It’s always something with me and ratings. My history tells the whole story.
During my initial instruction, I got an ovarian cyst that required surgery, downtime before the surgery, and then even more downtime after the surgery when I developed an infection. During my instrument rating, I went through three different instructors, and each time I switched, I ended up almost starting from scratch with the new one since they all have their own very specific ways with instrument work. For my commercial rating, it was the weather. The weather almost never cooperated on days I could fly. If you think I’m exaggerating, take, for example, the fact that it took three times scheduling my checkride before we could finally finish it, the first two attempts put off because of bad weather.
The problem is each new rating seems to take more time than the one before, whereas usually with higher ratings, you’re a better, more experienced pilot and can get them done pretty quickly.
So it should come as no surprise to me or anyone who knows me that my multi engine commercial rating with instrument privileges is taking FOR-EV-ER!
My first instructor didn’t work out, and it always slows things down when you have to switch instructors. So that was setback #1.
My second instructor, who flies corporate jets for a living, said we shouldn’t have any problem scheduling lessons because his company had been flying a lot less lately and he had a ton of free time. On our first lesson, the left engine kept dying while we were taxiing out to the runway. I assumed there would be mechanical issues we’d need to work through since the previous owner didn’t fly the plane for the entire year that he owned it and only had his mechanic run the engines occasionally, so this wasn’t a surprise. A disappointment when I was so excited to go fly my new toy but not a surprise. We taxied back on one engine when we couldn’t restart the ailing one. Setback #2.
Big Chief then had a little staycation with my mechanic. Parts were ordered, which always takes time. Meanwhile, his proud new owner waited impatiently. Then came the next time we tried to go fly. Same thing. More parts ordered, more down time, more waiting. This happened three times in a row, and each time I got more bummed out about it. Setbacks #3, 4, and 5. I knew I hadn’t bought a lemon, but Big Chief was making it clear he was not happy with his situation under the previous owner. Big Chief needed to fly! And everyone knows I wanted to fly him! It’s a cruel joke when your new toy needs to be used to stay healthy but can’t be used until it is healthy.
This went on for two months. Even my boyfriend said I needed to rename him from Big Chief Gas Guzzler to Big Chief Sits a Lot. He had a point and his cleverness was amusing, but I was less than amused at the truth of his statement.
I was starting to think of my days that were available to go flying (and I don’t think I’m alone here) as a slot machine gamble with the three rows of airplane, instructor, and weather needing to all miraculously meet in the middle. I, like any gambler, would perhaps pray and beg and . . . hell, I’ll admit I would have done anything to hit it big! But it was not to be. The first few months of pulling the slot machine handle of flying usually looked like this. (Please forgive my terrible depictions. My talents lie outside of drawing of any kind, so this is the best I could do and even that was after many attempts.)
Or sometimes there were the totally hopeless days that I may as well have just gone back to bed. Those looked like this. I could even hear a guy in a cheesy game show host voice say “Oh! That’s too bad! She came all this way only to go home empty-handed.”
Once we had finally fixed the left engine issues, I was beyond ready to play. It was then that my instructor’s flying schedule blew up. Like he’d be gone for two or three weeks at the time. And since he has a long-time girlfriend and two puppies, I was understandably not his first priority during the precious little time he was now at home. We’d fly once if he was home for more than a day, then it would be a month or more until we could fly again. This went on for the next three months. If you’re counting, we’re now up to five months after I bought the plane and very few hours in it to speak of. And setback #6 if you count that time as one big one put together. My instructor kept apologizing, but I knew it wasn’t his fault. Finally, he suggested I find another instructor, and so began my search.
I’m not exaggerating when I tell you I contacted no fewer than 30 multi-engine instructors (MEIs) all over Southeast Louisiana. I had friends asking around for me. I had people I didn’t even know asking around for me and sending me leads. Most of the MEIs in the area did not meet my insurance requirements, which really aren’t that bad: at least 1,000 hours total time, 250 multi-engine time, and 10 hours in make/model (Piper Seneca). The very few who met those requirements had already overflowing schedules and couldn’t take on a new student.
After a few weeks of making calls, sending emails, and Facebook messaging anyone who was an MEI within a three-hour driving radius, I was at my wit’s end and felt like I was in a bad dream. Was I ever going to be able to get my rating and fly my own plane? Or would it sit, much like it had with its previous owner, as a very expensive hangar ornament? Setback #7 and this one was truly looking hopeless. Would I just have to wait and fly once a month when my instructor was in town? Would I ever get anywhere flying that infrequently?
Finally, finally, finally, Yasmina Platt, who is a regional manager for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), contacted me out of the blue asking if I’d help her friend who had just moved here from Houston find a place to keep his new Cessna 310. Of course! I’m always happy to help fellow pilots in any way I can! I told her to have him friend me on Facebook and we’d go from there. When he did, he was asking about my plane and I about his when I told him about my difficulties finding a qualified MEI. He wrote “Well, I’m an MEI.” Whoa. Be still my beating heart. “Okay, then next question. Do you have 1,000 hours total time, 250 multi-engine time, and 10 in a Seneca?” He said he did. I was still trying not to get my hopes up. “Do you have free time on the weekends?” “Yes.” Cue the song and sing it with me “Haaaaaallelujah! Haaaaaaallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Halleeeeelujah!”
Could we finally be getting into the jackpot days? The three elusive flying cherries straight across?
Well after the first weekend of flying with my new instructor (who I even liked, a nice bonus), it was time for Big Chief’s annual inspection, so we were back to this slot machine failure with, I’m sure, a nice big bill to follow. Temporary setback #8.
But at least pulling the slot machine handle finally looks a bit more promising once Big Chief comes out of the annual. Fingers crossed that this will now be the end of the setbacks. Of course, I won’t give up! But I could do without the setbacks because I’m losing count and I’d much rather be counting flight time and all the places I’ve been instead. So hopefully from now on, the flying day gambles will pay off and I’ll be the proverbial high roller!