.

I’ve always thought that everyone needs a thing in their life, the one thing that makes them smile no matter what, the thing they think about every single day. It doesn’t matter what it is, but it’s important to know what your thing is, and if you decide your thing is aviation then take a high-five from someone else who has the same thing and start making it your thing, today, NOW!

Think about it every day, read about it every day, talk to people about it, watch YouTube videos about it, write about it, vlog about it, eat it, drink it, bore people by talking about it too much, absorb it entirely, give yourself up totally to YOUR ONE THING.

Good luck, hope to see you up there.

2 thoughts on “Become a pilot even when your life sucks

  1. Rhys Reply

    Great article Stef. Thanks for laying out the process and for the helpful tips, I hope to use many of them on my journey to get my RPL. As a fan of your YouTube videos, I’m also very happy to hear you’re on the mend. Keep doing the great things you do best mate, you’ll be back up there in no time too. Cheers

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