The QPT Wrap, Lesson’s Learned & Recap

Greetings everyone. From now on, you will see my flight adventures still categorized as Flight, but will be called AIF (Adventures in Flight) with the number of hours. I’ll likely continue my training into new areas (such as instrument training), so I will label those appropriately.

I’ve had some people ask me about costs. I wanted to outline some of the costs you can expect if you are considering a private pilot license. Incidentally, there is a recreational pilot license that was set up a few years ago, and that is cheaper to get. Based on FAR 61.99, you can do it with less than half of the minimum flight time. There are limitations though. For example, it is daytime VFR only, limits to the number of passengers, types of planes, domestic only flights, etc. It’s a good place to start if you want to get up in the air on a budget, but just remember that you are limited.

If you decide to go the private pilot route, you will have much more flexibility and it does not cost too much more. Here are some of the minimum requirements of a private pilot (I’m going to stick with single engine fixed-wing aircraft here) under FAR 61.109 are:

  • 40 hours of total flight time (at least 20 instruction and 10 solo)
  • 3 hours of cross-country flight training (dual)
  • 3 hours of night flight training (dual with 1 cross country and 10 takeoffs and landings to a full stop at a towered airport)
  • 3 hours of flight training on maneuvers (dual)
  • 3 hours of practical test flight training
  • 10 hours of solo flight training (at least 5 cross country)
  • 1 solo cross country flight with three stops
  • 3 take offs and landings to a full stop at a towered airport
  • Ground instruction

So here’s how you should figure out cost. The numbers I am using here are valid for an average Cessna 172 at a flight school. They are pretty close to what I paid at my flight school. One thing to note is whether your rates are wet or dry. Wet rates mean fuel is included. The last time I filled up at 52F, AVGas (100LL) is running $4.76/gal, and the 172’s burn about 10 gallons/hour.

  • 45 hours of flight time, this rate is a wet rate so fuel is included (45 hours @ $106/hr = $4,770)
  • ROUGHLY 45 hours of instruction time, though this really seems to vary (45 hours @ $35/hr = $1,575)
  • Charts, you need a current sectional from where you fly (they expire every six months and cost $10), and an optional Terminal Area Chart if you are flying in a highly congested area ($5)
  • An Airport/Facility Directory is something you should have in your bag as well as it contains information about all the airports in the covered area (they expire every 56 days and cost $5)
  • Speaking of bags, you will need a flight bag with the appropriate instructional materials, E6B, plotter, and headset. Most pilot shops have a kit for this, and it will run you about $400 for everything, though you can go higher with an electronic E6B (HIGHLY recommended) and a better headset
  • Red flashlight for night flights ($10 headlamp from Home Depot)

So, if you total all of that up, we’re looking at around $6500-$7000. Fuel makes a big difference here, but it is what it is. I ended up paying less than this because I had some dry rates in the beginning, and I also completed it in much less time.

Some optional equipment to consider…

  • GPS. You cannot use this for your navigation, but it is a really nice backup. Prices vary
  • Kneeboards are excellent for using your VFR flight plans and navigation logs with. They are also very handy in storage of additional things (such as light gun signals), and a nice hard surface for writing down the fast list of instructions that ATC may give you. These range from $20-$50
  • Upgraded flight bag. The one that you get is nice and sturdy, but mine lacked enough pockets and zipped areas to keep things organized. I ended up upgrading to a bag that has the flexibility to store my headset. Range from $70 to $150 and up on the high end

So how about some lessons learned?

  • Do your medical early. It’s not convenient, but really easy to get done.
  • Memorize the written test and take it early. It’s not too hard, but the question bank is pretty large. Read the book, go through the lessons, and do the questions. Memorize if you do not understand, and you will understand later on, I promise.
  • Shop flight schools. Make sure you get a seasoned instructor or at least one you are comfortable with.
  • DO NOT just pull handles in an aircraft. Make sure that if you are trying to pull carb heat out for landing that you don’t accidentally lean the mixture all the way. If you do, don’t panic, just put it back in quickly.
  • When I fly, I usually fly the GPS path I entered from my sectional, and validate it is correct by checking visual references and using instruments such as a VOR or ADF. Never trust any one instrument or method, always double or triple check your position.
  • Better yet, USE ATC! They have one of those thankless jobs, but they are there to help you. Flight following, Flight Watch, Flight Services, and other resources are there to help you.
  • Make sure you have all the correct endorsements you need in your log book before taking your FAA Written, Solo, Cross Country, Class B operations, Night operations, or landing at another airport within 50nm of your home airport.
  • File and activate a flight plan! That way if you get lost, someone will come looking for you.
  • CLOSE your flight plan when you have the airport in sight (or after landing) so you don’t have the search and rescue squad sent when you are safe.
  • Get renter’s insurance, and get enough coverage. AOPA has good deals.
  • Over plan your cross-country trips. And be sure to get weather briefings! It will go a long way to building the habit and being a safe pilot.
  • Over prepare for your written and your final check ride. It will make it seem much easier when you do it.
  • You will blow some landings. At the worst times (like when an FAA examiner is sitting in the right seat). Just don’t quit the day until you get a nice one.
  • If you get airsick, Bonine is your friend. Even if you normally don’t (I normally don’t), hot summers or the Unusual Attitudes (google this. Essentially it’s where you can’t see out the window and the examiner pulls and pushes all kinds of levers, and then makes you recover using only instruments) can make you airsick.
  • And finally, FLY EVERY DAY YOU CAN. I can’t stress this enough. If you want to do it in 40 hours, you should fly as often as you can. I started on July 7, and did my checkride on August 10. That’s 33 days. In that date range, I did not fly on 7 days due to travel and family commitments. It’s imperative that you keep your skills up (long term as well, but very important in the beginning).

Thanks to all of you guys (and gals) who kept me encouraged during this quest! Your encouragement as well as a blog to keep me honest made this a very rewarding experience! Time to go flying for real now!

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