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Learn to Fly

April 17, 2014 Leave a comment

While this list is not an all-inclusive, it gets you started on the various steps towards learning to fly. Feel free to reach out via email (info@aviation.ventures) and I will be glad to help you with any further questions around these steps.

Introductory Flight

Your first flight, commonly known as Discovery Flight, is when you arrive at the airport of your choice for training and meet with that flight instructor, who takes you in a small looking tin can that will lift you into the sky and introduce you to another world of transportation! Use Aircraft Owner’s and Pilot’s Association (AOPA) website to search for a school close to your location.

Reach out to a few flight schools nearby based on your research and set up an appointment for an introductory flight. Most, if not all, flight schools will have a special introductory flight package. Get to the airport earlier and get a feel for the airport , lounge, people, and what are all service offerings. You will be spending a lot of time at the airport you choose, so ensure you feel comfortable with this new environment.

During your introductory flight, your instructor will provide you with some high level details about what flight training will entail. Also, you may be introduced a little bit on the pre-flight routine followed by a short flight to a nearby airport and back. Perhaps there may be a cafe at your destination airport and you two may take a few minutes break to talk over coffee how easy this flight was and there was nothing out of the ordinary other than your mode of transportation has wings!

We will talk below about finding and settling for a flight instructor later but this may or may not be the instructor or school you choose and eventually start you training with. In fact if there are multiple schools, walk around and get a feel for the differences in aircraft, people, scheduling, etc. Pilots are usually friendly bunch and will be more than happy to tell you about their flight school and/or instructors.

Flight School / Flying Club

There are two types of flight schools: Part 141 & Part 61. While Part 141 flight schools have a more structured format/syllabus as well as approved course outlines for all training they offer, Part 61 schools or independent flight instructors are not tied down to the same requirements. While you will see that the most common difference is the number of hours required (less for Part 61), do not let the structured format or other stringent requirements fool you. You can do just fine with an independent flight instructor or Part 61 school. I have tried both and while I appreciate the structured nature of Part 141 flight schools, I have done just fine with Part 61. It all comes down to your flight instructor, in my opinion, as we discussed right below. Besides, a professional fight instructor will always use a standardized method of training all the while keeping your needs in mind.

Alternatively, you could end up deciding on using a Flying club instead. That would require a membership, usually with a one time refundable fee and a monthly set fee per month thereafter. For example, I started flying with my local flying club years ago after finding scheduling and maintenance issues with a local school no longer in business! I used a club Flight Instructor for training and in return I get to fly well-maintained aircraft. I am still with the club, now as Flight Instructor. If you are based out of MD/DC area, I would be happy to tell you more about my local flying club, Octopus Flying Club’s website or contact me via email if you are interested to know more about our club.

Flight Instructor

The most important variable in your training is to find and stick with a great flight instructor. Usually, a flight instructor works for a flight school or is associated with a flying club. And other times, a seasoned flight instructor might open up his own flight school or work independent of a flight school. FAA has a good database of flight schools, or you may search AOPA’s database for flight instructors. Once you find a flight instructor, it should be a trial run without commitment. You will be spending a lot of money on paying for a flight instructor, who will be responsible for guiding you in your goal towards becoming a pilot. Instructor personality, approach, knowledge of everything aviation, demeanor, presentation, and readiness are all different variables that you should be looking at when making the decision to stay or move on to a different flight instructor. Ask other students at the airport and you may find a name a few different perspectives that will help you decide. Nothing beats meeting an instructor in-person and understanding how their knowledge, attitude, and availability helps you achieve your goal.

While a good instructor will look for a student’s personality traits and will tailor teaching methods that best suits a student, it is a two way street. Feel free to work with your instructor when it comes to teaching strategy to help get the most out of your training. Just so you know, I had to do walk away from a very knowledgeable Flight Instructor while working on my Instrument Rating. Looking back, I feel that was the best move I ever made during my entire flight training. Just because an instructor is knowledgeable does not mean, they will be a good fit. Also, ensure that an instructor is not about to leave the flight school. Changing an instructor, at times needed, can also be disruptive. Ensure you understand your instructor will be there to complete your training. Bottom line: this is one area, where I cannot emphasize enough your proactive evaluation of your flight instructor to ensure your needs are being met. Should you require more information, feel free to contact me via email at infoATaviationDOTventures.

Medical Exam / Student Certificate

If, after your introductory flight, you feel that flying is your cup of tea, getting the medical exam out of the way should be your next step. Why? Well, FAA regulates the rules around pilotage of airplanes and having at least a third class medical (types of Medical Certificates), which is not as stringent (Types of Medical classes) is a minimum requirement to become a Private Pilot.  However, if you are planning on being a professional pilot, it is best to ensure you are medically fit for a Second or First Class Medical Certificate (Types of medical certificates). A two step process to getting a medical certificate requires an online application MedXpress and then making an appointment with an Aviation Medical Examiner’s (AME) in your area. Research about your available AME choices online before making an appointment. My suggestion is to see your Primary Care Physician (PCP) and get an evaluation in case you have any existing medical condition. For example, if you have a condition that you are being treated for and is either in remission or stable state, get a letter explaining this situation. Also take any other lab work that can build your case, so your AME has a complete view of your medical history and is better able to determine your eligibility.  Side note: if you want to pursue flying as a hobby and know that you may have a condition that may not allow you to get even a third-class, think of getting a Sport Pilot Certificate, which does not even require a medical certificate.

Aircraft for Training

Cost of training dictates that you find an aircraft that is comfortable for you but is also not expensive. Personal preference or limited availability of aircrafts to choose from could make this an easy choice. I recommend you steer clear of any expensive aircraft that offers a lot of gizmos and stick with something basic. For example, a local flight school may have two aircrafts: a Cessna 172 and a Cirrus SR 20. Cirrus being the newer aircraft with flat panel displays and new leather interior may come across as more sophisticated and cool. However, the Cessna may have all the instruments needed and may cost much less to fly and handles like most of the general aviation (for example, no side stick) aircrafts. By the way, Cirrus is a great aircraft, which I would use for family flying.

Training (Flight vs. Ground)

Ground training includes but not limited to: fundamentals of flight (How the airplane flies and more), weather (is the weather conducive for my type of flying today?), aeromedical factors (medical conditions or issues important for pilots), different airspaces (think of 95, 495, 70, Rt 1, etc in the sky) we fly in, etc. At the end of your ground training, you will have to take an exam and pass it with a 70% or better score. On the other hand, flight training is where you actually get in the airplane and fly with your flight instructor as you are taught from the private pilot syllabus.

Some people will get through most or all of ground training and pass the written exam so, they can focus on the flying part. However, others may like to cover ground and flight training side by side. It is completely up to a student. Some students find it best to work in a classroom environment and focus on a 4-6 week ground school course before start flying and others work with a flight instructor and carry out both aspects of training simultaneously. Discuss this with your flight instructor while keeping family, work, school commitments in mind.

Cost of Flying

Flying is not cheap! But do not let that hold you back. If I were to put a number, I would say it usually can run anywhere from $8K and up to $10K. This is all dependent on several factors, including but not limited to type of airplane you fly, cost of living in the area you fly in, how many hours of training it takes you to get your certificate, etc. In my opinion, planning is the key here. You do not want to run short of funds being so close to attaining your goal. So ensure you have the funding in place before start training.

Types of Certificates & Minimum Requirements

There are three types of certificates you can choose from: Private, Recreational, Sport. Most people go for Private Pilot Certificate or License because of the limitations on flying that the other two may impose.  Your personal preference & goals will determine the route you take. Private is usually the default certificate route chosen most of the time as it does not have limitations around night flying and flying into controlled airports.

Minimum requirements are: 16 years of age to solo, 17 years of age to be able to get Pilot certificate, be able to read, speak, and write English, and at least a third class medical certificate.

My hope in putting out this post is to help you get ready to take your first step towards learning to fly. Your world is about to change and this is not just a cliche! You are about to become part of a very small community of people, who are learning to fly. One thing though I feel will go long way in your pursuing of flying as a hobby or a profession is your desire to learn and appreciation for learning….

Desire to Learn and Appreciation for Learning Flying, just like any other new activity you pick, requires you to invest time and the desire to learn. As the saying goes, it is not just about getting there but the journey. Well, soon to be fellow aviator, the journey has begun and to be successful, you must sign up for life long learning! As pilots, we will never cease to learn. Every flight, every new cross country trip, or a hangar talk will only bring out more to share and therefore, learn from. This is the exciting part about the world of aviation. Most of us aviators love to talk about anything and everything aviation – NO, REALLY!

Additional NOTE: I briefly alluded to you having the option to pick Light Sport Certificate as an option due to medical reasons. However, I know someone who went the Light Sport Certificate route. They used a simple aircraft and shorter training syllabus to focus on getting the certificate. The main reason for this individual was that they wanted to learn cheaply first and then fly for a few months to figure out if flying was really something they wanted to do for life. If yes, getting a Private Pilot Certificate would not be a huge cost after all. There are limitations to Sport Pilot Certificate and its use as mentioned above. 

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As stated earlier, feel free to contact me via email at info@aviation.ventures or via phone at 202-853-5156 in case I can help answer any questions as you start this journey. And Good luck!