Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Race For Ratings

It’s important to remember that flying should be fun. New ratings help make it so.

Seaplane Rating. Flying off water opens up an entirely new world to pilots. Jack Brown's Seaplane Base in Winter Haven, Fla., offers seaplane training in Piper J-3 Cubs and Maule M-7s on floats.
I was a typical airport kid with dreams of someday making a living in the sky, and I was lucky to be brought up in Alaska. I lived in Anchorage and learned to play pilot with the local Civil Air Patrol squadron, flying in several conventional singles, a floatplane, a ski plane and even a helicopter before I turned 14.

Perhaps that's one reason I was determined to go beyond the private license from the beginning. I got married, moved to Southern California and waited 10 years before I could afford to start pilot training.

After that, I was able to step up every two or three years to a higher rating. I've missed out on a wide variety of aircraft—blimps, hot-air balloons, gyrocopters and klieg birds continue to elude me—but I've somehow managed to earn several other ratings as money has become available.

Trouble is, it's next to impossible to maintain currency in everything unless you're Kermit Weeks. (Weeks owns the lavish Fantasy of Flight museum south of Orlando, Fla.). I've flown a handful of helicopters, and I have a good excuse to fly new ones now and then in reports for this magazine, but I'll sometimes have dry spells between rotary-wing flights. My glider and water ratings are similarly rusty. I can usually keep instruments and twins current, but lots of the really fun stuff rarely gets updated.

I can almost see the emails now. "Aw gee, Bill, that's too bad. You already have one of the best aviation jobs in the world, and yet, you complain about not flying all types often enough. We really feel sorry for you." Okay, I admit I've been lucky. I'm certainly happy with what I have, but I still have designs on adding a gyrocopter rating to my limited credentials, just for grins. Realistically, hot-air balloons and blimps will probably remain out of my reach.

So, what's the point of writing this? Primarily to remind so many pilots of the joys of thinking outside the conventional, VFR, single-engine, land box. There's another world of flying machines out there just waiting to be discovered, and they offer experiences you'll never have with a standard SEL airplane.

Certainly, the major disincentive is cost. I'm well aware of the price of flight instruction these days. By the time you read this, my wife, Peggy, will have earned her Private license, and most of her dual hours in a Cessna 152 cost $150/hr. Quite a contrast to 1966 when I paid $9/hr for dual in a Piper Colt or Aeronca Champ. I don't knock her flight school, as her rate is probably competitive with other schools training in a 152. My $9/hr rate in 1966 would translate to only about $64/hr in 2011 if you escalated the price using the increase in CPI.

Still, additional ratings can be a blast, and they're not always that expensive. Many advanced ratings don't demand more than 10-15 hours of flight training. My first add-on was a garden-variety multi-engine rating in an old Apache, and I got through that in 12 hours, a typical time.


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