Pilot Past Tense

By Scott Spangler on March 12th, 2018

logbookAsking newly met people their occupations is a phatic conversation starter that leads me down the semantic rabbit hole. Upon learning that I’m a word merchant, they ask what I write about. After hearing “aviation,” they ask if I’m a pilot, which is usually followed by “What do you fly?”

And so it starts.

Yes, I earned my private pilot certificate in 1976 and my instrument rating and commercial certificate in the 1990s. Because those certificates will never expire, I proudly acknowledge to the title of pilot, as a noun: “a person qualified to operate the control of an aircraft or spacecraft” (I wish!).

But “pilot” is also a transitive verb: “to act as a pilot of, on, in, or over” some craft. To pilot an aircraft in the present tense requires a valid medical certification (in a form applicable to the certificates and ratings held), a current flight review, and the documentation of compliance with the applicable currency requirements.

In this regard, I’m a pilot in the past tense. As far as I know right now, I possess no intellectual or physical disqualification that would prevent me from becoming a pilot in the future tense. And there are times, especially on nice spring and summer days, when I consider investing in piloting in the present tense. And then I get another notice that seems to be counting down the months until I must enroll in Medicare.

biplane-generic-4But what is life but a series of difficult decisions? One day every pilot will realize he or she has reached the point of no return and will have to make a decision that will define the narrative that is the remainder of their lives. And like writing a story, there is no one right or wrong way, but each path is lined with consequences directly related to it. Only time will tell if there’s another logbook entry along the path I’ve chosen.

A tangent on this debate of pilot tenses is one of aeronautical identity: is a pilot in the past tense still a pilot noun? Depending on my mood, I’ve taken both sides. I recommend that you not conduct this mental effort while tensely stretched out in the dentist’s recliner. It never ends well.

If you’re facing a similar cognitive conversation and you’re just not in the mood to deal with our pilot tense at the moment, may I recommend distraction. This always works for me: If a pilot in the present tense is airborne and the sole manipulator of the controls when time springs forward or falls back, how does he or she log it? – Scott Spangler, Editor

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2 Responses to “Pilot Past Tense”

  1. Dan McDowell Says:


  2. Fernando Curiel Says:

    Well, I was a pilot in the past tense for about 10 years (no flying after flying airline cargo for several years). Now, tired of administration of a repair shop that I had to certify as Part 145 in Mexico, I accepted an invitation from an air taxi operator and to my surprise I passed the medical part of the pilot noun… So to speak. And here I am, in my first month living the executive pilot game as PIC in a BeechJet. At 51. Why commenting this? Well, I could not identify myself more with your little story. The past tense sometimes is present tense when you wake one morning. And boy it has changed… So I guess I feel like a little kid again learning and being interested. I´ll let you know when back to pilot in the past tense… Keep going…

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