Plane & Pilot
Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Learn To Fly: Happy Birthday, Kristin!

A young girl from Arkansas celebrates in a special way

Learn To Fly: Happy Birthday, Kristin!The sun was not up yet, but Kristin and her father were. She was already busy preflighting the family’s Cessna 152 for a flight from their home in Sea Ridge, Ark., all the way across the state to Jonesboro, Ark. A dozen hours, two oral exams and two check rides later, Kristin would be back home with two new ratings in her hand—a private-pilot license and an instrument-pilot rating she earned that day. Not a bad present on your 17th birthday.

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As senior in high school with a 4.2 GPA, Kristin is planning to become a college student very soon. She has applied to both the Air Force Academy and MIT.

“I’d like to be an aeronautical engineer or maybe a test pilot,” says Kristin. “There are a lot of opportunities out there. You don’t have to be just an airline pilot.”

Now Kristin has an arrangement with the family airplane that many kids have with the family car: “Yes, you can use it, but you’re paying for the gas,” her dad told her.

“My dad takes care of the maintenance, but I pay for my own avgas,” she smiles. And like all high-school kids, she enjoys taking her friends along. She always asks her parents (and her friends’ parents) before she goes, and so far, she has never gotten a “no.”

“There are all kinds of kids who have never been in little planes,” she says. “And when I’m 18, I’m going to get my CFI [certified flight instructor] rating and teach them how to fly!”

Kristin has already begun telling her friends about how wonderful getting a pilot’s license can be. “It’s a lot more work than a lot of people think it is, but it’s so awesome!” she says. “It’s one of those things almost anyone can enjoy. It’s fast and exciting, so if you’re the kind of person who wants to go out and ride a motorcycle, you’ll love it. Or it can be very relaxing if you’re one of those kinds of people.” And if you ask Kristin which one of those people she is, the big smile on her face indicates she’s a little of both.

“Flying is absolutely unbeatable. There is nothing else like it!” says Kristin.

Here’s the nitty-gritty on getting a pilot’s license

The Big Picture
There are now two types of pilot licenses: the traditional private-pilot license and the new sport-pilot license, each of which will allow you to fly an airplane and carry passengers.

Sport pilots may learn in light sport aircraft (LSA), a new category of plane with limited horsepower and speed capabilities. They may only carry one passenger and are limited to flying during daylight hours.

Private pilots can fly a wider variety of aircraft and are consequently subject to more training. The minimum training time for private pilots is 40 hours (although most pilots require more), while sport pilots require a minimum of 20 hours. Student pilots must be at least 17 to earn either license. Both licenses require ground training, some dual flight training and solo flight training followed by a practical test of your skills.

Groundschool programs for those interested in pursuing private-pilot and sport-pilot licenses are available at many local flight schools and colleges. Student pilots may also choose to study at home via the Internet or through a variety of CD or DVD programs.

During groundschool, students learn about a variety of subjects, including weather, aviation rules and regulations, aerodynamics, navigation and flight planning, aircraft performance and more. At the end of the ground training, students take a multiple-choice and written test. A passing score of 70% or better is required before a student can receive a pilot’s license.

Dual Flight Training
Dual refers to the time you’ll spend flying with an instructor in the aircraft. The instructor’s job is to ensure your safety while you learn a progression of skills, beginning with simply taxiing the airplane to mastering landings. In the beginning of your training, all flight time is dual. Eventually, your time in the airplane will be divided between dual time and solo time, when you’re the sole occupant of the aircraft.

Solo Flight Training
A big moment for everyone is when the instructor feels that the student is ready to fly the airplane alone for the first time. It’s referred to as the first solo, and every pilot, regardless of his or her age, remembers the event. The first solo is usually limited to a few takeoffs and landings, but that moment begins a series of flights when the student actually functions as pilot in command. From that point on, the student typically divides his or her lesson times between practicing skills alone and learning new skills with the flight instructor.

Before the solo flight, private-pilot applicants are required to pass an FAA medical examination performed by an approved physician. Sport pilots need only have a driver’s license and the acknowledgement that they have no preexisting medical conditions that could interfere with their ability to pilot an aircraft.

The Practical Test
When the instructor believes that you’re ready for a pilot’s license, he or she will recommend you for a practical test, commonly referred to as the check ride. You’ll meet with a representative of the FAA or a designated pilot examiner who will evaluate your training. Expect this evaluation to have two parts—an oral exam, typically lasting an hour or two, followed by an hour or so in the air demonstrating what you’ve learned over the course of your training. Though the practical test has minimum performance levels that you must match or exceed, it’s designed to be a learning experience. You’re not expected to be perfect, and typically, the examiner will take the opportunity to improve your performance even more. The successful completion of your practical test rewards you with a private-pilot or sport-pilot license.

The Cost Of Learning To Fly
The bottom-line cost of learning to fly varies tremendously from person to person and from region to region. Sport-pilot students can expect to pay somewhere between $3,000 and $5,000 by the time they have finished, and private-pilot students can expect to pay twice that amount. While the fees that are charged by instructors and the cost of renting airplanes for lessons vary, the largest expense that the student pilot can control is the amount of time it takes to get a license. Since you typically pay for the instructor and the aircraft by the hour, students who complete their training in 60 hours will spend significantly less money than students who need 100 hours. You can go a long way toward reducing the cost of your training by flying as often as your budget and schedule allow. If you can only train once a week, you may take several times longer than if you fly three or five times a week or every day. The more frequently you fly, the more quickly you’ll learn and get your license.


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