There is a joke about pilots that goes: “How do you know there is a pilot in the room?”…and the answer is: “Don’t worry, they’ll let you know!” Pilots love to brag a little…okay, some like to brag a lot. Flying is fun…it’s very exciting. Pilots are passionate about what they do. And, although people dream about learning to fly, few people become pilots. Counting the total number of both commercial and private pilots, there are less than 1 in 100 Canadians who know how to fly.
People like golf, biking, running, sailing, etc. For me, flying is one of my life’s passions. I had the wonderful opportunity to have saved enough money and had some spare time to learn to get my pilot’s license in 2000. For most people it takes about a year of 70 to 80 hours of flying, about half of that with an instructor, to get their private pilot’s license. You also have to do the equivalent of a college night school course, called “ground school”, and go through many written tests. The final test is a 2-hour flight with a Transport Canada approved examiner. It is a straightforward process, but you need to be dedicated to flying.
There is one memory that remains in the minds of all pilots. It’s that time when you’ve been up in the air, practicing a few landings with your instructor, and you’re back at the ramp with the plane shut off. Your instructor gets out and says “Time for you to go solo”. You get this huge rush of adrenaline. You’re on your own for the first time. You have to start the plane, taxi out to the runway, take-off, go around the “circuit” and come back and land…all by yourself! It’s exciting…and frightening at the same time. But, when you’re back at the ramp and the plane shut down, you’re achieved a huge personal accomplishment…and then you get wet as all the instructors who were cheering you on as you got out of the plane pour buckets of water on you!
Sure, it’s not easy to get your license and not everyone can do it, but the great thing is that becoming a pilot doesn’t discriminate. Young people, old people, men, women, different cultures, students, middle-class, etc. are all pilots. It’s another wonderful Canadian thing.
Right after I got my pilot’s license I bought a plane. It was small but did the job. It was my cottage in the air. From 2000 to 2007, I did several “flying vacations” across our great country. I’ve flown out to the East Coast, all over Ontario, and a couple of trips out West including into the Rocky Mountains. It is truly a wondrous thing to see Canada from the air. Throughout my travels I took lots of pictures of my adventures, which you can see on my other website at BlueSideUp.aero. Why that name you might ask? Because, when I fly I like to keep the “blue side up”. My aerobatic pilot friends might think otherwise.
I also continued my training throughout the years. Learning to fly at night – another amazing thing to see the small town and big city lights from the air. Getting training to fly IFR – “Instrument Flight Rules” – where you fly just by your cockpit instruments and not by looking outside to determine where you’re going (VFR – Visual Flight Rules). I even got my Commercial pilot’s license, even though I’ve never earned a living at flying. I did it just to learn more and be a better pilot.
Another wonderful thing about flying is the people you meet along the way. I’ve had the pleasure of being trained by some pretty fantastic instructors – some of who are now flying for Wetjet, Air Canada and Porter. It has been a privilege to be trained by these dedicated individuals.
No matter where you live in Canada, it is very likely that your local airport has what is called a “fly-in”. Once a month, or a couple of times a year, pilots fly from all over to come and visit these fly-ins.
They usually happen in the morning, and a big cook-out of pancakes and scrambled eggs is available. The great thing is that you don’t have to be a pilot to attend. They welcome the locals to come and be part of the fun. I encourage you to go out and for a few dollars buy a breakfast and listen to the stories – from both the young and old pilots. Maybe someone might even take you up for a ride.
I’ve also had the opportunity to fly in other places of the world. I’ve flown in Scotland and the US. I lived in New Zealand for four years and flew there too. While on vacation I even had the opportunity to fly with a local pilot over the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It is nice to go to other parts of the world, and even more special to see it from the air.
Since I’ve learned to fly, I’ve flown an airplane for total of about 800 hours. More than average, but less than many private pilots I know. I am humbled by their experiences, which I love to hear and learn from. There is an association of pilots in Canada called COPA – the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association. They have about 18,000 pilot members and aviation enthusiasts from all across Canada.
You can find many COPA pilots at the “fly-ins” and organizing first time flights for children at the local airport. Do a search on “COPA Kids.” It’s free…and a wonderful chance for children to experience something totally awesome. Add that to your family’s “to do list” for Canada’s 150th.
For my “Fly Canada 150” adventure I hope to write regular posts on this site about my travels. I hope you enjoy reading them and feel at least a little bit of the excitement. Pilots have a habit of talking in lots of special terms and acronyms – METAR/TAF, PIREP, SMOH, downwind, knots, wing load, weight and balance, ETA…and on it goes. I’ll try to keep the lingo to a minimum, but will include some to give you a little feel for what’s happening along the way.
During my travels, flying or not, I have come across a lot of people who say “I’ve always wanted to learn to fly.” My challenge to them is to try. It’s nice to dream about it…even better to do it! Another item for your Canada 150 to do list is go to a local airport and go for an introduction flight. Flying is a freedom in Canada that isn’t available in other places in the world. Go do it!