I truly wanted to be a pilot

There are moments in life that hit you, moments that you know, right when they’re happening that they’re meaningful.

Thus far in my life I’ve been fortunate enough to have three of these moments. The first was back in highschool when I was touring colleges, trying to figure out my next move in life. While on a visit to a school, it hit me; I knew without a doubt, that was where I belonged. Sadly, I didn’t get into this school, however, I truly believe that there is a reason for everything and I can now see the purpose for what felt like a life altering failure at the time. I still went to an amazing college where I received a top notch education and met people who I have no doubt will be there for me for the rest of my life. I believe that rejection from this school lead me to where I am now, led me to what I’m doing now, aviation, something I believe is pretty amazing.

After college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, I didn’t know my next move or even have a remote idea of where I wanted to go. This uncertainty was new to me as I’m usually someone who’s one step ahead. My parents, seeing my waywardness, pushed me to go up in a small plane and see what I thought about becoming a pilot. Although I had entertained the idea from a young age, I had never pursued the actual process of becoming a pilot. With a little bit of a push from my parents, I begrudgingly came home from college my senior year in the depths of writing my soul sucking thesis, to go on a “discovery flight”.

Many pilots have told me that the second you have the hold of the yoke and see the view from the cockpit you will know instantaneously if you want to be a pilot. They told me there would be no question, I would know if aviation was for me. I didn’t. Exhausted from research and stressed about the inevitable end of my college career, I trudged to my local airport that morning and was not entirely amazed. Was it cool? Absolutely, but was I happy I had taken time out of my study schedule? Not particularly. Truthfully, I was a disappointed. I’ve never known exactly what I wanted to do and with my lack of direction, I wanted that moment, to finally know “what I wanted to be when I grew up”.

While I didn’t “know” on my first flight, I was definitely intrigued and it being my best option, I wanted to pursue becoming a pilot. After graduation, I started my flight training and although I was happy with what I was doing and definitely intrigued by the thought of flying, I still had yet to experience my moment of “knowing”. I felt like somewhat of a fraud, I was going through the motions, but was this really what I wanted to do with my life? Even thinking about it made me sick, the amounts of money that I was spending, going into debt by the thousands just to do something that I wasn’t sure I was “meant” to do. Bringing me to the second moment in my life where I knew that I was on the right path.

The moment I “knew” I truly wanted to be a pilot was a fluke, I wasn’t even supposed to fly that day. My instructor called me and asked if I wanted to tag along on a maintenance flight to a larger airport to get a wheel replaced. The maintenance was being done on a day with decently bad weather so as not to disrupt any flight training. At the time I was pursuing my private pilot’s license and had only ever been in VFR situations. To my delight, we were flying IFR. As soon as we got into the clouds, I knew. This was where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. The view from above and being encased in white was nothing short of breathtaking. I watched as my instructor expertly maneuvered us with no visual reference, using the radios and this seemingly magical, imaginary map to guide us through the weather. I knew then and there that I wanted this; I wanted to be able to fly through the storm and to be in the clouds.

I wanted it and went after it ferociously, I studied as much as I could, flew as much as I could, and put my heart and soul into the process. It was everything. However, with my want also came doubt. Was I good enough? Could I do this? I knew there were pilots who were never “great” and I also knew there were pilots who were seemingly born with the gift to fly. If I was either of these, I didn’t know it and I couldn’t do anything but keep working hard. Towards the end of my training for my private license, I had my third “moment of clarity”. My instructor and I were doing a “mock checkride” a few days before my Checkride was scheduled and my flying was flawless, everything was going perfectly. Near the end of the day we were practicing differing types of takeoffs and landings including soft field and short field. On our last maneuver we decided to try a steep spiral, slip into final, and land. Not having much experience with steep spirals, but loving the rush of them, I said ok. I entered the steep spiral at 5,000 feet, and came out of it perfectly at about 3,000 on base and turned into final. Being high on final, I did as we planned and slipped to get down to land. In this moment, I knew this was what I was meant to do. The sight picture was beautiful and I had complete control. I knew this was what flying should feel like, and this feeling is what I was working towards. Grinning like an idiot, I smoothly landed the plane.

While I still have doubts about whether or not I’m pursuing the right path and doubts about if I’ll ever consider myself “good enough”, I can look back on this moment and know that its worth it. I’m working towards these moments of clarity where nothing else matters, where it’s just you and the plane and because of your hard work and your training, you’re able to capably “fly through the storm”, able to do what others cannot, to go against nature and impress even yourself.

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