Reborn to be wild: Take a flying leap

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What will you do when your hair goes away?

A midlife crisis can be downright ugly, ending in broken marriages and bad tattoos. But thinning hair is often accompanied by a fatter wallet and a chance for folks to finally spend money on beautiful things they’ve always loved.

Jim Chaney is living his dream, and it only took him 27 years. Chaney, 43, a member of the Student Pilot Network Inc., in Wheeling, Ill., says he’s wanted to fly since he was 16 years old, but his parents didn’t have money for lessons. Year after year, the Crestview, Fla., auto repair shop owner put it off by telling himself he’d take up lessons next year.

“When I turned 42, I told my wife, ‘I’m going to do this thing even if we have to eat pork and beans,'” Chaney jokes. It cost him $3,000 to get his private pilot’s license, and he paid as he went along. He hopes to become a certified flight instructor.

Rick Groman, another member of the Student Pilot Network, took up flying lessons a year ago and got his private pilot license in June. Since then, Groman, the 46-year-old president of West Stock Inc., a stock photography agency in Seattle, has taken several trips with his family. Last month, he and his family flew to the San Juan Islands in Washington to sightsee. He says they watched a huge moon rise over Mount Baker in the Cascade Mountains.

“Essentially, [I] got to a point where I had time available and money to do it and decided it was now or never,” Groman says. It cost him $5,000 to earn his license. His ultimate goal is to buy a floatplane, which can land in water. “I guess you could blame it on mid-life crisis. I also think you can reach a point in your life when you have the ability to do things you haven’t done before.”

What it takes

Learning to fly has a lot to do with how much money you have, explains Mike Ballenger, a certified flight instructor in Palatine, Ill. “More of the people I teach now are older professionals who can afford it,” he says. “The general cost is getting close to $100 per hour, and that’s just for the airplane.”

It can cost between $4,000 and $6,500 to get a private pilot’s license. The price is based on how often you fly. Training can take as little as six months, depending on how many lessons you take per week. The Federal Aviation Administration requires a minimum of 40 hours of flight time to get a private pilot’s license. Many do it in 55 to 65 hours.

“I have people who learn to fly based on their checkbook,” Chicago-area flight instructor Robert Mark says. But he tells them he suggests borrowing money to save time.

Mark recommends taking at least two lessons per week. He says if you fly any less than that, you end up having to relearn the previous lessons. The training consists of ground school and flight training. Ground school teaches flying procedures and regulations, and students must pass an FAA exam with a score of at least 70 percent.

In 1998, most people who were certified as private pilots were between the ages of 30 and 59, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association in Washington. The average age of a student pilot was 34.7.

Been there but haven’t done that

Why is it when we reach our 40s and 50s we decide to take on costly hobbies like flying? “For some people, it’s a matter of putting it off until they have the money,” says Patricia Farrell, a clinical psychologist in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

Farrell adds that health, the ability to do these things and the reaction to lost youth, vigor and attractiveness also push people to try new things in their 40s and early 50s.

So if you hear the time ticking away on your biological clock, perhaps you should consider greasing it with adventure.