Aviation addiction syndrome – it could happen to you

Hi, my name is Rick and I’m an aviation addict. (Hi Rick!)

Don’t look now, but there might be a pilot inside you trying to get out. Just ignore the voice in your head telling you not to chase your dream. That’s what I did.

I was born to enjoy cool stuff: Cars, firetrucks, trains, bulldozers, motorcycles, Legos, and of course airplanes. These things are generally pre-wired into male, and even female babies’ brains at birth, at least that’s my guess on how this Aviation Addiction Syndrome starts out. I’m about to tell you of an affliction that occurs in ten out of ten babies if they get too much exposure to any one of these cool things.

Kid in cockpit
Where so many aviation careers begin.

The seeds of my addiction were planted at an early age. Our family moved from one end of the country to the next; we even lived in Hawaii for a few years. All this traveling was done in a little green Chevy van as far as I can remember, but the last leg of our westward journey would require something that either floated or flew across the ocean. Fortunately, my parents got rid of the green van and opted for airline tickets, rather than ocean liner cruise passes, otherwise I’d probably be writing a story right now on how I got into boating. As far as I can tell, this is how my aviation addiction got started, it would be quite a few more years before my symptoms started to show, but I always remember that long airline flight over the ocean, and then back a few years later as the beginning of all this craziness.

Fast forward now to a young man in his early 20s. I was working at a new car dealership in Ohio cleaning cars. My new wife and I were selling the house I had as a single man. At the closing, the realtor, who happened to be a good friend of mine, stated that he had just earned his private pilot certificate a few months prior, and was now looking for a few passengers to take up in one of the rental airplanes at the local airport to show off his new skills. The dormant disease I was carrying around all these years came to life at that very moment. I of course said “Yes!” without hesitation or consulting with my better half. We were going to go!

Later that night, after the initial high wore off, I got to really thinking about this. My good friend the realtor, we’ll call him “Evan,” had a lot of hobbies. He had been overexposed to way too many cool things in his life. He was an amateur race car driver, had built and operated a home-made submarine, rode motorcycles on the open road in excess of three-digit speeds, even brewed his own beer at home, and now he’s a private pilot? This is where the saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none,” would certainly apply, and that along with the look on my new wife’s face said it all. I had to call Evan and cancel the airplane ride.

Even though I canceled that airplane ride, from that day forward I continued to constantly think about flying and how I could become a pilot. The symptoms were getting worse as each day passed. My affliction started to take over my every waking moment. I kept thinking: “If Evan can get his pilot’s license, then why can’t I?” Not that I thought I was smarter than Evan, it’s just that, well, if you knew Evan, I’m sure you’d think the same thing that I did at the time. How can you fit all that cool stuff that you do into your brain? I just want to do the one cool thing: fly!

I finally sought treatment for my disease. As you know, the first step is admitting you have a problem. A friend of mine at work said he used to pass a little grass strip that advertised $25 intro flights, and that I should give them a call to set up one of these flights. So that’s what I did. The guy who answered the phone, who would end up being my flight instructor, made it sound easy to do. Forty hours. Really? That’s all it takes is forty hours? I could take a vacation and knock this out in a work week! He went on to explain the “fine details” which I didn’t really understand until later.

After the phone call was over, we had a date set. I’d go after work during the week (I didn’t want to tell my wife what I was up to yet, just in case she’d try to talk me out of it). I knew I needed to do this or I’d probably go insane thinking about it all the time.

I’m not sure what I thought, but for some reason I was thinking that this would be more like a scenic flight, where I’d just sit in the co-pilot’s seat and observe what happens during a flight lesson. I even brought a small set of binoculars so I could really take in the scenery from up high. I’m glad I left those in the car when I arrived at the strip for my intro flight because I would have looked like a dork carrying those things with me.

Flight instructor
Yes, you will fly from the left seat on your first lesson.

I showed up, met my instructor, and we sat down. He explained a few more things to me, such as attitude, airspeed, and what happens when an airplane turns – all important things, but they really meant nothing to me at the time. We pulled out the little airplane (a Cessna 150), and I thought: This thing sure is tiny! He opened the pilot side door and told me to get in and buckle up. So, I guess I’m going to fly this thing? We started it up, taxied over to the end of the grass strip, he mumbled on the radio, which was in English, but the only thing I understood was something about a uniform (the airplane’s tail number ended in “U”).

I was wearing my car dealership uniform that day, so I thought maybe we had to describe what we were wearing before we took off over the radio, you know, for like search and rescue? It was my first flight; how would I know? We lined up and he told me to grab the yoke, and to pull it back a bit when he said to do so. We rolled down the runway, I pulled back, and we lifted off the ground. It was at this point where the terror began to set in.

I just wanted to look out the windows today. I had no idea I’d be the one in charge of where this thing went. I really didn’t like the sensation of controlling this craft. I grabbed the yoke with both hands as we cleared the trees and continued to climb out. Leveling off, we proceeded to do some shallow turns. This was where I really felt weird. I thought I was going to fall out! Man, that engine was loud too! I don’t remember wearing headsets that day, so it was even louder than usual. Did I really want to do this? This was going to cure my disease once and for all – it’s like the kid who gets caught smoking so the dad makes him smoke cigars to get him sick and he never smokes again.

I just needed to get this over with and then I’d know that I tried. I could go home knowing I gave it my best shot at least. We finally turned back to the airport. I was still at the controls all the way to the base leg of the pattern, had no clue where we were the whole time either. The instructor took over when we turned final—Thank God! The whole time I was watching him land, I thought to myself, “I’m cured! There is no way I’d ever want to do what he is doing right now, looks like he’s really struggling to pull this off.”

We landed on the grass strip, nice and smooth. This guy was good!

After the flight, the instructor told me what I needed to do next if I wanted to start lessons. I was not really listening, I was just glad we made it back alive.

That night, I laid in bed thinking about what I did that day. It was like my mind recorded the whole thing and was playing it back, keeping me up most of the night. The next day, I called the airport again, and the same instructor answered the phone. I told him I was ready to schedule the next lesson, and I’d be over to buy the books and a headset later that week. I was still an addict, but at least I was entering a treatment plan.

The weeks that followed were still a bit harrowing for me. Our very next lesson I was introduced to full stalls and steep turns, both of which made me airsick. But as each lesson got logged, I improved, and I got a better tolerance to the sickness. I’d try to schedule three flights a week, and would work extra hours to pay for them.

I just kept plowing through the lessons like the aviation addict I had become, then one day after doing some touch and goes, of which I thought I was doing a particularly good job at that day, my instructor, completely out of the blue, told me to pull over and let him out. I was going to fly this thing today by myself.

First solo shirt tail
How sweet it is.

My heart started beating faster instantly. I was nervous, but I also knew I could do it. Three takeoffs and landings to a full stop, and I had soloed! This, of course happened during the middle of the week, and as you guessed it, I only told my wife that I was taking the flying lessons on the weekends (so she wouldn’t worry too much). I had to confess to her that night that I was taking extra lessons during the week, and also, oh yeah, I guess I soloed today!

She was very understanding and proud of me. Four months later, after I passed my checkride, she was my first passenger. My wife does not have the same affliction that I do. I feel sorry for her because neither one of us knew I’d have this problem before we got married, and she has had to deal with my aviation addiction on a daily basis for the past 25 years now. Oh, she’ll still fly with me, but we have to have a reason to go somewhere first.

Aviation Addiction Syndrome is something that can be treated, but of course there is no cure, and really, why should there be? If you think you may have this, I suggest you go to your nearest airport for treatment options. We are always here to help – and remember, if Evan can pass his checkride and get his pilot’s license, anyone can!

1 Comment

  • That understanding spouse is a Critical Success Factor in being a pilot… at least, in being a happy one who is not known as someone’s “ex!”

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