Learn To Fly: Fun Things You Can Do With Your Certificate

Flying an airplane is an unmatched experience, and you can do some amazing things once you earn your certificate

learning to flyAh, if only you knew how to fly! You could escape the shackles of your humdrum life and soar above its stresses. You could wake up in Nebraska, eat a cheeseburger for lunch in Colorado and settle in for the night on a crystal lake in Idaho. You could fly biplanes or jets or spiffy little yellow Cubs with smiling bears painted on their tails. But how much will it cost, how long will it take and how safe is it? What can you do with a pilot's license?

To get technicalities out of the way, it's more accurately called a pilot certificate, not a license. The private pilot certificate is the traditional first certificate, though now there are also the sport and recreational certificates. Whichever one you pursue, you'll enter a new world of adventure and challenge. You'll find yourself in the company of some of the most fascinating, friendly and spirited people on the planet. The question of what to do with a pilot certificate becomes one of limitless possibilities.

learning to flyVisit Exciting Places
While there are roughly 550 airports in the United States with commercial air service, there are more than 19,500 public and private airports available to general aviation. If you visited three of these airports a week, it would take you 125 years to visit them all! From the breathtaking mile-long runway surrounded by red rocks at Sedona, Ariz., to the rugged island-top airport at Catalina Island off the Southern California coast, to a thousand others, a tableau of destinations awaits you.

Not only can you fly within the United States, but you can stretch your wings into other countries as well. How about flying over the sapphire waters of Mexico? Punta Pescadero on the Sea of Cortez---with its idyllic and remote setting---scenic Las Palmas or one of the countless airstrips along the Baja peninsula are all within easy reach of a small airplane. Other than proper paperwork and advance planning, international flying isn't that difficult. The freedom to travel anywhere you want is part of the great allure of flying.

learning to flyTravel Conveniently
Say this to yourself: "No more lines, no more taking off my shoes, no more stale peanuts and no more sweaty tourists taking off their shoes next to me!" Earning your pilot certificate puts an end to the hassles of airline travel. It also eliminates the stresses of rush-hour traffic and holiday backups. There's nothing more satisfying than flying above a long line of cars on the interstate, knowing you'll reach your destination long before the drivers below you.

The instant most student pilots complete their first cross-country, they realize that small airplanes are a viable alternative to other forms of travel. Whether or not GA flying is cheaper than airline travel, the fact remains that the convenience of driving to an airport near your home, carrying anything you want in your luggage and traveling on your own schedule are all valuable benefits of GA flying.

Make Lifelong Friends
Pilots are special people. It's a simple truth that flinging an aircraft through the air, a mile or more above the ground at three-digit speeds, is something not everybody does. The ability to do it safely, combined with a love and passion for airplanes and flying, bonds pilots together on a deep level.

Stand around any airport or stick your head into an open hangar, and you'll soon be welcomed by a smiling pilot or two. Aviators are people who live life to the fullest and are enthralled and nourished by aviation and the airplanes within it.

As a pilot, you'll take part in the time-honored "$100 hamburger," a term used to humorously describe flying to another airport just to eat lunch. Pilots joke that the hamburger ends up costing $100 by the time you factor in the airplane cost. These are get-togethers where pilots hang out, admire each other's airplanes, do a little hangar flying (good-natured bragging) and take to the skies on beautiful weekends.

learning to fly
To view at a larger scale, please click on the images above.
learning to flylearning to fly
learning to fly To view at a larger scale, please click on the image above.

Challenge Yourself
Where much is given, much is expected. This holds true in aviation as well as in life. As you learn to fly, you'll learn about yourself; the sense of accomplishment and pride you'll feel is due to the mental and physical challenge that flying entails. While it's not difficult, flying does demand study, concentration and energy. Because you'll never stop learning about aviation, there are many paths open for pilots to challenge themselves further.

Aerobatics is one area to explore after you get your private pilot certificate. Aerobatics is like aerial ballet. It's making your aircraft do what you want it to do, in three dimensions. Aerobatics is a high-performance activity, and it demands stamina and constant practice, but it's rewarding and incredibly fun.

Mountain and bush flying present special challenges for pilots. Many flight schools offer specialized courses in these specific areas. Becoming proficient at this type of flying is a real kick in the pants. Air-camping next to your airplane and seeing what this great country has to offer from the air is an unmatched experience.

Other things to do with your pilot certificate include tailwheel flying (usually classic or antique airplanes), flying on snow or experiencing the amazing world of floatplanes (flown on water). If you do nothing else after earning your certificate, then at least get a few hours of floatplane or seaplane flying on some pristine lake---more than likely, you'll be hooked for life!

learn to fly
Private pilot students must fly for a minimum of 40 hours---though most average 55 to 65 hours---before they can qualify for the private pilot certificate.

Stand As A Unique Individual
When you earn your private pilot certificate, you'll be joining the one-tenth of one percent of the population that knows how to fly an airplane. Phrases like "three-niner whiskey, level at five thousand" will roll off your tongue like a fast-food order. (You'll also be able to go on dates in style. How many ground-dwellers can offer their spouse or date a romantic dinner followed by seeing the lights of the city twinkle from a mile up in the sky?)

You'll take part in weekend fly-ins and huge aviation events, e.g., the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) AirVenture convention that pilots simply call "Oshkosh." It's a week of air shows, seminars and exhibits of and about flying that's held annually in Oshkosh, Wis. You can travel to Florida for the annual Sun 'n Fun Fly-In where pilots from across the nation come to drink from the fountain of aviation. You can fly across the country and write a book, or take photographs of the patchwork quilt of small airstrips that dot the nation. You'll experience a freedom that few others have tasted.

Give Back
As a private pilot, you'll be able to introduce your family and friends to flying. One of the greatest rewards in aviation is seeing the sparkle in a person's eyes (especially a child) when they discover flying for the first time while you're in the pilot's seat. As you gain flying hours, you'll discover more opportunities for sharing aviation through such programs as Young Eagles (exposing youth to flying), Angel Flight (flying medical patients and their families) and the Civil Air Patrol (search-and-rescue missions). There are hundreds of ways to use flying to benefit others.

The things you can do with a pilot certificate are limited only by your imagination. Whether you're seeking a personal pursuit or are working toward an aviation career, the first step is to make the decision to fly. See our sidebars for information on finding flight schools and instructors. Call and ask about taking an introductory flight. We guarantee you'll never look back.

Flight-Training Basics: What You Need To Know
Taking the first step toward getting your private pilot certificate can be daunting. We try to answer the most common questions people ask about beginning their flight training.
What's Involved?
You'll start by finding a flight school. This can be at any airport that's convenient for you. You'll then receive flight training in sessions of about one hour in the air and 30 to 60 minutes on the ground. You'll also have to study to pass an intensive FAA written exam. When the instructor feels you're ready, you'll solo (fly the airplane alone). You'll then continue to train until you're ready for the checkride. Then, an FAA-designated pilot examiner will conduct an oral interview and a flight test. If you pass the oral portion, the flight test and the written exam, then you'll earn your private pilot certificate!

What Are The Requirements?
1) Be at least 17 years of age to earn your private certificate in an airplane.
2) Read, speak and understand the English language.
3) Pass a basic medical examination administered by an FAA-designated aviation doctor.

There are many misconceptions about what's required to pass the medical exam. Wearing glasses, for example, is fine. Disabilities won't necessarily disqualify you. There are thousands of pilots who fly with monocular vision (vision in only one eye), prosthetic limbs and other limitations. You can find and talk to a qualified FAA medical examiner through the online directory at www.faa.gov/pilots/amelocator.

How Much Will It Cost?
Learning to fly isn't like taking a photography class at the local college; flying requires a variety of physical skills and aeronautical knowledge. You'll be paying an hourly rate for both the airplane and the instructor. Add in the cost of training materials and miscellaneous gear you'll need.

Plan on spending between $8,000 and $10,000 to get your private certificate. Variations in price will depend on several factors:

1) The airplane you train in. An older, two-seat Cessna 152 will be less expensive than a newer, fuel-injected, four-seat Cessna 172. Navigation equipment also determines price.
2) Geographical location. Flight training in busy metropolitan areas is a bit more expensive than in rural areas. You can also decide whether to train from an airport with or without a control tower.
3) How quickly you learn. Everybody learns in a different way and at a different pace. Age is a factor because we learn more slowly as we age. Flying is based on physical coordination, and individual abilities will determine how long it takes to develop these abilities.
4) How often you train. If you fly four times per week, you'll earn your certificate faster than if you fly once per week. Train as often as you can.

How Long Will It Take?

FAA regulations require a minimum of 40 hours of flight time to earn your private pilot certificate. This is broken into 20 hours of dual (with your instructor) and 10 hours of solo. Those regulations were created when our airspace was less complex. Today, the national average time to earn your private certificate runs around 55+ hours. If you train four times per week, you can do it in about three months

Pathways To The Cockpit
Whether you want to fly for fun or as a career, there are many ways to become a pilot. Let's examine some options.
When people wonder, "how do I become a pilot?" they only consider a few possibilities. But there are several ways to earn your wings. Because each person is unique and every prospective pilot wants to accomplish different goals, finding the right path is an essential first step. How can you get into the left seat?

The Military
Many people would suggest joining the military if you want to fly professionally. While that advice was good in decades past, it's less so today. Sure, the military provides unmatched pilot training. The problem is that modern technology has reduced the number of pilots the military needs. These days, there are roughly 800 to 1,000 pilot slots per year in the U.S. Air Force, and being selected for one isn't easy. Today, becoming a military pilot requires a 10-year service commitment, a college degree, a rigorous medical screening exam and high scores on different aptitude tests.

Local Airport Flight School
The flight-training facility at your local airport is also called a "fixed base operator" (FBO) and could include other aviation services. These flight schools are a convenient way to earn your private pilot certificate and advanced ratings. Advantages include proximity to home, a friendly, relaxed atmosphere and scheduling around your job.

Drawbacks of local FBOs include aircraft that may be older, small training fleets that could mean scheduling conflicts, high instructor turnover and costs that vary widely. That easygoing training schedule could lengthen the time it takes you to earn your ratings.

Independent Instructors
Some instructors aren't affiliated with any specific flight school; these people might instruct in their own airplane and could be less expensive than local FBOs. Freelance instructors advertise on airport bulletin boards, at airport cafés and by word of mouth. Ask around about an instructor, interview her or him first, and agree to a few "shake out" flights to see if you both get along.

Training Academies
Training academies are facilities that offer intense, focused pilot training---usually to airline standards. The goal of a training academy is to immerse you in aviation to get you trained quickly. Accelerated training comes at a price: academies are neither cheap nor lax. While you can be in the right seat of a regional jet quickly, it will require complete dedication, considerable financial and time resources, and personal discipline.

Some academies have specialized programs or train pilots for specific airlines, like Westwind School of Aeronautics' Boeing 737 program and its affiliation with Colgan Air. FTSI's CAPT program and FlightSafety feed several regional airlines and offer curriculums from zero time to first officer. Some, such as ATP, have multiple training sites.

Degree Flying Programs
Several colleges and universities across the country offer accredited degree programs that include earning all your ratings. These schools offer both the academic and the flight-training pieces of the flying career puzzle. While these require a minimum two-year commitment (to earn at least an associate degree), their focused programs yield graduates who are in high demand with airlines and corporate flying departments. Some schools are reasonably priced, and their degree will give you something substantial to fall back on if you ever leave flying.

Airline Transport Professionals (ATP)Fixed-cost pricing. Fixed-length curriculum. Emphasis on multi-engine experience and cross-country flying. 23 locations nationwide.www.ATPFlightSchool.com
American FlyersFinish-up programs for pilots who started their training elsewhere. Full training also available.www.americanflyers.net
Arizona State UniversityYear-round flying weather. Large variety of majors, including air trafPc management.eastair.east.asu.edu
Baylor Institute For Air ScienceEarth-and environment-centric programs are designed to foster environmental care through scientist-pilots.www.baylor.edu/bias
Daniel Webster CollegeBachelor and associate programs. Offers "ACE" aviation camps for high schoolers.www.dwc.edu
Delta Connection AcademySubsidiary of Delta Airlines with 17 years in business. Excellent reputation and international students.www.deltaconnectionacademy.com
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University35 aviation degrees to choose from. Industry leader has brand-new all-glass training fleet.www.erau.edu
FlightSafety AcademyAdvanced-technology learning facilities and simulators. "Business Jet Direct" program. Safety emphasized.www.flightsafetyacademy.com
Flight Training Services International (FTSI)Offers Commercial Airline Pilot Training (CAPT) program. Advanced training environment with camera-equipped simulators, flight videos and Avidyne panels. Mirrors military training.www.captprogram.org
Florida Institute of TechnologyAfPliated with American Eagle. Offers personal attention, Piper and SR22 fleet, and aerobatic training.www.Pt.edu
Gulfstream Training AcademyAirline training. Students fly international routes to Havana in turbine aircraft. Accelerated program.www.gulfstreamacademy.com
Hillsboro Aviation170-aircraft training fleet. Second-largest helicopter-training program in the United States.www.hillsboro aviation.com
Kansas State UniversityActively recruits women. Programs include glider training.www.sal.ksu.edu/aviation
Lewis UniversityCatholic and Lasallian university. Several aviation majors.www.lewisu.edu/academics/aviation
Middle Georgia CollegeBeautiful campus. Eight degree programs; 19 certiPcate programs. Fixed-wing and helicopter training.www.mgc.edu
Mountain State University with Flight Training by ATPMSU offers an on-line aviation bachelor's degree program that includes ATP's Airline Career Pilot Program flight training. 23 locations nationwide.www.ATPDegree.com
Oklahoma State UniversityLow tuition (currently about $60,000, including flight training). Out-of-state tuition waivers.osu.okstate.edu
Parks College of St. LouisJesuit, Catholic university. Engineering and flight science major/minor.www.parks.slu.edu
Phoenix East AviationReasonably priced. Specializes in foreign students.www.pea.com
Purdue UniversityRich training history. Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Electra was outPtted at Purdue's Hangar 1.www.tech.purdue.edu/at
San Juan CollegeLow tuition and living costs. New Mexico area boasts great flying weather year-round. Several degree programs.www.sanjuancollege.edu
Southeastern Oklahoma State UniversityCessna training fleet includes a twin-engine 310R. Out-of-state tuition wavers.aviation.se.edu
Southern Illinois UniversityStudents fly faculty executives and medical-school missions. Internships with eight airlines. Turbine transition course. King Air simulators.www.aviation.siu.edu
Spartan College of Aeronautics80 years of aviation training. Excellent reputation. Multi-engine experience during primary training.www.spartan.edu
TransPac Aviation AcademyFormerly Pan Am International Flight Academy. Strong foreign airline program. On-site, round-the-clock maintenance facility.www.transpacacademy.com
Twin5ightSan Diego, Calif., location offers 155 hours of hands-on multi-engine time.www.twinflight.com
University of Cincinnati--- Clermont CollegeTwo-year Professional Pilot Program offered in conjunction with Sporty's Academy.www.ucclermont.edu
University of DubuqueAirline internships and bridge programs.www.dbq.edu
University of North DakotaOffers liberal arts degree, bridge program to Jet Blue, and SR20 and Piper fleet.www.und.nodak.edu
US Flight AcademyLarge training fleet includes Diamond, Remos, Cessna and Piper aircraft. Offers helicopter training and Texas location.www.usflightacademy.com
Utah Valley UniversityOnline programs available. Affordable price. Year-round flying location. Airline afPliations.www.uvscaviation.com
Westminster CollegeLiberal arts approach. Offers aerobatics. Trains at Class B airport.www.westminstercollege.edu
Westwind School of Aeronautics737 course. Students don't prepay. No training contract. New training fleet. AfPliated with Colgan Air.www.westwindaviation.com

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Get the latest Plane & Pilot Magazine stories delivered directly to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter