Monday, September 13, 2010

Guidance Counsellor

Well, kids, school's starting up again and it's time to pay a little visit to the guidance counsellor. At my high school we didn't have one; it was private and academically-oriented and all of us went to college; in fact, more than half went on for advanced degrees. College guidance was handled by the Headmaster's secretary who had an uncanny ability to size us up without us noticing that she had done so. And, she provided beautiful calligraphic transcripts to support our applications. My high school transcript looks like a medieval manuscript, although I'm thankful there are no dragons in the margin.

I recently spent a day at the Eastern Idaho State Fair, working the booth for the FBO where I teach. Even during slow times you hear interesting flying questions. Being a State Fair there were a lot of "How can I become an Ag Pilot?" questions, which I answered as well as I could. There were no questions about other aviation careers, which didn't surprise me because people with Shiny Jet Syndrome don't usually like to associate with goats and chickens until they get along in their careers and realize they miss life on the farm. I take that back: one of the instructors from our other base, who is also a freight dog, talked about how satisfying he found that work, and we reminisced about some of the old freight dogs whose happiest flying days were before they took the airline job.

All of the other questions were more difficult. I ran into two kinds of pilots and pilots-to-be: people who wanted to fly for the sheer joy of it, and people who wanted to fly to support a travel bug, whether professional or personal. For example, out here in the empty part of the country a lot of medical people either fly or get flown to hold clinics in towns too small to support a full-timer. Businesses have far-flung clients, and retailers have far-flung stores. It's not Alaska but in the aviation sense you can see it from here.

So I made up the following list of pilot ``tracks." I think they all sound terrific, but many people find that one of them fits best.

  • Professional Pilot Corporate, Charter or Airline pilots must go through the rating sequence private, instrument, commercial, multiengine
  • Travelling Pilot This is the person with a far-flung business or a golf addiction, someone who has to get there as often as possible. He or she needs to be a private pilot with an instrument rating
  • Working Pilot This person does agricultural work, banner towing, heli-logging and the like, and needs private and commercial, but no instrument rating.
  • Family pilot This is someone who wants to load the family into the airplane and head out to Disneyland or the beach or the back-country. This flying requires a private pilot certificate, and an instrument rating is nice.
  • Fun pilot These are people like homebuilders, sightseers, and $100 hamburg addicts. They fly day VFR only, like to keep their skills up so do a lot of local flying, and maybe take one or two long cross-countries a year with a buddy. This flying requires a light sport certificate only!

Every year at the Fair I hear a lot of people say "I would love to fly but they won't let me." This refers to some medical condition that would have been grounding even a few years ago. They don't know about the Special Issuance process (which enabled me to fly a King Air after bypass surgery), and it's too expensive for what they want to do anyway. And they haven't heard the news about Light Sport flying. There is so much fun to be had without a medical certificate and with no danger to the public, as long as the Light Sport limitations are observed: two seats, day VFR, not in furtherance of a business, etc.

I've owned a light sport airplane (Taylorcraft BC12D) and fly another (Ercoupe) regularly. These airplanes are fun, and an adventurous soul with the time can do some travelling, too. I never took my T-craft to Oshkosh (although I dearly wanted to), but I did take it to Montana and to the California coast and all over Idaho and Utah. The Ercoupe is a little faster and with no pedals a little more comfortable, and the CT that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago is even faster.

The dilemma? My FBO doesn't offer any light sport flying, and I dutifully steered people toward the private pilot certificate. We'll see how many get the word.

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