|Volume: 01, Issue: 17||11/19/2003|
Fly Free as a BirdSince the Wright brothers’ historic flight in December 1903, America has been captivated by the notion that humans are able to soar thousands of feet above the Earth. While many people have been passengers in an aircraft, a number of dedicated individuals have taken the next step: learning to operate the fascinating machines that make human flight possible.
“To be able to fly is a dream come true,” said Dr. Sherwood Williams, a flight instructor for the Ceilings and Visibility Unlimited (CAVU) aviation program in Green Bay, Wis. “To be able to be like a bird and go wherever you want to go is incredible.”
What many Americans do not realize is that becoming a pilot — whether for recreational or professional purposes — is not an unattainable goal. It can begin with something as simple as a call to your local airport.
“Just get started,” said Jason Marcks, Earth and Space Science Specialist at Space Education Initiatives, Inc. “Schedule one lesson, and you will be hooked.” Marcks, who obtained his private pilot certification five years ago, suggested contacting a local airport to set up an appointment for a lesson.
In order to obtain a private pilot certificate, one must be over the age of 17 and be able to read, speak, write, and understand English. If these requirements are met, several steps must be taken to obtain certification.
Applicants must complete training with an authorized instructor. They must also pass a required knowledge test and a practical exam to prove their ability to fly the aircraft.
In order to pass the practical exam, trainees must log 40 hours of flight time. At least 20 hours must be logged with an authorized instructor. Trainees must undergo at least three hours of cross-country training, one cross-country flight of more than 100 total miles, 10 takeoffs and 10 landings to a full stop, three hours relying solely on instruments to fly the aircraft, and three hours within the 60 days preceding the test date.
In addition to these requirements, applicants must log 10 hours of solo flights. These hours must include five hours of solo cross-country time, one solo cross-country flight of at least 150 nautical miles, and three takeoffs and three landings to a full stop at an airport with an operating control tower.
For those interested in pursuing a more formal aviation education, several flight schools exist across the United States. Two or four year degrees are available, and in most cases, grants, financial aid, and loans are available for qualified students.
The grueling training process to obtain a private pilot certification separates truly dedicated pilots from those who do not have the drive.
“It’s not for everyone,” said Dennis Klister, who has been a pilot for 11 years, noting that some individuals cannot handle the pressure.
Other individuals do not pursue flying because of the cost. But according to Conrad Eggers, a pilot since 1992, the best time to pursue aviation is now, before prices increase.
“Don’t worry about the expenses," Eggers said. "Just go ahead and do it.”
Although the extensive training and expenses can be obstacles for some, most pilots feel the benefits of being a private pilot outweigh the negatives. For many, being a pilot is a release from everyday life.
“[Flying] opens up your playground,” Williams said.
That was certainly the case for Klister, who caught the flying bug when he went skydiving for the first time. “Up there you can forget about everything,” he said.
Piloting an aircraft also allows for freedom, a word that is often heard in conversations with experienced pilots.
“In certain conditions and on certain days, you have a total feeling of freedom,” Eggers said. “It’s hard to get unless you’re at a high altitude.”
Freedom also presents itself in flexible travel options. Pilots relish the opportunity to travel somewhere in a fraction of the time it would take to drive and avoid the often tedious process of traveling commercially.
In addition, the art of flying imparts constant challenges for its devotees. Changing weather patterns, rapidly improving technology, multiple certification alternatives, and varying types of aircraft allow pilots to encounter new experiences at any time.
The challenge is one thing many pilots value most about obtaining their certification. Marcks recalled how he felt the first time he took a solo ride. “I realized up in the air that I had to land the plane — no one else was there to help,” he said. “It was exhilarating to know I could operate high-tech machinery on my own.”
No matter what the reason for pursuing aviation, interested individuals are encouraged to give flying a try.
“Feed the passion,” Williams said. “It changed my entire life.”
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