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Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
10/18/21 3:37 p.m.

I know it's a lot of time and a lot of money, but I think it would be neat to load up the family and be able to go for a flight, even if it's just a few minutes in the air.

Even if I did get serious, it'd be a while before I could commit since I'm still about knee-deep in student loans, but I guess I'm just curious about what to expect/what your experience was like if you got a private pilot's license.

Again, this is just a general inquiry, I'm not like looking to sign up for any classes just yet.

Adrian_Thompson (Forum Supporter)
Adrian_Thompson (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
10/18/21 3:48 p.m.

I've looked into it in the past, but at the end of the day I can't justify another time/money suck.  But I was figuring around $10-14K by the time you got your PPL including everything.  When I was looking I did my exploratory flight with an instructor whose day job is a senior pilot for Delta.  He owns a C150, which is borderline for our combined weights, and a 50% of a C172.  The big advantage of that is as long as our schedules lined up I had access to a plane.  I've heard horror stories at some flight schools trying to even schedule flight time as everyones free time is similarly early mornings, evenings, and weekends meaning everyone wants flight time at the same time.  That was a few years ago and YMMV. .

I can't wait to see what people who actually know what they're talking about chime in, as it's still an ongoing daydream.  At least I've reached the 'when we have the money' comment to go along with the eye roll from the spousal unit when I mention it. :)  

birdmayne New Reader
10/18/21 4:02 p.m.

A good friend of mine is a commercial pilot. He takes me flying when our schedules line up, which is not frequent. 

I keep pressuring him to get his CFI (Certified Flight Instructor) license, so I can log my hours with him. The only way I can justify the cost, is to remove 85% of it. 


However, if / when I do get my PPL, he and I want to split a bird and travel the states. 

preach (fs)
preach (fs) Dork
10/18/21 4:08 p.m.

My wife and I just took our first helicopter lesson. No real plan to get our licenses, but we flew a freaking helicopter with full control for 5 mins each.  I think I posted it in off topic.

It's only 40 hours to get your helicopter license and that's @$350-ish an hour. Most folk take more than 40 before they take the test.

Then for the tiny Robinson R22 we flew it is about $60k to purchase and I have no clue how much to maintain and store.

IF that was my only hobby I'd have to think hard on it. At least with cars I can say I have $XXk in return investment and still get to enjoy them. I guarantee that getting my helo license and buying one would be more than the $XXk I have into my cars right now. Not really worth it.

Cool as berkeley to fly though. Might want to at the least fly something just for kicks.

bgkast PowerDork
10/18/21 4:31 p.m.

I've been slowly working on it. A good and inexpensive way to get you feet wet and see if you want to jump in is ground school. I looked around and selected Gold Seal. A discovery flight is also a good way to get a preview of the fun, flying part.

So far life has been getting in the way of flight lessons, but once my time and money stop getting sucked up by my MBA next summer I hope to get started.

Appleseed MegaDork
10/18/21 4:32 p.m.

Sport pilot. Sport pilot. Sport pilot.

No medical. Your valid driver's license is all you need. You can log airtime unlike an ultralight. There are restrictions,  but unless your goal is travel or a carrier, theres no need for a full ticket. Half the time, 20 hours, small single and 2 seaters. Think Piper Cub. 


z31maniac MegaDork
10/18/21 4:35 p.m.

I've thought about this often recently. I've become more and more a fraidy cat about flying, even though I know the statistics regarding everything. Had a really scary incident on a plane a few years ago that's made it impossible for me to get on a plane without slamming a half-pint of Jameson in the parking lot before the flight. 

I've always thought learning how to fly would help me get over my fear of it. 

jgrewe HalfDork
10/18/21 4:42 p.m.

I grew up in a flying family. Getting a license was just kind of the next step after cars in the "vehicle control" hierarchy.  When you calculate the cost I think the average time for people to take their tests is around 70 hrs. Minimum is 40.

Once you start training you need to fly a couple times a week to really have things sink in. If you drag it out too long you can have certain sections of training "time out". I think the simulated instrument training  has to be within 60 days of test day. It is one of the last things you do with an instructor anyway but it can end up costing you an hour of instructor and plane time.

I mention that specifically because it got me.  I had all the testing done except the flight test and the examiner went back through my logbook counting days.  I ended up missing the 60 day cut off after my test was postponed by weather.  I had to go up with an instructor for an hour and then I could take the check ride.

The woman that did my check ride said I had the second lowest time she had passed a person with. I ended up testing with 41.5 hours. Yes it helped that as a kid getting in my dad's Bonanza was like getting into a car for me.

Once you have your license, it isn't like riding a bike. You have to fly to stay safe at it. It is fun but if you absolutely have to get somewhere fly commercial.

BoxheadTim MegaDork
10/18/21 4:51 p.m.

In reply to Appleseed :

From memory, one of the big restrictions for Sport Pilot is that you can't get an IFR rating, which means you really have to make sure that you get to wherever you are going before dusk.

The other issue is that there is a fairly small selection of affordable planes. Piper Cubs and their newer variants like Super Cubs are not cheap and there are few other planes that qualify (Ercoupes come to mind). The newer stuff that was supposed to be affordable buys you a C172 and enough money left over to get the full PP certificate.

That said, I believe you can get a Sport Pilot cert and as long as you do the paperwork correctly, the hours count against the full PPL.

BoxheadTim MegaDork
10/18/21 4:52 p.m.
z31maniac said:

I've always thought learning how to fly would help me get over my fear of it. 

I'm not the best passenger in a car, so that has me wonder how bad it would be if I had a PPL and needed to fly commercial.

Backseat pilots and all that.

aircooled MegaDork
10/18/21 5:07 p.m.

It's going to be a lot of time and money to just fart around a bit.  A far better reason is for the skill and knowledge of it.  FAR cheaper to just charter a pilot to fly you around a bit.

Practical use of a private plane is hard to justify for most people.  Even vacations can be hard to setup, or be practical in a small plane (look up "The $100 hamburger").

As I like to tell people.  There are two types of cars parked at the general aviation airport:  Nice ones and crappy ones.  The nice ones are people who have the money to fly, the crappy ones are people who don't.

(I come from an aviation family, my step father was a flight examiner)

matthewmcl HalfDork
10/18/21 5:49 p.m.

Sport pilot lets you find out if it is all worth the trouble. If it is worth the trouble, then you buy a kit and build the plane. This is GRM, after all.

Keep in mind that some insurance companies get picky about you having a pilots license. Logic does not seem to apply.

Apis Mellifera
Apis Mellifera Dork
10/18/21 6:35 p.m.

My dad and uncle are both pilots.  My uncle was a bush pilot in South America for over 20 years.  Then he retired and started a flight school in Lantana, Florida.  He trained Dad.  About the time I decided to get my license, Dad sold his plane and my uncle sold his flight school (the new owners kept the name and immediately started crashing planes and killing people).  He still has a few planes, but they both said the same thing: it'll cost more than you expect and don't expect flying to save time over driving.  Pre-flight, arranging transportation once you land somewhere, etc.  I may get my license eventually, but it's not high enough on my want-to list at the moment.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
10/18/21 6:43 p.m.

I have nothing to add other than I want to see Colin wearing those old tyme goggles. 

Appleseed MegaDork
10/18/21 7:20 p.m.

In reply to BoxheadTim :

That's why you build your own. The experimental section of Barnstormers is berkin' dangerous. 

I'm warning you...

BoxheadTim MegaDork
10/18/21 7:27 p.m.

In reply to Appleseed :

Funny you should say that, it's one of the sections on Barnstormers I'm somewhat acquainted with.

As I have to jump through some extra hoops to even be allowed to take lessons - non-US Citizens have to get a thumbs up from the DHS (IIRC) to be even allowed to take lessons, and doing so locks you in to a specific flight school as well - my interest so far has been more theoretical.

Something to consider if/when I finally give up on track driving and sports cars.

914Driver MegaDork
10/19/21 7:17 a.m.

A local flying school gets $10,000 to get you to the point of Solo.  I joined a glider club, $500 to join, instruction is free just pay for your tows.  ($35 to 3,000 ft.).  For me to go to a Light Sport stamp it's just a practical test.  Of the 8 instructors in the club, 6 are also power instructors.  

Several members are power pilots, many have said the soaring experience has helped their flying a lot.  As far as IFR; we're GRM, the flying we may do in a plane will more than likely be daytime, maybe stay over and then fly back.  I bought a motor glider instead of a Light Sport.  Same restrictions, but if a Piper Cub dies in the air it floats down like a Volvo wagon.  The motor glider has a 27:1 glide ratio, way more landing options.  The cockpit is roomier than a 172 with better visibility and it cruises at 110 mph.

Colin, go for an Intro Flight with these guys.  It's a Commercial operation so will cost more, but they can give you a realistic idea of how long and how expensive it may be.  Ask about Motor gliders and transitioning to power also.

Of course you need to post pictures ....

bgkast PowerDork
10/19/21 9:41 a.m.

In reply to BoxheadTim :

In before BoxheadTim's what plane thread!

Sonic UberDork
10/19/21 9:46 a.m.

I bought a C150 with a group of friends and acquaintances a few months ago, we've gotten it home and a fresh annual and a few other things and several people are getting close to Soloing now.  I've yet to see the plane due to my schedule but hopefully soon.  Doing it this way has a much lower buy in price and our wet costs to fly are a small fraction of typical rental rates.  Our plan is just to fly it as much as we can until we all get our PPL, and fortunately this plane can be IFR certified cheap and then we will likely keep going to get instrument rated, all while paying $50/hr wet including a planned overhaul.  

Appleseed MegaDork
10/19/21 10:17 a.m.

In reply to Sonic :

40 deg. of flaps fmfw!

RX Reven'
RX Reven' UltraDork
10/19/21 11:02 a.m.

Had a piggy bank labeled "flying lessons" since I was five...got my driver's license on my 16th birthday and drove from the DMV to a local high school to enroll in ground school...had my written pilot's license and endorsement to solo on my 17th birthday but had to wait 3 days to solo due to below VFR minimums...big flying fan boi here.

Ops, gotta take a kid to school...will complete later.

OK, I'm back.

My motivation to learn to fly is that I have a passion for vehicles and aircraft are the most sophisticated vehicle an average person can access.

As was said earlier, wanting to be able to get somewhere in hurry is a poor reason to get a pilot's license...less than 250 miles, a car is quicker as you've got to drive to the airport, check weather and NOTAMS (print them out as you need proof you did it), probably file a flight plan, preform preflight inspection, and then go...on the other end, fill tanks to prevent condensation, tie down, probably close flight plan and then drive to your destination.  Also, if you're doing it right, you're going to be spent when you get to your destination if you fly as you should have been focusing intently the entire time.  Over 400 miles, take a commercial flight as it's faster, cheaper, safer, more reliable, and less fatiguing.  So, you've just got a small window of 250 to 400 miles where a private aircraft stands a chance of being faster and it'll still be more expensive, more dangerous, less reliable, and more fatiguing.

So, general avaition isn't about going fast, it's about freedom, it's about experiences, it's about meeting challanges and developing skills.

Honestly, I had a pretty tough situation growing up but I made it in life and I credit learning to fly, more than anything else, for that...I know a lot of people credit sports but I absolutely suck at sports and sweating isn't my thing so...

I really didn't have anyone encouraging me growing up but I realized that if I could, on my own, become a pilot by 17 and do really well at it (soloed at 15.5 hours with no time off the books - the legal minimum is 15) 97% on my written exam (70% is required for private pilot / 95% is required for flight instructor) both my flight instructor and the airport field commander were supper supportive and I could tell, authentically believed in my ability, I couldn't be such a bad guy.

I remember just before setting off on my first cross country solo flight overhearing my dad ask the the airport field commander if he thought I could handle it.  He was a gruff, old, WWII naval flight instructor and I'll never forget what I overheard him say "don't repeat this to your son, I don't want him to get a swollen head, but he's one of the best god damn pilots I've ever trained".

That belief in me was something I really, really needed at that time and I know it significantly altered the whole trajectory of my life.

So, looking back, you may conclude that the effort / reward ratio wasn't worth it or you could discover something in yourself that makes you a better version of you forever; don't know.

If you want to move forward, there are a bunch of pilots here (myself included though I stopped flying years ago) that would be happy to provide guidance.

MadScientistMatt UltimaDork
10/19/21 11:54 a.m.

On a related note, what's involved with getting a balloon pilot's license?

RX Reven'
RX Reven' UltraDork
10/19/21 12:52 p.m.
MadScientistMatt said:

On a related note, what's involved with getting a balloon pilot's license?

You don't have to know too much as you have "right of way over all other aircraft except those in duress" but it'd be a good idea to be extreeemely knowledgeable about power line locations and fine wine.

914Driver MegaDork
10/19/21 1:31 p.m.

... and take good care of your ground crew.  It's tough hitch hiking with a big wicker basket and a mile of dacron!

jgrewe HalfDork
10/19/21 4:59 p.m.

Since you are in Florida I'll say that flying can be a great way to get to places that are hard to get to otherwise.  I'm in St Pete so a trip to Key West is a solid 8 hour drive. I can take a C172 or Piper Archer and get there in 2 hours, preflight to tie down.

A trip that is hard to do by car and only takes a little longer than going to Key West for me is Freeport , Bahamas. From there you can island hop to South America if you want.

My old business partner holds the record for a civilian flying over Cuba to get to the Cayman Islands. He built a lot of stuff down there and flew a Cessna 310 over the air bridge from Marathon 186 times. There is one company that does the paperwork to get the permission and they have kept track.

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