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Learn to Fly!

FAQ:  Getting Started

courtesy of beapilot.com

By Greg Laslo

Private Pilot Navigation:  General Info Private Pilot | Why its a good time to become a pilot | Why become a pilot? | What it means to be a pilot | Why Pilots are Amazing People | Getting Started & Training Sequence | FAQs about getting started | How to select a flight instructor | FAQS: Becoming a private pilot | FAA's Student Pilot Guide Advice to new student pilots | Information for Foreign Students | How to save money on your flight training | Thinking of an Airline Career? | Pilots are very special people by John KingAbout Checkrides | Private Pilot Ground School | Private Pilot Ground School Syllabus | How to Get the Most From Your Ground School | Private Pilot Rating Requirements | What to do after the Private Pilot Certificate | Flight Training for Veterans | You Get What You Pay For

If you're like millions of Americans, at some point in your life, perhaps when you were stuck in traffic and saw an airplane buzz overhead, you've thought, "I wonder what it takes to BE A PILOT?" Wonder no more. Here are the answers to frequently asked questions about learning to fly. While they will not answer all your questions, they should point you in the right direction -- up. For more complete answers, and answers to other questions, call your local flight school. Before long, you'll be buzzing over the traffic and smiling to yourself. You'll BE A PILOT. 

How long does learning to fly take?

Learning to fly is not difficult, but it does requires study and practice. Federal Aviation Regulation Part 61 itemizes the things you must learn and requires a minimum of 40 hours of training (20 with an instructor and 20 solo) to earn a private pilot certificate. Few people complete their training in the minimum time, however; most people take 60-80 hours. If you learn to fly at a FAR Part 141 school, the FAA minimum is 35 hours, and most people take 50-60 hours. 

How long it will take you depends on how often you fly. If you do anything every day, you'll learn it quicker than doing it once or twice a week because you won't have to "relearn" what you "forgot" between lessons. If you fly every day, you could possibly earn your certificate in 50-60 hours flown in a month or so. If you can only fly part time, it may take you a year or more, and more than 80 hours to earn your private ticket. 

How long does a lesson last?

While most lessons are based on a 1-hour flight, they may take 2 hours from start to finish because there's more to it than flying. There are pre- and post-flight discussions, where you and your certificated flight instructor (CFI) talk about what you're going to do, how you did, what you did well, what needs work, and what you'll do on your next lesson. 

Will I get airsick?

Maybe. If you do, it will most likely come early in training, when you're getting used to the new sensations of flying. The important thing is to not worry about it. In most cases, if you are affected, it will quickly pass as you get comfortable. Let your instructor know how you feel, look out the window, and open an air vent. If the feeling persists, discuss the use of anti-motion sickness drugs with an aviation medical examiner. They can help you over the rough spots, but you should only take them when flying with your instructor. 

How safe is it?

General aviation is as safe as any other mode of travel, if not safer. You don't need a parachute because airplanes (and helicopters) do not fall out of the sky, even if the engine stops. An aircraft without an engine, even if it's supposed to have one, is a glider. If an engine quits, for example, the most common cause is because the pilot ran out of gas. In other words, flying is as safe as you make it. How to fly safely, and to deal with the rare emergencies that are beyond the pilot's influence, will be covered in your training. 

Can I carry passengers?

Student pilots cannot carry passengers when flying solo. Friends or family may ride along on dual lessons (when your instructor is in the plane) however, and it's a good idea to discuss this with your CFI in advance. Recreational pilots may only carry one passenger at a time; private pilots may carry as many passengers as the airplane will legally hold. While recreational and private pilots may share the expenses of a flight, they may not charge people for flying them someplace. Pilots must have a commercial certificate and fly for an air taxi operation to get paid for transporting people. 

What's ground school?

Flight training is divided into two parts, ground school and flight training. Ground school teaches you the principles, procedures, and regulations you will put into practice in an airplane -- how a wing generates lift, how to navigate from one airport to another, and in kind of weather you can fly. Before you can earn a pilot certificate, you must pass a computerized FAA knowledge test (with a score of at least 70 percent) on this information. You have several ground school options. You can attend a scheduled classroom course that may be held at a flight school, independent ground school, high school, or community college. There are also intense, weekend-long ground schools. Or you can take a home-study course, which is composed of videotapes and may include computerized test preparation software. Regardless of the option you chose, you'll need an instructor's endorsement to take the knowledge test.

When will I actually begin flying?

You'll be flying on your first lesson, with your CFI's help, of course. With each lesson, your CFI will be helping less, until you won't need any help at all. When you reach this point, you will make your first solo flight, an important milestone in every pilot's training. After you solo, you and your CFI will work on such things as flying cross-country. And when you're ready, you'll make several solo cross-country flights. When you have demonstrated your ability to consistently demonstrate all of the FAA-required skills, your instructor will recommend you for the FAA checkride. 

Once I get it, what can I do with my certificate?

This is a question you should, perhaps, answer before you start learning to fly because it may have some bearing on the training you need. Flying offers a wealth of opportunities from which to choose. First, there is the obvious. You can make local sightseeing flights with friends and family on sunny afternoons, visiting near-by airports and making new friends. And you can also travel to more distant airports for visits or business. You can also learn to fly aerobatics for fun or competition, build and fly your own plane, or restore and fly antique/classic aircraft. 

If you're an outdoors person, you can reach out-of-the-way locations by learning to fly tailwheel airplanes, which are often better suited to rough landing strips, floatplanes, and airplanes on skis. You can also fly for the good of society. There is the Civil Air Patrol and U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, which conduct search and rescue operations when called upon to do so, and a growing number of humanitarian flight organizations that provide transportation to people in need of non-critical medical treatment (the Air Care Alliance, 800/296-1217, is the umbrella organization for these different groups). These activities are just a few of flying's possibilities. There are more, and you can learn about them by visiting your local flight school. 

©1996 Flight Training magazine 

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