P. Edronkin

Beginning To Fly: Choosing An Aircraft And A Flight School

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When I decided to learn to fly aircraft, I began looking for flight schools and soon found out that there are a lot of different offers in terms of aircraft models, costs and other important issues.

Many factors could influence your decision in favour of one school or another; just to share my experience, let me tell you that in my case, proximity to my home, price as well as the type and model of aircraft where the most important due to the fact that I knew from the beginning what I wanted to do with a plane.

Proximity to your home or some sort of accommodations near the school are fundamental: courses take time and you have to get a number of flight hours, but you will spend much more time on each session aside from actual flight. There are many things that have some degree of influence on this, but just consider the time that it may take you to go from your home to the airport, the time that it takes to prepare an aircraft, post-flight debriefing, waiting periods due to weather-related causes, etc.

The cost of each hour is also important; learning to fly is not exactly a cheap proposition, and while you can become a private pilot on almost any kind of aircraft, the best thing to do is to select a simple, single-engine plane to start with.

Combustible and aircraft maintenance have a lot of influence in the final cost per hour of any particular kind of aircraft type and model. Planes with large engines or multi-engine ships cost a lot more than simple, light aircraft like a Piper Cub. And don't forget to consider each model's variants as well: a PA-11 Cub Special with a 65 - HP engine uses about half the gas that a PA-18 - a larger and more capable version of the same plane - needs to fly.

You should also take into account what you would like to do with your license; in this regard, getting some advice from your acquaintances or other pilots may help you al lot to choose a school and an aircraft. In my case, since my idea has always been to fly in mountainous areas with rudimentary runways, I knew that I needed taildragger training.

Taildraggers are aircraft with conventional landing gear systems (those with the small wheel or skid under the tail); these are much better for such operations, but harder to taxi with, take off and especially land. On the other hand, aircraft with tricycle gears (those with a wheel under the nose), while they are not so sturdy, are much easier to operate in the ground, land, etc.

Some say that it is better to learn first using taildraggers, because if you learn to land one of those, you will be able to land anything else; the contrary does not always apply.

Another important thing to consider is the panel and equipment of each aircraft: you will not need an IFR-equipped aircraft to learn to fly. You will not make much use of GPS or autopilot systems while you get your private pilot's license, so don't pay for aircraft equipped with those items. Find one with the least possible instruments on it because those are cheaper to operate.

But there is an additional reason to select a simple aircraft: it is always better to learn things right from the most-basic concepts. Instruments make your life easier, indeed, but it is advisable to learn to feel the aircraft, anticipate it and fly it without depending too much on technology (just think about what could happen if there is a malfunction).

And when you get into the cockpit for the first time and after take off your instructor gives you command of the craft, the more dials and needles you have in front of you, the more difficult will be for you to learn; you will see how tens of instruments can show that they have their own will, which is not necessarily yours.

Thanks to the Museo del Ejercito del Aire of Spain for this picture
Why start with complicated things?

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