Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I have a confession to make.

I've been avoiding making another post because I just didn't know what to say. When I returned home in mid-August from six weeks of full-time helicopter school in Hawaii, I came back to my life and job and uncertainty about how to continue with helicopters.

On the one hand, learning to fly was, and is, an incredible experience. Now when I see a helicopter flying, I smile and reflect on the bond and shared knowledge and experience I have with that other pilot. Not many people know what it feels like, and now I do. Plus, being up in the air like a bird is an incredible feeling, and I'd like to feel it more.

On the other hand, I'm not sure I can, or should, continue -- at least not right now. The fact is, flying helicopters is an incredibly difficult endeavor, requiring vast knowledge and experience.

As it stands, I've got around 30 hours of experience in the air, about halfway to my private pilot's license. I could crank out the rest of the license on weekends over the next several months, but the problem is, that's not really an end in itself.

As one instructor put it, the private rating means you know just enough to get yourself killed. Now that I've had a taste of flying, I agree with him. True competency requires at least a commercial pilot's rating, which is a whole additional level of investment in money and time.

I must admit that when I started this, I had no idea how much was required. It's a very technical, professional skill, not unlike being a lawyer or a doctor. It requires literally years of full-time study and training to become competent. That would be a huge investment to make in something I'm not planning on doing professionally -- not unlike, say, going law school just because I find law interesting. Hardly practical.

More importantly, it's a use-it-or-lose-it skill. In order to stay competent, and consequently safe, a helicopter pilot really needs to be flying all the time, at least every week or so. So, I could get my private license, but to stay safe, I would need to fly often, which is very expensive.

Which brings me to my final consideration: money. As I write this, the United States and the world are in a dramatic economic downturn that is affecting just about everyone on the planet to some degree. The stock market has crashed, and consequently the assets I was using to fund my helicopter adventure have been significantly devalued. Selling stock now would be a bad mistake.

So even if I wanted to continue with helicopter school right now, and part of me really wants to, the economic situation renders it moot.

I've been avoiding this post, because I felt I was facing failure. I didn't want to admit after all my enthusiasm and hype that I was, well...quitting.

But now that I've written it, I don't feel that way.

The truth is, my experience in Hawaii was incredible. Facing my fear of heights was an enormous achievement, and I can look back on that for confidence in any future endeavor.

And although I didn't blog about it, my time in Hawaii also led me to grow in other very important ways, such as in my family relationships (family pictured), as well as my personal health. This blog, as well, was part of that experience, and it's been unexpectedly rewarding. The response to my writing has been very flattering and encouraging.

I do feel wistful that I didn't complete my license as originally planned. But my real goal was to learn to fly a helicopter, and I did that.

I began this adventure by saying that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I took that step, and now the journey continues. Whether or not my path will one day cross back through this place, I cannot say.

So, until then, I'll leave you with this thought from my first day of helicopter school, when even hovering seemed beyond my reach:

The only difference between impossible and possible is belief.

Don't forget that.

P.S. Any travelers who should happen upon my words here can probably reach me at jake(-AT-)jakesibley.com. I'll be glad to hear from you.


Michael said...

Sigh... I'm looking in to getting a private pilots license. The one thing that has stood in my way has been finances.

I thought that once you learn how to ride a bike you never forget. Now I hear ya saying that one must continue flying weekly.

Currently, an hour of flying would require about 25% of my weekly paycheck...that hurts.

It's not that I'm not interested in fixed wing, it would be nice. But the whole purpose was, I'm moving to Delhi in 2009. The last thing I want is to be "stuck in traffic" trying to get the hell out of the city to safety with my family.

Thus the whole reason to begin learning.

Thanks for the insight.


Vin said...

A great blog, when things pick up again you should forge ahead and get your private licence. The sense of achievement you will feel, more than outways the financial outlay.
Take it from someone who knows, during studying for my private I felt at one stage that I was never going to master autorotations and considered quitting.
Thankfully I didn't as I now have a commercial licence with an instrument rating and currently half way through my CFI course. I love it.
You are correct in stating that it is all about Belief in yourself.
Btw. I came to this flying business in my middle thirties.
Best of luck.

Unknown said...

Hey Jake. I just spent the better part of my afternoon reading about your experience. I think you may have rekindled the spark of interest in flying in me again.

I've been wanting to go after a private license for a long time now. With the economy being in it's current state though, I'm pretty sure I won't be able to go after that goal for a while. Hopefully things will take a turn for the better over the next year, and you can finish what you started, and I can get started on the path to a pilot's license myself.

Who knows, maybe with a commercial license, maybe you can find a position as a professional pilot. I know I've seen a couple of those little Robinson's running as crop dusters over the corn and soybean fields out here in North Carolina. I'm pretty sure the citrus orchards and vineyards out there on the "left coast" need the same kind of care once in a while. You never know what kind of opportunities are available until you open that door.

Good luck, and here's to hoping that in the new year ahead, opportunity will come knocking again and you'll get the chance to kick that door wide open.


Unknown said...


Unknown said...

I'm going to learn to fly helicopters, just for fun. And you never know, I might just go and get a commercial licence if I really dig it.

The thing is, I've always been about doing things because they were fun, now more especially than ever. I'm not into this whole career thing, it just isn't a good use of life time.

Riding motorcycles, and teaching others to do the same, and flying helicopters and teaching others to do the same, or even teaching others to play the piano, now that is something satisfying and fun.

So listen Jake, ignore the money. If you want to fly helicopters enough, and you focus enough on that dream, and disregard the reasons you've decided you can't do it, then you might just find that a way makes itself available to you.

I've been excited about helicopters for a long while, ever since the Army Air Corps (British Army Helicopter Division) took us out on a trip at lunchtime from the school playing fields. I knew the army wasn't for me, I've never been able to take orders, you see :). But now I think that I can still experience it.

Whatever we decide to do in life, it's not really important that we stick at it. It's better to try and decide you don't want to do it than never give it a go. We're here for the physical tangible visceral experience called physical life, and what better way to experience that than flying a helicopter. But if it's not fun any more, go do something else. There's lots of fun to be had.

I personally want to do it because, like riding motorcycles (which also make use of gyroscopes come to think of it), they are a lot to get your head around and can keep your mind entertained for years. I quite enoy the physics side of it. I'm an engineer you see. I don't think you ever stop learning really. I relish a challenge, I have no idea where the money's gonna come from, but I'm going to get a PPL and maybe more, if I really like it.

Enjoy yourselves and follow your bliss, and all good things will come.

Credit crunch, what credit crunch?

Happy flying


Unknown said...

Very nice post.Thanks for sharing.Could you tell me if to fly a helicopter you would need different license?Can't anyone with FAA pilot license fly helicopter?

FAA Test

Mary @ Fit and Fed said...

Thanks for sharing your learn-to-fly experience, Jake. I learned a lot about helicopters, autorotation, and the emotional side of learning to fly. I'm glad you pushed your limits and did the six weeks, it sounds very worthwhile. I hope you continue to explore and enjoy, whether it involves helicopters or not.

Mary S.

Futomara said...

Sorry it took so long to get back here and post... My dream is to be an astrophysicist. However, aside from not being able to afford the schooling, I'd have to move and that poses its own set of problems.

But, as you say, the difference between possible and impossible is belief. For me, it's hope.

I may not see a way to do what I want this late in life, but, I hope it may happen. I won't give up believing.

(BTW, thanks for your regular comments on my blog.)

Unknown said...

I am taking my JAA PPL(h) in Sweden right now. There's a slight chance that I will go to Hawaii to do my timebuilding thanx to your blog. I hope you will get the opportunity to continue with your dream in the future.

Best regards,

Thomas Rasmussen,

jeremy said...

Having private pilots will make your journey safer.
helicopter tours hawaii

Annewow said...

I went to this Helicopter open day and it was amazing! I must say I was always a little timid when it came to smaller aircraft in particular helicopters but this opened my eyes, these are amazing powerful birds!! In fact, my sister lives in Oregon and for my birthday got me helicopter courses at http://www.flyhaa.com/en/page/helicopter_flight_training_courses I'm super excited. to be honest, I am nervous but excited, I can relate to your emotional journey. I am optimistic that I will get the hang of it. great post!