How are you getting on with your flying since lockdown lifted?

It’s over a month now since we’ve been back in the air. Am I the only one who feels like I did a rapid descent right back to nearly five years ago, where every flight fills me with a certain amount of trepidation, if not downright terror?

I can still remember the delight in the voice of a fellow pilot who called over the radio after the first  lockdown lifted – “Welcome back in the air!” That thrill of being airborne again was almost palpable then across the airwaves. I’m not sure what happened after that, other than a severe winter, a realisation that Covid was here to stay and an interminable series of lockdowns, with no currency flying allowed this time.

I know many pilots who have bounced back, who seem to have no scars from it all, but I feel like the kid in the schoolyard looking at the fun and games and wishing they could go home. No amount of the CFI brusquely trying to chivvy me back to my old self helps. “You won’t get better by not flying! You should be able to fly on a day like today.” Well meant, no doubt, and absolutely true, but I can only take it at my pace. And at the moment, a snail seems faster than me.

Currency was always the one thing that we had as microlight pilots over any of the GA guys. That can of fuel from the local filling station that could give you a brilliant day out. The flying strip that didn’t have any of the restrictions of the more formal airfields. It is what meant that a friend could clock over 135 hours in the lockdown year, just making use of every second of flying he was allowed.

Right now, I find that I am more comfortable in the vintage GA plane we fly, largely thanks to the fact that none of the others in the syndicate were able to take on the engine health flights this aged engine needs, unlike those trusty Rotax 912s. For one thing, you certainly don’t feel the weather in the same way you do in a microlight, where every gust takes a swipe at my weather tolerance.

The first chunk of our Covid era was fantastic for me in many ways. I got to launch my coaching business, did lots of study, nailed my SSEA within days of lockdown lifting and before we locked down again, we had a new kit built Skyranger to fly. No thanks to me, I must admit, but I did help get the test pilot to fly across the country on the absolute last day it was possible and spent many hours hanging around in a cold and miserable hangar while the build happened.

I took good care during the winter lockdown to stay connected with my flying, whether it was doing radio courses, going on Zoom chats and safety seminars – anything not to get out of the habit of being a pilot. For me though, it doesn’t seem to have been enough. Working has meant I have missed many of the perfect weather windows we have had, and my lack of confidence has put me right back in the beginner playground again.

How is that possible? Does technical competence have nothing whatsoever to do with inner confidence then? I know I can fly. I can see I did. And when a flight is going well, my heart just sings.

I have taken to wondering if flying is simply a past pastime and I should quit beating myself up about it. “Take up carpet bowling,” one of the instructors would no doubt tell me. Become a passenger with a licence. Even that isn’t always possible though, as my weather tolerance sometimes seems to evaporate. The prospect of doing a zone transit, or an overhead join, of flying anywhere else, known or unknown, to say nothing of practising basic GST exercises like PFLs, feels a massive stretch.

There were so many helpful videos about getting back into flying, doing your safety checks and building up slowly. I watched them all.

And as a coach, I know I would be telling myself to keep going, not to get discouraged but to keep pushing that envelope just a little bit every time. Make the most of every opportunity. Don’t let others discourage you, don’t measure yourself against anyone else. And cut yourself a huge amount of slack. So I keep reminding myself of all that. Doing it is a whole lot slower and more difficult than I could have imagined, but I am persevering. Every flight I make brings me closer to my goal, however small the wins may seem to anyone else, they’re big for me.

My flying is neither here nor there to anyone but me, but it does make me realise that coming out of lockdown and building our new world will be a different experience for everyone. Many of those struggles will be silent and invisible – the person who was shielding, the schoolkid who got hooked on games, the mother who couldn’t cope with working and home-schooling, the worker whose job ran out when furlough ended.

It’s not only confidence I need. Compassion too. How about you?