Aviation has always been in my blood, and while I have flown on my share of aircraft, I have never sat behind the controls. That is, until this past weekend when I had the opportunity experience a discovery flight hosted by the Let’s Go Flying! program which was launched by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the world’s largest pilot organization. The purpose of the program is to show the public how simple and affordable it is to learn to fly and obtain a pilot’s license. These introductory lessons are currently being offered for around $99 (depending up the flight school).
My lesson was through Twin Cities Flight Training at St. Paul Downtown Airport and my instructor was Torben Kiese, an experienced airline pilot. He explained that flying is like driving a car. It ends up, he’s right. The terminology is a bit more extensive, but once you understand the various controls and a few key words, like flaps, elevator, rudder and altimeter, you’re well on your way.
Our plane for the day was a Cessna 172. My instructor included me in the “walk around” of our plane, which means you’re visually looking at the aircraft for any problems or discrepancies. After we confirmed the plane looked safe to fly it was pulled out of the hangar and we hopped on, secured our seat belts and completed the pre-flight checklist. After that was complete, it was time to roll.
Believe it or not, my first time behind the controls I had the chance to talk to the tower and clear us for take-off. Then I did the most thrilling thing I think I’ve ever done in my life: I taxied and flew the plane. Yes, I flew the airplane the entire flight, except for the occasional moments when Torben demonstrated something and during landing when the crosswinds picked up. I felt totally comfortable knowing their was a professional at my side. After all, flying is second nature to pilots.
For me, the most challenging part of the experience was on the ground, taxiing the plane. Planes are “driven” on the runway with foot pedals and the goal is to keep the plane on the center line. Though I knew this, it’s instinct to want to use the yoke to steer, which Torben said is very common. Once in the air, my instructor pointed out which controls we should be reading and if we were getting too high (there are altitude restrictions when flying near a major airport).
It was a gorgeous, clear day and we were able to see Minneapolis and St. Paul, and during our flight we flew into Wisconsin and up and down the St. Croix River and Torben pointed out fun landmarks, including the high school he went to. The landscape photo is of Stillwater, Minnesota. By the end, steering the plane and reading the controls began to feel natural. Torben said the flying process becomes intuitive, and that’s a great way to describe flying. I had no idea the process would be so simple; as soon as the lesson was over I was ready to fly again.
Here are some facts from Let’s Go Flying about earning and keeping your pilot’s license:
One can begin training at any age, but you must be 16 years old in order to fly solo and 17 years old to hold a Private Pilot certificate.
Most flight students can expect to spend between $7,000 and $10,000 to attain their Private Pilot certificate. It’s an investment in a lifetime of fun and opportunity.
The Federal Aviation Administration requires a minimum of 40 hours flying time, including at least 20 hours with an instructor and a minimum of 10 hours solo practice flying. However, students often fly 50-70 hours before being licensed.
A Private Pilot certificate is good for life; the pilot just has to pass an FAA-mandated biannual medical exam.
Once you earn your Private Pilot certificate, you don’t have to buy an airplane to fly. In fact, more than half of all pilots rent planes, for as little as $65 per hour including fuel. And you pay only for the time the engine is running.
Do you want to learn more? Spend some time on the Let’s Go Flying website. There is plenty of information for beginner pilots as well as for those thinking about learning to fly, including a database of over 3,500 flight schools nationwide.
Speaking from experience, if you’re interested in learning more about flight lessons, and earning your pilot’s license, or you know someone else who is, contact your local flight school and schedule your introductory flight. I am sure you will love it and want to go back for more. If you decide to pursue your license, your time will count toward your FAA required 40 hours. As Torben pointed out, there is no time limit to earning your license – so pace yourself or fly as often as you wish. Just do what’s right for you.