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I’ll Never Stop Flying, or Will I? Dealing With Life Changes

Flying is part of my DNA. Ever since I can remember, I’ve looked up at the sky and dreamt of airplanes. Flying has represented who I am. It has given me great joy and opportunities as a dog rescue pilot, Civil Air Patrol pilot, and public safety pilot helping to save lives. I am proud to hold ratings as an instrument-rated commercial pilot.

When people would ask me about myself, I typically started with, “I’m a pilot.”

It wasn’t that many years ago that AOPA came to visit me and record a video about my flying and why I love AOPA Pilot Protection Services.

You can see the video below.

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I’ve always strived to make good aeronautical decisions and fly safely with airplanes and drones since so much of my flying has been low-level flight operations in recent years.

However, since I first started flying in 1988, there have been many times I’ve missed that mark and learned lessons the hard way.

I’ve always approached those learning moments as a mistake to learn from, and I did.

I’m 62 years old now. As I get older, it has been emotionally challenging to admit that my sharp flying skills are no longer improving and may be dulling.

Part of that dulling might be because I’m not flying hundreds of hours anymore each year on flights. Part of it might be, gasp, my age is playing with my pilot skills. Indeed, that can’t happen to us type A pilots.

I’ve aced all my recent flying tests. In the past few months, I completed a BFR in a new complex aircraft and finished my light sport amphibious aircraft training. So I’m still at the top of my game by all outside appearances.

Almost silently, at first, I started asking myself when I would stop flying. The question began as an infrequent whisper. But, over the last year, it was getting a bit louder. Finally, it made me take a long hard look at continuing to fly.

The question if I should continue to fly became more apparent and infected more conscious thought. I contemplated the question logically using my aeronautical decision-making and risk management training.

I was not too fond of the emotionally detached answer I came up with.

See also  Exchanges Between Pilots and Control Towers

A difficult day in my life was when I had to take away my dad’s car keys because he was no longer safe to drive. My dad had agreed to take a driving test with an independent examiner, a former state police officer. My father was an instrument-rated pilot as well.

The driving test ended early with the examiner getting out of the car, looking flustered, and saying to me, “Your father should not be driving.” We all knew that. Well, everyone except my pilot father.

A few days later, the written report arrived and said, “one pedestrian had to jump out of the way,” and he had “gone the wrong way on a one-way road.”

With that report in hand, my proud father cried when I took away his keys even though he had agreed to abide by the results. “If I can’t drive, then who am I,” he said. “I feel like less of a man.”

I learned that my dad could not let go of driving and held on too long. That resulted in pain and suffering for himself and those that loved him. There was nothing fun about the experience for anyone involved.


Now that the internal question about hanging up my pilot duties was getting louder, I struggled with if I’m not a proud pilot, who will I be?

Years of flying had resulted in many glorious and dangerous experiences. Here is one of those memories.

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Aviation has also changed dramatically over the decades. As a result, flying has become more expensive, and the $100 hamburger feels like it has become the $500 hamburger.

My annual inspections have become gradually more expensive, and while I could probably cut some corners and find a “light” annual, that’s not the intelligent thing to do for safety. In my mind, cutting corners makes things worse, not better.

Ultimately, I decided to stop acting as a Pilot in Command (PIC) because the risk versus reward of continuing was out of balance if I was honest with myself.

I determined I would rather stop being a PIC a year early than a day late.

See also  Exchanges Between Pilots and Control Towers

It makes no logical sense to become an NTSB statistic to hold up my ego. I’d rather take the emotional hit than find myself in an avoidable accident due to my changing skills.

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My decision to discontinue acting as PIC is also based on the love of my family and friends. I don’t want them to be the ones that have to live through the trauma and pain of telling me I shouldn’t be flying or taking away my hangar keys at some point in the future.

As I went through this process, I often thought about Kenny Rogers’s singing those wise words, “You got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them. Know when to walk away, know when to run.”

I used to think the mandatory retirement ages for air traffic controllers and airplane pilots were unnecessary. Now I get it.

Aviation and flying are still part of my core DNA.

My next aviation adventure will be to create a fantastic flight simulator setup where I can continue shooting approaches to minimums, test my abilities and challenge myself differently.

You can’t understand what it’s like to get older until you do.

A new day has dawned on my life in aviation.

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Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.
Steve Rhode
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