Saturday, January 28, 2012

Get out and fly!

The United States has, without question, the best aviation system in the world. The technology, the accessibility and the safety are just simply second to none. It is something America should be proud of. To many, "General Aviation" means flying around in private jets but let me show you a different side of it. One populated by folks as middle class as it gets. I know people from all walks of life who fly simply because they love it. Some have lots of money and some lead simple lives. But when you're up in the air, none of it matters. You are all pilots.

This is what keeps me flying. Imagine yourself doing this:

You get to the airport early on a Saturday morning after a very stressful week at work and, as you drive up to the airport, you forget about your job sitting in an office for 50 hours a week and you start the transformation into being a pilot. Transformation complete, you pull the covers off your small, piston engine 4 seat plane and untie the ropes holding it to the ramp. The sun has not yet risen so you grab a flashlight and do a thorough safety check and get some fuel. You hop in the plane without filing a flight plan because you have no place in particular to go. Within 15 minutes of stepping out of your car, you taxi and takeoff without calling the tower because there is no tower at the airport you're leaving from. Just come and go as you please. You decide to head out to that little island off the coast for breakfast. So you head there. On the way, from 5,500 feet above ground level (AGL) in silky smooth air, you witness one of the most spectacular sunrises you have ever seen. The sun reflects off the water with a view that is almost indescribable.
View of the sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean en route
to Martha's Vineyard
In 40 minutes you land on the island that would have taken you 4 hours to get to by car and boat and you're met by the "line staff" at the local Fixed Base Operator (FBO - place at an airport where GA planes park). They help you park your plane and within 5 minutes you have a cup of hot coffee in your hand at the small diner at the airport. An hour later, you are back in the air and decide you'd like to visit the airport near home where you fly the airlines. No problem. You call them up on the radio and they clear you for a "touch and go" which is when you momentarily touch the runway and head right back up into the air. You head back to your home airport, put the plane away and you're home and playing with your kids by 10am.  You have a smile from ear to ear that won't go away for days. Unfortunately for your significant other, you will continue to talk about every small little detail of your flight for days as well. :)

Sound too good to be true? It's not.  This is what the best aviation system in the world has to offer and the possibilities of what you can do with it are limitless. Someone asked me what it takes to become a pilot. This link will describe the process but I'll go into a few of the qualitative aspects of what it takes below:

1. A passion for flying - In flying, as with anything in life, you strive to be the best at what you do. Having a passion for flying will drive you to be the best pilot you can be. Any way you want to slice it, flying is a serious business. It can be tremendously safe and tremendously fun but if you aren't passionate about it, I would steer you to settle for going up with an instructor or professional pilot to get your flying fix.

2. Money - There's an old saying in aviation that "It take two things to fly - airspeed and money". You can't get around this one but how much money it takes may surprise you. First, identify what you want to do with flying. If all you want to do is take some nice hops within a 50 mile radius on calm clear days, then you can do it in a much less expensive airplane than one that's equipped to fly from NY to FL in inclement weather. Again - don't let money dissuade you. Save up. It can be done if you have the passion for it. And, consider this: most entry level First Officers on a regional airline make less money than the person who served you your latte at Starbucks and they found the money to become an airline pilot, which is A LOT more than it takes to carry out the scenario I described above. Again, it can be done if you put your mind to it and are passionate about it!!

3. Time - not just the time to fly but the time to dedicate to studying and consuming information on flying. Again, I go back to #1. If you are passionate about it, you won't be able to put the books down. You will seek out information because you love it so much. Again, don't let this dissuade you. I got my pilot's license and other advanced ratings while I had a wife, 3 young children and a very demanding job. I'd fly early in the morning or later in the evening and I'd fall asleep with books in my hand. I drive a lot for work so I had study materials playing on my car radio for hours on end. It can absolutely be done but remember this - if you do it all at once, you will spend less money over the long haul because you won't have to spend extra time in the plane relearning things you forgot since your last lesson. And, to that point, the more prepared you show up for your lesson, the more quickly you'll master the concepts in the air.

4. Your health - You need to be fairly healthy as a pilot although there are options for people unable to obtain an FAA medical certification (see Sport Pilot certificate) but are still generally healthy. Don't worry about it if you wear glasses as plenty of pilots require vision correction. You're not landing on an aircraft carrier so that whole myth of pilots needing perfect vision doesn't necessarily apply to you. There are plenty of people to help you thru this process.

So, are you interested? I hope so. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots association is a great resource and this link will tell you all you need to know about the requirements for getting your pilots license. And, if you're in my neck of the woods, give me a call and I'll help navigate you thru some of the local airports and schools.

I hope to see you in the air sometime soon!

Blue Skies,

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