Everybody Loves A Story


Well-Known Member
It is a good thing we don't think too much about the role chance plays in our lives, because if we did we would probably go insane.
One weekend, when I was thirteen, as my father and I were returning to Los Angeles from a day hike in the Tehachappi Mountains, we passed a small airfield advertising glider rides. I went for a ride and was immediately hooked. With $150 saved from my paper route, I had just enough for flight lessons (this was a long time ago), and the drive home was spent dreaming of becoming a pilot. It would mean a long trip every weekend for lessons, but my mom and dad didn't get along too well and my dad was always looking for an excuse to get out of the house. "Let's go for a hike," he would say on a Saturday morning, and off we would go. Only later would I realize that he found in nature and solitude the peace that eluded him in marriage. But at the time I was still too young to understand such things. All I knew was that I wanted to fly.
Two days later my neighbor let me ride his motorcycle.
He wanted $150 for it. That bike led to larger, more powerful machines; to desert riding and desert racing; to motocross, short track and TT; to scary Friday nights on the Ascot half-mile; to Daytona and Laguna, and inevitably, to a time when it became time to do something else. But what? I enrolled in the local JC, flew hang gliders for a while, started on a private pilot's license (the flying bug was still kicking) but soon gave it up. After racing a 750 at Ascot, droning around in a Cessna 150 was just not scratching that indefinable itch that hadn't completely subsided (it never does).
A search for adventure and romance (and a failed relationship) drew me to Asia, where I realized all my wildest dreams, plus quite a few I never knew I had! Yet through it all, there was always that sense of a road not taken, that flying was something I was suited for. I continued to read about flying and was, of course, a very accomplished armchair pilot. Walter Mitty had nothing on me! But suddenly there I was, fifty years old. Surely, too old for the dreams of youth. The years had passed so quickly! The life that had before seemed to stretch out into infinity now seemed so very brief. What of all those dreams unrealized?

In Asia they say that even the stone over which you stumble is a part of your fate. One day, a surf expedition took me to the west end of Oahu. Sitting on my board between sets I could watch the gliders towing off from Dillingham Airfield.

Two months later, a few minutes after passing my private check ride, the boss comes up to me and says: “Why don’t you get your commercial and come work for us giving rides?” And before long, there I was, being paid to fly airplanes. That first bag of groceries purchased with my flying pay was one of the proudest days of my life. And the pay wasn’t bad, either. On a good day I’d take home $150. Not bad for a part-time, fun job.

Over the next few years, when my rides would ask me if I flew ‘real’ airplanes, I would always laugh and say that real pilots didn’t need engines, etc. I had, I thought, achieved my dream of becoming a professional pilot and saw no need to mess about with radios, engines and all the other hassles associated with powered flight.

Then, one afternoon, one of the King Air pilots from the nearby skydive operation came by to pick up a younger pilot of ours who was just finishing his commercial power rating. After spending a few minutes yakking away about power settings, flap settings and all sorts of other power-plane arcane they hopped in their beat-up Nissan and rattled out the gate. They were, of course, completely broke. I made a point of ignoring their chatter, and as they disappeared down the road in a faint cloud of oil smoke I remarked snidely to our counter girl: “There they go, the high-paid pilots of power planes.” At the time I was making a lot of money in a non-flying real job with real benefits.

But as they say, the one person you cannot fool is yourself. And I had to admit, I was jealous of those guys. They were, in fact, flying real airplanes, while I was just playing games.

The following week I quit my real job, took up my friend’s gracious offer on his 152 and started work on my private. A few weeks later I soled. Then I discovered that you can use 150 glider hours for the commercial power rating. WTF!

In short, to the long list of underpaid, underemployed commercial pilots can now be added my name.
Starting on the MEL next week, and stoked!

Anything is possible if only you want it badly enough.