View Full Version : Best path?

09-23-2011, 11:26 AM
I joined EAA this year at AirVenture (what an event!). I have always been an aviation enthusiast, but after my first (yes I can't believe only my first) AirVenture this year, what can I say? I need to finally learn to fly, and simply get more involved in what has seemingly been the passion in my heart for a long time now. So many ways to go about doing that of course. I've been speaking with several local flying clubs and FBO's. I'm seeking advice from several sources. Seems to make sense to also seek advice and guidance from my fellow EAA'ers right?

My initial goal has been to simply achieve a private pilot certificate. After that, I imagine I'd want to add Instrument, then who knows. So, I have been looking at flying clubs and FBO flight schools. Recently, however, I decided to take a longer look at a more complete training to include a degree. This led me to look at Eastern Michigan University's Aviation Flight Technology degree program (http://extended.emich.edu/aviation/flight.aspx). This program takes students all the way through Certified Flight Instructor as well as Commercial Pilot Certification.

A little background, and full disclosure: I'm 42 and I believe way past starting a new career as a commercial airline pilot. Aside from the age limitation, I also have a family to support, so cutting my existing salary more than 50% to start a new aviation career just doesn't seem wise right now. Even so, I would not shut out the idea of someday flying transport, charter, or corporate as a full-time job.

On a somewhat separate note, I've been thinking of going back to school to get my degree, and lately I've been thinking that an aviation degree may not be a completely crazy idea. Although, my current career and field of expertise is in Information Technology, I know that many employers in my industry aren't concerned as much about your Education Major as long as you have a degree and your work experience relates to the position for which they are hiring.

So, I have two goals in mind: Learn to fly, and accomplish a Bachelors Degree. I am starting from scratch with both, and I realize I'm late in the game. However, my thinking is that:

Having an Aviation degree certainly cannot hurt even if I remain in my current field of IT
By pursuing an Aviation degree, I can learn to fly at the same time as working on a degree
I may, in fact open some options for financing (student grants, loans) the flight training if it is part of a larger degree program
This leads me to solicit your advice:

As mentioned, I really don't believe I will ever become a Commercial Pilot for a major airline. Do you feel that taking a degree program like the Aviation Flight Technology program at EMU would still be beneficial to my goals, or would I be wasting time (and money)?

Based on the little you already know about me, do you think I should separate my education and flying goals or does it make sense to combine them?

I appreciate your opinion (and honesty). I don't foresee my desire to fly going away, and I'm searching for the best path to accomplish my goals.

Stefan Rairigh
EAA # 1069440

09-24-2011, 07:09 AM
Stefan - You seem to have put some thought into this idea already. Much of what you say is true - a degree, is a degree, is a degree and you might just as well get it in something you are interested in. If your field is like most, a degree will somewhat improve your earning potential even if the degree is in a subject foreign to your field of employment. (If your degree is in another field it gives you an additional option should the jobs market suddenly turn around) If you can afford to go back to school - do it! You will not regret the experience (and if you get a pilots license to boot - that is frosting on the cake) Don't let yor age be a factor - you have the enthusiasm needed and your life experience will make you very competative among your younger classmates. Go for it and the best of luck....

09-24-2011, 07:39 PM
Thanks Jerry. Still not sure which way to go yet. Getting a lot of advice telling me to separate the education and flying goals. The two main factors for me with the aviation degree are the possible use of student loans to help pay for both education and flying, and the concept that I might stay interested in a degree in aviation and be more apt to stick with it. This would not be my first attempt at going back to school. I need something to keep my interest or at least see an interesting light at the end of the tunnel. I do understand where people are coming from though when they advise to separate them and pay as I go flying. I'm open to all advice even if it counters my thinking :)

Joe LaMantia
09-25-2011, 08:33 AM
Jerry has given you some good advice! I was in my 40's when I finally finished a degree in Business Management having gotten an A.S. in Accounting back in my 20's. If you are really interested in the subject, and motivated you will take to the academic environment with ease. In management we use this formula; Performance (success) = Ability x Motivation. Motivation is the key ingredient! I became a much better student when I was able to bring real world business problems into a classroom. Clearly, the "safer" approach is to separate your desire for flying from your desire for a better job. You already have established a technical skill set, so you have some achievements to build upon. You might want to consider some "non" flying profession within the world of aviation. Many ATC folks carry a wallet full of pilot ratings, also the people who manage FBO's, or dispatch air freight or passengers own and fly aircraft.

Good Luck in whatever you choose!


Eric Page
09-25-2011, 12:28 PM
I have a 2-yr aviation degree as well as a B.A., and I fly professionally. Neither of the degrees has been useful to me in my flying career, except to be able to put them on my resume. The only thing they represent is evidence that I can complete a course of instruction; that I'm "trainable."

My advice -- and remember, this is free and worth every penny -- would be to get your degree in a subject that would do the most to advance your IT career. If you want to remain in the technical side of things, perhaps that means a computer science degree. Or maybe a business degree if you want to move up the management ladder. You're already established and knowledgeable in IT, so advancement to higher levels in that career, and the pay that goes with it, would come much faster than in commercial flying.

If, on the other hand, you're like me, and you've reached a point where you'd rather slit your wrists than make the daily rush hour commute to sit at a desk, then nothing but flying for a living will do. In that case, I'd still recommend against an aviation degree. No airline cares if you have a degree in Aviation Management, Humanities (mine) or Underwater Basket Weaving, as long as you have a four-year degree. Your smartest bet is to get a degree that supports a career back-up plan in case you lose your medical or make a bone-headed mistake and lose your certificate.

If you've done much research on the subject, I'm sure you're aware of the depressingly low pay for pilots in the early years of a flying career. Many of my contemporaries found it very hard to support a family during that time, especially the ones servicing large student loans (which can easily surpass $60,000 for a collegiate flight program). Again, if only flying will make you happy then this is just unpleasant noise, but go in with your eyes open.

I would suggest that you learn to fly at an FBO or flight school that's close to where you live and work. You'll find it much easier to make steady progress if getting to your lessons is convenient. I spent a few months driving 125 mi RT (back when gas was $0.97/gal) to save a few bucks an hour on a C-152, and I eventually quit flying for awhile until I found a good FBO closer to home. If you have the financial resources to stop working and train full time, there are plenty of accelerated flight training schools out there. Work on your education as a separate issue. You may be able to complete a lot of the requirements, and perhaps the whole degree, through an online program while you continue to work.

You said that you got excited about flying after attending AirVenture. Keep that in mind as you consider whether to pursue flying as a career. Commercial flying bears little resemblance to the pure joy of recreational aviation. I don't mean to suggest that my work is drudgery -- nothing could be further from the truth -- but if airline flying satisfied my aviation cravings, I wouldn't be here. That should tell you something.

One more thing. Partly as a reaction to the 2009 Q400 crash in Buffalo, the FAA has been working on revamping the pilot flight time/duty time and minimum experience requirements for airline crews. One of the proposals they floated was to raise the minimum hours for a pilot to fly under Part 121 (airlines) to as much as 1,500 hours. Current rules only require a Commercial certificate and instrument rating to be a First Officer. No one seems to know what the final rule will require, but the bar may be raised substantially.

Best of luck, Stefan!

09-26-2011, 02:11 PM
"Follow your bliss" is what people said to me beginning about 60 years ago. I didn't follow that advise until 2 years ago. I was an airport kid, line boy and graduated high school with a Private Pilot's certificate in my pocket. Yet got my degree in accounting and had a mediocre career in accounting, auditing and eventually as a systems analyst. All during that time I told my friends in all honesty line boy was the best job I ever had. I was good at it, was recognized an applauded for being good at it - Bill Lear, Arnold Palmer and Louise Sacky requested me when they came to town and American Airlines requested me to calculate the fuel distribution on all of the B720s including the flights that were fueled while I was in school during the day. But my parents, future wife and others wanted me to be something else. With my parents buried and wife divorced long ago at the tender age of 61 I decided to follow my bliss. From the moment I decided to go to Airventure 2009, things have been working out, falling into place, opportunities popping up, people showing up in my life. Almost none of those things happened as I expected them to happen but better in the long run. None of those things happened as quickly as I wanted but in the perfect time. So, follow your bliss and the Spirit of Aviation will take it from there.

Most people think "If I DO the training, I can HAVE a Pilot's certificate and then I will BE an aviator." WRONG! That is backassword and is a big reason there is a 70% drop out rate of flight students. Hang out at the airport, go to your EAA chapter meetings, you already went to Airventure to BE an aviator (learn the culture - language, beliefs and values), DO the flying (the training in real aircraft from real aviators - not academics) and then you will HAVE a pilot's certificate. The trouble is that there are too many people sitting in airline flight crew seats who are not aviators but have learned how to pass test and put in time sitting in airline flight deck seats.

Gliders can’t go around and try it again and can’t add power to drag it in when too low. So primary training in gliders is much, much better than primary training in airplanes. I have developed a course for Professional Pilot Primary Training in motor gliders for people intending to learn to fly in the military or aviation colleges. Those people will not only BEcome aviators before they go to flight school, they will learn the fundamentals, values, language, ADM (Aeronautical Decision Making) and techniques that will allow them to survive and thrive as aviators. (JFK Jr. is an example of not surviving.) So, it doesn’t make much difference what you chose for a major, BEcome an aviator, do your primary training in gliders and most importantly follow your bliss. All of the issues of financing, time and opportunity will take care of themselves.

Matt Gonitzke
09-27-2011, 07:24 PM
I agree with Eric. When I got my Private, I had a great freelance instructor who was very experienced and very thorough in his training, particularly with unusual attitude recovery and crosswind operations. I also soloed from a 2100' grass strip. I don't know if this is the case with all flight schools associated with universities, but I can tell you that at the school where I obtained my engineering degrees (that also had a flight program), most of the instructors were low-time CFIs that graduated from the school and got hired as instructors with minimal experience, and also had probably never landed on a grass strip. In fact, I know of some that were afraid of it. My best advice to you would be to find an experienced instructor and go that route. Also, I don't think it would be any cheaper doing this through a university; on the contrary, it may be more expensive. Several of my (pilot) college friends got instruction and aircraft rentals from FBOs on the field instead of school to save some money. And if you get student loans, you'll have to pay interest on them anyway, so no savings there.

You also need to decide what license and rating(s) fit your current needs. As much as I would love to have my instrument and commercial, I can't justify them for what little flying I've managed to do since obtaining my Private. I looked into getting my instrument rating, but I decided not to, due to the cost, my low hours at the moment, and knowing what a challenge it would be to remain instrument current. I decided to pursue a glider rating instead, which I would highly recommend. Even the roughly 2 hours I am into that has improved my stick and rudder skills.

11-08-2011, 11:33 PM
I trained a 16yr old for his first solo last weekend, a more senior instructor sent him for his first solo circuit shortly after. He had less than 2 hours logged in GA but had stacks in tail wheel microlights. One of the most natural, bright, quick learning, mature and coordinated young kids I have ever come across (I am 27).
I had spent the day participating in an aerobatic training camp, critiquing and flying. I capped the day off with the evening flying with this chap then watched his first solo. I finished the last minutes of daylight blasting around in an Ultralight. Beers followed with a bbq and some dvd watching on a projector screen on the airfield with about a dozen of us. Early the next morning (a bunch of us having stayed at a lodge on the edge of the grass strip) we were back out flying.
It was one of the most laid back, fun and organised weekends of flying I have had. Everyone involved was just having a great time and embracing a culture, a lifestyle, a way of life that we all have in common.

My point is, I think people need to identify what it is that they actually want to get out of their flying in the short, medium and long term. Instead of just plodding along, not really content but having spent so much don't see the point in changing direction.
I have a number of friends in all corners of the industry working all types of flying jobs from instructing in Tomahawks to left seat in a B777 and so many of them are not content and not particularly happy with their situation or job.

So that is my thoughts to you, is to figure out what you think you want to get out of flying, and go for it. If money is an issue, and you want to fly recreationally, is a MEIR really worth it? If Aviation is an interest or a passion, is turning it into a fulltime career the answer necessarily?
I setup a non-aviation company 6 years ago and have enjoyed a really good balance between work and flying and it has been a hugely rewarding and exciting pursuit. I have done all sorts of freelance flying in GA and loved every bit of it. The more one gets into flying, the more one realises there is to learn. Go for it. :)

Robert W. Thomas
11-16-2011, 07:47 PM
FWIW, I'm 42 as well and about to start flight school. I have no time to learn over a period of months, trying to find a day or two a week, scheduling around my business, family, weather, etc. for months chasing a PPL. I chose to sign up with an instructor that offers a two-week (approx) immersive program towards the PPL. I'm currently working on the ground school at home at night to prepare. Better I take a two week vacation and get it done, hopefully, than any other way. I start in January '11, I'll let you know how it goes. RT

11-19-2011, 02:04 PM
Robert: My situation is similar to yours, I think. I'm a bit older, with a small business to run, college tuition payments to make, and lots of other distractions/complications. I was advised early to explore an intensive, "all at once" approach to flight training, but I ignored the advice. Instead I began training through a small, local, rather informal club. That was over a year ago. I self-studied and passed the written test without a problem. But arranging flying time with a part-time CFI and busy schedule hasn't worked at all. I've got 16 hours in my logbook and am pretty comfortable in the pattern, but have not solo'd. At this point I am looking into the same solution you describe. Have made a few contacts, but have no final plans yet. I'm hoping - like you - to schedule something in late Jan. or Feb. Would you be willing to share your experience in finding and selecting a school?

Dan Simonds
Rangeley, Maine

FWIW, I'm 42 as well and about to start flight school. I have no time to learn over a period of months, trying to find a day or two a week, scheduling around my business, family, weather, etc. for months chasing a PPL. I chose to sign up with an instructor that offers a two-week (approx) immersive program towards the PPL. I'm currently working on the ground school at home at night to prepare. Better I take a two week vacation and get it done, hopefully, than any other way. I start in January '11, I'll let you know how it goes. RT

11-25-2011, 10:47 PM
Interesting thread.. this will really be helpful as well as all the replies.. I'm a frustrated pilot too....

01-01-2012, 03:43 PM
I retired from IT and credit my degree with most of my success in the field. The degree was not in IT but was a factor in virtually every promotion. Thankfully one of my bosses was very supportive of my dream to fly and allowed me to work it into my schedule. Basically my advise is to get the degree. It doesn't matter what degree but one you find interesting will keep you focused. IMHO it would be better to separate the PPL from the degree plan to allow time to focus on each as both are going to make demands on financial as well as family. IT can be an excellent income with which to pursue other dreams.

01-02-2012, 03:14 PM
The other thing...is that I think this sort of dilemma is common across a range of industries. If someone is unhappy, they tend to blame that unhappiness on the job they do, the marriage they are in, or the debt they have...rather than take a good look at themselves. Happiness comes from within, not from a job, a boat, a sports car, a plane or a flash set of golf clubs or from moving to a new country.
If someone isn't happy or content, changing their job may, or may not make them happy. They may initially change, but ultimately they still feel the same inside so the new job will eventually wear off.

01-03-2012, 08:57 PM
Was offered the opportunity to help build an RV-12 by a retired airline pilot and his son, who is a current airline pilot, with the reward being that they would teach me how to fly. The airplane is almost ready to fly, and the instruction should begin soon.

So far, even with all the ups and downs, it has been an incredible experience.

Eric Marsh
01-05-2012, 02:39 PM
I'm still on my way to getting my PPL and have been at it for a couple years now. The reason that it's taken me so long has been a lack of funding.

I can't say what's best for anyone but along the way I've figured out a few of the things that have worked for me and some things that didn't work so well for me. As they say, your mileage may vary.

I flew my first 25+ hours (up to where I soloed) in a C-150. There are a few things that I think would have helped me get there faster. I wasn't flying a lot because of the expense of renting and that slowed down my progress. Also I think that I spent too much time too soon flying the pattern when I should have spent some hours just getting used to flying the airplane and learning it's behavior. That would have been a great help.

When it really started to come together for me was when I bought my own airplane. It's a '58 Tripacer that I have about $22k into. First of all it is my airplane - I feel more comfortable experimenting with it than I would with someone else's. Not sure why - I think it's like when borrowing someone else's car you are especially careful with it, more so than with your own. Then there's the fact that I can fly it as much as I want - taking the cost of fuel into consideration. That really helps. Finally there is the biggie - what am I going to do when I get my license? If I don't have an airplane of my own I'm going to be renting and at something like $100 an hour I'm likely to be flying now and then rather than whenever the day is right.

I mention this because my sense is that my purchase of a modestly priced aircraft has probably dollar for dollar done more to get me down the road towards really learning how to fly than about anything else. And assuming that I don't damage it I should be able to get all my money back when I sell it.

Just something to consider.