8 years as a licensed pilot

Eight years ago today, on 29 August 2002, I passed my flight test and earned my Private Pilot License — Aeroplane (PPL). I had 56.9 hours in my logbook (14.1 solo), and took the flight test late in the afternoon in rented Cessna 172P C-GPMR after the examiner, Bill Gadzos, finished his shift in the Ottawa Airport control tower.

Whee! I’m free!

Over the next month, I took with a few short flights in rented C-172s to celebrate my newly-won independence: to Kingston Airport to fly my parents around on 6 September, to Morrisburg Airport on 13 September, to Smiths Falls Airport on 18 September, to Peterborough Airport on 25 September, and finally, with my kids and my spouse’s cousin Andrea, over Arnprior Airport and back on 29 September.

But is it useful?

After only a month, however, the excitement of flying same-day trips within an hour of Ottawa in a rented plane was wearing very thin. I wanted flying to be useful, and to get to that point, I needed three more things:

  1. A night rating, so that I wasn’t restricted to daylight flying
  2. An instrument rating, so that I wouldn’t be grounded for days in bad weather
  3. My own plane (or a share in one), so that I could go on real trips for business or family vacations

Student again … and owner

So barely a month after earning my PPL, I had my instructor, Alain Mussely, back in the right seat working with me on my night and IFR ratings. I went airplane shopping at the at the Buttonville Airport in November 2002 and decided to buy a 1979 Piper Warrior II (C-FBJO) — a low-maintenance, fuel-efficient plane that can cruise at 125 knots true airspeed for six hours (no reserve) with a 665 lb load. The plane arrived in Ottawa on 4 December 2002 for an extensive pre-purchase inspection, then I put it into the shop to have a four-place intercom installed over Christmas.

I earned my night rating in February 2003, and my instrument rating in July 2003, and then I had everything I needed. A couple of long trips before the instrument rating had convinced me of its value: I got stuck overnight at North Bay Airport because of bad weather on a flight back from Sault Ste. Marie in May 2003, and had to race out of Caldwell Airport near New York City in June 2003 in the wee hours of the night to escape ahead of 3-4 days of bad weather.


On 28 July 2003, I took my family and dog up for our first cross-country IFR flight. It was gloomy on the ground under a low overcast, and it was strange for my family inside the clouds when everything outside the windows went white, but then suddenly we burst into brilliant sunshine and blue skies. 11 months after earning my PPL, I finally had everything I needed to make flying useful. I have 750 hours’ more experience now, but I still have the same license, the same plane, and the same ratings.

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2 Responses to 8 years as a licensed pilot

  1. Its good to find a level of recreational flying that suits your needs and desires. I’ve let my instrument lapse simply because I don’t do a lot of long cross-country flying. I’m usually stuck between the desire to keep up my instrument proficiency (to protect my training “investment”) and my pocketbook/time. I’ve found that while I have a lot of fun training for a new certification or rating, after I get it I revert to puttering around the pattern or short $100 hamburger trips in central Ohio.

    • Absolutely right, Patrick.

      I wish I could have loved local recreational flying more, because it would have been less work (and money) and a great social experience, but I was bitten by the distant-horizons bug. On the most recent page of my log book, every single flight was cross-country.

      In Canada, maintaining an instrument rating is an even bigger hassle than in the U.S. — we have to keep up currency like you do (we call it “recency”), but we also have to retake the entire IFR flight test every two years with an examiner in the right seat.

      I wouldn’t bother if I didn’t need it, but I would have had to cancel or postpone almost half my flights this summer without an instrument rating: when you’re flying 200-500 nm in the summer, there’s often IMC somewhere along the route even when the airports at both ends are good VFR.

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