On the drive back home, it was necessary to bounce back and forth between Interstate 70 and US Route 40. The interstate was not quite complete east of Columbus. You pass through the panhandle of West Virginia, then back to PA. I always joke about the time I was driving along Route 40 as I crossed the state border and while looking at the Welcome To Pennsylvania sign, WHAM!, I hit a big pot hole, the first I had encountered on the drive. Welcome back to the land of pot holes.
For two years, I had thought about getting back to my nice little life at home. However, things were different. This was the late 60s. Young people were starting to protest the war. Marijuana was everywhere. It had not been around 2 years ago. If it had, I would have known. I felt uncomfortable with my old friends. Because of the conversation I had with myself that night in the Constellation, I didn't let that bother me. I was going to try to follow my own plan and not let the opinions of others discourage me.
Soon, I met a flight attendant who worked for Allegheny Airlines, named April. We started dating. Through her I met some of the pilots and began talking to them about being a pilot myself. They were telling me how to go about doing that and that Allegheny was hiring. The problem was that there was so much to do to become qualified to even apply for a flying job. It would take time and money. Fortunately, because of my service in the military, I could take advantage of a Veterans Administration program that paid for flight training. It was the same program that paid for college. First, I had to get a private license on my own.
Coincidentally, I became reconnected with an old friend I had met in first grade and again in high school, Jack. He was taking flight instruction at a little airport just outside Zelionople Pa, north of Pittsburgh. He belonged to the Condor Aero Club based there and flying Cessna 150s, small, 2 seat, high wing airplanes. I joined the club and started taking lessons. My instructor was Harold Bennett, who had flown B-17s in World War II.
I returned to my job at the super market chain. I was offered an opportunity to take a position at a store in Butler PA as a "third man". This meant I was next in line behind the store manager and assistant manager. I was being taught the duties they performed in the office. I continued to live in the Pittsburgh area and it was a long commute each day. I soon tired of the drive and decided to ask for a move back to a store closer to home. This was granted, but the management option was off the table. I was not terribly disappointed.
As I learned more about what I had to do to become qualified to apply to an airline for a job as a pilot, I began to have a mental image of a mountain. It seemed that there was a mountainous obstacle before me and I didn't know if I was supposed to climb it, dig a tunnel through it or start shoveling it away.
I can't remember the exact requirements, but each step along the way was well laid out. First I had to pass a medical exam and get a student pilot certificate. Then came the private license. That required something like 40 hours of flight time. There were minimum times within that for night time, cross country time, instrument time. There were several maneuvers that had to be taught, so that I could perform them on a check ride after completing all the training. I had to study to take a written test, then an oral exam from the FAA inspector or Designated Examiner who gave me the check ride. Flight time is expensive. To earn enough to pay for my lessons, I began driving a taxi several nights a week.
Once I had enough time for the private license, the Veterans Administration would pay for 90% of the flight time expenses. Then I would begin training for a commercial license. I think the minimum time requirement was about 160 hours, but was told it was not practical to believe I could do all that was necessary in less than about 180 hours or more. (My memory of all these time requirements might be a little faulty, but I'm in the right ballpark.) As with the private, the commercial had lots of minimum times in various categories.
After the commercial, there were several ways to go. I could get a flight instructor rating and start earning money and building flight time, if I could get a job at a nearby airport. Also required would be an instrument rating, a multi-engine rating, and an instrument flight instructor rating. The instructor ratings could be bypassed, if there was a way to get a job flying someone's plane, but that was a near impossibility without flight time. The most logical way to build time was as an instructor, but I usually avoided making decisions until I was forced to.
I remember the day Harold turned me loose for my first solo flight. We had been flying around the traffic pattern at the local airport for the last few lessons and I had about 10 hours. After a few touch and goes, Harold told me to make a full stop landing and taxi to the little building where the club was located. He got out of the plane and as he was standing there with the door open, told me to make 3 landings, 2 touch and go and 1 full stop, then return to the building to pick him up. I didn't know how I would react emotionally and decided not to look over at the empty seat. In my mind, he was still there. That self deception didn't last long. The plane was so much lighter with only me on board, that it leaped off the runway on the first takeoff. I continued to look forward only. The glide path was a little different also, but I was able to make the necessary adjustments.
Long story short, I survived that and we moved on to the other requirements of the training regimen. As time went on and I learned more about the many hurdles before me, it came to my attention that I would eventually have to move on from the flying club, because the VA required that I fly at what is called a Part 141 Approved flight school. The Condor Aero Club was not such a school. I decided to move to an approved school at Allegheny County Airport. This meant a change in airplanes. The new school flew Piper Cherokee 140s.
This was a move from a high wing plane to a low wing plane. This was not a big deal, except that you have to realize which area of your view is blocked by the wings. I like the low wing platform, because as you banked the plane in a turn, the high wing came down and blocked your view in the direction of the turn.
There were some issues at the Allegheny County flight school. It seemed I never flew with the same instructor twice. There were some little technique differences from one guy to another and I thought relearning these was a waste of time. That was a good lesson for future reference. Another problem was that the airport was on the opposite side of town from where I lived. I decided to move to the Beaver County Airport, which was about the same distance to drive to as the other airport, but did not require driving through Pittsburgh traffic.