So much more than just a tailwheel endorsement

For a pilot it’s a happy thing to add a rating or endorsement; it’s a badge that says you’ve expanded your repertoire in some way, have a new skill or competency that allows you do to new stuff in an airplane, and it’s a satisfying accomplishment. This one was more than that for me.

On that fateful, wonderful day (October 2nd, 2013 to be exact) when I asked Bill Finagin for advice on who he would recommend as a tailwheel instructor, he responded with one question: did I just want the endorsement or did I want to really learn to fly? The question caught me a little off-guard since I’d never considered the first option. Thinking about it now, I guess I can see why some people might want “just the endorsement”. Maybe they just want the “badge” and don’t really want to fly any of the cool airplanes. I don’t understand it, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Of course I wanted to learn to fly them, the answer was simple, but the question itself was really the important part and did one vital thing for me (or maybe to me?): it was the seed that fundamentally changed my value proposition. Let me explain.

I’m not independently wealthy and I was unemployed. Five days earlier I had flat walked away from a good salary with a great group of guys at a good company because there was precious little life in the life-work balance. I was decompressing a bit and planned to take some of that hard-earned cash to reward myself with my tailwheel endorsement. While it was an easy expense to justify, money was very much a concern. I had done some internet research on pricing and local instructors but needed some expert insight. I knew Bill taught aerobatics in the Pitts and was comparatively expensive. The price tag and the thought of flying the “tricky” and often-feared Pitts never really let the possibility of flying with Bill enter my consideration. (This is just another example of my bad habit of thinking too small getting in the way.) But I knew he was an expert whose insight would be valuable. I was taxiing back to the ramp in the Cessna and noticed his hangar was open so I wandered over to reintroduce myself and get his input.

Then he asked the question. My interest piqued, my questions grew bolder as we talked and I explained what I wanted. Can I even handle the Pitts? How much does it really cost? Where do I go after? His manner and easy confidence in this exchange hinted at the depth of his flying and teaching abilities. He wasn’t selling me but he was encouraging and matter-of-fact about the realities of flying with him in the Pitts compared to a lower-performance, lower-cost airplane. He was also already teaching me and I liked it. After twenty minutes I headed home 99% certain, still a bit in denial but with the value proposition now completely clear, that I didn’t just want to fly with him…I couldn’t afford not to. Three hours later I called him and we started flying the next day.

I was not wrong. In the last seven weeks I feel like I’ve only just now really started learning to fly. My skills and my confidence have grown. More importantly, I have found something I see myself driven to do the rest of my life. Like sailing, aerobatics takes a relatively short time to learn and then, most importantly, a lifetime to master. I’ve heard golf described the same way and I’m sure it’s applicable to many other skill-based activities. My addiction to the Pitts and to the allure of aerobatics are on display for all to see. I’m plotting, planning, scheming, and dreaming. I have new motivation for finding an income that satisfies all our needs, not just the financial ones. It’s exciting and liberating and scary.

Thanks Bill.

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2 Responses to So much more than just a tailwheel endorsement

  1. Jeff Boatright says:

    Hi Glen,

    Thanks for the photos. I was great meeting you and the other Pitts guys. I’m enjoying reading your blog. Much of what you write expresses my experiences with Bill in the 5 hours of instruction over 2.5 days. In particular: ” …I feel like I’ve only just now really started learning to fly.”

  2. gbecker says:

    Jeff, it was great meeting you, too. Keep flying and keep in touch.

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