I want to soar!
March 1, 2009 9:24 AM   Subscribe

I'm considering getting a fixed wing pilot's license after school, but I'm not sure where to start.

Ideally I'd like to integrate flying with my major (geography/geology) to lead to some sort of career path-- aerial survey work, that sort of thing. I'm assuming that this will require graduate-level training on the academic side, which is something I'm planning to pursue anyway.

That said, I'm not sure:
1) How realistic this is as a goal, because
2) I'm not especially familiar with modern aviation, though obviously I'd like to be

So, suppose someone who knows only the most basics about airplanes in general wants to someday fly one, especially in a professional/scientific capacity. Where do they start? I don't think this is something I'll be able to pursue for at least a few years, but I'd like to be as familiar as possible with both the process of certification and the general mechanics/physics behind flying, so I'm as prepared as possible for flight school when I get to that point. Recommendations on books/articles/films/whatever, as well as personal experience, would be greatly appreciated.
posted by baphomet to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
For basic flight physics, the classic work is Wolfgang Langewiesche's "Stick and Rudder: An Explanation of the Art of Flying".

There are a number of training videos available that have the goal of getting you through "ground school". They'll give you a good overview of what's involved in flight training and the licensing process. I used King Schools videos when getting my license. They came highly recommended, though that was a while ago, and there may well be something much better.

Your best bet might be to find an airport that has a pilot's shop, pay them a visit, tell them that you're interested in getting a handle on what's involved in getting a license, and ask their recommendation. They're in a position to know what the current best books, videos, etc. are.

If you want to kill some time in the meantime, browse the Sportys Pilot Shop catalog to get an idea of the incredible amount of money that you can pour into a "hole in the air".
posted by dws at 9:43 AM on March 1, 2009

I recently started taking flying lessons. In my case I wanted to do it just for fun, not out of any sort of career ambition, so I can't say much about how to integrate it with your work. As far as a basic introduction to flying, there are lots of good books out there. Many people recommend Wolfgang Langewiesche's Stick and Rudder as a classic introduction to the essentials of flight. It is not a new book by any means, but it is still pretty much as relevant today as it was when it was written. Just be aware that he uses some archaic terminology (like "flippers" instead of "elevators") that would draw strange looks if you were to use them in conversation with a pilot today.

More recent books like Rod Machado's Private Pilot Handbook can offer a good start and cover current topics like the certification process, airspace rules, etc.

There are also DVD training series from places like King Schools and Sporty's. Though these sets are expensive, you can sometimes find them at your public library, or for rent through Smartflix. (Although if you think $200 is expensive, then flying is probably not the hobby for you, since you'll easily spend that much for just 60-90 minutes of flight training.)

It really helped me to be already pretty familiar with the process before I went for my first actual flying lesson. Once my instructor found out how much I already knew, we didn't have to waste too much time going over things like "the four fundamentals," or what the numbers at the end of the runway mean, or how to read a sectional chart (though he obviously quizzed me to make sure I really knew what I claimed to know).

Also, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) has some good information on leaning to fly.
posted by Nothlit at 9:45 AM on March 1, 2009

This is a realistic goal. Anyone can learn to fly if they are willing to work hard for a few months and learn the skills. It is tough and expensive but very rewarding.

The comments above are good.

Once you are ready to start, find a Cessna Pilot Center. Call and say that you'd like to do a demo flight.

Budget $8k or so up front, or make sure that you can afford to spend, say, $800 a month for the next 10 months. You'll need to make time in your schedule to fly at least 2-3 times per week on nonconsecutive days, plus a few hours to do the ground school lessons (which come on CD in most cases now).

Once you have your certificate, read a copy of The Killing Zone, and always remember what my examiner told me after I passed my practical exam:
"Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect."
posted by charlesv at 10:56 AM on March 1, 2009

You should keep an eye on the trend toward using UAVs in civilian work. It's started already.

(As for how much of the market they'll eventually take over, and when - I make no predictions.)
posted by coffeefilter at 11:34 AM on March 1, 2009

Don't worry about studying now. Join the Army and get your free flight training plus GI bill. When you're out, use it to go to school and earn your degree - all on Uncle Sam's dime.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 12:18 PM on March 1, 2009

Join the Army and get your free flight training plus GI bill. When you're out, use it to go to school and earn your degree - all on Uncle Sam's dime.

That should probably read, "If you get out, use it to go to school..."
posted by rhizome at 12:37 PM on March 1, 2009

I'm not sure they can force you to re-enlist.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 12:44 PM on March 1, 2009

Don't worry about studying now. Join the Army and get your free flight training plus GI bill. When you're out, use it to go to school and earn your degree - all on Uncle Sam's dime.

This is a good suggestion, but personal philosophy precludes military service. I'd rather pay for my college/flight training out of pocket than serve in the military. No offense to military personnel, respect your service, etc, just not for me.
posted by baphomet at 1:02 PM on March 1, 2009

I understand. I'm not a big military man myself but may be willing to use the government to further my desires.

Good luck whatever you do. I wish I'd gotten the aviation bug early on.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 1:43 PM on March 1, 2009

Integrating flying into your job usually means you are actually flying for your job. It's a safety thing - you don't want to be dividing your focus between flying the plane and getting the survey or whatever else done, plus you have to maintain currency in what you do, which means a large portion of your schedule is devoted to flying.

That being said, welcome to the wonderful world of aviation! Before you actually go flying, figure out how far you want to take this. If it's just going to be a hobby, all you'll really need is your private pilot's license. If you're going to be doing it for a job, you'll need to get your instrument and commercial ratings. You'll also want to get your multi-engine rating too, as multi-engine planes give you lots more flexibility in getting the job done.

While you're learning to fly, fly at least 2-3 times a week - consecutive days of flying help a great deal too. This will actually save you money in the end, since you won't lose proficiency and thus have to re-fly lots of flights. If you can, talk with your instructor(s) to come up with something of a long-term plan that takes into account both his and your schedule - this will make it much easier to stay on the plan.

The best idea for the short term is to go to your local general aviation place and get some more information from them - they are the experts, after all.
posted by squorch at 2:08 PM on March 1, 2009

It is important to be realistic about the cost of flying. It will take $8000 to $10,000 to get your private license. Thereafter you should figure about $120 per hour of flying time.

If you are being paid to fly as part of your job you will need a commercial license which requires 250 hours of experience. At $120 per hour that is $30,000 although you may be able to reduce that some by logging simulator time.
posted by JackFlash at 5:46 PM on March 1, 2009

Also important is getting your medical certificate from an Aviation Medical Examiner early on. You can't solo without a medical certificate. Your first solo is usually after 10 to 20 hours of flight training. The physical exam is pretty basic, but there are a lot of restrictions on any medications you may take. It also includes a medical history of DUI convictions, controlled substances, diabetes, etc. If anything comes up, it can take weeks to get a waiver, so do it early. There's no point in spending a pile of money and finding you have difficulty getting a medical certificate.
posted by JackFlash at 6:35 PM on March 1, 2009

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