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.
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.
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.
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.