Most technical people, at least once in their lives, give passing thought to taking flying lessons. I myself finally took the plunge six years ago, and the experience was not quite what I expected.
June 20, 2002
If you get the flying bug, you may be interested in the pitfalls encountered when I made the leap.
There seem to be two types of flight instructors. One is the veteran whose aspirations in life are largely behind him. He probably will be a good instructor. The other type is the youngster whose priority is gaining logbook time leading to a job as a pilot at a corporation or commuter airline. He has little interest in teaching people how to fly and will pay only minimal attention to your progress. Unfortunately, youngsters far outnumber veterans in most metropolitan areas, so if you live around a large city and take lessons, you will probably end up with the former rather than the latter.
Flying an airplane is as easy as I thought it would be. However, I found it difficult learning how to land. I blame that on the fact that my initial instructors didn't know how to teach that skill. The best they could do was "demonstrate" proper landings, but when I tried them, I flared too much, causing the airplane to float upward, then slam down violently to the runway. I eventually figured out the proper technique on my own. The secret was to level off several feet above the runway, then let the airplane settle to the pavement on its own with only minimal flare.
I went through six flight instructors over a course of almost three years before getting my license. Nearly all the turnover was caused by the instructors going to better jobs. Five of the six had no interest in my progress. When I would show up for my weekly lesson, they had no idea what we had covered the prior week. They didn't even take notes.
Concurrent with flying, there is supposed to be a ground school preparing students for the FAA written exam. But my instructors skipped that until it became a barrier to the FAA checkride. So I was delayed more than a month while I crammed for the written test. What is even worse is that, until the very end, no instructor audited what I had done on cross country and night flights to make sure I had the prescribed hours for a checkride. As I approached the checkride, an instructor and I spent a frantic eleventh hour sifting through my logbook to establish that I had met requirements. So be advised, find out what the flying requirements are and keep track of them yourself. The happy part of the story is that my sixth instructor was a veteran. One week after my first flight with him, I had my license.
In all, I checked out in a Katana DV-20, Piper Archer, and Cessna 172. What puzzles me is how the Cessna 172 got to be a popular airplane. For a primary trainer, I highly recommend the Katana.
Finally, a word about the FAA checkride. How you do largely depends on the personality of your examiner. Some of them are mad at the world and take great delight in flunking students for trivial reasons. Others will cut you a lot of slack and do what they can to help. Fortunately, I had the latter type, who happened to be about the same age as I am.
Before getting into the air after the verbal test, he chatted about personal matters, among other things asking how long I had been married. When I told him it has been 42 years, I could read his mind. I am sure he was thinking: "Married 42 years. This guy doesn't need any more trouble. I am going to pass him no matter what he does in the air."
-Ronald Khol, Editor