by Stephen Parrish

n a previous job I had the enviable opportunity to counsel undergraduate students in an aviation degree program. The students were mostly full time soldiers and airmen attending college part time. But occasionally a family member would drop in, a teenager or young adult seeking answers to burning questions: Should I become a pilot? And if so, where do I start?

The second part was easy to answer. Earn a private license, I told them. Then pause and reassess. The private license is the first step toward becoming a professional pilot, and it’s a relatively accessible credential. But more importantly, it gives career entrants a sufficient taste of what’s to come.

As for the first part, the answer was easy enough, it was the telling that was hard.

The young people who are destined to become pilots are hanging out at a local grass strip, leaning over the fence, watching airplanes take off and land. Often they’re sitting in the control shack, paying attention as the grizzled old man communicates wind and active runway to approaching planes. Sometimes, if the grizzled old man is outside refueling a plane, they’re picking up the microphone and answering calls themselves.

The young people who are destined to become pilots are helping other pilots conduct preflight checks. They’re especially eager for the honor of using the little glass tube to remove any water that might have accumulated in the gas tanks. Quietly, but not so secretly as they think, they’re hoping for a ride.

The young people who are destined to become pilots are taking lessons as soon as they can afford to, and are soloing on their sixteenth birthdays, the earliest opportunity allowed by law. They’re subscribing to flying magazines, reading flying books, and thinking about flying all the time.

The young people who are destined to become pilots are already acting like pilots. They’re not coming to me for advice.

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