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A pilot reconnects with his flying

A pilot checking email is surprised to find a note from an old friend: "I’ve moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Come on out and visit!"

If you are like many general aviation pilots, one of the first things you would do after reading such a message is to go to AOPA Airports, and check out the local airport’s listing. Instrument-rated pilots will also scan the available approach procedures.

Sometimes this bit of preliminary research leads to a full-blown planning session—just in case someday, somehow, a flight to Santa Fe materializes. It doesn’t matter whether the pilot hasn’t flown for several weeks, or several years. A pilot’s basic curiosity about a hypothetical flight to a new destination never fades.

Having thus briefed, thoughts become more concrete. What if there’s a chance to go over the holidays?  What if the visit can be combined with that long-planned summer vacation to the Southwest?

Indeed, what if.

Tony Seton, a journalist, author, and GA pilot from Carmel, California, knows a thing or two about aviation what ifs. Now he says he has found a way to turn a fuzzy goal—recapturing his long-lost instrument proficiency—into a focused project.  What he needed was a clear reason to act.

When he found one, the prospect of a re-immersion in aviation reminded him what he had been missing.

"I think we get out of touch with remembering the richness of the experience," he said in a phone interview. "There’s a real deep feeling of personal satisfaction when we do this stuff."

The mission that moved Seton to action was the prospect of making repeated flights from his home base of Monterey, California, north to Palo Alto Airport of Santa Clara County.  

Two other developments brightened the picture for his initiative: a recent re-emergence from hard times for an FBO he wanted to patronize, and the fact that Monterey airport is often subject to ocean fog, providing a realistic IFR experience, he said.

The flights Seton was planning to and from Palo Alto would allow him to spend quality time in the cockpit with a fellow pilot who only flies when there is a second pilot aboard. All in all, the situation added up to excellent motivation to spend about 10 days, he estimates, reupping his skills to the level Seton would deem satisfactory.

For Seton, sharing insights with his aviation peers about what made him a more active pilot is something of a departure. Usually, Seton acts in the role of aviation booster before audiences of nonpilots at Kiwanis Clubs, Rotary events, and other gatherings. (All you have to do is listen to him relate the experience of flying past the monument to the Wright Brothers in their namesake national memorial in North Carolina, on the 2003 centenary of their first flight, to get a taste of his ability to evangelize for aviation.)

Seton, 64, tells audiences that he began to fly at age 49. Flying soon became "the most important thing I’ve ever done."

His new-found motivation to resume flying IFR has already produced a benefit: a reminder that the reward for giving aviation more space in his life goes far beyond the satisfaction of making short flights up the coast with confidence.

"It touches me in a place where nothing else has," he said.

Mission specifics

OK, so you don’t have a friend whom you want to take flying who lives a half-hour away by air, as Tony Seton did when he decided to regain IFR proficiency for flights between Monterey and Palo Alto, California.

What kind of mission would get you out of dreaming mode and push you back in the direction of the airport?

Thinking beyond the confines of your usual flying may help you discover the answer.

Perhaps a new FBO has opened at an outlying airport, offering new makes and models of aircraft to fly, or a chance to pick up an advanced logbook endorsement, a new rating, or some experience flying a glass-cockpit or a light sport aircraft (or both).

Have you checked out your local IFR landscape lately?  It’s changing fast thanks to NextGen coming inexorably on line. Take a look and see if new GPS-based instrument approaches or terminal routes have gone into effect at airports you use for training. Give them a try.

Camaraderie is a big part of the fun of flying. Ask around. You might find, as Seton did, that an eager companion for your flights is only a phone call away.

And have you noticed lately that fuel prices are starting to tick lower?

If you have ever told yourself that you will fly more when "the time is right," maybe, after rechecking the local scene, you will find that the time is now.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Training and Safety, IFR, Technique

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