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You Can Fly: Can I still land an airplane?You Can Fly: Can I still land an airplane?

A rusty pilot shares his comeback story

It was August 1989 when private pilot George Gillett took time out from his flying while he concentrated on graduating from college. The flying was going well. He was working on his instrument rating, and was only five hours short of eligibility to take the practical test. But there wasn’t enough time or money for academia plus aviation. Graduation day came in May 1990. A new job, relocation, and family responsibilities came along, as did “life in general that got in the way of returning to the cockpit.”
April 2019 Pilot Briefing

Fortunately, Gillett’s aviation story—which had begun in December 1979 at North Carolina’s Sky Manor Airport while he was in the military based at Camp Lejeune—didn’t end at the college commencement ceremony. He still had his flight case, plotter, flight computer, and old charts, and he would break them out for a look now and then. But it wasn’t until September 2018, after retirement from a law-enforcement career marked by eight relocations in five states that Gillett, now a Knoxville, Tennessee, resident, hit the internet to see what was going on in aviation.

The information he found online got the juices flowing. He learned the FAA would mail him an updated pilot certificate and he discovered AOPA offers a Rusty Pilots Online course, the web-based version of the popular AOPA Rusty Pilots seminars that have helped thousands of lapsed pilots get back to flying.

“Because it had been so long since I flew, I figured that I would never pilot an airplane again,” Gillett said. “I felt I was too old and was out of currency for so long, that it would be like starting all over as a student pilot.”

Encouraged by connecting with flight instructor Matt Prince—“the calmest CFI that I had ever interacted with”—Gillett found that he could fly a Cessna 172 with no intervention. Gaining confidence, he forged ahead, celebrating the 115th anniversary of powered flight on December 17, 2018, by passing his instrument-rating practical test.

“One of the proudest moments of my life is when I was told that I had passed and was a newly minted instrument pilot, 30 years after beginning that journey,” he said. “For anyone that is considering a return to the cockpit after any length of layoff from flying, I say go for it!”


Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.

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