Patrick Bailey came to the Steelers as an undrafted rookie and took off right away, starring on special teams en route to earning the team’s rookie of the year honors two years ago.
Now he is taking off again, but this time in a different way.
Bailey is learning to fly, working on his pilot’s license during the offseason.
“My dad was a pilot and took us up quite a bit when we were young,” explained Bailey of where the interest began. “I got attached to planes then. My mom’s parents were also pilots. I didn’t know that until recently that it was all in my family.”
He began his training shortly after the season ended when he went back home to San Antonio, Texas and took lessons at Wright Flyers. Now that he is back working out in Pittsburgh, four days a week he heads to the Pittsburgh Flight Training Center at Allegheny County Airport for his lesson.
“I have wanted to do it since college but didn’t have time,” said Bailey. “This offseason I had time when I was home.”
Bailey is flying the same type of plane his dad used to take the family for rides in, a Cessna 172, which seats four with wings on the top. His training has all been on that type of plane with an instructor, skipping any flight simulators because of his comfort from level from flying with his dad.
“You have a lot of dual time with the instructor sitting next to you,” said Bailey. “Your first couple of times in there, you kind of have control of the controls. But the guy next to you has his own set of controls so if you do something wrong, he will take it over and be like my airplane.”
He did get full control a few times, though, flying solo on test patterns.
“You do about 20 to 30 hours of training then you go up for your first solo,” said Bailey. “It’s just a pattern. You take off, make a left hand turn, another left hand turn and another and then you are going back on final and touchdown. My first time I took off I was fine, everything was good. It’s not until you get to the landing that you have to make sure everything looks good and you are ready to touch down. My first landing was pretty good. I was being careful of everything.”
One of the challenges Bailey loves about flying is the way it forces him to continue to learn, with all of the elements of the weather and things such as aerodynamics key factors in flying.
“I like to keep my brain going,” said Bailey. “I enjoy video games, but I enjoy learning about things. It’s a learning experience and I enjoy using my mind.”
He has also used Steelers chairman Dan Rooney as a resource. Rooney, who is currently in serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, has shared some tips with Bailey when he is in town.
“I talked to him a couple of times,” said Bailey. “He really enjoys it. Once I get enough experience I might be able to go up with him.”
And maybe they can even check out what’s happening at the office while they are in the air.
“I have flown over the practice facility quite a bit,” said Bailey of the UPMC Sports Performance Complex where the team practices. “Sometimes I see if someone is running when I fly over.
“It was scary the first couple of times when I was somewhat in control of thing. It was a little like the first time driving. I was very cautious. It is scary, but exciting at the same time. I like that feeling.”