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Old 04-17-2017, 08:02 AM   #1
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Default Case of Cold Feet. Student Pilot.

disclaimer: This post may come off as pretty melodramatic. I apologize. I needed some closure somehow.


Hi all,

you don't know me, but I know you. For about two months I have read about every thing written on the internet about the life of "being" a professional pilot. It's been an obsession. The first 3+ pages of google searches from "airline pilot life" to any other related search term I have read. For months. Hours a day.

I'm the typical story - since 10 years old I wanted to be a professional pilot. My wallpaper has airplanes on it. I fly model airplanes. I go to every air show within 200 miles every year. I've gone to countless aviation museums. I visit the edge of the ALS at O'Hare and watch the jets land. It's become a part of my identity. Or so I thought.

Let me take a break to define a purpose to this post. For one - i'm seeking some closure to my decision. Second - having exhausted every scrap of written text on pilot's quitting and what it is like to live the life of a pilot, I felt I needed to add my own text for any other student doing the same research, maybe it'll help them reach a decision, I don't know. There's no more text to read so I'll add my own.

Back to a bit of an intro to my situation.

At 16 I started to earn my PPL at a local airport - 1C5. I had to quit due to money, then I came back at age 20 and finished my PPL in a C172 with about 70 hours total. I probably would have finished earlier, but the 4 year break set me back about 25-30 hours. I got pretty rusty. Meanwhile I graduated high school, went to community college and earned my associates degree in "engineering science" (just a general pre-engineering degree).

Fall 2016 I enrolled at Lewis University as a flight major. "Time to make my life's goal a reality." I thought. In the fall semester I could not fly due to a medical deferral, which I went through FAA hell for and was released January this year. I now hold a first class medical.

So I started instrument training at Lewis, and it was all going well. I do love flying. I'll admit, instrument flying isn't nearly as entertaining to me as visual flight. I miss looking out the window. I love the beauty of flight, and as challenging and rewarding as instrument flight can be, staring at a screen gets a little depressing. I just passed "stage 1" in my instrument flight training, it's kinda like a 1/3 way point to completing the IR training. Then I dropped my flight block, and now i'm just riding the semester out, hoping to finish with A's and move on.

So what happened? How did I go from "aviation for life" to "screw this i'm out"?

Early February this year, my girlfriend and I are just walking through the mall on a Saturday afternoon. I'm talking something about aviation, and she says "I'm sure going to miss you when you become a professional pilot."

That got me thinking. I never really looked up what a "pilot's lifestyle" entailed. I knew some basics, like ****ty starting pay, 7 day work weeks as a CFI to get hours up, start at a regional etc...But I never really cared what the negatives were - my life's purpose was to be a pilot so that's what I was going to do! period!

But her statement hit me somehow, so I started researching. I think the first thing I googled was "airline pilot wife", and I found some blogs. Blogs written by wives of airline pilot's, frustrated but powerful women making the mostly single mother lifestyle work.

I think these blogs scared me the most out of anything else. You don't hear about "engineer's wife" blogs or "accountant's wife" blogs or most any other profession where the wife feels so lonely so much that they feel the need to form a support group. my god. Pilot's aren't the only profession that travels, and there are ****tier jobs that travel more and pay less, people do those too. But a family is a major life goal of mine, if not the #1 life goal, and I want to be there for them. Whomever I marry. So I wouldn't ordinarily do any of those traveling jobs.

This initial search triggered months of research, and my ultimate decision to leave. Don't get me wrong - I spent weeks telling myself I was okay with all the various conditions and the being away from home and the turbulent industry and the massive loans etc... Then I just broke. I felt better telling myself I wouldn't do this job, so I did.

A moment of clarity, maybe.

Someone has to do this job. Someone has to be a pilot. I'm not bashing the industry [cough..Skyhigh..cough]. Maybe some people look at the "negatives" and don't see them as negatives. Maybe some people don't associate a certain area as "home" and could give a **** where they spend the night. Those people could end up making ****-tons of money if they stick with it for 30+ years in the same company. Or they get furloughed or lose a medical and are royally screwed, who knows.

I'm about 20k into this, and I expected to have all my ratings with 80k in principal. I would have to be a pilot to pay that back, and it would take at least 15-20 years. If I lost my job as pilot, a degree in "flight management" would not get me much else in the professional workforce. Why would anyone get their flight ratings at a university? It's financial suicide.

I know airline pilot isn't the only flying job out there. But it's easily 80% of the market for pilots, and corporate jobs require some major "ins" that I just don't have, and i'm not much of a social butterfly.

"I don't want to want this" - is my current mentality. I still want to fly airplanes, but I wish I didn't. "Millions of people are perfectly happy not being a pilot, why can't I be like that?"

Will I regret this 40 years from now? Maybe. It is currently one of the best times to get into the industry, I've seen ads for starting FO pay at 60k. But will it last? Will those regional pilots really make it to the majors during the upcoming "retirement boom"?

But maybe the American middle class dies, and no one can afford flight travel anymore. Or oil prices get too high, and a sustainable power source for flight isn't found in time to save aviation. Maybe I get diabetes in my 40's (like almost everyone in my family has) and miss out on that big captain pay I've been betting on my whole life.

I've applied to UIC for mechanical engineering. I expect 40k in principal and 50-60k salary my first year out of college. I'm still not thrilled with this decision. I like engineering well enough, and a job is a job. I feel like i'm stabbing my childhood friend in the back. Sure, I can fly just as a hobby, but who can afford that? Not an engineer.

Am I making the right decision? I know no one can truly answer that. But I would love to hear more opinions.

If you read this all, thank you.

If not...TL;DR:

I'm quitting aviation university to go back to engineering and i'm not super thrilled about it.
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Old 04-17-2017, 08:14 AM   #2
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So your 'girlfriend' says...

That's a problem right there.
There are no garantees in life and at some point you need to decide whose life you want to live.
The one your parents planned, the one your girlfriend wants or the one you want.
Sounds harsh but if you want a career in aviation you need to start selfish then adjust. Not the other way round.
I've been an instructor for years and saw this type of doubt a lot.
Worked a lot with European students and I can't tell you how many of them had girlfriends and even fiancées break up with them because of their choice.
Had several break up with my students like the day before a checkride.
What you have now is a girlfriend and not a wife.
You'll need to make a decision what you want out of life and if she has a place in that life.
Here's how: make your own decisions and see if she follows.
Yes I'm still married to my first wife.

Alternatively find a career that allows you to fly as an (expensive) hobby.
I couldn't afford to fly as a hobby.
Still can't.
Good thing I fly as a pilot though.
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Old 04-17-2017, 08:46 AM   #3
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What Tired Soul said. I've got 25 years of marriage and have been flying that long for the regionals and at a major. My wife is the independent sort and it works well for our family. When I am getting on her nerves (or my teenage daughters), one of them will say "when do you leave on your next trip?" I can take a hint. Tough sometimes for sure, there's been some holidays or birthdays missed. We just pick a different day that works with my schedule. You figure out what works if you're in it together. The flight benefits are a bonus, you just have to be very flexible to use them if you have kids in school.
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Old 04-17-2017, 08:58 AM   #4
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Why does it have to be "Airlines?" I know plenty of guys that teach on the side. My first instructor was a paper salesman, and the best instructor ever. You can go fixed base and do day charters as well. If I had it to do all over again, I doubt I would "Airline" it even though I saw the best years of the biz.
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Old 04-17-2017, 11:30 AM   #5
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I was worried that would come up. "You're quitting because of your girlfriend blah blah blah."

No no no. Our conversation sparked my curiosity, but at no point did she suggest I should quit. Quite the contrary. When I first told her I had doubts, she said I should stick with it anyway. She told me "this is your dream, go for it no matter what!" She promised we'd Skype and call and that money isn't important to her, basically I would have her unconditional support.

My parents said the same. They have always supported me, and couldn't believe I might want to rethink this. The debt doesn't even seem to bother them as much as it bothers me, although it will be my debt and not theirs. They say "oh, you'll pay it off eventually, just go for it!"

So I would say this decision has been mine and mine alone. And I don't even fully know why I suddenly have such a strong change of heart. Like I said, it's like my brain broke.

And how come when wannabe pilots like myself complain about the time away from home senior pilots say "the family doesn't mind it so much" and "My wife is strong/independent etc..."

What about you? Pilots always say "my family can deal with it" but can you? It's less that i'm worried my family will miss me, more that i'm worried I will miss my family. Maybe i'm just a sentimental wuss, i don't know.

I currently have two days in my schedule when I don't see my family, starting Tuesday morning and i'm back Wednesday night. I get home around 11 Wednesday night, and I actually wake my parents up so we can talk. They like it too, but it was my idea. And this is just two days. I went to boy scout camp when I was a young teen, and it was over my birthday week. I thought it'd be no problem, but my birthday came and I cried. I just wanted to be home that day, not at camp. Of course, people can change, but I guess I really like being with family.

I'm sharing some pretty personal stuff here, and it really makes me look weak for sure. eh, it's all part of my existential crisis. I guess strangers on the internet can't hurt me. Fire away if you must.
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Old 04-17-2017, 11:38 AM   #6
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Not everybody is cut out for every job.
Whatever it is.
There are plenty of jobs that have you home every night. Even airlines jobs.
Look, I'm going to be harsh; either you want it or you don't.
It's that simple.
I wanted it, I got it.
It's been a long road.
Every single person 'at my level' knew what it took to get here.
Again, it's not for everybody.
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Old 04-17-2017, 12:00 PM   #7
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If you can't be away from your parents for two days you can't be a professional pilot.

Pilots are gone a lot but also home a lot. You'll get over it.
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Old 04-17-2017, 12:13 PM   #8
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Some people find out that a career is not right for them before they have invested a lot of time and money in it. You may be one of those fortunate people.
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Old 04-17-2017, 12:47 PM   #9
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tomgoodman, that's the big question I keep asking myself.

If I don't like the life, it'll be hard to leave when I've got some big honking loans that must be paid one way or another. I'm not quite saying "I definitely will hate this career", but rather "I could possibly hate this career, or I could love it to death." But that's a big 80k gamble to play.

However, the benefit to some "normal" college degree is that it's pretty darn flexible, and i'll have the possibility of going into something else if I hate what i'm doing. I've heard many an aviator online say that you should never go to an aviation college, instead get some college degree then get your ratings through part 61...a year ago I would have said "bull****, i'm going part 141 because this is all I want to do with my life.", but I think I see the wisdom in that advice now.

I may still attempt to get all my ratings through my local FBO...if I can scrape up the cash without any loans...

That's the big college dilemma these days anyway. I've got no collateral. Buying a house on a loan doesn't scare me as much (although I reckon some wiser people could set me straight, lol) since you can always sell the house and pay the loan. Assuming you don't go underwater.

A college loan is a ball and chain to your chosen profession. Your future work is your collateral. This is most true with less flexible degrees like aviation.

I remember a discussion with my local FBO's manager. I told him I had my associates degree, and he recommended I finish my Bachelors in engineering. "Why bother?" was my reply. The manager had also gone to a part 141 flight school, and for some reason he is now grounded and works at this FBO. I didn't ask why he doesn't fly anymore, but it seems he is pretty knowledgeable about the consequences of investing in aviation. He's quiet, but a good guy.

My previous post is a pretty extreme example. I believe anyone can change their way of life and even enjoy it, it just may take some adjustment. Just an example of what might be "values" to me.
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Old 04-17-2017, 02:01 PM   #10
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As nauseum: there are enough flying jobs that keep you home every night.
You will have to move to get that job as the job won't come to you.
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