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National Learn to Fly Day

By Anne Kautzky
Special to The SUN

Whether it has been a childhood fantasy, or a more recent dream, learning to fly and becoming a pilot has crossed most people’s minds at one point in their lifetime. Most people will come up with all kinds of ideas why they shouldn’t or couldn’t, but let’s look at … why not?

When a plane passes overhead, do you look up and wish you could be up there, too? Do you fantasize of escaping the two-dimensional world and discovering a different world with new perspectives, explore new places and experience a feeling of freedom and accomplishment?

All this is possible with a Private Pilot’s Certificate. You can experience the freedom that pilots experience as they travel the limitless sky. The only limitations are the ones you put on yourself.

Each year, thousands of pilots take to the skies and when asked why, most say, “Because flying is fun” and, “It provides a reliable and faster way to get to a destination.”

More and more people are discovering that flying is a fast, efficient and safe way of travel, opening up a whole new world of opportunities. For both business and personal travel, this is a means of going to the destinations you want, rather than where the airlines will take you and going there when you want to go, rather than on the airline’s schedule. Who couldn’t use more flexibility and productivity in their transportation needs?

What does it take to become a private pilot?

Desire. Desire is the most important element in successfully learning to fly. Flying is one of the most challenging activities you’ll ever experience, and that’s what makes it so rewarding. Once you have made the commitment to invest your time and energy in learning to fly, it’s time to take the next step.

There are three basic requirements to get your Private Pilot Certificate:

1. Age. There is no age limit to when you can start to learn to fly or a maximum age limit when you have to quit. As long as an instructor is with a student, he or she can start taking flying lessons as soon as they can maneuver the controls. (It would be helpful if you can see over the panel.)

Some people have the mistaken belief that the younger you are, the better. Those of us who teach flying would argue that, while it is true some young students may have quicker reflexes, what really counts in aviation are decision-making skills — skills that are acquired through experience. Older students have much more life experience to draw from.

The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) regulations have set a minimum of 16 years of age to solo (flying by yourself without an instructor) and 17 years old to apply for a Private Pilot Certificate.

2. Health. Prior to soloing the aircraft, you are required to pass a medical exam administered by an FAA flight physician. This document becomes your Student Pilot Certificate and is required to be with you anytime you solo the aircraft. It is highly recommended that once you have decided to learn to fly, you should be sure you qualify by having this flight physical completed.

Once you have your Private Pilot Certificate, this exam is required on a routine basis to ensure the pilot does not have any medical problems that would interfere with their ability to fly safely.

3. Finally, you must be able to read, speak and understand English.

On average, a person usually receives their Private Pilot Certificate in 55-60 hours. This includes a minimum of 20 hours with a certified flight instructor and 10 hours of flying by yourself (solo). Training not only includes the basic maneuvers and procedures to handling and flying the aircraft, but also night flying, instrument flying (flying solely by the aircraft instruments) and cross-country flying. You must also pass your Private Pilot Ground School Knowledge Test (written test) with a score of 70 percent or better. Later this fall, a Private Pilot Ground School will be offered through the Pagosa Springs Venturing Crew for anyone interested in studying for this written test. More information will be available in the near future.

If you are a motivated person and are able to fly at least three times a week, you can get through the course and receive your Private Pilot Certificate in about three to four months. For most people these days, this is not realistic. Remember, it is your time and money involved, so fly as much as possible to prevent skill loss, repeat lessons, and bad weather, all will interfere with your flight training. For most people, it takes about one to two years to reach their goal.

Due to insurance liability costs, most airport FBOs (Fixed Based Operators) have discontinued flight training and aircraft rental. The majority of flight schools are located at larger cities and may be a long distance commute from your home to their facility. Pagosa Springs is fortunate to have San Juan Flyers club located at Stevens Field. San Juan Flyers was established in 1998 to service the aviation community by providing a low-cost alternative to flying and aircraft availability.

On Saturday, May 18, San Juan Flyers will host a booth at the annual car show, in downtown Pagosa Springs on Lewis Street from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. If you have the passion to fly, members will be happy to answer all your questions about becoming a member of San Juan Flyers, getting your certificate or getting back into flying if you already have your certificate.

This story was posted on May 16, 2013.