Is Becoming a Pilot Difficult?

Becoming a good one is. It’s a complex journey, one for which there is no straight line. It takes real work to maintain proficiency. There are no shortcuts around the experiences that sharpen the blades of aptitude and competence.

But with this struggle comes reward.

After I earned my private pilot certificate in 2012, I spent years flying my wife and friends to and from small airports for lunch, to the beach or over the city’s skyline. The novel freedom of these experiences helped me connect not just with myself but with others.

I have sat in rush-hour traffic for more than an hour on the way to the airport to spend another 20 minutes pre-flighting an aircraft in my work clothes only to cancel the flight due to unexpected weather, absentee instructors or mechanical failures.

I’ve experienced the sputter of a partial engine failure at night over absolute darkness, and have seen the pulsating lights of emergency vehicles staged near the runway as they awaited the outcome of my landing.

But I’ve also flown over Napa vineyards and the Golden Gate Bridge as it sat shrouded in low-level stratus.

I’ve logged landings at the small midwestern airport where I first became captivated by airplanes back when my hands were no larger than tangerines that clutched at my father’s pinky.

All of these experiences are intertwined into something resembling pride, passion, agony and nostalgia.

I continue to work at this state of being good.

I’ve navigated the hills and valleys of the instrument rating and have logged dozens of hours flying with view-limiting devices over my eyes. I’ve spent parts of an Italian vacation flipping through written exam questions and studying electrical schematics. I continue to sit in rush hour traffic on my way to the airport when I’d rather be at home or doing anything else.

It’s something pilot just do.

Overall, becoming a pilot is a simple path. The FAA publishes its set of requirements and subject areas that students must master throughout their training. Students are subjected to a written exam, and later, a private pilot checkride with an examiner. 

Training can be punishing if you find yourself with a difficult instructor or flight school. Some students become frustrated to learn that “real world” flying is not as it appears in movies and other media. The vast majority of student pilots who start training –– about 80 percent, according to some estimates –– will not finish. 

Accordingly, successful completion of private pilot training is a highly rewarding accomplishment for those who push through and commit. After this state of becoming, though, comes the state of being.