This bucket list item was completed on 9th November 2014 in Hawera, New Zealand.
In July 2014, I had a lazy weekend with not much planned, so I called my Irish friend, John, to see if he had found any waves. He told me that he wasn’t out hunting for waves because he was actually doing some flying lessons. I was amazed! I interrogated him, “What? Are you serious? Where can you do that?” He happily gave me all the details.
There is a small town called Hawera, located about one hour south of New Plymouth. Hawera has a very active aeroclub. The aerodrome land is leased out to a local farmer to grow crops, which subsidises the flying rates, making them very cheap.
When John told me the details, I instantly knew it was going to be my next big endeavour. After I hung up from my call with John, I called the Hawera Aeroclub. I spoke to the club secretary and mentioned that I wanted to do my first trial flight. She managed to get me a booking for the following weekend. I was so excited, as this was getting me one step closer to another bucket list item.
I drove down to Hawera on 13th July to do my trial flight. I met Hayden, who was one of the instructors and, on that day, the one who drew the short straw and had to take me flying. He would have seen the excitement all over my face. I must have looked like a kid waiting in line at a shopping mall to sit on Santa’s lap. I couldn’t hide it; I was so stoked.
He did a quick briefing with me and then it was into the plane. As we taxied out to the runway, he was still giving me a few pointers. He explained how the takeoff worked and told me that he would guide me through it. He did then engine runup and then informed me that we were ready for takeoff. After a quick radio call, he rolled on to the throttle and we began to move.
As promised, he guided me through it and told me when to begin easing back on the control column, and with how much pressure. Ultimately, he was the one who got us airborne, but being able to feel the plane takeoff through the control column was a cool feeling.
Once we got airborne, he allowed me to have a bit more control. I gently pushed, pulled and rolled the control column to get a feeling of what each input did to the aircraft. This was an incredible feeling, and one that I had been waiting my whole life to experience.
Now for the hard part – landing. As we were flying around, I asked Hayden, “How hard is it to land the plane?”. He calmly responded with, “It’s definitely the hardest part”. I quietly accepted his answer, while thinking to myself – What the hell have I got myself into? After a long pause, he followed up by saying, “It’s not that bad though”. I took a deep breath of relaxation.
As we turned on to finals and were staring down the runway, I felt my adrenaline spike. I kept my hands on the control column, but Hayden was doing most of the work. My inputs were even less than during takeoff. I felt the pressure as he began to pull back, and then the comforting feeling of the wheels rolling across the runway. We were back on solid ground.
When I wrote this item on my bucket list, I had a vision in my head of me cruising through the air, all by myself. At times, I flew the airplane without Hayden’s input, but it didn’t count in my opinion. I wanted to fly solo. And to do that, meant many more flights. That didn’t bother me though because I was hooked from the moment that John told me about it. I relate this back to [#14 Lesson] where I discussed that you only have to prove things to yourself, when it comes to your dreams. I would need to work up to solo flights before I crossed this one off my list.
After the trial flight, I booked in for lessons every Saturday and Sunday in August. This quickly led into September, then October and then November. The lazy weekend that I had when this all started appeared to be a thing of the past.
Each day was filled with an early breakfast, a 1-hour drive to Hawera, 1.5 hours of briefing/flying/debriefing and then another 1-hour drive to get me back home. It was always mid-afternoon by the time I got home and was usually mentally and physically fatigued and couldn’t bear to do much more activity.
It was all worth it though, because on 9th November, I was given my chance to do my first solo. I did a few circuits with my instructor, Wayne. Then after I touched down on the third circuit, he told me to pull off the runway. He hopped out of the plane and said, “Now, go do one by yourself”. I didn’t hesitate for a second, this was what I had been working so hard to achieve. I backtracked to line up the runway, did my radio call and took off for the first time as the pilot in command.
The flight lasted all of 12 minutes and then I was on the ground, again, celebrating my achievement. It was only then that I crossed this one off my list.
While this might have seemed like the climax, it was far from it. I had only accumulated 11 hours of flying at this point and I required 50 hours to achieve my licence. The licence was always the main goal, but the bucket list item was a nice milestone along the way. In addition to the 50 hours of flying experience, I had to complete six exams covering: flight radio, air law, meteorology, human factors, navigation and aircraft technical knowledge.
I thought the four months leading up to my first solo were hectic, but the next 10 months to achieve my private pilot licence were a whole new challenge. I continued to fly every weekend, but now I had to study these six subjects along the way. I fit in time to study wherever I could, finding little slots of time after work or on the weekend between flying and social commitments.
My social commitments began to plummet though. I always enjoy catching up at the pub for a beer on the weekend, but it wasn’t possible when I had to fly the next morning. The rule was 12-hours, bottle-to-throttle. I decided that I had to make a sacrifice, which included staying out of the pub and hitting the books for over a year.
I was giving up something I loved to do with friends, but my vision was set on something bigger – becoming a pilot. I knew that once I had the licence, I would be able to share it with my friends by taking them flying around Taranaki, or on bigger trips.
I kept my head down for the next 10 months and studied as hard as I could. I managed to sit three exams in New Plymouth, but I had to sit the other three in Hamilton, three hours away. The exams were held through the week, so I had to begin taking time out of my regular working schedule and making the hours up during other days in the week.
The whole process of becoming a pilot, maintaining a day job and trying to uphold what could pass as a social life was exhausting. It was a gruelling period of my life, but 14 months after my trial flight, I received my wings.
I have always been proud of myself for coming out on the other side of this experience. I had to make sacrifices to achieve my dreams but, in the end, it was totally worth it. Also, I did end up using my newfound certification to take many of my friends and family flying around New Zealand.
What have you sacrificed to achieve your dreams? Let me know in the comments below.
Make sure to read my next post, [#84 Lesson] Sacrifices are Required to Achieve Dreams, which discusses the lesson learned by completing this item. Want to be notified when new blog posts are uploaded? Subscribe below.
Dave has been on a mission, since 2010, to cross off the 100 items on his bucket list. The stories of his adventures are complimented by life lessons learned along the way and his travel tips are unique to his experiences.