I started working on my private pilot license when I was 20 years old. Just before I headed off to Embry-Riddle, Prescott to get a degree in Aeronautical Science. It seems on our “campus tour” of Embry-Riddle, one of the senior instructors pulled me and my dad aside and mentioned that I may want to consider getting my PPL before showing up at ERAU. Based on the fact that I was 20 years old and would be transferring in credits from the local community college(not nearly as many as my age would indicate, but that’s a different story all together) in San Diego, it made sense to get the PPL out of the way, as it could take up to a full school year to complete.
So, a call was made to my dad’s Private Pilot instructor, Jon. Jon didn’t have any time to do a full Private Pilot Student, but did have time to take me on an introductory flight around San Diego. I had flown with my dad years early as a young kid, but not from a perspective of learning how to fly. The plane was a C-172, N4975F, based out of Montgomery Field in San Diego. It was an evening flight as I recall, we took off in daylight and landing at dusk. Jon, talked me through the takeoff, while he worked the radios. I didn’t have any problems physically flying the airplane and was comfortable knowing that I knew nothing of what Jon was doing after takeoff, talking on the radios, pulling out a checklist and twisting knobs on something I didn’t know about. I just knew that I was flying and this was the beginning of something great for me. The flight went great, but there’s one detail that I’d like to share.
I vividly remember Jon entering the pattern up in Ramona, a left 45 for runway 27. He was talking to other traffic on the radio, as there was no tower at Ramona at that time. He was looking for traffic, slowing the plane by pulling back on the throttle and putting in some flaps. He was explaining most of this to me, as he was flying at this point. My thoughts at those moments are still in my mind very strong. It was the same feeling that I’ve had numerous times during my career when learning a new plane. I thought how in the world will I ever be able to do this on my own!? This talking on the radio, flying the plane and changing configurations was more than I could handle, sensory overload. This sensory overload has happened a few other notable times for me.
A couple examples that come to mind are the first time I flew a Lear Jet 25d. I should say the first time that I flew in a Lear Jet. I was in the right seat and didn’t even know the second engine had been started. How that’s possible in a Lear 20 series I’ll never know, but I remember the captain looking over at me and asking if I was going to call ground to get a taxi clearance anytime soon. I did get to fly that day after we made it to a cruse altitude of 17,500 on our way to Chino, but I wouldn’t claim to be a crew member at that point. I remember getting home that evening and just shining of the fact that I was in a Lear Jet earlier in the day. It was a little faster than my day job, flying a C-172 doing traffic watch in Los Angeles.
Another good one, was when I went out to Dallas, Texas to get my 737 type rating. Ground school was going to be challenging. I had been sent materials to study about 4 months prior and the syllabus recommended 80 hours of study time prior to showing up at class. I decided I should crack the books on the airline flight to Dallas. It seems, I wasn’t the only intrepid aviator to show up in this condition, so they had an assessment test to take when everyone got in class on the first day. I recall putting my name on it and walking it up to the instructor, laying it on the table with nothing filled out. Memory items, limitations, etc all left blank. This is when I met the nice gentleman that ran the school. He explained that I was more than welcome to stay in class, but prior experiences indicated that I wouldn’t make it through the ground school and they wouldn’t’ be offering any refunds at that point. I’ve always relished in challenges and accepted this one without thinking twice. Now, I’ll give you that I did fall asleep each night in the hotel with the books open on my chest. No worries, I passed the oral check at the end of the week.
The next challenge would be the sim sessions the following week, with the flight check the following Sunday, which happened to be Superbowl Sunday. I don’t claim to be the ace of the base or anything close to it, but I can hold my own in most things mechanical, whether it be a plane, car, motorcycle, etc. I knew the following sim sessions would be a challenge bigger than the ground school, as I hadn’t flown a plane in a year and a half (something else I left out of the details at signup for the course). I recall the sim instructor telling me that I’d have to pitch up to 20 degrees after takeoff to keep from exceeding 250KIAS below 10,000’. A little background here. I already had logged something like 4000 hours flying, much of it in corporate jets and been a captain at a 121 commuter, so I thought I wouldn’t have any problems after I caught on. I rotated when the FO called Vr. I remember thinking that 20 degrees is a lot, why is this thing still accelerating and what’s that damn trim wheel moving so fast for! Steep turns and stalls ensued and I was resembling that old adage of a monkey fucking a football. Never give up, I held on tight, got out of the sim sweating and wondering if I had printed my pilot’s license on my printer at home prior to class. It was sensory overload again. I, once again, thought no way will I be able to do this. I had 5 more sim sessions to get this down. I made it through the sim sessions and passed my checkride on Superbowl Sunday. As uncomfortable or numb as the case may be at the time, I’ve come to really appreciate those rare moments, where your mind is overloaded with something new and your eagerness to tackle it momentarily shows a weakness of mind.
It’s ironic that I’ve ended up teaching for a living. I’m there first hand to witness this sensory overload take over my students the first time we takeoff. I know where they are and it’s not in the left seat as they appear. That saying that they were so far behind the airplane that they couldn’t be involved in the accident applies to plenty of students I’ve flown with. Nonetheless, understanding where they are, it makes it much easier for me to set them at ease and bring them back up to speed and buckle in for the remainder of their type rating. Enjoy those moments that take you out of your comfort zone, they are valuable in more ways than you know.