Older But Not Bolder Pilot
By Bill Boczany
I’m quite certain that anyone who has been around flying for even a short time has heard the adage, “There are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old, bold pilots.” While I never plan to be a bold and old pilot, I do fit the profile of an old pilot, not because of experience but rather because of “advanced” years. Like many of you out there, I got my private pilot certificate (PPC) very young.
In my case I was 21 years old and had an initial solo after seven hours in a good ’ol Cessna 150. Like many pilots, I took a hiatus from flying after my PPC. We all know how life gets complicated as you grow from your 20s to 30s and beyond. First marriage, then the house, then the kids, and so on leaving drastically little time for any extracurricular activities centered on anything but the family and home. Thus most of us put our initial interest of flying on the back burner as there usually is little time or money to continue the pursuit of an aviation avocation. Many of us who had that passion for flying in our early years never did see the flame go out although it has been on a low burn for many years. In my case after 40 years with a few intermittent hours here and there, I decided to take the plunge and revive my passion at age 60. Fortunately, the FAA and the general aviation industry in recent years made it just a bit easier for me with the introduction of light-sport aircraft (LSA) and the sport pilot certificate.
With some extra time available and my decreased financial obligations providing the needed capital, I was able to connect with an LSA school in hot pursuit of my aviation currency. After all, I thought, how hard could this be? I already had my PPC, and these LSAs can’t be hard to fly since they aren’t real airplanes. At most, I thought about five or six hours in the left seat and I would be ready for sign-off since it would be like riding a bike – you never really forget how to do it. I quickly found out that the flying and biking analogy was not valid.
Bill Boczany in the cockpit of the Tecnam P2002 Sierra at Heart of Virginia Aviation (HOVA), the Tecnam dealer in Ashland, Virginia, where the plane was purchased new (and thus the “Hotel Victor” suffix on the tail number).
LSA do fly a bit differently as they’re more nimble and quick with lighter control forces required, and in many cases, extraordinary glide ratios. In essence I had to “resolo.” I had “40 years of rust” to work off as my instructor so diplomatically would remind me time and time again. A big part of this was the fact that I was more mature which isn’t a bad thing in itself. But learning ability, knowledge absorption, and memory just weren’t what they used to be. Furthermore, that natural 20/20 vision had also faded into vision-corrected nearsightedness with its own challenges of quick visual transitions from panel to horizon.
When I was in my 20s I used to pride myself on easily remembering number strings and being able to memorize lists and procedures without much effort. Nowadays after walking from one room to the next, sometimes I forget what I came for. I know that many of you can also relate to these “senior moments.”
My flight instruction sessions began to frustrate me and give me substantial self-doubt. Was I really able to do this or should I just hang it up? Believe me the self-doubt can be pervasive. Five hours came and went, and I felt that that I was nowhere near ready to resolo. More importantly I solidly knew that I wasn’t ready. I think that it was also frustrating my instructor as he couldn’t understand at his ripe old age of 25 what the issue was with my learning; I was sensing it.
The light went on between us when he said that I shouldn’t use the aircraft checklist as a to-do list. His point was that I should commit the checklist to memory, perform the checks and functions, and then look at the checklist to see if I completed them. In an ideal world this would be great; however, I looked at him and said, “I’m an old guy and I can’t possibly remember all of this, let alone in order.”
My reason for relating this scenario is that we all learn at different rates and different ways. This is further compounded by the age factor and thus the need for a different teaching approach. If you’re a CFI, particularly a younger CFI with an older student, it’s important to realize this. We don’t always get things the first or second time, we often forget what we did or learned in the previous lesson, and we need to be reassured that time and repetition may very well be the answer to our “mature” learning curve.
Josh Hunter (left) was the CFI that brought Bill up to speed for flying again after a 40-year hiatus. Josh is a full-time FAA employee working at the tower in Mobile, Alabama.
The good news is that in the end I did prevail and was signed off to resolo again after a good 25 to 30 hours relearning how to fly. The self-doubt went away, and I’m happy to be current again. Most importantly I feel confident in my abilities to be pilot in command.
In summary, the lesson learned is don’t let the self-doubt get you down, particularly at a later age. We all go through learning curves intermingled with learning plateaus. Persistence and hard work can overcome that. Additionally, don’t let the hours thing get you down as it all comes in due time. Specifically, if you’re an older pilot, realize that your memory capacity, learning ability, and knowledge absorption rates may have changed.
Although it isn’t the macho pilot thing to do, be sure that your instructor is aware of these challenges and incorporates them into a training regimen that is both compatible and supportive of your individual needs. After all, you’ll never (hopefully) be an old and bold pilot, but with a little extra effort you can certainly be an old, competent, and confident one!
Bill Boczany learned to fly in a Cessna 150 and earned his PPC in July 1970. After a 40-year hiatus, he decided to get back into flying. He and his two partners, Rob Dean and Jim Graham, purchased a new 2008 Tecnam P2002 Sierra LSA in June 2009. The plane has just over 200 hours total time now and is based at Warrenton-FauquierAirport in Warrenton, Virginia. The partnership is working great! Bill met them through the Aircraft Partnership Association. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The three owners of Tecnam P2002 Sierra, N25HV (from left to right), are Rob Dean, Bill Boczany, and Jim Graham.