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Musician turned pilot shows it's never too late to find a new career

“It's Never Too Late” is a series that tells the stories of people who decide to pursue their dreams on their own terms.


Live music was no more. Patrick Milando could draw no other conclusion. But maybe he could pivot.

It was a summer day in 2020, a peak of the coronavirus pandemic, and Mr. Milando, a French horn player, was walking through a locked and emptied Times Square. Then aged 67, he had spent nearly half a century as a professional musician, from the Metropolitan Opera to more than a dozen years with “The Lion King.” Now this musical, like so many others, had been closed. At the age when his peers were finishing work, Mr. Milando found himself thinking about a new way to pay the bills: 5,000 feet above his old way.

Sometimes we happily jump into a whole new life. Sometimes we happily jump while pushing.

Mr. Milando had started flying single-engine planes before the pandemic, but only as a hobby. (He had flown about 300 hours.) Now, he wondered, could he really become a professional pilot? He was too old to fly for the major airlines (the limit is 65), but there was no age limit for teaching. others fly.

Mr. Milando found a small flight school in New Jersey and set out to obtain his commercial pilot certificate. The other pilots there tended to be decades younger, and he didn't once spot another French horn player. (Most seemed to be working on computers, he observed.) But he felt at home; flying unlocked something in him.

“There is a freedom, an autonomy. You are the master of your own destiny,” he said.

Today, Mr. Milando, 71, has two careers — it turns out the death of live music has been greatly exaggerated. He divides his time between the orchestra pit and the friendly skies, where he teaches budding pilots as he once was himself. (The following interview has been edited and condensed.)

How did your desire to fly come about?

Being a musician, I traveled a lot. I was very intrigued by the flying aspect. I bought a flight simulator game for fun when my kids were young. You'd hear me in the basement screaming, “Stop, stop!” » When I turned 60, my wife gave me flying lessons. From there, I got my private pilot's license.

What do you like about flying?

It's very serene. One of the most enjoyable moments is when you're going through the clouds and you're relying on your instrument training, and then all of a sudden you're above the clouds and you have this beautiful panorama in front of you.

It's a hurry. The first time you do it, it's life changing. Who changes life and lifeaffirming.

It seems a little riskier than playing the horn. Has it ever been scary?

The scariest part was landing for the first time. I remember I had an opera in West Palm Beach, and I'm up there with my instructor at 1,500 feet, looking at the tarmac, thinking, Well, I just have to land this plane. Afterwards, I felt like I was going to cry. It was so intense and incredible.

What made you think about flying professionally?

When the pandemic hit, all of us musicians were like, “Oh my God, what are we going to do? The prevailing feeling was that the music was going to stop; Broadway would never come back.

I remember walking through Times Square one day and seeing everything closed. It was really scary and I was like, OK, let's just try career #2. I'm not the type to sit around and do nothing.

So how did you make this happen?

I found this little flight school in New Jersey called Sky Training and got my commercial rating. Then I flew to Minnesota later that summer to get my certified instructor rating, so I could teach other people how to fly. I also got a seaplane rating, just for fun. Finally, I flew a seaplane over Lake Como in Italy and waved: Who lives there? George Clooney?

Anyway, now I teach people to fly everything from a single-engine Cessna to a multi-engine Piper.

Are there any similarities between music and flying?

My success as a musician has always come when I am totally focused on the present moment. When you put aside all the superfluous things happening around you. That's kind of what you have to do when you fly a plane.

As a teacher, I saw a student freeze 100 feet from the track. I had to take his hands off the controls and take them. He was in a mental freeze, he couldn't get out of it. You always have to be in the present moment.

How often do you fly now?

This is the trickiest part because I'm responsible for eight shows a week at “The Lion King.” Monday is dark, so I usually spend the day with students and just catching up on different plane flights. Then I usually hire someone to play for me another day of the week and teach more people. So I end up flying maybe 15 hours a week.

Any advice for people who want to make a change like this, but are worried they're too old to learn something new?

I say go for it, absolutely go for it. There is no reason not to do it.

Are you done making big changes?

I'm like a shark, I have to keep moving. I have run eight marathons; I like learning languages. Now I'm wondering a little about an airline pilot certificate, the ATP, so I can start flying people to the Caribbean. This is pretty much the last step in aviation.

Every time I say I'm done, my kids say, “Yes, I've heard that before.” » So I guess I'll get this ATP

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