How Becoming a Pilot Can Help You Live a Better Life

Flight Students circa 1939

You chose to become a pilot for some reason. Whether you are currently a student pilot or you are a professional with tens of thousands of flight hours under your belt, there was some reason (or reasons) you began your flight training.

You might have started to learn to fly because your father was a pilot. You might have started to become a pilot because you have a friend who flies and she took you up once and you got hooked.  You might have started your flight training because, initially, you wanted to be able to tell other people you flew in "one of those little airplanes" and after your scenic flight or your introductory flight lesson, you actually found that it was fun, not scary, and you decided to get your pilot license.

My guess is that you did NOT start your flight training because you wanted to become a more rounded individual in general, or because you wanted to get a better understanding of physics and weather, or because you wanted to improve your decision-making skills.  But even though those were not the reasons you started on the path of becoming a pilot, these were, indeed, results that you received - maybe without even realizing it.


This post is part of Month Six of the Blogging in Formation series, where six heavy-hitter aviation bloggers (or five plus me) post "in formation" on an agreed-upon topic for six days straight.  October's topic is "My Best Instructional Moment."  I have taken a little more license this month than other months in shifting away from one moment in particular to an overall impression and recognition of the entire flight training process, and how becoming a pilot can help you improve your life overall - beyond the new certificate in your pocket and the freedom and responsibility that it represents.


You may have started your flight training knowing exactly what you were getting into and what it was going to take to reach your goal.  I'm willing to bet that you struggled through parts of your training anyway, even if you came from a long line of pilots and knew from the tender age of negative one that you would learn to fly.  I'm also willing to bet that you came out of flight training as not just a new pilot, but as a better person overall.

"But, Andrew, aren't most pilots egotistical, bull-headed jerks who think they know better than everyone else?"

Sometimes.  But that stereotype comes from a small handful of pilots who have... let's say "character flaws."

The archetype pilot is one who has strengthened aspects of their personality like their ability to focus, or their penchant for individualism during their flight training, and just over-emphasized it.  Often, you''ll find that a pilot who fits this mold also falls into the trap of one of the "hazardous attitudes" defined by the FAA:

  • antiauthority
  • impulsivity
  • invulnerability
  • macho
  • resignation

This is a danger of flight training, as much of the improvement or growth you can make in your life can lead to, in the extreme, one or more of the five hazardous attitudes above.  Mostly though, if your instructor recognizes the impact of flight training on not just your skill handling an airplane but on your life overall, s/he can help nurture your growth while still avoiding the attitudes above.

"Okay - we get it.  Can you please give us some examples now?"


When you choose to become a pilot, you begin a process that will specifically take you from zero time to becoming a safe, competent pilot.  And while working on that, you and your instructor will be improving your ability to:


With so many things competing for our attention today, becoming a pilot requires you to focus on one thing for a pretty significant amount of time. I have had students who were/are learning to fly while working full time and going to college. Some of them are doing this successfully all at once, others struggled at it but moved along and were able to complete it. Still others recognized that it was all too much and took a break from flying so they could focus on the other aspects of their lives for awhile. No matter what the decision, part of flight training was them being able to decide where to focus. Even if it ultimately was not on flying.

Step out of your comfort zone

Call this courage or bravery, perhaps, but no matter how your phrase it, being able to step out of your comfort zone is critical to success in life. As a student pilot, I attempted a power on stall while flying solo and did not set it up correctly - scaring myself pretty badly and making me very uncomfortable with that maneuver. But I continued to demonstrate them for each and every rating and certificate I have achieved since. I also have an MBA in entrepreneurship and am a student of small business, and the idea of "getting comfortable allowing yourself to be uncomfortable" is a crucial first step to getting anything you start off the ground (pun intended).

Set and achieve goals

Commitment and perseverance is required to become a pilot. Commitment and perseverance is required to get where you want to go in your life, hobby, career, etc. It's one and the same.

Make good decisions under pressure

This is simply good judgement. Some flight instructors and other experts say that you can't teach good judgement; that a student either has it or does not. I don't buy that. I think good judgement comes from really thinking through a situation and understanding what is happening. The stronger the foundation of understanding a student has, the more easily and more quickly s/he can run through possible solutions or courses of action and come to a conclusion as to the best decision. In aviation, we call it "Aeronautical Decision Making" or ADM; in life we call it decisiveness. You get there the same way - with a good foundation of knowledge and understanding of the topic. Whatever the topic may be.

Take responsibility

As a student pilot, you will quickly learn that being "Pilot in Command" is something that is a huge responsibility. you simply can't do it if you lie to yourself about your skill level, your knowledge level, or anything else related to flight. I know that I learned that this applies to life in general as well during my training - taking ownership of your decisions and attitudes and situation is the first step to changing them and improving them.

And more...

Other ways that learning to fly relates to and improves your life in general is in helping you learn how to learn (as Ron Rapp points out as critical in his post in this month's Blogging in Formation series); learning how to work better with other people; trusting yourself (increasing your confidence); improving your organization and time management skills (Cockpit Resource Management - CRM); becoming a more precise and clear communicator; and to see the positive in tough situations (remember struggling with your landings? You will...).

So, I guess I would have to say that my best instructional moment was realizing how much further into people's lives becoming a pilot reaches. It goes much further than the pride of accomplishment; much further than bragging rights and better trips over long weekends. It reaches into people's confidence in themselves in all areas of their lives when they realize (and prove) that they are able to gain skills and learn complex information; to memorize and make sense of cryptic rules and regulations (and apply them to what they are doing); and to simply understand that they can. That it's up to them. Whatever they choose, they can.

Thanks so much for spending your time with me on The Smart Flight Training Blog. I really appreciate that you could spend your time anywhere on the World Wide Web, and the fact that you spend your time with me makes me incredibly grateful. Please contact me if you have any questions or suggestions - I would love to hear from you!

Additionally, don't forget to check out the other Formation Bloggers:
09/29/13 The House of Rapp – “The Third Rail”
09/30/13 iFLYblog – "My Most Instructional Moment"
10/01/13 Adventures of Cap’n Aux – "There I Wuz! My Best Instructional Moments"
10/02/13 Flight to Success – “Secrets Of Success..."
10/03/13 Smart Flight Training – “How Becoming a Pilot Can Help You Live a Better Life”
10/04/13 Airplanista – “TBD”

Andrew Hartley is a certificated flight instructor and commercial pilot in Columbus, Ohio.

Oh, Hey! I just launched a podcast, too - please subscribe!

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Loss of Control (towers)?

Airport Control Tower at Sunset

Photo credit: NeallePage

Okay, so I may be a little late to this party, but mainly it was because I had my boots on the ground, actaully doing some politics about it instead of posting about it here, but I think I have mostly done all that I can on the subject for now, and can take a minute to post about the situation...Did you know that many airport control towers are not FAA-run control towers?  It's true.  Many control towers around the USA are "contract" control towers, meaning that the FAA does not run them, nor are the controllers FAA employees.

"So what?" you may ask.

Here's what - due to the "sequester" (and I'm not about to get into the politics of left vs. right, Democrat vs. Republican, conservative vs. liberal - all have had a hand in this SNAFU, thank you very much), the FAA is being asked (forced) to cut over $600 million (something like $637,000,000.00).  So as part of that mandate, they are planning on closing 149 contract towers across the country.

If you are a part of (or even just interested in) aviation, these control tower closures affect you - they are all over the US, including two airports in my neck of the woods - KOSU (Don Scott Field - Ohio State University Airport) and KTZR (Bolton Field).  Want to know which airports will be affected where you are?  Click here for a list of towers to be closed.

In a nutshell, airports in 38 states will be affected by the control tower closures.  Here's the breakdown by state:

  • Alabama - 2
  • Arkansas - 2
  • Arizona - 4
  • California - 11
  • Connecticut - 6
  • Florida - 14
  • Georgia - 5
  • Iowa - 1
  • Idaho - 4
  • Illinois - 5
  • Indiana - 2
  • Kansas - 5
  • Kentucky - 2
  • Louisiana - 1
  • Massachusetts - 5
  • Maryland - 5
  • Michigan - 3
  • Minnesota - 2
  • Missouri - 2
  • Mississippi - 5
  • Montana - 1
  • North Carolina - 5
  • New Hampshire - 1
  • New Jersey - 1
  • New Mexico - 2
  • New York - 2
  • Ohio - 3
  • Oklahoma - 4
  • Oregon - 4
  • Pennsylvania - 3
  • South Carolina - 3
  • Tennesee - 2
  • Texas - 13
  • Utah - 2
  • Virginia - 1
  • Washington - 5
  • Wisconsin - 8
  • West Virginia - 3

Let me give you the backstory:

In early March 2013, the FAA stated that they were going to close 173 contract towers across the country, and gave less than a month for airports and affected citizens to voice their opinions.  MANY of the airports on the list, and many pilots and other aviation aficianados submitted concerns - not only to the FAA, but also to their representatives in congress.  I, myself, emailed my own congressperson, and also the two who represent the OSU airport area, as they (and their constituents) would be directly affected by the control tower closures.

I got a response back from one of them, as of this writing.  It was pretty "form letter" and didn't say much.  Pretty much what I've come to expect from any of our "representatives."  So who knows whether it did any good, but I certainly felt better having done it.

These towers were scheduled to start closing on April 7th, 2013, and as that date drew closer, the number of towers scheduled to close started to shrink, and ultimately landed at 149 (which is where it still sits today).

On April 5th (the Friday before the closures were scheduled to start, the FAA announced that they would "delay" the closures until June 15th.

And welcome to the present day - in a little over a month, all of the airports above, which currently have control towers at least part-time, will no longer have control towers, making all of the airports "non-towered" fields.

Now, this sounds scary, but it isn't in general.  Many (if not most) of the airports on the above list are probably non-towered fields part of the time anyway (Bolton Field in Columbus, Ohio, for instance, only has tower service from 7:30am to 7:30pm).  Additionally, a large number of them are probably single-runway, making them easy to understand and use with no assistance from Air Traffic Control (again, Bolton comes to mind).  Pilots are trained to communicate, use staandard procedures, and be vigilant for other aircraft both on the ground and in the air at non-towered fields anyway.  We all know how to operate into and out of these kind of fields safely.

That said, many (if not all) of these airports are used as "relievers" for larger, busier airports (both Bolton and Don Scott (OSU) are relievers for Port Columbus, and Cuyahoga County is a reliver for Cleveland Hopkins).  Without  a control tower, some pilots may choose to go to the larger airport so that they can get ATC service all the way to the ground (and even on the ground from ground control). Some of this might be simply for convenience, but in other cases it may be that these airports will lose some instrument approaches due to the tower no longer providing service, meaning in inclement weather, pilots may HAVE to go to the busier airports - at best causing more congestion; at worst causing safety issues due to the mix of aircraft capability and pilot experience!

Additionally, I would guess that at least a few of these airports are just simply too complicated to safely be used as a non-towered airport - I'll point to OSU airport.  This airport has 4 runways (meaning aircraft can take off and land in as many as 8 different directions).  Pick any one of these runways, and it intersects with a minimum of two of the other runways (two of the runways intersect with all three of the others!).  I can't speak for other pilots, but given the choice of other airports, I would go elsewhere.  Unfortunately, as an instructor out of this airport, I may not have any choice in the matter!

So what can we do?  Just sit and wait for the FAA to shut these towers down?

Absolutely not!  If you are concerned about this, or are directly affected, or just want to make people aware, write your representative(s)!  Call your local news station (radio, TV, or both)!  Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper(s)!  Join (or get more directly involved in) an aviation interest group like EAA or AOPA (among others).  Make your voice heard!  Get more people involved in aviation - take a friend or a family member flying.  Not a pilot?  Start taking lessons, or go on an intro flight, or call up your pilot friend and give him/her a reason to go up with you!  Go get a $100 hamburger (maybe take a reporter with you, or your representative)!  There are a million ways to support aviation, not the least of which is to be active in the industry - even if it is just to take your kids to watch the planes take off and land.

Let Michael P. Huerta (the FAA Administrator) know how you feel about the tower closures.  Write him a letter personally:

FAA Headquarters
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20591

I'm not a wild-eyed revolutionary by any means (at least not anymore), and I understand the concern about our spending here in the United States.  I know that there is a LOT of waste in the government.  But any kind of forced cutting of programs and departments without really looking at the consequences is a bad move, in my opinion.  It means knee-jerk reactions that will have unintended, possibly disastrous results.  And I'm not just talking about the FAA, but in all other aspects of our government as well - military, social, environmental, business, etc.  This kind of thing takes planning and research, and a "time-bomb" such as the sequester is completely the wrong way to go about it.  Unfortunately, reality doesn't win elections - exaggerated issues and posturing do.  Let's change THAT, right after we get this control tower thing figured out...

Andrew Hartley is a certificated flight instructor in Columbus, Ohio - and he WILL delete any strictly political comments that do not add value to the discussion. You've been warned.

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Phraseology: Make Short Approach

So you're flying into a towered airport. You've been listening to other traffic and their clearances, and you hear that there is another aircraft on an 8-mile final, and you are abeam the numbers on downwind.

What are you thinking? Are you going to have to extend your downwind? Man, that will put you WAY out farther then you normally like for flying the pattern... Can the guy on final do a 360 to give you space? SOMETHING has to give, or you'll end up trying to share the same space at the same time - never a good thing.

Just then, you hear tower: "November two-one-six-five papa, cleared to land runway one-two, make short approach."


"Make short approach" simply means that tower wants you to cut your downwind short and turn early for your base leg (see our traffic patterns post for more information). Air traffic control generally assumes that you will cut your normal distance between the numbers and your base leg in half, but depending on your aircraft, the runway length, etc, you could "make short approach" immediately abeam the numbers or even further down the runway.

You might hear ATC ask you to "tighten your approach" instead of saying "make short approach." Also, a non-standard statement, but still one you might hear, is "direct to the numbers." ALternatively (or in addition to) any of the above phrases, ATC may also ask you to "keep your speed up," which is self-explanatory, and is another way for ATC to keep safe spacing between aircraft on approach.

The important things to keep in mind when you are asked by air traffic control to make short approach are:

  1. you will need to descend at a steeper angle than normal, meaning that your airspeed will be higher than you'd like if you are not prepared and planning ahead for that (get power out and flaps in earlier than normal to compensate).
  2. you may need more runway than you normally use
    • because of your higher airspeed from a steeper descent (see above)
    • because you may touch down further down the runway than normal
  3. there is traffic behind you, probably only within a few miles, so you'll want to clear the runway as soon as possible - don't loiter!

Above all, ALWAYS keep in mind that you are the pilot in command (PIC) - if you don't believe that you can do what ATC is asking you to do safely, don't do it! Tell them you are unable, and that you would rather do a 360, or a 270 to base, or extend your downwind. Never, ever put yourself in a situation where you are uncomfortable or unsafe, even if ATC has requested it of you.

Think of the radio as an inflight, electronic suggestion box... but not the boss. That would be you. Act like it.

Start the below video at about 1:37 to really see the "approach" being shortened...

Have you ever been asked to make short approach? How did you handle it? Did you do it? Did you request an amended clearance from ATC? What do you think about short approaches in general?

Andrew C. Hartley is a Certificated Flight Instructor in Columbus, Ohio.

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