Learning to fly

October 21, 2018
October 21, 2018 Chris Eldridge

It’s always been an aspiration of mine to fly a plane. The origins of this may stem from the vivid sleeping dreams in which we’re floating and soaring from one place to another, over familiar lands and made-up fantasy worlds, or a combination of the two.

I met someone recently who brought the practical considerations of becoming a pilot into focus. He’s a military veteran, with Presidential security clearance, having served as a medic on Air Force One, many years ago.

Though he was obviously well-versed in the ins and outs of aviation, he gave a few recommendations that I’m skeptical of. One that stood out:

“Buy the plane that you’re going to learn in”

Specifically, he recommended a Columbia 400. This is a plane that goes for about $270K on controller.com. Beautiful bird, 4 seats, glass cockpit, but way out of my price range.

Columbia 400, a beautiful plane.

Everyone I spoke to has said to hold off on purchasing a plane in your first few years of flying: Is this something you’ll stay committed to? What if it turns out you don’t like flying this particular plane, or it’s too much or too little, or simply not suited well to your needs? This article on Quora was helpful, too. I scratched that idea (purchasing from the get-go), even though I’m often tempted by shiny new things when I’m getting into a new hobby, because that’s half the fun, right?

Looks like I’ll be renting. But I’m getting ahead of myself!

Aviation and the culture attached to it can seem like an enclosed bubble to someone who has no exposure to it. Meeting this person was like someone rolling out a welcome mat and saying, “We’ve been waiting for you!”. It appears to be a world world surrounded by regulations, complex technology, specific skillsets, and lots of demand for an investment of time to learn the ropes. There seems to be some risks when one sets foot in a world like this:

  • Paying lots of money to ‘experts’ in an effort to get the necessary training
  • Starting down a path, only to find out that you are going in the wrong direction
  • Entering for the wrong reasons

So, in a situation like this, it only makes sense to do some independent research! I called two friends from high school to ask their take on it. Their training and experience coming up in aviation could not have been more different, but each clearly shared a love for the act of flying, and a respect for the training that goes into it.

I met one of them for lunch – a commercial pilot who flies for a private charter company. He trained at Embry-Riddle University, a school for pilots who have a clear commercial pilot career path in mind. He gave me some great information.

The second person I contacted agreed to give me a ride in his Citabria. He has of course gone through all of the required training but is a hobbyist, along with his brother, with no commercial aspirations. He got into it early, and loves flying at airshows, taking photos, and owns a warbird which is housed at an aviation museum. We did a flight from Reid-Hillview in San Jose (KRHV), touch-and-go in Hollister (KCVH), and back.

It. Was. Awesome.

Long story longer: I’m hooked.

This will be a unique learning experience. Right now I’m deep in the studying and research phase.

I’ve spoken to some flight instructors and hope to get started with lessons soon.

Will it be expensive? Yes! Will it be worth it? Who Knows?!

I’ll document my journey here.

A few books I’ve started with: