Time and money
Learning to fly in a Light Sport Aircraft is much less expensive than most people realise! Plan your time commitment and your budget. You can qualify for a recreational pilot certificate in less than 30 hours of training and 10-12 hours of ground school. Costs vary a lot and depend on the location and type of aircraft. Budget for around $5,000 for a recreational pilot certificate that will allow you to travel cross-country and carry a passenger with you. (As a comparison, if you want to go for a full, ‘General Aviation’ Private Pilot License – PPL – you’ll need to budget at least twice as much).
Short list some flying schools
Draw up a short list of 2-3 schools reasonably near you*. Visit them all and talk to them about your training, how long it is likely to take and how much it is likely to cost. Many schools will give a discount if you book ‘blocks’ of training time in advance.
(* If there isn’t a school or club reasonably near to you that you can easily visit, maybe consider an intensive semi-residential training program. Many schools and clubs offer these and the cost of travel and accommodation can often be recouped by not having to spend lessons catching up with where you’d got to a couple of weeks previously.)
Go for a Trial Flight
Arrange with each of your short listed schools to take you for a Trial Instruction Flight (often known as a ‘TIF’). This is a good first step, as you might find that flying in a small light aircraft is not really for you – although for most people, it just confirms their desire to fly! During a TIF, under the guidance of your instructor, you will be able to try the flight controls and experience what’s involved in taking-off and landing the aircraft.
Choose the school for you
Crucial to your future enjoyment as a pilot: carefully choose your school/club and instructor. Like all aspects of life, one person’s meat is another’s poison. So it is with flying schools and instructors – you need to find one that suits you, not necessarily one that suits your friends or colleagues.
Here are a few pointers:
- Is the school properly registered and licensed as a school?
- Is the training aircraft well-kept, clean and pleasant to be in?
- Is the school (and instructor) professional and friendly?
- Is the training room(s) clean & tidy, well lighted and ventilated?
- Are training slots going to be available at the times you want them?
- What do other people say about the school?
As a general rule, if something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Don’t be afraid of looking round if you don’t feel comfortable.
Confirm your choice and start flying!
After you have your license, what next?
When you’ve got your new license, you’ll want to go places.
The average number of flying hours a recreational/sport private pilot flies in Australia is about 150 in the first year, 100 in the second year and about 50 in the third and subsequent years.
Here are a few ideas:
- First, practice your landing skills – particularly crosswind landings and engine-out landings. You never know if/when you’ll need them.
- Occasionally practice stalling – remember, at least 3,000 feet above ground level!
- If you haven’t already, join a flying club. Or two.
- Go for local flights most weekends and take family and friends – usually 30-60 minutes is plenty for a new passenger. Fly smoothly!
- Practice turns, keeping the ball in the middle.
- Take a friend on a weekend and go for the proverbial $100 hamburger at an airfield 50 or 100 miles away.
- Take a photographer over some of the beautiful scenery near your airfield.
- Take at least one young person for a flight.
- Occasionally, climb right up to 5,000 feet (weather and airspace permitting) to see the view and experience the different perspective of flying at this height. Everything seems to happen much more sloooowly…
- Plan at least one longer trip each year. For example, go to the RA-Aus ‘Natfly’ Easter Fly-in, currently held at Temora, NSW each year. (That is if you aren’t already based near Temora!)
- Look out for other more local fly-ins and go to them.
- Whatever aircraft you fly, get some training for short take-offs and landings. You never know when it might be useful.
- Consider taking that one flying trip of a lifetime – crossing the Nullarbor, crossing Bass Straight, going to Uluru, trying out Birdsville Races, visiting the Kimberley, seeing the Qantas museum and the 747 parked at Longreach, fly near the Snowy Mountains in winter and see the snow caps, fly to Kalgoorlie and over the big pit, try Broken Hill to see the Pro Hart pictures in the airport lounge and while you’re there visit Silverton (scene of the Mad Max II movie), fly over Lake Eyre – stunning with or without water in it, or just fly along any part of the Australian coast for at least 250 miles.