The platform has been selected. The final check ride was passed. The wings of gold are pinned.
You all have made it: conquered flight school. Yes, we mean “you all” because while your spouse may be the one with the wings, you and your family have had to endure the unpredictable training schedules, long weekends alone while they flew their cross-country flights, and lonely nights with an empty bed while your partner stayed up late studying for exams.
By getting through flight school, you may believe the most difficult part is over. And in a way, you are correct. The relentless training schedules of flight school, regardless of what aircraft your spouse flies, are incomparable to the other stages to come in a pilot’s career. And the stress of passing/failure is pretty much over. However, there are plenty of new factors that now come into play that make the introduction to the fleet a difficult pill to swallow for many spouses.
Flight School Was Actually the Good Part
It is common to hear a seasoned pilot’s spouse say, “Dang. I miss flight school. We had so much more time together.”
To the military spouse who is currently riding that Flight School Struggle Bus, pick your disbelieving jaw up off the floor and keep reading.
During flight school, student pilots primarily only fly in particularly good weather, as they are not qualified yet to fly in rough conditions. So when nature strikes, those flights are often canceled. Boom, they can come home early, or have time to study at work and thus actually have time with the family when they do come home. The farthest assignment for students might be a cross-country flight and that’s only for a quick weekend—otherwise, they are just flying locally, during daytime hours, and are often home for dinner.
Now every student pilot, as well as their squadron, prioritizes their time differently but these situations are generally true for those who go through flight school. And while spouses and pilots are just trying to survive through flight school, these little blessings often go unnoticed. That is until you hit the fleet.
Find a Happy Place
Suddenly the newly winged pilot, dubbed ‘the boot’, is the rookie of the squadron and is officially eligible for all weekend duty slots, the latest flights, and plenty of teasing. (Usually, all in good fun, but it still can take a toll on the mental health of your pilot). Plus, lots of desk duty because ironic as it may sound, now that your service member is actually a winged pilot now, they can have their second “shop” job, which involves them doing anything and everything- except flying.
And, deployment is on the table now, too.
To avoid disappointment, a spouse who is about to enter a fleet squadron for the first time needs to set healthy, realistic expectations. Number one needs to be time. A new boot is going to feel pressure to be perfect in order to earn the respect of the senior pilots. They will put in long hours at the office, plan their routes for hours on end, and have maps spread all across the kitchen table. They’ll likely lose sleep over the performance of their first flight. So give your pilot grace if they do not always seem to be as “present” with you and your family as often as you thought they might. There may not be exams, but the stress level remains high, if not higher, for many pilots in the fleet as they tick off new qualifications and seek to become better pilots.
Provide encouragement and remain steadfast in your support of your pilot because often, you and your family might be the only ones believing in them during those early days in the fleet. Trust them, they want to be home with you just as much as you do. But if you pester your pilot about a frustrating schedule that they have no control over, it will only add more stress. Be your pilot’s home base, where they can unwind and clear their mind of the stressors at work. This is a selfless sacrifice, as the temptation to complain or nag for more time together is much more fulfilling, but you might be surprised at how much harder your pilot will work at getting home early when you make home a “happy place.”
Build Your Support System
Military life asks a lot of the spouse and family members. Days spent waiting at home and checking off the household to-dos. It’s important to note that each pilot spouse needs to be taken care of, too.
While the boots get treated like the new kid at school, spouses get the royal treatment. You will be invited to all sorts of spouse events, park days, and holiday parties. Take the host up on as many of these as you can. Fellow spouses can be your sounding board and a safe place to vent. Your spouse will always be your strongest support system, but your fellow spouses are the unexpected blessings. And they will be there when your spouse cannot. Use them.
The Cool Factor
As a spouse, it can be easy to “hate” the military life when it takes your spouse away so often. One way to help this relationship is to visit the flight line. There is something so thrilling about stepping out of an aircraft hangar and seeing rows of planes and helicopters. It’s just plain cool. Even the hangar is impressive.
Being the spouse to a military pilot is no easy feat. And until someone establishes a flight school to train future pilot spouses, we have to simply lean on each other, grit our teeth, and get through the hard days.
WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out this article on Living Like a Local: NAS Pensacola and NAS Whiting Field
Photo credits: Renee Dolan, Unsplash, Eastern Sky Photography, Leanna’s Lens