Encouraged to fly, even after 49 years old (Part 4)

With persistence and patience, you too can overcome challenges learning to fly.

As I’ve shared over the last few days in my posts about Jeanne Peterson, Chevy Chevallard, and Phil Ferdolage, there is no ceiling age when you’re too old to learn to fly. Regardless of age, staying focused and committed (persistent) toward your goal is the key.

Today, I’d like to share an email from Mark Harris written to Jeanne Peterson that shows how anyone can face challenges becoming a pilot, but that keeping at it will bear fruit.

Hi Jeanne,

Mark was challenged by landings, but flew solo at 47 years old on Halloween day 2007

Mark was challenged by landings, but flew solo at 47 years old on Halloween day 2007

My name is Mark Harris. Greg Brown asked me to drop you a note regarding my experience in learning to fly. I just turned 47 a couple of weeks ago and have had my private pilot’s certificate since the end of March of 2008. So I’m a relatively new pilot with about 160 hours under my belt. I’ve always wanted to learn to fly, ever since I was a kid, but waited until my kids were older and I had a little more discretionary funds to learn. As soon as I received my certificate I bought a [half] share in an older [Cessna] 182.

During my primary training I caught on quickly to most things in flying. The one area that dogged me was my landings. For some reason I just couldn’t get it. And my CFI wouldn’t let me solo until I could land consistently. Go figure…

I read every article, read books, and listened to every podcast I could get my hands on [to] help me master my landings. I even contacted Greg with my concerns via email which is how we originally met. While I was extremely frustrated I knew intellectually that I would get over this hump, but that didn’t make my frustration any more palatable.

My CFI was smart enough to recognize my issue and changed the focus of our training to include an earlier-than-planned cross country flight along with other maneuvers to take my mind off the trouble I was having. After a while, the landings started clicking, slowly at first but getting noticeably more consistent. I was actually landing on the centerline of the runway now.

Mark now flies regularly throughout Arizona, including for business

Mark now flies regularly throughout Arizona, including for business

It got to the point where I was feeling confident about my landings and I was “willing” my CFI to jump out of the plane so I could solo. One day he did! And I felt more confident with him out of the plane than I did with him in it. I did my 3 landings without incident and he took my T-shirt and wrote all over it and hung it up in the training room. He took my picture next to the plane. That was Halloween day of 2007.

It was all worth it. I use my plane for work almost weekly and fly all over the state of Arizona and recently made a flight into John Wayne Airport (SNA) in the LA basin area.

I know that you will do great, just keep heading towards the ticket. You’ll be glad you did.




For Mark as with so many others, persistence paid off. Just months after earning his pilot certificate at the age of 47, Mark is now flying wherever his business needs take him.

What are some of the reasons you want to fly? What obstacles worry you through your anticipated flight training? Insert your thoughts in the comments section below.

About Greg

Greg Brown is an award winning flight instructor, pilot, author and columnist. In 2000, he was the National Flight Instructor of the Year. Greg writes the Flying Carpet column for AOPA’s Flight Training magazine and co-authored You Can Fly! with Laurel Lippert. His other books include Flying Carpet, The Savvy Flight Instructor, The Turbine Pilot’s Flight Manual, and Job Hunting for Pilots. Visit Greg Brown’s own blog at

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One Comment

  1. Cheri Carlson
    Posted March 20, 2009 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    This “older pilot” conversation caught my attention!
    One of my concerns is that my brain is not as quick as it used to be. As an example, I knew I qualified in age but had to stop and calculate my actual age. (I determined it to be 53 at present, 54 this summer.)
    I first discovered airplanes, the fun small ones, in 1994. I saw a biplane do a loop over top the main road up Orcas Island, drove straight to the airport and hitched a ride. It was all over! I’ve been an airport bum ever since. Several surgeries on my back (too many years hurking big dudes around as a critical care nurse) and the $$$ associated prevented actual lessons till now. Now I have worked out a deal…bought the most gorgeous Champ ever and am trading time. My (awesome) instructor is using the plane to teach his daughter – and do a tailwheel endorsement for a friend.

    Nearly every flight we had engine issues, an unexplained rpm drop at cruise power, only happened once per flight and would “fix itself” after flying at the lower rpm a few minutes. It didn’t bother my instructor, we were always over the field or other nearby strips and he can do anything. It DID bother me though and I would lose focus, wander to what work the engine needed, think about some of the close calls like rods shooting out into places they didn’t belong that I had experienced over the years hitching rides. Finally I said “Enough” and the airplane is apart, had some work on the lifters, rusty carb overhauled etc. It is not back together yet.

    It took me a few times heading for the weeds before I got the hang of taking off, finally the last time I flew, Dec 10, I had 6 good take-offs. Haven’t tried the landing part yet…..
    I have a total of 5 hours and am pretty sure I don’t remember anything.
    One of these days the plane will be together (mechanic is ill) and I’ll give it a go again. I hope it runs right next time. That bothered me…

    I have spent a lot of years protecting the airport, doing land use and zoning on Planning Commission, writing master plans on the Airport Commission, promoting the airport with Airport Appreciation Days (featuring Young Eagles rides among other activities) and volunteering with the Fly-In. Am the newly elected Chair of the Airport Commission, and pleased that Arlington is in good shape, good Airport Protection Ordinance that our neighboring city observes, financially solvent, beautiful setting!
    Now to learn to land on the great runways (so I can get over to the fun grass!)
    I’ve had company and got side-tracked from studying, so tonight it’s back to the “book-learnin” again. The FAR/AIM is the easiest, being in a format I’m used to with the city paperwork. It stretches my brain to wrap around concepts like density altitude and indicated vs. true airspeed. At least I can relate some aircraft systems to human systems.

    OK, I’ve done a good job with the obstacles/worries: old brain, poor brain-foot connect, engine burbles, slow reactions, slow brain, poor memory, you get the idea! (Well, I do have quick reactions to engine burbles, “Your Airplane!”) Then there is the Complete Disconnect, the “What the ___ did I just do?” during initial attempts to keep tailwheel straight on take-off.

    Reasons I want to fly? I’m addicted.

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