One of my bucket list items, going all the way back to my Uncle David Turner taking me for a flight in his Piper (Cherokee? Comanche?) when I was six. I just fell in love. (I remember being disappointed then that his plane wouldn’t do loops or rolls.) I got a little more enamored of the idea when I got older and learned that my Dad had his ticket, although he never flew during my lifetime.
When I was in my late 20’s, I started working on my private pilot’s license, flying out of Chapel Hill’s Horace Williams Airport with the Chapel Hill flying club (now Wings over Carolina in Sanford, NC). I worked diligently, soloing, doing my long cross countries, doing ground school and passing my FAA written exam. In the late summer of 1998, I was cleared to go see the FAA flight examiner and do my checkride. That was the same time I bought a house and ran out of free money to fly, so I stopped, one step from the end.
My cancer diagnosis back in June spurred, among other things, the pursuit of bucket list items. When your projected lifespan goes from “forever” to something far more finite, getting those things done you’ve always wanted to gets important. Generalized lesson #1, if something is a passion, figure out a way to go do it. You never know when life will happen in such a way to make that impossible.
With flying firmly established as a bucket list item, Susie and I jumped on it. On successive weekends, we went and did introductory flights at Burlington Aviation. It was a great first flight for Susie; she was kinda startled when the instructor told her “your plane” just a minute or so after take off, but she did fantastic with her first left-seat time! Mine was equally wonderful – it felt just like it did all those years ago, and I wanted to get back to it.
I needed to get my 3rd class medical done to get back to working on my license. Anyone can fly with an instructor, but you have to have that 3rd class medical to be able to fly solo – and to go take the exam. I went to see my flight medical examiner, and he mentioned that it was unlikely I would pass, given my cancer diagnosis. And he was correct – I was denied. I’m working on an appeal, to see if it’s possible to convince the FAA that I’m not likely to pass out and drop out of the sky, but that’s yet to get resolved.
Despite that it’s probably for the best, in terms of my longevity, those aircraft owners which rent their planes, and the innocent general public on the ground, it still hurts to have a nearly-lifelong dream squashed by prostate cancer and the FAA, but we’ll see – there’s still a small chance that I can pull this all off.