How Hard is Learning to Fly?
Budd Davisson, appeared in Flight
Nothing worthwhile comes
easy, but learning to fly is mostly determination, not brain
How Hard is Learning to fly REALLY?
One of the interesting aspects of special interest magazines like Flight
Training is that, whether it’s hotrods, scuba diving, racing
widgets or airplanes, for every reader who is hard core and actively
involved, there are generally many more who are reading and watching,
but not actually doing. Is that you? If so, you’re definitely
So, what’s holding you back? The reasons generally given for
not jumping in almost always group themselves into “intangibles,” like
doubting your own ability to master seemingly impossible technical
tasks, to very “tangible” concerns about money and time.
A good percentage of the reasons, both tangible and intangible, that
people give for holding back, are based on old-wive’s tales or
bad information. Let’s run down the “Gee, I wish I could,
but….” list and examine each of the common reasons given
that, even though the desire is there, people don’t learn to
The Intangible Reasons
The intangible reasons are quite often based on fears that have no
basis in fact. This is especially when it comes to the knowledge or
mental aptitude required. Most people forget that everything they’ll
ever need to know about flying will be force fed to them during ground
school. It is the ground instructor’s goal to take a person who
barely knows the definition of “up” and school them in
the intricacies of aviation. You can learn any thing and they can teach
How much math do I need to know?
It would help if you can add and subtract. And multiplying is handy
sometimes too. That’s about it! Honest! Fourth grade arithmetic
will take care of the entire thing.
How deep is the technology involved?
Do you have a general idea how your car engine works? Gas and air mix
in the carburetor/fuel injection system, it’s squirted into the
cylinders and fired by a spark plug. There, we just gave a crash course
in aviation engine theory. The rest of the systems are just as familiar
and parallel to the family car, but much simpler. Airplanes are quite
rudimentary, once everything is explained.
What about aerodynamics and other scientific concepts?
The FAA has carefully distilled the amount of aerodynamics you need
to know into easily-learned lesson plans. Similarly, quite a number
of after-market teaching institutions have come up with ways of explaining
how an airplane flies while imparting a practical understanding of
the concepts without requiring an engineering degree. Most of this
can be done on line.
Do I have to understand meteorology?
Again, remember what ground school is for. It’s there to teach
you what you don’t know. Besides, the weather information you
get on the nightly news contains 90% of the meteorological theory you’re
going to cover in flight training. TV weather is always presented on
a map, complete with hot and cold fronts, lows and highs and other
items you’ve seen on an almost daily basis. Ground school will
expand on that slightly and orient it toward aviation.
I hear FAA regulations are hard to understand.
You heard right. The FAA doesn’t specialize in clarity, but every
ground school on the planet does. They make their living coming up
with ever-more-understandable ways of presenting FAA regulations to
students. They’ve created all sorts of easy-to-follow classroom
outlines aimed at clearing away the regulatory fog.
I’m afraid I’m going to panic or clutch up.
That’s understandable. This is an entirely new environment: no
one but pilots routinely deal with the third dimension. Even so, it’s
highly unlikely (read that as nearly impossible) that you’ll
panic as things become more intense. This is a classic case of fear
of the unknown. 100% of the time, the most common reaction from first
time students is, “That wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought
it would be. I can do this.”
What about airsickness? I don’t want to embarrass myself.
Very, very few people actually get sick in an airplane while learning
to fly and, of those who do, the majority have spend so much time worrying
about it that they’ve made themselves sick. Even those who have
initial problems get past it in around three hours of flight time.
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