I’ve found something to write about. For quite some time I’ve been enamored with flight. When I was in the 4th grade, if you asked me what I was going to do when I grew up, I would say, “I’m not sure, but probably something in aeronautics.” Since then my life has taken me elsewhere, but as soon I as graduated and got a job, I enrolled in flight school. I want to detail my experiences and hopefully these writings can serve as a guide for others who might be interested in aviation.
First of all, what does it mean that I will be a pilot? Do I get to fly big jets? Can I fly anywhere I want to? Isn’t it really expensive? The answers would be no, sort of, and not as bad as you would think. I will be getting a private pilot certificate, which means I can fly when the weather is good and I can’t be paid to fly. I’ll be flying small, single engine airplanes. There are thousands of small airports that I can fly to across the US. And so far, there’s no TSA or security to hold you up for hours…you just hop in a plane and go! There are a few restricted airspaces here and there (military bases, etc), so I have to avoid those unless I want to see a F-16 up close. Learning to fly can be pretty expensive, but it is doable. Getting your pilot’s license costs somewhere in the range of $5000 to $7000 depending on how you do it. The FAA requires you to have a minimum of 40 hours flight time before you can take your checkride. Usually students average 65-75 hours of flight time before they feel they’re ready, however.
I really started researching in the middle of the summer of 2009. I started reading, asking questions, and putting money away for flight school. I started learning what the regulations where, and about flying–aerodynamics, traffic patterns, sectional charts, airspace, maneuvers, etc. I would recommend that if you do want to get started in aviation, just start reading about it! A good book that I kept seeing recommended is Stick and Rudder by Langewiesche. Even though it was written in 1944, it’s fairly easy to read for beginners and introduces some basic concepts and misconceptions of flying. I also read the Proficient Pilot II by Barry Schiff. I didn’t realize that it was a series of books; I just thought that the “II” meant it was the second edition, heh. It was a little bit more advanced, but I appreciated it giving a bit more math behind the aerodynamics of flight. There are also thousands of sites and forums online to learn from. This was probably my greatest asset. I checked out a ground school book from the OSU library and started to learn all of the ground knowledge I’d need to learn how to fly. There are two parts to your flight training. Ground school is all the head knowledge you need to know about flying, such as aerodynamics, airspace, the FAA, procedures, etc. To show you’re knowledgeable, the FAA has you pass a written exam. The second part is actually flying (Flight School), and showing that you have the knowledge and the skill to pilot an airplane. To pass this, you must pass an oral exam, where an examiner quizzes you about flying procedures, and then pass a checkride, where you demonstrate you’re capable of flying a plane safely.
My original plan was to put myself through ground school. You can do this on your own. There are quite a few materials available for the student pilot who wants to do ground school on their own, such as books and videos. From what I found, the only issue of DIY ground school might be getting into a flight school. Usually the ground school endorses you to fly. The flight school sees that you have had ground school training and will agree to teach you how to fly. I reasoned that I could pass my FAA written exam and that would be proof enough.
My schooling situation turned out a bit differently than I expected, so I ended up not doing ground school on my own. I graduated from OSU in December with a degree in Computer Science, and found out I was only a few hours away from getting a second degree in Mathematics. I already was offered a job in Norman, so my wife and I moved there and I enrolled in ground school at OU to finish up the hours needed. I was planning on doing ground school and passing the FAA written exam before starting to look for flight schools to start training.
I began to look around and saw that OU was a little bit more expensive than others, but it offered a few things others couldn’t. Firstly, they had more planes available for flying. If I had flown with a smaller school, they may only have a few planes. If the planes had to be taken out of service for maintenance, I could be grounded for weeks before getting to fly again. One thing I read over and over again was that you want to make sure you fly as often as you can (three times a week seems to be pretty standard. Also, set aside the money so you won’t run out of funds in mid-training!). If you’re grounded, your skills atrophy and you end up spending time relearning what you should already know. When you’re spending $110-$130 per hour to learn to fly, wasted time can get expensive quickly. So, going with a larger school had it’s advantages. The second reason for going with OU was purely financial. Even though it was slightly more expensive, since I am still seeking a degree I can deduct the cost from my taxes.
After a few weeks of ground school, however, I think I’m glad with going with a more formal ground school. The first part of the course has mostly been a review of concepts I already covered on my own, but being able to ask questions and learn the little asides of flying have been beneficial. Personal experience can be hard to get from a textbook sometimes.
This seems to be quite a lot to digest, so I think I’ll stop here and will write soon about my first four lessons!