Flying Again after a 40-year break with Bob Eicholz

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40 years after his last flight Bob Eicholz dusts off his wings and starts flying again. As a child in the 1960’s Bob took a scheduled airline DC-3 flight with his dad, which hooked him on airplanes. After getting his private pilot’s certificate as a teen he stepped away from flying until this year (2013). Listen in as he shares his story and notes the differences and similarities between then and now as well as some of the tools he used to stay engaged and refresh his skills en route to passing his check ride.
Mentioned in the interview

  • PilotEdge – Flight simulation using real controllers and pilots (check this one out).
  • LiveATC – Let’s you listen to pilot/Air Traffic Control communications worldwide.
  • Pilots of America Forum – Covering everything aviation.

Podcast Transcript

Dave Goodwin: Welcome to PlaneViz episode 5. My guest today is Bob Eicholz. Bob got his private pilot’s certificate when he was 18 years old and then stepped away from flying for 40 years. Earlier this month, Bob had checked out and is flying once again. Bob welcome back and welcome to PlaneViz.

Bob Eicholz: Thank you. I’m really, really happy to be here. It’s very – it’s thrilling for me.

Dave: Well let’s go back to the beginning. When did you become a pilot and why originally?

Bob: You know I just..it was a passion for me. I was kind of a mathematics nerd when I was in high school but I also loved physics and I loved the relationship between math and airplanes. But I also just loved airplanes ever since I rode on a DC-3 with my dad when I was six years old. So I just…I would hang out at the airport from the time I was 12 on. I would hang out on the airport at weekends, I would ride my bicycle 20 miles to the San Jose airport when I was 14. I just sat and watched planes and so it was just kind of a natural. And the day I was old enough I started taking lessons , I soloed the day that I was old enough to solo. Got my private’s the day I was old enough to get a private’s license so I don’t know, you know what, it’s…it’s in my blood. I really can’t explain it any other way [laughs].

Dave: How did you find your way into a DC-3? Even in the 1970’s, those were starting to be phased out.

Bob: Well I’m a little older than that, that was actually the 1960’s so it was a flight from Bay Village, Ohio to Chicago. I just remember looking out and seeing the little houses and the one-piston engine and the sound and sitting next to my dad and I’ve had – in addition to aviation I’ve had a passion for DC-3’s ever since and I’ve DC-3 models all over my house. You never know I’m 58 years old from all this stuff but I love it.

Dave: Now when you…when you got into it, what were you flying back then?

Bob: I was flying a Cherokee, 140 hp and the 160’s and 180’s were – I was kind of scared of them because of the big engine but that was a smaller Cherokee and then I flew the 172 a little bit toward the end of my short time as a current pilot back then but mostly Cherokees.

Dave: Ok so you – you’ve got your pilot certificate and then it seems that almost immediately you got back, is that true?

Bob: I did at about 65 hours total I’d say. I think I soloed when I had 8 and then at 60, I had my pilot’s license. I maybe flew another 8 hours and then it was time for college and making a living and moving away from home and I just didn’t have the money. I was a teacher early in my career and didn’t have a lot of discretionary income but always loved it!

I would still go to the airport and kinda hang out, just watch, always had the latest version of flight simulator but yeah that’s I – I stopped because of kinda life got in the way. And then you know, fast forward 40 years, I have a little more time now and I have a different career so I have some money to put into it and it just hit me about 2 months ago. Oh my gosh. I remember this amazing hobby I had when I was a kid and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 2 months, just getting current, passing my BFR, passing my medical, so I’m back.

Dave: So it was entirely your initiative. I took a 20-year break myself for much the same reasons. I got my pilot’s license while I was in college. It was part of the aviation program, got married, had kids, ran out of money and time and 20 years later, I had checked out again but it really wasn’t my..my own personal initiative. I had a friend who worked with me, who had this interest in becoming a CFI and one day he calls me up and he says, “Oh I got my private pilot’s license”. For some reason that just sparked the competitive nature in me and I went – right away I went and got checked out and then went on to get my instrument rating over the course of  2 years.

Bob: That’s great.

Dave: Yeah.

Bob: That’s great. Well you know the long breaks, ever since I’ve been posting on the Pilots of America site, the long – I’m learning the long breaks are really not that uncommon. There are quite a few people that either flew planes in the war and came back, or just took a long break because of the kinds of reasons you and I had and realized that hey, you know they still love it. As much or more so than they used to and they get back and go from there. I’ve been living and breathing it.

Dave: What are the big differences?

Bob: The big differences from then to now?

Dave: Yes.

Bob: Well you know what, one thing that’s interesting that’s not – that has not changed hardly at all. The airplanes. The Cherokee that I fly now, I mean, I don’t think I’d noticed any difference other than it has a transponder, which at the time I was flying was a new thing. But the plane? It’s the same. I’m not flying a glass cockpit, yes, but the 172’s and Pipers, they’re exactly the same in fact. The first time I got back into a plane, I did two touch and go’s. And the instructor didn’t realize I haven’t flown a plane in 40 years, I mean I didn’t hide it or anything, but I said, like you know, I was very rusty and I did it myself.  I flew it around, did the flare, wasn’t the best landing in the world, but I got it. I got it around the pattern.

So I think the things that have changed, at least for me is, I learned that the small airport, Palo Alto in northern California and I’m now flying out of Van Nuys which builds itself as the busiest general aviation airport anywhere and so what has really changed is the amount of the tension that has to go to watching traffic and dealing with radios. Constant communications with the tower and changes in your approach and extending downwind and doing go-arounds and being careful that the jet landing on a parallel runway next to you that you don’t get into its weight turbulence.

So there’s a whole new level of stress for me that wasn’t there before. Class B airspace didn’t exist 40 years ago so I used to practice my stalls in an area that today would be class B airspace and in fact, almost had a mid-air collision with a Boeing 727. Really, I mean I was really, really close but they just didn’t have the same rules back then, you just kinda had to know what to stay away from,  which I didn’t at that time. So I’d say those are the big things that have changed. It’s just more complicated now.

Dave: I’d have to agree. I think for me the – the difference in the airspace was pretty eye-popping when I got back into it but once you do get back in, you will get used to it.
Bob: Yeah, I know. You know, one of things I’ve done was study the ATC charts obviously the terminal charts and the sectionals just with a fine tooth comb and I used my Foreflight and I really looked closely and tried to understand it. Once you do that, it starts to make sense to you and in addition to get used to the air traffic control I listen to. What’s it’s called? ATClive.net?

Dave: Yeah liveATC.net.

Bob:  Which basically…LiveATC.net yes. So I listen to that through my Bluetooth in my car all the way to work and all the way home everyday so that I can get used to the language and you know it’s like speaking a – almost like speaking a foreign language now, so you really have to learn it. The controllers at the airport where I fly expect you to be on your toes, know what to say and how to say it. And if you don’t, you know, they’ll correct you and they don’t – you know, they don’t have time to do that so they’re not really happy so I mean that has really got me up to speed and I’m pretty comfortable with the communications now. But it’s certainly is different.

Dave: That’s a great observation. Even during the break I would listen to air traffic control. And when liveATC came out it made it so much easier to tune into that and then when you get in the cockpit you have that comfort level with the communication that otherwise wouldn’t be there. I think it’s an invaluable tool.

Bob: Yeah, there’s another tool that great, too. It’s called pilotEdge.com. And I’m not an endorsed advertiser for any of these, so pilotEdge is amazing because it hooks up with flight simulator and you turn on the multiplayer coupled with pilotEdge and you’re operating in a real controlled environment and there are real controllers that actually take their time, some of them are in training. Others are real controllers from real towers and you better not violate airspace or taxi out onto runway without clearance and they use the same language on there that you would otherwise – really easy to hook up, you buy about a 20-dollar set of earphones with a mike at – at Frys and away you go to – it’s a great service.

Dave: I haven’t heard of that. I’ll add that to the show notes and look it up. Pilotedge.com. That’s interesting.

Bob: That’s very cool. I mean you even have other people on there and when other people are at the same airport that you are, you see their airplanes or you can – you know, you can fly with somebody in formation. You can go from point A to point B even though they maybe a thousand miles away. It’s an amazing service.

Dave: But what about flight simulator? Did you give that any credit for helping you get back into it, you know?

Bob: Totally yeah, I mean, I kept at least a little bit current. Through that I learned IFR, I was able to review navigation. I mean what I do now is when I go on a cross countries, before I do it  the first time as I fly it on flight simulator. So I get all the VOR frequencies and the piloted stuff and I fly it as if it’s real and then I find when I get into plane, it’s kind of a no-brainer, you know, I’ve rehearsed the whole trip. If anything, the real plane is easier than flight simulator because  flight simulator – you don’t have the feeling and the sound and the 360 view from the airplane to really help orient you so it’s a huge help. And I have it set up on a big flat screen with a yoke, just a cheap CH products yoke, I’m sure there are better ones out there. And I use it all the time.

Dave: You use auto pilot on it or do you actually fly it?

Bob: No, no. I mean what’s the point if you have to…[laughs]

Dave: [laughs] I know.

Bob: You’re setting it up to practice and then turn on the autopilot. It’s like, it’s the same thing for me in the airplane. You know, my instructor offered up, you know, “Why don’t we do auto pilot?” I said, “You know what, let me learn how to do this the other way first because I want my pilot skills to really not be dependent upon those technologies and then I’ll move into it”. I love technology, I’m a technical guy but I don’t want to trust my life to a piece of equipment. It might just go blank.

Dave: Yeah.

Bob: Which they can and do. Whether it’s the Garmin or Foreflight. I’ve had Foreflight crash on me several times, or just not work on some flights. So you know, I think it’s important when you get back into flying or even for new pilots to make sure that they aren’t just technical pilots, that they understand real piloting skill.

Dave: Well, how about the future? What do you have planned for flying and maybe ownership on the horizon?

Bob: Yeah I am thinking about buying. I’ve investigated leasebacks which seems like not such a great deal. I don’t like a lot of the rental planes because they don’t look that great and I try to take friends up in them and they see a cracked dashboard and you know, hard piece of plastic that’s broken and rips in the seats and they’re just like, I don’t, you know, I don’t think so.

Dave: Can’t blame them.

Bob: So, I kinda want a plane that’s my own that I can take care of. So I’m looking at an older one some to not a really old one but I’m kinda fixing it up the way I want it without spending a fortune on glass and all that and put in hangar. So I’m looking at that, the leaseback seems like a bad deal from everything I read so I probably won’t do that. And I’m looking at IFR. Just because I think it’s the right thing to do to be a better pilot so you know.

Dave: Ok, you’ve been away from flying for 40 years and you get back into it. What was it like to be proficient? How long did it take you? What were the challenges that you faced?

Bob: Well, I’m not sure I would call myself proficient yet. At least not in my book. I did pass my flight review and I’ve had, I don’t know, probably 12 hours of instruction. I’d say over all, I came back faster than I thought. The first time out, as I said before, I was able to go take off, go around the pattern, land. I remembered how to operate the VOR, kinda remembered flaring right around the take off. I think having used flight simulator along the way helped me. I actually came back very, very fast. Even remembering where the trim wheel is and how to get trim right so, it’s amazing that you can be away from something that long and then jump back into it and bam, you’re skills are still there.

I think the hardest thing for me has been landing and flares. So I’m gonna go out today and practice that again. I’m getting better at it. Part of my challenge is I’m at an airport where there’s always a crosswind and it’s always gusty so I’m never sure if the quality of the landing is a function of my – when it’s not as what I want it to be, whether it’s a function of my skills or… or unreasonable winds but we commonly have 10… 10 to 15 mile an hour – winds with gust and pretty frequently they’re across the runway so I’d say that’s been the hardest thing.

The rest of it you know cross countries, all of that stuff, gosh you know, it just came back, I think I had about probably only about 10 to 12 hours of instruction before I passed my flight review. Then on the oral part of the final flight review, I just studied. I took one morning and I really tried to memorize everything and came in and that- that went fine too, so you know what, it’s, I think the human mind is pretty amazing thing that you learn something, not like that one, you’re young and starting there somewhere and you can get it back.

Dave: I think you’re right about tools like liveATC and flight simulator. I think they
accelerate the process of getting back into it.

Bob: Definitely. And in fact it’s interesting, there’s a youtube video – which I’m not sure I really believe it – but it’s on a post on Pilots of America right now. It’s this guy who claims he learned to fly on flight simulator and they videod his first flight. Now he had a real pilot with him in case he made a mistake. But he was able to take off. He has a right route around take off. He did a pattern. And he was landing. Now how much of the instructor really stepped in, I don’t know, but it was pretty amazing.

Dave: And heck of a lot cheaper.

Bob: [laughs] That’s right. Well, you know what, this is not a cheap hobby.

Dave: No, no. It’s not.

Bob: And I think most pilots are not rich. Most of us, you know, work for a living, and we have such amazing passion for flying that we find a way to do it regardless.

Dave: Now you’re living in the era of gadgets especially as applies to aviation. What is some of your favorite toys that you bring along?

Bob: Well, for flight and then all of the my – iPad minipad, iPad mini. I had a regular iPad, it just wasn’t, it was too big and bulky and so I sent it – there’s gazelle.com who buys them back. So I sent back my iPad and I bought a mini. And actually took one of those ASA tri-fold kneeboards and I re-engineered a little bit. I put Velcro on my iPad so that it mounts on my knee and so I love that. I think I’m probably, because I live in L.A., gonna get the traffic advisory thing which is 1100 bucks but you know, if it saves your life, it’s definitely worth it.

Dave: How about friends? Have you take—you mentioned that you weren’t really keen on the rental planes because sometimes they’re pretty beat up. Have you taken some people up?

Bob: You know I…yes. Yes I have. I’ve taken one friend up. I found a plane that actually, finally, I’m comfortable taking people up in, that’s a rental, and we had a beautiful flight. On Sunday we took off from Van Nuys, flew over to the California coast, the Malibu where all the stars live. Flew up the coast to Ventura, Camarillo and then came back.  Along the 101 back into the valley and landed. Our landing wasn’t so great. My takeoff was perfect. The rest of the flight was great. And my friend was just thrilled. It was nice and smooth, beautiful southern California. Dry. Day with great visibility. So yeah I did that and every – all my friends were, I have a facebook page where I’ve been posting. From the day that I was thinking about doing this and asking my friend, should I do it? The whole saga is kinda documented on facebook and so they’re all now saying they wanna go up with me so I think I’ve got a list of potential passengers for future flight.
Dave: Fantastic. Yeah, that must be a scenic flight. I used to live in LA and unfortunately it was during the time when I wasn’t flying but it’s a beautiful area.

Bob: It is. It’s – it’s absolutely beautiful if you can deal with the traffic. And that’s the big, you know, that’s the big if. You know you’re on, you have to be on the lookout all the time, whether you’re in tightly controlled space or not. And just know that that risk is out there and do everything that you can to medicate it.

Dave: And when can you start your IFR training?

Bob: I’m gonna start it as soon as I feel more comfortable with my skills, so the last thing I have to conquer really is just getting more comfortable with crosswind and landings. So I don’t know, a couple of weeks, probably.
Dave: Wow you’re really…

Bob: Dive into it.

Dave: All into it. Yeah, that’s great. Oh by the way, you said you were gonna buy a 172 maybe?

Bob: Maybe. You know, I might buy a 182. I might buy a Piper Arrow. I haven’t decided yet. I was, I – you know, I really want a 182, but my instructor says, “Well just so you know, it runs – it’s 60% more fuel. It’s not much bigger.” And then he says, “Well how often are you gonna actually fill it, with 4 people and luggage?” which is you know, that’s what I want. I said, “I don’t know maybe 2 or 3 times a year?” And he said, “Well ok, so buy a 172 and then rent a 182 when you need it.”
Dave: I hate it when people makes sense like that.

Bob: [laughs] Exactly. Do you own a plane or are you thinking about it or…?

Dave: Yes I own a Piper Warrior 161.

Bob: Oh cool. Wow.

Dave: Just coming up on 6 years now. Yup.

Bob: Well that’s the other plane I’ve been flying in now. So I probably don’t have my time in a 160 warrior to…

Dave: Well it’s a solid little bird, it hasn’t given me any trouble. I got really lucky when I bought it. It.. it, you know,  gets me where I need to go unless there’s 29 headwind and then – then it slows down quite a bit but it’s a good plane.

Bob: Yeah I’m – I’m really thinking about it, I’m just thinking on the Piper, the downsides. Well there are 2 downsides. One is, just getting into it is hard for some people as I get older and it’s fine for me now but I’m thinking you know, you have to climb up on the wing and then kinda put yourself down. And then the other thing is, I’m gonna be flying a lot to – I own a little vacation property on an island called Catalina island off the coast of LA. And there’s an airport there, I’m gonna be flying out there. And I’m thinking, gosh, if there’s a water landing, there’s only one door and a Piper and you know,  it’s probably gonna be harder to get people out of it. But anyway, that’s the way my brain works. I’m just trying to be as safe as I can. On the other hand, probably a low wing does a better landing on the water than a high wing, right? Because the high wing and the fuselages hitting the earth.

Dave: I don’t know the stats on that, that’s an interesting question. How far away is Catalina from… from land?

Bob: It… it’s about 20…18 to 20 nautical miles.

Dave: Ok.

Bob: So I mean basically, you climb as high as you can and hopefully you know, you don’t have engine out in the middle, but the only problem is, there’s, even if you do, even if you
can glide to land, there’s no flat land. So you’re going down in the water.

Dave: [laughs] I hate to end on that note.

Bob: No don’t end on that note. You have to edit that one out.

Dave: How about this, well, wish you all the best with your IFR training. If you had an N-number, we could put it in flight over and keep track of you but that day will come.

Bob: Not yet. It will come hopefully soon.

Dave: Bob was kind enough to send some then and now pictures. If you’d like to see those along with all the show notes, head over to the PlaneViz website, . PlaneViz.com/blog and enter the name Bob in the search box on the right.
All right Bob. Well, thanks for coming on the show. We really appreciate it, and it’s been a pleasure talking with you.

Bob: All right. Thank you.