• Captain Patrick Gordon

Flexibility in Transitioning

Updated: Feb 13, 2021

"One Trick Poney - One trick is all that horse can do.."


Recently a young man was helping me with a purchase in Best Buy. I was searching for a central charging device that could get me back in control of my spiraling collection of Apple devices. In our discussion he learned that I was a former pilot, on the cusp of retirement.


‘Oh my god. I just moved here to Jacksonville two weeks ago to start flight training. That’s exactly what I want to be: a pilot’.


‘Excellent,’ I said. ‘For the first time in decades it looks like it’s going to be a career worth the trouble of entering. Where are you taking your training”?


‘Ah, I don’t know yet.’


‘Well, the good news is that it looks like you’ve got a good job. If you’re careful you should be able to afford the training. Are you married, do you have a college or university degree’?


‘Married, yeah. No college at all. Do I have to have a degree’?


‘I guess you don’t HAVE to have it but do you want to spend the rest of your life as a one-trick pony’?


‘What’s a one-trick pony’?


‘That’s a person who can fly an airplane but that’s ALL they know how to do. Flight physicals, medical exams, are mandatory. As a professional pilot they come around every six months. Lose your medical certificate and you’re pounding the pavement looking for a job. With no other skills or training you’re out of luck. In todays market you’re damned near an untouchable. By the way what’s your wife think about your career choice’?


‘Oh, she’s all for it.’


‘More good news ‘cause you’re entering a way of life, not just a career. Her support, emotionally and probably financially, are going to be critical to your success.’


My shopping was complete and his supervisor was beginning to glare so I offered the young man my email and website addresses and left the store. He promised to get in touch with me as soon as he could. He had many more questions.


The “one-trick pony” expression stuck in my mind for the remainder of the day. Probably imbedded in my grey matter back when I was a kid in the hills of Missouri. It’s an old cliché, but an accurate one and defines a deadly situation to hold in the rapidly changing world of employment.


I’ve flown with guys, some a lot older than I, who were one-trick ponies. They were excellent pilots and most of them were healthy enough to make it through their careers to retirement. That’s when their problems began. They were busy, busy, busy all their lives doing what they loved to do. Then, all of a sudden, they’re sitting on a rocking chair on the front porch of their Florida retirement home thinking, ‘What the hell do I do now’? Anecdotally speaking, a significant number of them died soon after retirement.


No question about it. Pilots are busy people but they do have significant chunks of available time. Many of them do not put that time to good use. Take that time to invest in yourself, in your career, by learning things of value. The very fact that you’re learning how to fly is magical in itself. You are embarking on a career in which you will spend the rest of your life studying and learning the complex systems and procedures that make this method of transportation the safest in the world.


The Internet has provided us with the opportunity to enjoy the blessings of continuing education. Enjoy learning? I would never have thought it back in high school. I was probably the worst student in the history of high schooldom. I eventually discovered that learning was actually enjoyable, fun, and dare I even use the word, fulfilling? As a result of “Distance Learning”, and approaching the age of 60, I was able to get a Master’s Degree in Aviation Management from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, a half-world away from their campus, while working in my chosen profession


Obtaining a Master’s Degree enabled me to make a smooth transition from flying to managing. I stopped piloting one day and began in management the next. I had no time to worry about what I was going to do. Achieving that educational mark enabled me to extend my career another fifteen years and I’m still Energizer Bunnying along.


The pilot shortage is probably going to get as serious as it was back in the mid 1960s. Back then some airlines would invite applicants in who only held a private pilot’s license. If they passed the medical, interview and sta-9 tests they were given a letter guaranteeing them a job after obtaining their Commercial, Multi-engine and Instrument ratings. Some of them took those letters to the banks and received loans with the condition of payback when they started their new jobs.


Granted, with the minimum time requirement passed by the U.S. Congress, that route won’t be opening again, at least not that extreme route. However, for the time, being the route to the cockpit is worth going for.


My new, Best Buy pal did follow up via email and we have exchanged a few emails but he has yet to launch into his training.