The Flight Training Journey – Not Always a Smooth One!

We continue a conversation with Airline Captain Fred Mattfeld.  Captain Fred’s flight training journey sounds unusual, but it’s more common than you might think – people in other careers, or even people who have RETIRED from other careers can become pilots!

We join the conversation in progress here:

Paula Williams: So after you ran into that pilot in the hallway or on the stairway, [LAUGH] and decided to take your first lesson.

Was it smooth sailing from that point, or were there any parts of the training where you hit a snag?

Flight training journeyFred Mattfeld: You always run into some snags because flying is such a different beast. You’re learning a new language, you’re learning a new skills, you’re used to having both feet on the ground and now you’re up in the air.

So there’s a learning curve with your flight training journey but if you just go slowly and not try and run before you leap. And with a few hiccups and not there’s setbacks, you just got to study a little harder. It’s something that you can do. But my biggest obstacle were all the problems I had with the individual flight schools.

And them telling me one thing that led to another, that led to the expense of my flight training even higher and higher. It probably turned out to be about 100% more than what I thought you did or what I planned on.

Paula Williams: Wow. So is that because they had inconsistent programs  and a really rough flight training journey – and you had to kind of make up for lost time?

Fred Mattfeld: Well, one thing is we can’t fly at least four days a week. You always go a little bit and catch back up. The training programs, they basically follow what the FAA curriculum was. But they would say let’s do this again or let’s do this again. And you’d find yourself repeating lessons for no particular reason.

And it was really just a matter of, in my opinion, the schools trying to milk more money out of you. As a matter of fact, I started my private pilot And after about eight months, give or take a little, I actually stopped because it’s like they would never progress.

I should have had my private pilot license like six months before and they still had me in the private pilot program. So I just actually, just totally quit and gave up on it. Then about a year later, I ran into a private flight instructor and he helped me get my private pilot’s license.

And then I met another guy and then he helped me with my instrument in commercial. But it’s just at that time some of the schools I was trying to deal with, it was all stretching out your training so you ended up paying them more. And there was a program where I had to pay them $4,000 and I was going to get my private pilot.

And then costs were closer to $10,000. And this was in the 1990 or that general area, so at the time 4,000 was the average cost for a private pilot’s license.

Paula Williams: Mm-hm, right, well, that is not uncommon, that happened to me as well. And I think the only way I got out of it was by having a mentor who was outside of the flight school.

Actually, my husband John was a pilot and he jumped in in a couple of places and said why are you doing this still? You should be moving on to that and I had no idea. I was just doing what I was told. So, without some kind of outside [NOISE] view of what was going on or some kind of mentor.

It was really hard to know if you’re getting a good education or not, right?

Fred Mattfeld: I started and then I actually had a desire to get on with their support, so I kind of stumbled through the instrument reading. And I met through a friend this pilot from United Airlines, his name was Tom.

And he really fit my desire to be a pilot and I never in a million years could I have imagined that I could be an airline pilot. And he told me how I could and I need to chase my dream. And he spent endless hours, he gave me classroom work, he’d take me out flying.

He’d work with me on some of the things with the commercial rating and he really helped me along. And it wasn’t until I met Tom that I finally that this could possibly be a dream.

Paula Williams: Right.

Fred Mattfeld: [COUGH] So he actually became my kind of mentor. And for everything that he did for me, that’s really what motivated me with APG.

Was that’s one of the biggest things that we’ve been missing in our industry. As someone to give you some guidance to be a pilot mentor and just be someone there to help you out when you needed it. Or give you that little push when you needed that extra push or little extra motivation.

Paula Williams: Right.

Fred Mattfeld: So,

Fred Mattfeld: So.

Fred Mattfeld: So.

Fred Mattfeld: So what else?

Paula Williams: [LAUGH] Okay. Yeah, I didn’t know if you were, if you had something you needed to take care of or if you needed a minute, but we’ll edit that, that bit out.

Fred Mattfeld: No, I, just put it on [INAUDIBLE] .

Paula Williams: Okay, excellent. So I guess we kind of talked about what you liked the most. What was the most challenging part of the career for you? I mean not every job has ups and downs, so as an airline pilot, a professional airline pilot. What are some of the challenges with that and what are some of the folks that maybe shouldn’t be pilots?

We want to talk about that.

Fred Mattfeld: I think if it’s a career that you’re interested in pursuing. You really have to want it, number one, you really have to have the desire and the drive to do it. But really with any job, if you’re going to do it, you want it to be the best that you can be and then maybe even a little bit better.

Because you can be flying up to 3, 400 people from one point in the world to the next. And their lives are in your hands and most importantly, your own life is in your hands. So aviation is something where you just can’t approach it with lackadaisical approach, you really have to study.

You have to really know your job and you have to be dedicated to do the best you can. And in return you’ll get a very rewarding career and a very rewarding life.

Paula Williams: Right, so this is not a job for the super lazy who just want to get by with the bare minimum of effort, right?

Fred Mattfeld: If you’re just looking for the bare effort of minimum, you may get through, you may not. Chances are you’ll waste a lot of money if you’re going to be lazy about it. And I’d say, be the pilot that you want having sitting up in front of that airplane that you would put your family on.

What kind of pilot do you want up there? Do you want someone who just does the bare minimum, that barely gets through, or do you want someone who’s very proficient and knows his job?

Paula Williams: Right.

Fred Mattfeld: So that’s the kind of pilot you want to be.

Paula Williams: Absolutely. So, what are the good parts of the aviation industry?

What is it about this job that you could’nt get from any other kind of a job?

Fred Mattfeld: You know, one of the biggest things about this job is it’s actually a little bit of a boring job. You go up and you don’t have a lot of duties. You have to pay attention to detail, but there’s not a lot going on to keep you stimulated.

So you’ve got the person that you’re flying with, and being able to work well with others, play well with others, as I like to say, is very important. You get, like I say, it’s like an office with a view. You just get incredible views, day and night.

Fred Mattfeld: Then you just get to go to cities that you hope you never have to go to again, of course.

Paula Williams: [LAUGH]

Fred Mattfeld: But usually you go into cities you never thought you would get to in a million years, and you just get to go to all of these fascinating places. And then at least in the United States, you have the opportunity to basically fly around the world for free.

So when you’re not working and you have some time off, you just go down to the airport, jump on the airplane, and you can be vacationing 10,000 miles away with little or no cost. And just the opportunity to see the world is just incredible and it’s a shame more people aren’t taking advantage of that.

Paula Williams: Right, so you’ve been to a lot of different cities in the world, what are some of your favorites?

Fred Mattfeld: Personally I really like Asia and I like the history, I love the food, I love the people. So I really enjoy traveling in Asia. And my wife is Filipino so, I afford we’ve got opportunity to go back to the Philippines with her, and I just, it’s a different world from what we’re used to in the United States.

And I just really love it. I love traveling all over, though, like, one of my favorite European cities is Italy. You walk in, you go to Rome and you walk out, get off the train and at the Colosseum. And for the first time and it just totally takes your breath away, you go [SOUND] .

And so it’s something that, and then just going places that you never thought you would ever go to, and discovering like, let’s say Prague. I never had any desire to go to Prague. And then you go there one time you go, my goodness would you look at this.

And there’s just so much adventure and you know. And like example I had three days off from time. So, I was bored so I just went down to the airport, I jumped on a plane to Paris. I went and had dinner, spent the night, and came back the next day.

And then the day after, I went back to work. And this is some of the job, in a world that where you can do that.

Paula Williams: Right.

Paula Williams: And if I can ask, did you meet Maria through your job? I mean was that something that obviously meeting a lot of people in different places.

Fred Mattfeld: Indirectly, I do, I’m a simulator training instructor and I met her at a hotel where she was the manager because we were using the conference room. And that’s how I met her. So indirectly yes, I did meet her because of the industry and it was just kind of a fluke thing.

I just, it was probably the luckiest day of my life and I owe that to aviation, because if it were, I hadn’t, if I wasn’t flying, I couldn’t be an airbus instructor. So, yes I did.

Paula Williams: Right. That’s fantastic. And yeah, I know there’s a lot of stories about people who meet other people that way and women love men in uniform, men love women in uniform, that whole thing is another, I guess, side benefit of the whole profession as well, right?

Fred Mattfeld: Yeah, I mean, if you want to date, it certainly is an opportunity to do that. But it’s also an opportunity to meet someone that you may not ever be able to meet in your home town, and somebody who shares your love of the industry, or your love of travel.

They don’t have to be in the same industry, but it certainly gives you the opportunity to meet someone that you could spend your life with.

Fred Mattfeld: And yeah, I mean that’s one of the benefits, it’s the people that you meet. And I can’t even count the number of wonderful people that I’ve met over the years because of aviation, and the the friendships I’ve established all along the way.