As a kid, I always liked fighter jets and used to build models of them. When I decided to write my book, one of the skills I wanted my protagonist to have was the ability to fly a plane. I had no idea about civilian aviation. So, after talking to a friend who was learning to fly, I took a few classes at a local flight school to understand what being a PIC was like.
There's an incredible sense of freedom in being able to pilot an aircraft. My favorite part was always seeing the blue Californian coastline under my wing. The part that I hated was the lack of patience my instructor had. Once, he scared me stiff when I made a mistake at takeoff. I never understood how stressing out an already nervous person would solve anything. I was so shaken by the event; I went home unable to work and downed a few beers just to calm myself down. It goes without saying that I had a nice, long chat with my instructor on my next class. Sadly, the economy made sure I didn't get too far in my training, but left me with enough knowledge to accurately portray a civilian pilot in my novel. Hopefully, one day, I can finish what I started.
I once got a critique from an editor about the 'hyper-competence' of my main character. This argument flew on the face of an anecdote my Urban Survival instructor related to us during class. The details were vague, of course, but basically he was teaching a few SEALs from DEVGRU and presented them with a problem in which they have to escape a city in a hurry. A few minutes later, one of their answers was to commandeer an airliner. Surprised, my instructor said, "OK, how about if there's no one in the airport?" To which the SEALs shrugged and said "We'd steal an airplane and fly it ourselves." Skeptical, my instructor asked, "Yeah, right. How many of you can fly an airplane?" Half the class raised their hands. Honestly, I'm not surprised. If that were my line of work, I'd make it my business to know how to fly and sail.
Keep on running!