By Rhett Shillaw


Aviation could prove to be one of the most rewarding things you do in your life. Provided you make the necessary sacrifices, that is. Paying your dues is a significant part of every aviator's experience.

A few years ago, I spent the majority of a year working the dock, tying ropes and cleaning aircraft. All for a meagre fraction of an hour each day. Come evening, I'd head home to get ready for the night shift at the local restaurant.

On top of this, I was in a foreign country with none of the friend or family support that was at home. In short, long term success doesn't come easy in any occupation. Although the sacrifices were plenty, what I received in return was far greater.

Apart from all the incredible people I met along the way, the adventurous days and blurry nights. My year of paying school fees in Australia taught me commitment, patience and persistence. It exposed a level of work ethic and grit that I never knew existed within me.

Both business and life skills were transferred through the exposure to every part of my mentors professional life. As if through osmosis it was a slow and steady process. Only with hindsight do I realise how much of a learning experience it was for me and my journey.

Getting out of bed to work an 18-hour day is surprisingly easy when you're taking actionable steps toward the life of your dreams. Sure I was only getting paid for a third of the days' work, but every day I got a taste of what I was working towards. The life of my dreams.

Waking up with the sunrise to get an early start. Untying and winching the aeroplane into the water to navigate the canals. The first rays of sunlight beaming off the glare shield as we putter past pelicans, turtles and dolphins. After departing the main channel, it was religiously required to have a little burn down the coast.

'Drum up some business,' as Judy would say. For me it was all about the thrill of flying floats while taking in the surreal surroundings. Eager to have another attempt at a water landing and grinning from ear to ear.

It was a daily reminder that everything I had ever imagined that aviation could be, was real and well within reach. Flying floats and skis into glaciers or skimming tundra tyres onto a riverbed in Alaska.

The purpose of Startup to Shutdown was to shed some light on the various avenues available to anyone interested in aviation. By sharing my own experiences through the blog, ebook I hope these mediums serve as segues into the variety of options that are on offer. More importantly, I'd like to give real perspective as to the common challenges you might face along the way. One of the bigger ones for me was getting my foot in the door. Paying my dues.

There are a lucky few, for which a career is something they walk straight into after flight school. A result of finding themselves in the right place at the right time. We all know at least one of these people. It's a part of life.

For the rest of us, it's not so simple. Insurance requirements, legal requirements and company standards tend to stack up against the newly qualified pilot (with little over 200 hours). Entry level jobs look for no less than 500 hours in an applicant. The trick is to find a way of filling those all-important extra 300 into your logbook.

A few options might include:
Dropping Skydivers - Generally very short flips. Involving no more than a take-off and climb to 13,000 feet, the drop, a descend at Vmo/ Vne, land and repeat. It takes many flights to get the hours up, but you'll get in plenty of landings which are always fun).

Instructing - you may think it counter intuitive to be teaching a subject you barely know yourself, but this is how many pilots get started. It is a natural progression for someone who wants to be a professional pilot. And you'll be surprised how much more you know than someone just starting out. Being just a few steps ahead of the student is the secret of a successful instructor.

Apprenticeship - sometimes you'll need to spend more time working a desk job or the docks, 'earning your turn'. Mentally preparing yourself to move a little slower at first can mean all the difference. Once you've proved your worth to the mentors, this route is often more rewarding. Dealing with admin or working the ropes isn't so bad, in the greater scheme of things it's a fair trade for free experience. Experience that can never be taken away. Be patient and show up every day. A motto to take you all the way, no matter which path you take.

These are only a few of the options out there. For more insight into the possibilities and other challenges you might face along the way, along with actionable tools and tips, download my eBook: Becoming a Pilot.


Yak 55 Russian Aerobatic Monster

Rhett's Ramblings

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