Runners often talk about a wall they have to push past when the training gets tough and their bodies want to give up. I know of no analogy in aviation training like a wall you have to push past, but it certainly seems there should be some common allegory for the frustration and bullshit you have to go through to get a pilot license.
Last night I spent a few hours on the phone with my 99s mentor divulging how angry I was that I haven’t soloed yet and I’m on my fifth CFI. Granted I’ve had many starts and stops, a cross-country move, and a bout of supposed tuberculosis. Fortunately I have not wasted many hours on bad instructors. My current total is 14.7 logged flight hours. Still I am angry at all of the red tape I will have to cut through to get another new CFI that statistically will use me as a means to and end to get an airline job.
We also spent a good deal of the conversation reassessing the Part 141 vs. Part 61 question. Under Part 141 it will be five more flight lessons before I get to the progress report flight with a person that will evaluate if I’m ready to solo. And that’s if I complete one lesson each time I go up…which I’ve learned depends upon your instructor. Some understand it is best to check every box you can every time you go up. Others are in no hurry and four or five boxes at a time are good even though the lesson requires 20 boxes to complete.
I’m thinking of switching to Part 61 because I fear if I stick with this school and Part 141 I’ll never get to the private. I’ll give up first. It doesn’t help that my scholarship deadline to get my private is roughly 12 weeks away. The only reason I decided to do 141 was because I like structure and I wanted to leave the door open for me to have an aviation career someday. Everyone told me full time careers in aviation typically go to folks from 141 programs.
My last instructor told me if I was Part 61 he would have soloed me already but he was stuck checking the boxes with 141. Now I have to win over the endorsement of a new instructor to get to where I should have been a few flights ago. Why do I keep going backwards?!
If I were to tell my true feelings, I’d say a great many of those boxes are not necessary. Do we really need a box that everyone has to check for “operation of a seat belt” and “location of the first aid kit” back at dispatch? The operation of an airplane seat belt is not that complicated. Do we really want people operating a plane if they can’t figure out how to slip the buckle into the clip? And where else would you look – other than the little building with everything in it – for the first aid kit? Are there really student pilots out there that experience a medical emergency and go looking down the runway or off into a field for some gauze? And again, do we really want those people flying?
When I learned I would need to find a new CFI again. It stalled me out for a couple months. I have been dreading the process. Fortunately my mentor is older and wiser and helped me to see something that really hadn’t occurred to me yet: My CFI is not the end all to my progress. My CFI is a tool, but I have to do the work. Hard words to swallow considering how much I loved my last CFI and how far I progressed with him compared to all the others. But she is right, and I need to get out of the mindset that my progress depends on which CFI I get. Sure there are bad ones out there, far too many I’m afraid, but part of becoming a competent pilot is navigating your way through one obstacle after another, whether it be uncertain weather, FAA regulations or lousy instructors.
Two things are responsible for me waking up this morning, selecting a new CFI and emailing the flight scheduler after two months of sulking on the ground. One is my mentor, who has once again saved the day by believing in me and convincing me this entire project is my responsibility and mine alone no matter who I encounter along the way, even a CFI. The other is a recent flight I took to Texas. My husband and I flew down to see family since we were quarantined for the holidays. The flight back to Portland was after dark. I had forgotten how beautiful DFW is from the air at night. From a distance the ground looks like the sky, both glittering with millions of lights. It was a clear night when we crossed over Colorado, Denver sparkling in the distance, the Rockies draped in moonlight. I couldn’t help but wonder what the view was like from the cockpit.