Private pilot Bryan Duarte had watched more than 11 flightless years slip by when he signed up for an AOPA Rusty Pilots seminar last April at the Mansfield, Massachusetts, Municipal Airport.
The day of the seminar, a snowstorm struck, but that’s New England weather for you. Duarte was undeterred, as were 35 others who turned out despite the conditions.
It turned out to be a “great class,” said Duarte, 52, whose last logbook entry was a flight in August 2005. Like many pilots, he had found it necessary to put flying aside as his family grew, and as his work as a senior software developer for a Rhode Island insurance company expanded.
Now, with daughter Samantha 12 years old, and son Nathan, 9, Duarte believed the time was right to return—and he was hopeful the family would come along for the ride(s).
As the seminar proceeded, Duarte was pleasantly surprised to realize that aviation had not changed too much in 11 years.
“In computers, every six months things change,” he said in a telephone interview.
Now came step two: “Make sure the kids are on board.”
For that, Duarte enlisted local flight school AeroVenture Institute, which offered Discovery Flights.
The first scheduled flight was weathered out, but that’s New England weather for you.
Bryan, Samantha, and Nathan eventually got to go up with a pilot from the flight school in early July, flying a Piper Cherokee north to Foxborough, Massachusetts, and taking aerial photos of Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots of the National Football League.
“I landed by myself, which I thought was pretty cool,” Duarte said.
Another cool thing: The kids loved the flying.
“Check that off: The kids are on board,” he said.
From there, things began to snowball.
While Duarte and the kids were up flying, his wife, Cindy, had struck up an airport conversation with a man named David, who said he was the president of a flying club.
And there was this tempting tidbit: An ownership slot in the flying club’s Cessna 172 would be “coming up” soon.
Duarte ran the numbers, took a ride in the 1977 Cessna 172N, and sought advice from a “picky mechanic.”
“A week later I signed the papers, so now I am an aircraft owner,” he said. Duarte’s experience is one reason AOPA is a strong advocate of flying clubs as a source of access to affordable flying. The AOPA Flying Club Initiative and the Rusty Pilots program are two components of You Can Fly, AOPA’s umbrella program to support the pilot community and grow general aviation.
Next step: Re-up the medical qualifications.
The FAA’s BasicMed rule, under which more than 20,000 pilots have now returned to flying, had gone into effect in May. Duarte decided it was a good fit for his planned flying. He scheduled an appointment with a physician, prudently sending the doctor (who wasn’t familiar with aviation medical rules) a link to AOPA’s BasicMed website page, ahead of the appointment.
The exam went well, and the paperwork raised no issues.
Check that off: The doctor is on board.
Next step: Schedule a flight review.
Duarte dutifully studied the ground school homework he was given. He awoke the morning of the flight to behold dense fog outside, but that’s New England weather for you.
Most Mansfield morning mists don’t linger, and by the time he arrived at the airport, the fog had fled. Duarte and his instructor, Tyler Jusko, headed west from the field situated just outside the southwest edge of Boston’s Class B airspace to fly some maneuvers—“good after 12 years,” Duarte said—and then back for landings, which he pronounced “safe.”
However, “There’s safe, and there’s passenger-ready.”
To become passenger-ready, Duarte scheduled another flight. This trip was a cross-country to towered Worcester Regional Airport, where he logged a half-dozen more landings and “got them polished up pretty nice.”
From Worcester it was over to Keene, New Hampshire, for a “burger and debrief” session. They sat outside and enjoyed the late September day—the kind of trip that “gets the fun back into flying,” Duarte said.
On the return flight to Mansfield, Duarte requested flight following, and worked with Boston Center, Bradley International Airport’s approach control facility, and Boston Approach.
Back in the home-airport traffic pattern he did a good job handling—you guessed it—a simulated engine failure, earning him an endorsement for a satisfactorily completed flight review.
The Duarte family has now gone flying several times in the Cessna 172.
Check that off: Everybody is on board.
And with an older daughter’s family living in Rome, New York, Duarte loves the idea that he will sometimes be able to cut in half the six-hour drive to Rome from eastern Massachusetts in the Skyhawk, weather permitting. Cindy has given that idea some thought too, as she mentioned to Duarte when they were stuck in highway traffic on one such drive, he said.
Prospects for travel by GA aircraft provide Duarte the longer-term target of beginning work on an instrument rating. But for now, it’s hard to outdo an autumn afternoon aloft as a way to savor the rewards of his year’s accomplishments.
Duarte said he credits his AOPA membership, reading AOPA Pilot magazine each month, and attending AOPA’s 2014 regional fly-in in Plymouth as “things that kept me going” during his time away from flying. He hopes to see the AOPA staffers he met in Plymouth again, and tell them what a difference three years have made.
“It's a great feeling to say that I'm really a pilot again, and not just someone with the plastic in their wallet,” he said.