From the Ground Up


When Jeff first handed the controls to me on that first flight, I did not find it difficult to fly the airplane. I was just flying along straight and level, with some gentle turns thrown in and it was just like driving a car. So when I announced that I was going to get my pilot’s license, I really had no idea what I was getting into.

I did realize that there was more to obtaining a pilot’s license than flying the airplane. I knew, for example, that I had to pass a Transport Canada written examination that comprised several topics, many of which were somewhat technical. Even thought I’m not technically minded, I’m fairly intelligent, so I didn’t think it would be overly challenging. I even planned to teach myself the necessary topics, using the textbook “From the Ground Up”, with Jeff  as help if I had any trouble.

I quickly realized that I was delusional. In fact, within a couple of weeks of beginning the journey, three things became apparent that almost made me quit.

  1. Flying the airplane was not as easy as I thought (or as Jeff made it look).
  2. There was no chance that I was going to able to teach myself all the required technical material.
  3. I was afraid.

In my presentation about managing transition, I explain that transition is about change and any big change comes with obstacles and fears. In order to achieve your dreams, you need to overcome the obstacles and conquer your fear.

The first two were simply obstacles. OK, so it was going to be harder than I thought, but I knew that I could develop and implement strategies and tactics to overcome the obstacles.

The third point, however, was almost crippling. I was so afraid, that I found excuses for avoiding flying lessons. In fact, in the first 5 months of learning to fly, I only had three lessons!

This next series of stories will deal with a few of the strategies that I used to overcome the obstacles and how I conquered the fear.

1. Make a plan, work the plan, and work it hard! Repeat.

The example I’ll use for this strategy is Ground School. I was not disciplined enough to apply myself to studying the textbook, sitting on the deck at the cottage. And there was a lot of material, much of it too technical for me. I admitted that I needed to get into a classroom. I would enroll in the ground school class that started that September at the Buttonville airport, I would sit in the classroom for 40 hours and be a sponge, I would do whatever small amount of homework that might be necessary and I would pass the Transport Canada exam. That was the plan.

Of course it was not that easy. It had been many years since I was in school and that fact was made clear when I met my fellow students. Most of them were at least a full generation younger than me. Even some of the instructors were 20-30 years younger than me!

I need to fully understand material in order to absorb it, so my preference is to sit right up front and ask lots of questions.  It quickly became clear that it would not work out that way. Since there was too much material to teach in 40 hours, the instructors assigned reading before each class, but I had already tried learning from the textbook and that hadn’t worked. Also, the instructors only skimmed the surface, racing through Powerpoint slides and there was hardly any time for questions. And unfortunately, the flight school had a rule that they were not allowed to hand out copies of the Power Point slides, so the students had to madly write notes. It’s impossible to listen, absorb and write, all at the same time.

Also, several of the topics were technical and therefore very difficult for me. For example, I had to learn about airplane engines and electrical systems, two topics that neither interested me nor came easily. For those two topics, I decided to learn just enough to pass the written exam, as the type of flying that I would be doing did not require me to understand them in detail. Jeff would be the resident expert on those two topics.

Two other topics that I struggled with – Navigation and Aviation Meteorology did interest me. For that reason, and because I knew that they are crucial in private flying, I wanted to fully understand them. Unfortunately, the instructor that I had for Aviation Meteorology was not able to answer most of my questions and basically read from the Power Point slides. I tried to fill in the gaps by carefully studying the textbook and asking Jeff my questions, but I just couldn’t understand it. With Navigation, the instructor was very good, but there just wasn’t time in the classroom to answer all my questions. Also, I could not get the hang of the E6-B (a manual flight computer that is used in Navigation – basically a very complicated slide rule). At the end of ground school, I was more confused about Navigation and Aviation Meteorology than when I had started.

My solution was to repeat those two topics the next time ground school was offered. Ahead of time, I read my notes and the textbook and when I got into the classroom the second time around, all I had to do was listen and ask questions. It came much more easily. And once I understood the basics of the E6-B, I had Jeff give me additional exercises and problems to solve. One night, we were out for dinner and while we waited for our meal, I calculated headings and air speeds  from wind speed and direction examples that Jeff provided. The waiter thought we were nuts!

But it all worked! On the practice exam, I got the highest mark in the class. And when I wrote the Transport Canada written examination, I was confident that I would do well – which I did!

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