Yesterday I Sold My Plane. So, This Is What I Learned From Flying.

Yesterday I sold my plane. It is a 1978 Cessna 182Q. Seats 4. Cruises at 160 MPH. What a wonderful plane it is.

I bought the plane in 1995 after Datalogix International, a company where I was a principal, went public. I flew nearly 2,000 hours in the plane with trips to Florida, Atlanta, Chicago, Canada, Lake of the Ozarks, and many dozens of airports up and down the East Coast. I made 20 trips down the “Hudson River Corridor” at 900 feet, which always included a loop around the Statue of Liberty at 500 feet. (Check out this video from my plane.) I took a lot of people, especially kids, for their first plane ride. My special flights around Martha’s Vineyard were a treat in return for donations to some of our local charities.

Everyone seems to want to know why I sold the plane.  Here are a few reasons: First, I wasn’t flying enough, and that’s dangerous.  See below. Second, the cost of flying has skyrocketed in the past five years. Fuel is more than $6.00 per gallon, and at 13 gallons per hour, that adds up.  And since my plane was 34 years old, there was always something that needed repair or replacement.  There are no cheap repairs on an airplane. Third, I’m not comfortable burning up fuel tanks full of 100-octane leaded gasoline just to have some fun. It’s a carbon footprint issue for me.

From the time I started flying in 1994, I learned a lot. And not just about piloting an airplane. I learned that:

  • Practice makes perfect. Flying on instruments in the rain, at night, into an airport you’ve never visited before takes a lot of skill. There is no on-the-job training here. If you aren’t on top of your instrument flying skills, you’re toast.

  • Rules are made to be followed. FAA regulations are numerous, serious, detailed, and designed to reduce the many risks associated with flying. Break one, and you have taken the first step to a potentially disastrous situation.  A few times I inadvertently broke the rules and each time, could have easily wound up in a dangerous situation. I’m happy to expand on this if anyone is interested.

  • You have to be true to yourself. Sounds corny, but it isn’t at all. 99% of what pilots do is self-policed. As just one example, the FAA does not check that you’ve done six instrument approaches in the prior six months when you file a instrument flight plan. If you haven’t, you’re at serious risk, and you have only the person in the mirror to tell you not to do it. It’s sobering to have that degree of responsibility. By the way, few pilots I know cheat the system.  Just read through the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) accident reports as I did every month, and you’ll see that pilot error is a significant factor in most private plane accidents, and those errors are often the result of breaking the rules.

  • The brain is capable of so much more than we give it credit for. I once read that a lone pilot, flying a challenging instrument approach, expends seven times the mental effort of a surgeon during an operation.  I don’t know whether that’s true, but one of the reasons I’ve sold my plane is that I no longer fly enough to keep that razor-sharp edge.

  • Process is what it’s all about. We use procedures, checklists, and innumerable other routines. If you don’t like to use that stuff, you shouldn’t fly.

  • Subjectivity and emotion can be very dangerous.  We know from accident reports that pilots can lose situational awareness. At night or in the clouds, you can literally be flying upside down or in a dive without ever realizing it.  JFK Jr.’s accident, very close to where I live, unfortunately is only one example of that.  Gut feel and instinct will only take you so far.  That’s why we are drilled over and over to read and interpret our control panel instruments, not to trust our senses.

What am I going to do without this plane I loved so much?  I’d tell you, but it’s a beautiful afternoon in January, so  I’m off for a ride on my newly acquired Honda Shadow 750 motorcycle.  Vrrooommmm…

By the way, if you see any parallels between what I learned from flying and what you learned about selling, please let us know in a comment. Come on, be part of the conversation…


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  1. says

    Thanks for sharing, Dave!

    You must’ve had many really enjoyable trips over the years.

    The parallel that immediately jumps out at me is the discipline required to be a pilot is similar to the discipline required to do well in business.

    For a lot of people, perhaps salespeople included, discipline is not something that they really seek out and enjoy. But, flying or managing without discipline results in taking risks that ultimately result in a crash.

    Somehow, those of us that derive more satisfaction from being free-form than from checking off lists must learn to embrace, and even enjoy, being disciplined–that is, if we want to be successful!

    • Dave Stein says

      Excellent points, Brett. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. Would anyone else like to comment?

  2. says

    Here’s my parallel between training to fly and training to sell;

    Learning to take off, fly and land is the easy bit. Training for failure conditions (engine fire at 10,000 ft, landing in dense fog, etc.) is what it’s all about (and being tested and certified in such failure conditions)

    That’s what great sales training is about. Nut the market wants entertainment. Who trains for failure and who certifies real competence?

  3. Jack says

    Dave, I loved your letter after too logging thousands of hours as a pilot and instructor. In sales for 10+ years, I am always shaking my heads at the sales leaders that I have worked for who are are amazed at my organizational and planning skills. Being a professionally trained pilot has ingrained in me the personal disciplines required for true consultative sales. Of course anyone who attended the Scouts of America could revert back to their core principles and instantly be a better sales person. Happy selling and keep looking towards the skies!

    • Dave Stein says

      Thanks, Jack.

      Organizational and planning skills. Discipline. Core principles. You certainly understand what my message is.

  4. says

    I knew you would be drawing parallels before I read it; however, the story was so engaging I missed them the first time! So I read it again.

    There were many, but practice makes perfect is a critical element to success. You made the point that knowledge is not enough, and knowledge has to be transferred to a skill through practice.

    Some sales people believe they are practicing when they go about their daily routine. But what if they are practicing it wrong? Much like golf, if they are not practicing it right, they are doing more harm than good.

    Successful sales people intentionally practice the skills they believe are important. They get feedback to how they are doing, and they adjust.

    Eventually, they become experts.

    • Dave Stein says

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Bob. I love your last sentence: “Eventually, they become experts.”