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A Musician Turned Pilot Shows It’s Never Too Late to Find a New Career

A 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, had been driving through a locked-down, emptied-out Times Square. Then 67, he had spent nearly a half-century as a professional musician, from the Metropolitan Opera to over a dozen years with “The Lion King.” Now that musical, along with so much else, had shuttered. At an age when his peers were wrapping up their work, Mr. Milando found himself pondering a new way to pay the bills — 5,000 feet above his old way.

Sometimes we leap happily to an all-new life. Sometimes we leap happily with a push.

Mr. Milando had begun flying single-engine planes before the pandemic, but purely as a hobby. (He had logged around 300 hours of flight time.) Now, he wondered, could he actually become a professional pilot? He was too old to fly for the major airlines (the cutoff is 65), but there was no age limit on teaching others to fly.

Mr. Milando found a small flight school in New Jersey and set out to earn his commercial pilot certificate. The other pilots there tended to be decades younger, and not once did he spot a fellow French hornist. (Most seemed to work in computers, he observed.) But he felt at home; flying unlocked something in him.

“There’s a freedom, an autonomy. You’re the master of your own destiny,” he said.

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

How did you get interested in flying?

Being a musician, I did a lot of traveling. I was very intrigued by the flying aspect. I got a flight simulator game for fun, when my kids were young. You’d hear me in the basement yelling, “Pull up, pull up!” When I turned 60, my wife got 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 times is when you’re going through the clouds, and you’re relying on your instruments training, then all of a sudden you’re above the clouds and you have this beautiful panorama in front of you.

It’s a rush….

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