Saturday, January 22, 2011

One Year

One year. 365 days. 8,760 hours. 525,600 minutes. 31,536,000 seconds. The older I get, the quicker the years seem to pass. When it comes to flight time, however, it took me over half of my life to accrue one years worth of flight time. I started flying about 18 years ago and it wasn’t until yesterday that I reached a grand total of 8,760 hours flying airplanes.

The flight time adds up quick while working for the airlines so it’s easy to forget how hard it used to be to add up all the early entries in my logbook. There were many days when I thought I’d never see 1,000 hours. When you’re paying for flight time yourself, or starting out as a commercial pilot, the hours don’t always come easy. My advice to young aviators has always been to “beg, borrow, and steal” as much flight time as you can. I have to say, when I was younger, I did a lot of begging...I also did a little borrowing and some stealing, but I won’t talk about that. What I will talk about is some of the flying I did when I was building time way back when.

One of the most fun flying jobs I’ve ever had was flying skydivers. I didn’t get paid anything (besides sandwiches and Cokes), but on a good weekend, I’d fly 16 hours, and that’s 16 hours I didn’t need to pay for. The “benefits package” that the skydive club offered was pretty simple; free skydiving. I guess that’s kind of the opposite of a normal companies’ benefits package. Most companies offer health plans, this one offered free opportunities to injure yourself and no health insurance. I took them up on it. During my time there I flew a lot, earned my skydive license, and managed not to break any bones...or airplanes for that matter.

Another flying opportunity that arose after a lot of begging was the chance to fly with the Minnesota State Patrol. When I was in college, I worked at the St. Paul Airport which is where the State Patrol kept their airplanes and helicopters. I became friends with many of the troopers which turned into offers to go flying. I went up in their helicopter many times, which was fun, but I couldn’t count that as flight time because I didn’t have a helicopter rating. I also went up in their airplanes whenever they had to deliver emergency blood or to enforce speed on various metro freeways. Flying for speed enforcement was a blast! Not for the guy getting the speeding ticket, but I was sure having fun chasing them. Usually, the trooper would run the stopwatch and talk to the troopers on the ground to stop the cars while I flew the airplane around in circles. Basically, every five minutes, we’d have a one minute car chase. Not only did I get to log this flight time, which was paid for by the good ol’ State of Minnesota, but I also got to fulfill my childhood dreams of being a cop.

People often ask what kind of emergencies I’ve had as a pilot. Thinking back, I’ve had a few. They say “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” In terms of flying, I’m strong enough. It’s funny, when I go fly airliners around, if we were ever down to one engine and one radio, we’d consider than an emergency. But the first airplanes I flew only had one engine and some didn’t even have a radio. Over the years, I’ve had an engine quit (on a plane that only had one engine to begin with), I’ve had smoke in the cockpit due to an malfunctioning heater, I’ve had a few flap failures, I’ve had a thunderstorm lift my airplane one thousand feet higher than we wanted, and once I had enough ice built up on the wings to build a small ice castle (and force us into an airport we weren’t planning on going to). So yeah, I’ve had a few emergencies, and I’m sure I’ll have a few more, but it’s those emergencies that build character and put hair on your chest...something like that.

The past 18 years of flying have had their ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change one bit of it. After all, it’s not the destination that makes flying fun, it’s the journey, and I’ve had a great 8,760 hour journey.

One year.
One year of amazing memories.
One year of doing what I love.
One year of flying airplanes.
I am truly blessed.