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Friday, June 10, 2011
Learn to Fly - It Might Be Easier Than You Think
Believe it or not, almost anyone can learn to fly. Flying seems mysterious to many people, but it's really not that hard to master. Learning to fly can be a fun and exciting experience that results in a lifelong hobby, a rewarding career, adventurous vacations, or an asset to your business.
The basic steps to learning to fly are choosing a flight school, passing a medical examination, going to ground school, pre-solo flight training, cross country flight training, and preparing for the check ride.
Choosing a Flight School
The type of flight school you choose depends on your personal preferences. Many colleges and universities offer aviation programs that culminate in a degree. If you plan to pursue a career in aviation and do not have a degree, this is a great option. If flying is purely a pleasure pursuit or you already have a college education, a fixed-base operation (FBO) or Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 141 flight school might be a more logical choice. All flight schools provide training under either FAR Part 61 or Part 141. Part 141 makes for a more rigid and structured environment, while Part 61 allows more freedom and flexibility on the part of both instructor and student.
The most important factor in choosing a school is the instructor. Since you will spend hours with this person, you must feel comfortable with his or her teaching style and personality. Meet with several different instructors if possible before making your selection. One way to get a feel for an instructor's style is to go on an introductory flight, usually 30-minutes at a reduced rate.
If you attend a college or university program, the academic work is built in. Most FBOs and flight schools offer a weekend or evening ground school; unless you are exceptionally disciplined at self-study you should enroll. The fee typically includes books and materials you need anyway, and you will benefit from professional instruction and interaction with fellow students.
Prior to your check ride, you are required to pass a written test on subjects outlined by the FAA. Some instructors prefer their students to pass the test before beginning flight training. Other students enroll in ground and flight training concurrently. Completing all ground training and the written test first allows you to focus solely on flying. On the other hand, some of the subject matter won't make much sense until you put it to use in the air. You and your instructor should decide the best way for you to approach your ground training.
Pre-Solo Flight Training
The very first flight is often overwhelming to a new student because everything seems foreign--the lingo, three-dimensional movement, all the gauges and instruments. But don't worry--your instructor doesn't expect you to be able to fly the plane perfectly in the first hour. The first series of flights are geared toward your first solo. The FARs spell out the knowledge and skills you must have prior to flying the airplane by yourself. The most obvious skill is landing; you will also learn about your airplane's systems, the local airport environment, airspace rules, and emergency procedures.
How long it takes to solo varies greatly between individuals. Some people learn quickly and have tremendous aptitude for flying; others progress more slowly and take quite a number of hours to master the required skills. Don't fret if you have 20 hours under your belt and you still haven't soloed. It doesn't mean that you won't make a good pilot!
After your first solo flight, you will learn to navigate away from your home airport to remote destinations. In the cross country phase of flight training, you will study airspace, navigation charts and techniques, and flight planning. You will complete several solo cross country flights, but only after making the trips with your instructor. This is often the most fun and exciting part of learning to fly. Your solo cross country flights will give you the confidence and experience you will need to be a certificated pilot.
Polishing Your Skills
By now you have completed most of the specific training requirements laid out by the FARs. All that's left is to polish your skills for your check ride. You and your instructor will spend several hours fine tuning your flying in preparation for the big day. Often, instructional flights will be altered with solo flights where you practice skills you worked on with your instructor.
The Check Ride
The role of a pilot examiner is to honestly evaluate your knowledge and skills and to provide an educational experience. The test is structured around the Practical Test Standards, a specific set of performance guidelines that you and your instructor will have used during training. While you should know the answers to most of the oral questions, the examiner does not expect you to know everything by heart. If you don't know, by all means say so--but know where to look up the answer. The oral exam can take up to two hours and will include review of a previously assigned flight plan. The examiner will watch you conduct your preflight inspection of the airplane and the two of you will embark on the first segment of your flight plan to test your navigation skills. At some point, you will break off the flight plan and demonstrate various flight maneuvers, emergency procedures, and landings.
At the end of a successful flight, the examiner will issue you a piece of paper certifying you as a pilot. This is an opportunity to continue learning while you share your newfound passion with friends and family.
Susan Sherman is a freelance writer as well as a pilot and flight instructor. She blogs about various topics, including the environment, travel, and flying. Visit http://www.susansherman.wordpress.com for more information about her services.