Aircraft piloting/Pilot basic information

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You've taken a first step in the process of becoming a pilot. It is both challenging and rewarding to maneuver an aircraft in the sky. There is much to learn before you can go off on your own.

What You Need to Learn

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No matter what type of aircraft you want to fly and no matter whether your intention is to spend leisure time in the sky or to have a multi-decade career, you will need to know:

The Science of Flight.
Why and how things fly.
The Laws of Flight.
Local, national, and international laws that govern where and how you can or should fly.
The Art of Flight.
The actual practice and experience of flight.
Customs and Conventions.
The unwritten and sometimes unspoken ways of pilots.
Safety will be stressed in every part of your learning experience.

Where to Learn to Fly

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Airport Flight Schools.
Major airports where large airliners fly in and out several times an hour are not usually a good place to look for flight training because they are just too busy. However, most smaller airports have flight schools and independent flight instructors.
Independent Flight Instructors.
Some flight instructors have their own airplanes or can help you rent an airplane and teach you to fly informally without using a school.
Flight Universities and Academies.
If you intend to be a professonal airline pilot in the United States, your best bet is to earn a college education as well as your wings.
Family Member or a Pilot Friend.
Although you can learn to maneuver an airplane with the help of any pilot, you cannot legally fly solo or earn a certificate until you have received instruction from a Certified Flight Instructor.
Flight Simulators.
There is no reason you can't spend as much time as you want flying a simulator (such as Microsoft Flight Simulator or X-Plane). Unless you are working with a Flight Instructor and flying an FAA approved simulator, it doesn't count toward legal requirements for getting a pilot's certificate. Simulators are not a substitute for the experience of flight but can give you some valuable and relatively inexpensive experience.
Flight Books and Flight Resources on the Internet.
You can learn a good deal about safety, the science of flight, and the rules and regulations of flight by studying in books and online. The internet is a great resource. Hopefully many of your questions will be answered through this Wikiversity School of Aviation.
Your country's military is probably training pilots right now. You must be a top notch student in the classroom to be selected for flight school in the military.

How Long Does It Take?

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The amount of time it takes to learn depends upon many factors:

How easy or difficult is it for you to learn?
Some people just seem to pick up flying easier. Older people usually take longer to learn.
How frequently can you fly?
The more often you fly the more information you will retain. Consequently, it will be much cheaper for those who fly three or four times per week than those who fly two or three times per month.
How much do you want to learn?
Are you simply interested in learning to fly a powered parachute or do you want to learn to fly a jet airliner?
Legal Requirements for your locale.
Legal requirements in the US.
The availability of aircraft, instructors, and other resources.
This is tied into the question of how frequently can you fly. If it's difficult to schedule the airplane or instructor, you'll fly less often, so learning to fly will take more training hours.
One thing you'll notice, however, is that you are flying from the very first day. For many students, "how long does it take" becomes an unimportant question, because they're flying already. You just can't take passengers and have some other restrictions.
In the United States, to earn a Private Pilot certificate, you are required to have had a minimum of 40 flight hours. At least 20 of those hours must be with an instructor. A typical flight lesson will be about an hour (plus additional time talking with your instructor on the ground, preflighting the airplane, etc). You must also pass a written exam, for which many people attend 20-40 hours of ground school or a similar amount of time studying on their own. Some people are able to take and pass the flight exam after exactly 40 hours of flight time. Others need far more.

What Kinds of Pilot Are There?

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For a discussion of classifications of pilots in the United States, go to the Topic:General aviation page.

What Supplies Are Needed?

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It frequently comes as a surprise that students are expected to rent their aircraft. The flight school where you take your lessons will probably offer you an hourly rate that includes the cost of fuel. The hourly rate is determined from the time your aircraft engine first starts up until it is turned off. Rental aircraft have a gauge called a Hobbs Meter that keeps a record of time the engine is running. You are expected to note the number on the Hobbs Meter before you start the engine and the time on the Hobbs after you return so you can pay for your rental time. If you fly to another airport and shut down to have lunch, you do not pay for the time the engine is shut off. Furthermore, some places rent their airplanes by tach time rather than Hobbs. The tachometer is tied to the RPM indicator and will always be a little bit (maybe 10% or so) less than Hobbs time.
Most aircraft today are equipped with radios and intercoms that you plug a headset into. Most aircraft headsets are equipped to reduce some cabin and engine noise with large cushioned ear cups. They usually have a boom microphone attached that lets you speak over the radio by simply pushing a push-to-talk button. More expensive headsets have Active Noise Reduction and other features to make hearing the radio more comfortable. Some places include headsets when you rent, but you'll probably want your own.
Your logbook is a legal record of your activities and endorsements. As a student pilot, you should carry it with you whenever you are receiving instruction and record every lesson. Later in life, your logbook will be a treasured possession.
You may be assigned to buy a textbook. You should also have a current copy of the Regulations. In the United States, the FAR/AIM is published annually and you should review it each year since the changes will affect you.
E6B Flight Computer.
The E6B Flight Computer, also known as the "whiz wheel", is a form of circular slide rule used in aviation. They are mostly used in flight training, but many professional and even airline pilots will still carry and use their E6Bs. E6Bs are used during flight planning (on the ground before takeoff) to aid in calculating fuel burn, wind correction, time en route, and other items. In the air, the E6B can be used to calculate ground speed as well. The back is designed for wind correction calculations, i.e., determining how much the wind is affecting your speed and course.
The E6B is also available as a pocket calculator. The electronic form is easier to use.
Fuel Tester.
Pilots check the fuel in their aircraft before every flight. Depending on how the airplanes you rent are equiped, you may need your own tester to make sure you always have one available.
Current Charts.
When you begin flight training you will use VFR Sectional Charts. Sectional charts provide detailed information on topographical features that are important to aviators, such as terrain elevations, ground features easily identifiable from altitude (rivers, dams, bridges, large buildings, etc.), and ground features useful to pilots (airports, beacons, distinctive landmarks, etc.). The chart also provides information on airspace classes, ground-based navigation aids, radio frequencies, longitude and latitude, naviation waypoints, navigation routes. Charts expire periodically, so you need new ones. Check the expiration date when you buy them. Luckily, charts are inexpensive if you stay close to home and don't need to buy a lot of them.
Don't worry about all these details. You'll soon be familiar with all of them and comfortable discussing specialized details with other pilots.
Vision Limiting Device.
Sometimes referred to as "the hood" or "foggles", a Vision Limiting Device is used to restrict your vision so that you can readily view the airplane instrument panel but not look out the windows. These are used to give you the feeling of flying in the clouds. They are only used when another pilot is along to act as your eyes. During private pilot training, you won't do very much of this type of training and can probably borrow from your instructor, but if you go on for advanced ratings, you'll want your own.
Flight Bag.
To carry all your other stuff.
Although not exactly supplies, you will need to pay for written, practical, and medical examinations.

What Does It Cost?

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This is the biggest question people ask. You will be given different answers each time you ask the question. As in the above, it depends upon your needs. Here is a guide. (Prices are in USD).
Item From To
Flight Training $4000 $20,000
Headset $150 $1,000
Logbook $10 $20
Books $40 $300
E6B Flight Computer $30 $100
Fuel Tester $10 $40
Charts $8 $50
Vision Limiting Device $10 $50
Flight Bag $50 $150
Examinations $150 $350

Busting A Few Myths

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Flying an airplane is not the same as driving a car.

This analogy is misleading since an airplane operates in a different environment. Operating in three dimensions requires a type of motor skill development that is more sensitive.

You will develop:

  • Coordination - the ability to use your hands and feet together subconsciously and in the proper relationship to produce desired results in the airplane.
  • Timing - the application of muscular coordination at the proper instant to make flight and all maneuvers a constant smooth process.
  • Control touch - the ability to sense the action of the airplane and its probable actions in the immediate future with regard to attitude and speed variations. You will sense and evaluate different pressures and resistance of control surfaces transmitted through your flight controls.
  • Speed sense - the ability to sense instantly and react to any reasonable variation of airspeed.

For a humorous look at the differences between driving and flying, take a look at If flying were like driving.