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"Earning wings? Have fun and hit the books"



Monday, June 17, 2002

Column
Earning wings? Have fun and hit the books
By Ken Kaye
South Florida Sun-Sentinel


If you are thinking about learning to fly, be forewarned: Piloting a
small
plane is so much fun it's addictive. Once you start, you're hooked.

But don't make it fleeting fancy.

Student pilots quickly discover that flying the likes of a Cessna or a
Piper
demands much more than mastering the controls.

They must learn navigational skills, flight planning, air traffic
procedures, federal regulations, weather patterns, radio communications,
aerodynamics and emergency procedures.

In fact, there is so much book work that most students enroll in a
ground
school. Which is the smart thing to do, considering they must pass a
written
exam as part of the testing process to achieve a private pilot's
license.

But the challenge is what makes learning how to fly so satisfying.

"There's really nothing more complicated about learning to fly than a
little
math," said Warren Morningstar, spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and
Pilots
Association, a trade group that promotes general aviation.

Here are the basics of earning that license:

It costs about $5,000 to $7,000. Before you mutter, "forget it,"
consider
it's a pay-as-you-learn system. Meaning, you pay for an hour of flight
instruction here and an hour there. Some flight schools offer package
deals,
wherein you pay up front, and the price may be lower.

Most student pilots require 70 or more flight hours to gain the needed
proficiency, and it usually takes more than a year to amass this
experience.
The Federal Aviation Administration requires a minimum of 40 hours.

The most popular trainers are the two-seat Cessna 152, the four-seat
Cessna
172 or a small Piper. Pelican Airways at North Perry Airport in Pembroke
Pines offers the Katana, which is cool because it has a bubble canopy
and a
joystick -- like a fighter.

In general, trainers cost $70 to $100 per hour to rent and the
instructor's
fee is another $25 to $30 per hour on top of that.

Where should you learn to fly? That depends on your personal goals. If
you're in it for fun, look for a flight school close to home.

If you want to become a professional pilot, select a school targeted for
the
serious student, such as American Flyers College at Pompano Beach Air
Park
or Lynn University's School of Aeronautics at Boca Raton Airport.

Broward Community College and Miami-Dade Community College also have
comprehensive programs for building an aviation career.

The best flight schools offer ground school classes, have flight
simulators
and up-to-date video courses. In any case, ask for an introductory
flight,
which lasts about a half-hour and costs about $50. It also should give
you
some insight on how a school is run.

You also can go to a couple of Web sites: www.aopa.org (click on Learn
to
Fly), www.beapilot.com or www.apfts.org.

After you have settled on a school, one of the first requirements is to
take
a physical exam given by a FAA-designated doctor. This exam doubles as
your
student pilot's license.

Be advised that because of Sept. 11, some flight schools take your
personal
information, such as driver's license number, address and next of kin --
and
fax it to the FBI.

"We do this voluntarily," said Terry Fensome, owner of Pelican Airways.
"It's up to individual flight schools.''

Once lessons start, your flight instructor teaches you how to fly
straight
and level, climb and descend. All the while, you learn the relationships
between power, airspeed and altitude.

Then you practice takeoffs and landings and perform stalls, wherein the
nose
of the airplane is pulled up until the wings stop producing lift. Those
can
be kind of scary, but not once you get used to them.

Most students solo in 10 to 15 hours, but some take longer. That is a
wonderful moment and a major step toward more advanced training. From
there,
you learn the skills to navigate to distant airports, or what's known as
"cross-country" flying.

When your instructor feels you are ready, you meet with a FAA-designated
flight examiner, who tests your proficiency in the airplane and checks
your
basic knowledge. If you pass, you're a private pilot.

Then, flying can be a weekend hobby, a serious means of transportation
or
even a tool for your business. Cruising around Florida, what with the
Bahamas and the Keys nearby, is really a treat.

While about half of new students ultimately drop out -- usually for a
lack
of motivation -- many go on to seek higher ratings, such as an
instrument
rating or a multi-engine rating.

It all depends on how far you want to take it.


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