On Final
A View from the Plateau

By Capt. Bob Tripp (Delta, Ret.)

I did it! Four years after retiring, I managed to spend more than 2 months around my home on Kauai without flying on board an air carrier airplane. For the previous 35 years, at least half that time spent commuting, I had been on an airplane at least once a month, usually every week. The biggest breaks were during some vacations or in training. Many times I covered 55,000 miles and 26 time zones in a month.

Do you want to do something worthwhile with your life? Join a volunteer service organization. Give kids (a half million of them) their first taste of flight with the EAA's Young Eagle Program.

The human body is not designed for this mode of living. I would average one or two colds or flu sick leaves every year. At one point I thought I picked up hepatitis in the Orient. After I retired, 3 years went by before the next virus got me.

For 6 months after I retired, whenever I started to pack for some pleasure trip, I found myself tensing up. In my 15-plus years of commuting, I had built up a mental state in which "the golden handshake" and a plaque on the wall could not erase the stress of getting to work. Even now I have to consciously remind myself, "Whether we make this flight or get out today doesn't make any difference."

This brings up another facet of retirement. If you do need to get someplace, buy a "people" ticket. Sure buying a full fare rankles, but get over it. You probably spent 30 years making good money; now spend some of it. My wife and I have spent thousands of dollars on fares to South Africa, Fiji, Australia, the British Virgin Islands, and France. Buying tickets was worth it, because it meant we would get where we were going, on time, with no concern about dress codes or getting bumped. Of course, the reality is that even a full fare won't always get you there, but that is another story.

Another facet of retirement is a change in persona. You are no longer Capt. Marvel. Get used to it. Plan for it. By nature, pilots are goal- and success-oriented, so for the first few months after I retired, when asked how retirement was going, I would tick off my list of accomplishments--completed my novel, flight tested two different airplanes, built a house, etc., etc.

In a conversation, a very perceptive and good friend said, "That's interesting, Bob, but who would you be if you weren't doing all these important things?"

That brought me to a stop, and a complete reevaluation of my thought processes and outlook. Now when I am asked, I usually reply, "It's great. I recommend it."

"What is best about it?"

"Having a nap in the afternoon."

And that is only half joking. The other half is playing games with Marissa, my granddaughter. Of course, part of me misses the camaraderie, the feeling of accomplishment, the competence proved daily, and the occasional real challenges. But I have no desire to go back. That was proved to me one morning as I sat on a friend's houseboat on the Columbia River watching the airliners shooting approaches to Portland, Ore. Three Delta MD-11s arrived almost in train--Narita, Seoul, and Hong Kong inbounds. I had flown them all in the last few years. I knew how the crews felt--jet-lagged, up all night, eyes squinting against the glare of the morning sun reflecting off the fog layers, just wanting to get on the ground and home to bed. No thanks. I was enjoying a coffee and Danish on the deck, with a Super Cub on floats bobbing alongside, waiting for our second flight of the day.

Which brings up another point. The end of your airline career certainly doesn't mean the end of flying, unless your only satisfaction is derived by sitting in the left seat of some computer-driven monster aluminum tube.

Were you a fighter jock? Relive your heyday in an Extra 300S with a roll rate faster than an F-16 and a flight envelope that will let you yank and bank from +9 to -5 g's until you have 2-inch hemorrhoids and varicose veins from your toes to your nose.

You like a glass cockpit and a go-fast sensation? Buy or build a Lancair 4P. Cruise 300 knots at 25,000 feet with a dual-screen Sierra System, and you will have enough pictorial symbology to satisfy a B-777 driver--three-dimensional terrain modeling plus the ability to program an approach to the threshold of any runaway of 6055 airports in the world database.

Do you enjoy the ability to make judgment calls in dicey situations? Buy a Duo Discus competitive racing sailplane with a 56:1 glide ratio and then enter cross-country expert contests. Experience risking your plane and your body when the sudden lack of lift screws up your final glide calculations and the odds rise that you are going to have to land out or go for it to win. Remember, with a glide ratio like this, 1,000 feet of altitude can be converted to 9.3 nautical miles of distance. So what are you going to do in that last 400 feet? flare out and land (like you should)? or play the "hero or chump" card? If you make it, would you do it again?

If you don't make it, at least you will have the satisfaction of knowing that the NTSB and the FAA aren't going to put your life through the wringer of a protracted investigation. They won't even come after you for reckless and hazardous operation. In addition, you can have all this challenge with no medical certificate.

For me, I like the fun and beauty of float flying. Where else, except crop dusting, can I fly all over the countryside below 500 feet AGL, with safe landing sites all around? It is a whole new world of basic stick-and-rudder flying limited only by my skills and judgment.

Do you want to do something worthwhile with your life? Join a volunteer service organization. Give kids (a half million of them) their first taste of flight with the EAA's Young Eagle Program. Fly emergency medical evacuations or just trips to the doctor with Angel Flight. Help save the environment with your airplane by joining Hawkflight. Think of the feeling of satisfaction this can give, and what a wonderful rejoinder if someone accuses you of being an elitist polluter.

So don't just sit there wringing your hands, looking at the braid on your old captain's hat, get out there and FLY.