Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Learn to Fly: A Practical Guide

Today, it’s easier than ever to fulfill your dream of flying

It's difficult to make an easy comparison between these different activities, but calculating for exposure, factoring in the number of vehicles operated, and figuring in the accident rate, flying a general aviation aircraft can be compared somewhat to riding a motorcycle. Though by eliminating the two top causes of general aviation accidents—running into terrain and fuel exhaustion—through simple common sense, aviation's accident rate drops to a level safer than driving. Aviation isn't risk-free, but it's far from what the sensationalist media makes it out to be. Ultimately, more people are injured falling out of bed than flying general aviation aircraft.

The next big question is, "How long will it take?" FAA studies have proven over and over that the time necessary to learn the skills and knowledge required to pass the FAA knowledge exam and practical exam ("checkride") varies with the individual and is based on frequency of training. The key there is study and retention of skills.

The knowledge necessary to pass the written exam isn't trivial and needs to be mastered because it will also prove necessary during the oral exam. The FAA isn't flippant about letting just anybody fly airplanes around the sky. People who start flight training and think they can just "fake it" will be unpleasantly surprised. Regular, frequent study with the proper materials is one of the lesser-known secrets to finishing training and passing all the exams to become a pilot. On the bright side, it's fun, interesting and useful in other areas besides flying.

Various studies show that a student who trains three or four times per week will, in the end, take less time to pass the checkride than somebody who stretches it out once a week for many months or more. Like athletic conditioning, nothing beats repetition and consistency.

The FAA says you need a minimum of 40 hours of flight instruction to become a private pilot (this minimum was created decades ago). The reality is that AOPA statistics show the national average inching closer to 70 hours. Most of this is due to more complex airspace, technology and regulations. Some pilots still earn their certificate in 40 hours, but they train hard and often. A student who trains three times per week can realistically earn their certificate in four to six months if they do their part in practice and preparation before each lesson.

If all this sounds like it's too much of a time commitment, "accelerated" programs exist that can get you trained in 10-14 days. These are intense, full-immersion programs that demand a great deal from the student and include up to five or more hours of flying a day along with several hours of ground instruction. Demanding and tough, these courses are the way to go if time is critical. Look for companies like ATP, AFIT, American Flyers and even some local flight schools that offer accelerated programs.


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