May 13, 2010

Learning Not to Fly?

slow_transition.gifAviation enthusiasts are promoting May 15 as Learn to Fly day. I am proud of my accomplishment and very much enjoy the privilege of flying. However, as we approach Learn to Fly day, I am pondering should I learn not to fly?

One of the easiest decisions I ever made was to learning to fly. It was something I had always wanted to do so from that standpoint I am not even aware of when I made the decision or deliberated about it. It was just something I always wanted to do. Achieving the goal was a little harder but in retrospect not all that challenging. It was just getting around to taking the first step and of course to funding it that took some time. In the Spring of 2004, I finally made the commitment and earned my licenses three and a half months later.

Now, I face a more difficult challenge, one faced all too often by pilots, the decision whether to continue to fly or to hang up the flight bag. I would never have imagined being at this point, and pondering that as an option after all those years of dreaming of flying and the wonderful six years as a pilot.

But I am a month, maybe weeks away from becoming a father to twins. They occupy much of my thoughts these days as I assume they always will. In thinking of them I have thought about flying and how my passion for aviation fits with my expanding family.

At a recent aviation get together I heard many pilots explain that they just recently returned to flying after 15-20 years away from aviation in which they focused on raising their families. This helped spur the conversation in my head in which I am continually debating what role aviation should play in my life over the next twenty years.

One side of the argument says what a great life lesson it is for children to see their father went after one of his dreams and is passionately continuing to pursue and foster that dream. I would love sharing my love of aviation with them. Additionally, the benefits of general aviation could offer us greater flexibility in travel and entertainment. Flying also brings me great joy, satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment that would be tough to forgo. A flight does not go by in which my wife does not positively comment on the glow on my face or the happiness in my voice after I return from flying. Each flight is an experience like no other that I truly treasure.

On the other side of the conversation are things like cost, time and safety. Let's face it: this is one expensive hobby. My mind is swirling with the costs of diapers, day care, and college tuition and flying seems like an expense that brings great joy to me but maybe not to the entire family. In addition to the monetary costs it is a time investment. Each flight represents a few hours away from the family (at least at first when they are so young) not to mention any time spent planning flights or continuing to learn. I may be naive (everyone says I have no idea what is about to happen in my life) but I cannot imagine wanting to spend hours away from these little ones on a weekend. I wonder will I prefer to take them for a walk or to a park on a sunny day rather than heading off to the airport.

I also wonder if I can find the time to continue to be a safe pilot which leads to the safety issue. Am I putting my family at greater risk by participating in a hobby that is more dangerous than your average hobby of home improvement, gardening, golf or tennis?

No matter what the decision I have to say I feel so blessed to have followed this dream and now to be given the opportunity to raise twins with my wife. If I do choose to continue to fly I do know then I need to go into it full bore. I need to invest the time and money to fly more frequently and work towards an instrument rating to help make me a safer pilot.

Most of you, my readers, are pilots. So I am sure you all have gone through periods of your life where you have wondered if you should take a break or keep at the controls. I would love to hear your advice.

Posted by at May 13, 2010 7:20 PM

Yep, I've had these same thoughts many times. I found that I need at least 4 hours a month to stay confident in my abilities. Whatever rate you care to use, that's a bucket of money not being used for family essentials. It has always been a very difficult decision.

Posted by: Dave at May 14, 2010 7:53 AM | Reply

I can't add in any experience as I'm only engaged and don't have any kids yet but I'm curious about the responses you'll receive. Definitely want to see if there's any general consensus on this topic.

Posted by: Steve at May 14, 2010 9:48 AM | Reply

I don't really know what the answer is. We're expecting a baby for this coming October and I'm cramming as much flying as I can between now and then, just in case...

Posted by: Julien at May 16, 2010 4:54 AM | Reply

As a European Private Pilot, I can only comment that while flying over here is much more expensive than in the US, it gives great pleasure. To me it is worth the expenses, and my kids always have liked it as well as you can see om my website.

Posted by: Rene at May 16, 2010 10:16 AM | Reply

As a father of a three year old, two year old and one due in the next few weeks I understand your concerns. If you choose not to fly because of money, I understand that. But the other day I took my kids to the airport to look through the fence (no license yet; $$$). They love to go to the airport. After 15 or 20 minutes I told them we should get going. They wouldn't move. Long story short, the two year old had to be put in the car crying because he didn't want to leave. My kids love aviation almost as much as I do. Include them. Don't leave them at home. Good luck with the twins!

Posted by: Jason at May 17, 2010 1:50 PM | Reply

I've been thinking about learning to fly. The EAA show does this to me every time I go. I've read through a fair portion of your blog, the flying entries anyway, over the past couple nights. Thank you!

I've held off learning to fly because of my family however; now it is my family that is bringing me back to flying. My daughter is 6, my son is 2 and of the hobbys I could pick up, flying is the most family oriented. Take drag racing for example. I love it, but not much in it for the rest of the family. My Harley gets much less use since we've had children. My daughter will be tall enough to reach the foot rests soon, but that isn't quite the same. Taking them all cross country in a Cessna - now that sounds like something that could expand all our horizons.

I'm sure by now you're coming to the realization that for the next couple years, you won't be flying much, and if you're not flying much, you're not as safe. Resign yourself to that fact that for the next three years at least, it just doesn't make sense from financial / risk / time standpoints. If I were you, I'd pick up a yoke and pedals for some as-close-to-real-as-possible sim time. A sim you can walk away from if the baby wakes up and needs attention. Stay sharp for the time when you'll be able to load the family and use the plane to take the kids to see the grandparents.

One aspect I have not yet looked into is how flying will affect my life insurance. Would I need a special policy? I'm the bread winner in our family, and it would be absolutely irresponsible of me to die in a single engine plane crash if it negated my life insurance policy.

As you've implied, it takes a lot of time in the air to stay proficient. I would only take this on if I could envision flying at least once per week, weather permitting, and obtain my instrument rating. From a safety standpoint, I'd want to be prepared to land despite IMC.

My immediate goal is to take my wife to the airport next week and get her up in a Cessna to see if it's something she could see us doing. Wish me luck!


Posted by: John at August 11, 2010 12:12 PM | Reply

John: I am always glad to hear that someone might be taking that first step towards learning to fly. It really so rewarding. I think you are thinking things through correctly that you will want to ensure you can commit both the time and and the financial resources to fly often to keep your skills current.

Based on your position in your family I think it is most responsible to target getting Instrument rated as it will make you a safer pilot but to also look into ensuring you have appropriate insurance as well. Pilots are often penalized when it comes to insurance premiums so I recommend looking at AOPA's insurance options.

Good luck going out to the airport, take your kids along as they will love going out to see the planes, and let me know how it goes.

Safe flying!

Posted by: Todd at August 11, 2010 5:39 PM | Reply


This is a very thoughtful piece you have written. As a father and flight instructor who is occasionally asked to give BFR's to pilots long since out of the cockpit, I find that so many guys who leave it for years look back with regret. They come back to the airport and say, "I wish I had just stuck with it." In some sense, as you noted in your piece, flying isn't a hobby for anybody. It is a dream fulfilled and sustained. Just because folks take time off for family or business affairs doesn't mean they stop dreaming, right?

Admittedly, I am a professional pilot, so I get to do what I love for a living now. But that wasn't always the case. I was working as an engineer (after having flown in the military years before), when I decided to get current again, despite my son being three at the time. I took everybody flying, and he was hooked. After we landed, he asked me if we could go back up, and I told him we had to go home. He started balling. "Wow" I thought, "what a blessing."

In fact, it hit me so hard I actually changed careers completely and went back to flying full time. Of course, that isn't for everybody either.

Long story short? I encourage you to stay in aviation. You can always budget, and if life gets in the way sometimes, you can go do a BFR or re-currency with an instructor just to re-build confidence once you have the time and money.

Who knows...your family might appreciate the experiences and your motivation and joy.

Best of luck in your decision...Blue skies and tailwinds!

Posted by: J. R. Starch at October 19, 2013 9:07 AM | Reply

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