The pandemic reset

I have been a professional pilot for over twenty years and have dreamed about aviation and airplanes and flying since I was very young. And that is not a big deal. There are many of us who have felt aviation as a fundamental part of life, as a “no-go” item since very early on.

View of city
Being a professional pilot means views like this are an everyday occurrence.

After years of looking up to the sky at the first hint of airplane noise and later daydreaming outside airport fences, I came to the conclusion that nothing else seemed as rewarding as a life of flying. So a few years were spent working any available job and saving every penny in order to be able to afford the pilot licenses and later obtain the experience required to become a professional pilot.

Then, one very lucky day, a regional turboprop airline offered me a copilot position flying the Embraer 120 Brasilia.

What a thrill it was, short-hopping seven legs a day through ice and around thunderstorms. It really transformed me from a licensed pilot into being a professional pilot. It was not a dream anymore; it was the real deal and I was making a living out of flying airplanes.

Two years into the job, the company went bankrupt and we were all sacked. I was young and had enough flying experience and soon was hired by a second airline, again flying the Brasilia… only to lose my job again a couple of years later due to this second company also going broke.

A few years as a freelance piston pilot and going back to the aeroclub to fly glider-towing planes ensued, until I finally landed a really decent job flying 737s for a major airline.

Since then, over sixteen years have passed. I was promoted to 737 captain, then flight instructor, then functional check pilot.

I got married, had a son and bought a Cessna 140 to fly on the days off from Airline flying. Then sold the Cessna and bought an Experimental Ultravia Pelican.

Cessn
Even airline pilots enjoy flying taildraggers… most of the time.

And then I started to sort of wear out a little.

Aviation is wonderful, but as much as anything else, if you do it a lot, if you do it really, really a lot and if your living comes out of doing that again and again, it starts to be less of a pleasure and more of an obligation. You live your dream a thousand times and it will become routine.

I never stopped loving airplanes, never stopped loving the ever-changing nature of the sky or the process of planning and executing a flight, be it on the little Rotax-powered Pelican or on the 737. But I did get a little tired of layovers and lost birthdays and anniversaries away. I wanted more family time. So, the little experimental airplane was sold, and there came what is said to be the third stage of the flying career: there were days when, after checking my new roster for the month, my thoughts would be, “I would pay not to fly today. I’d just rather stay at home.”

Then came COVID-19.

I stayed at home for 90 days and had to live out of savings. I feared for my family, feared for my health, feared for my job and for aviation in general. I did not see or hear any airplane for 90 days. And every day felt almost like a month.

Two weeks ago, a flight was assigned to me, at last.

It was a winter day in the Southern Hemisphere and the sky was a clear, deep blue. The airplane smelled terrific; well, it smelled like an airplane smells, and it is a great smell. We started the engines and heard the rumbling on takeoff. I called gear up after seeing and hearing that we had positive rate of climb.

Sun over clouds
Suddenly, this view looks really good again.

The sky was even more beautiful up there, around us. We were flying again and at that moment I realized how much that feeling had been missed.

Looking down at the pandemic-ridden planet below us, which seemed so distant, it felt as if we did not even belong to it… even though we were flying the plane while wearing masks and gloves, as were all the passengers.

But the passengers were in a different world than us pilots were.

They were going from A to B. We were flying… in the sky!

We flew three legs on that day and then went to the hotel for the layover. I was very happy and thankful. The flight recharged my batteries, my mundane deeds could be better dealt with now.

Flying is a thing of beauty—it is a big deal. It is the utmost privilege for those who love it the way many of us do. I had been complaining for some time about working too much and wanted to spend more time at home. But after I was grounded for 90 days and found myself flying again, that is when I felt at home.

26 Comments

  • Dear Gonçalo, so glad to see you here! A great person and aviator, and with this inspiring article you reminded me of my first flight after the most acute phase of the grounding pretty much all of us in the airline industry went through – and of how fortunate we are to still have a job, when so many friends do not anymore. Mine was a turnaround during the night, an annual line check to be precise, after some seven weeks of not flying or so. It felt so great to see the sun coming up over the high deserts through that giant curved windows. Not even the masks took the delight away. I totally understand your conflicting feelings, and yes, sometimes we do it too much – and like I say, if you don’t choose where to, what time and with whom, it is a job. But flying is always kind of magical and would be an honor to fly with you!

  • What a touching, real and wonderful text!! Thank you, Gonçalo, for sharing! Keep flying like you do, with deep respect for whatever is around and about it!!!

  • My love, thank you very much for sharing this text and your feelings. You definitely are a great pilot and loves to be one. I’m very proud of you. You deserve the best, spectacular skies… I love you.

  • I am the kind of person who will spend hours in front of the computer watching plane spotting videos on YouTube. It is soul-filling. Every time I contemplate an aircraft I feel something good, something that raises my energy – the widebodier, the better (Love you, 777!!! Sorry, A-380). The core of the article is an undisputed truth: love is not passion, passion is not love. A passion demands too much of our energy and is subject to disappointment and emotional charges. When we love, we always will, no matter what. We love airplanes.

  • I am a lowly, aged-out GA pilot, but your poetically told story moved me. Even those of us who never flew for money can share your feelings. Only in mid-life did my passion for aviation catch fire, and all aspects of aviation filled my dreams for nearly 40 years. Owning & flying 2 old airplanes was fulfillment of those dreams. I like to think that the community of aviators is a vast family of differently privileged parents, brothers, sisters, & cousins. Whether or not we earn a living flying, for the lucky ones, the core of passion sustains our dreams. Thank you for your beautifully told story. Best wishes to you for good health and many more years if magic in the sky.

    • Dear Mr Heath:
      Thank you very much for your kind and wise words. What a heartwarming idea it is, that we in aviation are all brothers, sisters and cousins. I wish for good health for you too, sir, and may the core of our passion continue to sustain our dreams of flight.

  • As aviators we get to take part in the “miracle” of flight! Some more than others, but each of us get to experience it as we are lifted into sky by whatever bird of flight we choose. Way too many others never experience it as we do! My older brother was my CFI mentor. With over 18,000 hrs with everything from Cubs to corporate jets he never lost his love and thrill of flight, and he was more than willing to share it! Thank you for sharing!

    • Dear Mr Sheetz:
      That’s great, to have your brother as your CFI mentor. Certainly a privileged way to experience the “miracle”. Thank you very much.

  • Gonçalo,

    Great story and hope the best for you as you continue to fly.
    We learn rather rapidly that the airline career is a mass of uncertainty and potential job loss….. way worse than our counterparts with land jobs.

    I was lucky in my short career, but learned to have a second source of income, save for a rainy day and get senior and stay there regardless of the lure of more pay but less flexibility.

    Seems like the average airline pilot has had at least ONE major disaster in their career. You’ve had three. It’s rare to go thru a total career without bankruptcies, mergers, layoff, loss of retirement, pay cuts, etc. I got thru without loosing my job, only to loose my retirement due to bankruptcy and didn’t have the time to make it up, like MANY! Glad I had plan B.

    Stay with it. Find your backups and save for that rainy day (hope you never have it!) and enjoy the flying.

    I still enjoy the skies in GA and glad that it’s still there.

  • Sounds motivating,
    The pandemic has set me back in my private pilot training I hope to get back at the task when
    A different way gets going.
    Thank-You

    • Thank you, James.
      If you love flying, I don’t think you should give up on it. In fact, this is a great time to start your flight training, in my opinion. Because the pandemic will pass and when it does, people will still need to go places in airplanes and pilots will be needed to fly those airplanes. Be ready by then!

  • Hi Mt. Greguol, a beautiful article. I frequently quote Amelia Earhart, who remarked, “I have often said that the lure of flying is the lure of beauty. That the reasons flyers fly, whether they know it or not, is the aesthetic appeal of flying.” I certainly buy into that. I’m not a high-time pilot, but I am a GA pilot, with a license to learn, and aviation is my passion. I think passion is something that, when you step up to it, it energizes, excites, motivates, moves, stimulates you, and does that over and over again, and you never get tired of it. Yes, sometimes, we can get too much of a good thing, and it’s healthy to back off, take a break if you can or want to.

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