flight training in fixed wing aircraft
Most people start by
learning to fly a conventional light aircraft. These are usually fixed
gear single-engined two seaters such as a
Cessna 152 or a
Piper Tomahawk. There are some lovely new aircraft becoming
available for flight training too, such as the
Diamond Katana. If you prefer, you can also learn on four seat
aircraft such as the
These aircraft are of course more expensive to fly per hour but are far
more comfortable and probably more like the type of aircraft that you will
eventually choose to fly. It is worthwhile to mention that in many
countries, larger aircraft are permitted that
operate under the microlight category. Some of these aircraft are
effectively indistinguishable from conventional aircraft and may even have
better performance. Costs of maintenance and training are significantly
less when operating a microlight.
The majority of private pilots maintain a simple PPL which entitles them to fly most types of
single engine aircraft. If your ambitions are to fly aircraft with
retractable landing gear and/or variable pitch propellers, (complex air
craft) you must undertake a further few hours training to familiarise
yourself with the extra complications. Some pilots go on to learn to fly
aircraft with a tail wheel (tail draggers) or aircraft with more than one
engine (multi) or even flying boats or seaplanes. In every case, further
training and certification is needed. To a lot of people, obtaining new
qualifications is a great pleasure which offers new and exciting
A straight PPL does not entitle a pilot to fly in cloud or lose sight of
the land. Flying at night is also not allowed. To do this, you must go on
to take an instrument rating and night flying qualifications. The
instrument rating is difficult and very expensive to get. What is more,
unless you intend to fly many hours in instrument conditions, you will
very quickly 'get rusty' and be less than capable to meeting the demanding
In the UK, a 'half way
house' instrument rating is on offer called the IMC rating, (instrument
metrological conditions). This rating is much easier to obtain and permits
private pilots to fly in cloud in the United Kingdom only. This rating is
highly recommended even if you do not intend to 'fly blind' just in case
you inadvertently fly into poor visibility.
Keeping in practice is a
very important part of maintaining your licence. The aviation authority of
your country of licence issue will have strict requirements that you must
fulfil in order to remain 'current'. If you lose currency, you will have
to go back to school and spend some time with an instructor. For instance,
the European JAR requires you to fly a minimum of 12 hours every second
year. You will also have to have at least one hour of time with a
qualified instructor, who will check that you have not fallen into bad
habits! Any additional rating you gain will also require further
checkouts. Flying aircraft requires that you maintain your skill level, so
it is always highly desirable to continue to spend a few hours with your
instructor who will help you to hone up your skills. If you don't use it,
you will lose it!
Many folks take up
flying in their later years and enjoy every minute of it. Of course, the
younger you are, the quicker you learn. Factor an extra ten hours of
training for every decade you carry after 35. Old dogs do learn new
tricks, but just take a little longer! Medical checks become more frequent
as you get older.
Being a pilot does not
necessarily mean that you have to look like something out of Bay Watch.
There are many disabled pilots out there. Many disabled pilots will tell you that flying is one sport
where they have no disadvantage over able bodied people. The aviation
authorities for the most part are very helpful and offer good advice.
Special adaptations can be used to help you control the aircraft, although
your choice of type is likely to be much more limited.
Not all airfields have
facilities for the disabled. Many countries have associations for disabled
pilots and it is well to check with these.
You may suffer from
certain illnesses which will prevent you flying solo. Diabetes is one of
these. However, you will still be able to train as a pilot, but will have
to carry a 'safety pilot' at all times, just in case things go pear
shaped. This is not at all such a big problem as it may appear, as flying
is a very social thing, and you will nearly always be able to find another
pilot to go with you. He/she might even share costs with you!
can learn to fly in most countries. There are some differences of
approach depending upon where you learn.
Flight training in the
US is cheaper compared with Europe, so students from overseas often
come to the US for training. You may consider though, that if you intend
to fly in Europe, learning in the clear skies of America may not prepare
you for European weather. You will also find some procedures are different
as well as some terminology. Since Sept. 11, the United States is much
more sensitive about foreign pilots and entry into the States through
'Homeland Security', has been described as a nightmare by some. You are advised to check with your
local US consulate before booking US training.
Flight training in Europe
Although flight training
is more expensive in the UK and the rest of Europe, you will at least
train in typical North European conditions and learn radio and flying
procedures that you will contend with in Europe. As a general rule,
training in Europe is very much on a 'one on one' basis, while many US
flight schools appear to operate as a 'sausage factory'. You get what you
pay for. You will earn a JAR private pilots licence in Europe, which will
entitle you to fly aircraft registered in other European countries. It
might be very well worth your while to train in Europe, then spend time
hours building elsewhere in the World where it is cheaper to rent a plane.
Flying in some areas will also offer you breath-taking scenery.
To obtain your licence
you will be required to have logged a certain minimum number of flight hours
(depending on country - 30 to 40 in the USA, 45+ in the UK for
example), and you must have satisfactorily performed a number of tasks,
typically including emergency procedures, engine failure simulation,
unusual attitudes, cross-country navigation and others. You will also have
to pass some written exams, typically on the Theory of Flight, Human
Performance Limitations, Meteorology and Navigation, although the exact
ground syllabus will vary from country to country. Many papers will be
multiple choice. A new simplified licence system has been out in place in
the USA (sports pilot licence) and UK (National pilot licence). There are
certain restrictions, but for many it will offer a much cheaper entry into
So you have your new licence...what now?
First, fly as much as you can and to new and distant places. Having just
got your licence, you are probably more up to speed with flying than you
will be in a year. This is really the time to spread your wings. So many
folks just fly around their home field, lose confidence and then quit the
sport. What a shame after so much hard work and investment.
You may decide to enter into a specialist field such a aerobatics,
precision flying or rallying. The choice is yours, stay with it and get flying!
Before you start to learn to fly, it might be worth considering social
Does your partner enjoy flying? Would they fly with you? Many relationships
have gone sour because of incompatibility here. Learning to fly is a big
investment in money, commitment and time. It is also more addictive than crack
cocaine. You may find that your chosen subject of conversation becomes
aviation, followed by aviation, and when you get bored.....more aviation. For
some, a reasonable life-style become one of aviation induced poverty.
A very good idea is to take your partner for trial flights. If they get
excited.... then you are in with a chance. You also have to be aware of your
'final mission'. Your partner may have had dreams of flying off to Cannes and
such like. Having supported you through training, they will be more than
disappointed if you land up doing aeros in a Yak! Worse, don't expect your
partner to be very excited about little fly-ins into farm strips.
Then worse.....you decide to build your own aircraft. You may be young and
vigorous when you make this decision...make sure that a Zimmer frame comes
free with the kit you buy. Building your aircraft can be the most rewarding
thing you do... but it is a hobby in itself. If you like actually
flying...stay well clear!