How to Change Your Life in 1.0 Hours

10:18 PM

Editor's note: The idea for this post came in from @shannonlucas via Twitter. He's a doctortal student at Oregon State University studying Aviation Human Factors, and is a paraglider pilot and aviation, space and science junkie.

The quest to learn to fly always starts the same. As children, we see an airplane fly overhead and stop playing tag long enough to watch it fly out of sight. We are soon found an a nearby airport, hanging on the fence as little "Cessnas" and gigantic airliners come and go. Then, somewhere between puberty and Social Security, you get "that bug" and find yourself at a local flight school signing up for a discovery flight:

You are grinning wide as you stroll to the flight line with a Certified Flight Instructor. After you pile into a training aircraft, you're blown away that he/she lets you taxi out to the runway. On that runway, the CFI lets you push the throttle in and yank back on the yoke so the houses get smaller. It is at that point – when the wheels leave the runway and you are FLYING – that you just know that flight lessons are in your future.
Every one of us licensed pilots had experienced some form of the above. So once you decide that you must become a private pilot before you die, then what? Well, on the suggestion of one of my readers, here are a few suggestions, tips, tricks and recommendations for you to digest as you embark on the journey of your life. And remember, I am NOT a CFI, for those really serious flight instructor questions, look up any CFI out at that little airfield located at the edge of your town:
Finances: Like many pilots, I too struggled to acquire the funds to complete my PPL. I took a lesson here, a lesson there, until I amassed enough to go whole hog and finish up. My advice is to (a) make sure you have enough money going into your training to finish the program and earn your private ticket. If you get to solo a GA plane and stop, and then wait a while to start again, you will have to go backwards, a really bad thing in flight training. I have heard this "solo and stop" situation compared to sex, where you get into the goodies a little bit and REALLY like it, but there is no, um, happy ending. Or, (b) look into the possibility of a Sport Pilot ticket, less money, but less privileges too. Either way, sell the boat, pawn the jewels, re-fi the loan you got on your last re-fi, and jump in with both pockets full of cash.

Radios: The best thing I did going into my primary training was learn about aviation radio phraseology. Get a cheap aviation scanner off eBay or Craigslist and listen to it as much as possible, Or, go online to and dial in a large number of frequencies. Then try to learn the drill, how pilots receive clearances, how they are cleared to land, what they say back to ATC when told to fly a heading and altitude. Your goal is to sound as slick as the airline guys, ATC will love you for that. Once you have a working knowledge of what is going on in your headset, the radio work will make perfect sense in those critical first few flight lessons.

Weather: Not going to pull punches can and should learn about aviation weather as soon as possible, even long before you have the money to take lessons. There are plenty of books out there that will give you a working knowledge of METARs, TAFs, FAs, PIREPs and everything else you will eventually need to know to conduct a safe flight. Get the book, go to any number of fine sites such as Aviation Digital Date Service (ADDS) and stuff your head full of weather knowledge. Do it today, so that when you begin your primary training, that's one more thing you are fairly good at, and one less thing to get in the way of the really important things like aircraft control.

Go back to the airport fence: When I was in the very early phases of my primary training, I would go out to the approach end of runway 29L at FAT, to where the old midget racetrack was way WAY back in the day on McKinley Avenue. I would park there and watch GA planes slip through the air right over my head, and after noting the wind direction, I could easily see the pilot using rudder to keep the nose pointed at the runway. From directly underneath the arriving planes, I taught myself stick and rudder flying, how the ailerons and rudder worked in unison to battle any crosswind trying to send the craft on a go-around.
I could go on all night, but these are just a few things I learned in my early training. I hope the wannabes in my readership will see this, print it out and stuff it in their desk, to retrieve right after they get home from that discovery flight, right after their fires become lit.

This is important: If you desire to learn to fly, do it not wait until you are lying in a bed down at the hospice home heading off to fly with Lindbergh. I promise that the feeling of accomplishment you will enjoy the day you pass your private check ride will be worth every sweaty minute you spend trying to make a squirrelly little flying machine behave.

Glad to help. $100 hamburgers are on you when you get that ticket.
Update @1128P on 062209: Just received an hilarious comment on this post through the Twittershere via @Navyaircrewman: "Great topic! You forgot to warn about how its [learning to fly] more addictive than crack and the expenses of this hobby make golf look cheap." O.K., point for the Navy.

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