Return to flight

After thinking about it for a while now I’ve decided to re-start flight training, moving toward getting my Private Pilot License.  I’ve wanted to fly since I can remember.  My earliest flight memory comes from a ride in a small private plane when I couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 years old.  I remember sitting with my parents and the pilot – eating breakfast, I think.  We took a ride and I remember looking out the window and seeing the tiny trees and people down below, looking just like the little plastic toys I played with.  I was hooked.  As a boy and teen, my Dad and I flew radio controlled models.  While I never got really good at it, I did spend an awful lot of time flying gliders and learning about airfoils, angle of attack, center of gravity, thrust, lift, and all the mechanics of flight.  Dad could (and very often did) design and build airplanes from scratch, flew them as well as most serious competitive flyers, but for whatever reason never did like flying in small planes.

I have a couple of hours logged from much earlier training sessions, one dating back to 1999 and the other from 2002.  They’re old, but they still count.  Both flights were in Piper Cherokee (PA-28-140) aircraft, which I prefer at this point over a Cessna 172 — at least partly for reasons I’ll cover in greater detail later on.  I do want to get some more time in the 172, though, since it’s an extremely popular airplane.  Many, if not most flight schools operate at least partly using 172s.  From what I have read, the two have very different flight characteristics.

The first step will be to get my medical exam by an aviation medical examiner.  Fortunately there is one in the family practice office we use, and I’m really due for a physical anyway — so I can kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.  That will get me a Student Pilot License, which is required to fly solo.  I could hold off on it until I’m ready to solo, but at 50+ I suppose I should be getting regular medical exams anyway.

Next up is a self-imposed limit — I’m not going to log any cockpit hours until I’ve shed some pounds and gotten back into something resembling reasonable condition for my age.  While I haven’t assigned any hard and fast qualifications to that objective, “I’ll know it when I get there”.  The cockpit of a Cherokee is not exactly roomy (though a couple inches wider than the 172), and with only one door on the right side it means a little physical hauling of one’s ass in and out of the airplane.  I’d prefer not to wheeze and grunt in front of the instructor.  Or in general, for that matter.  Of course I’m not getting any younger, the muscles and joints aren’t getting any more resilient, and from here on out it’s just going to be more and more difficult to reverse the effects of too many years of too much food and not enough activity.

While working on those two items, I’ll start preparing by doing some at-home study – regulations, navigation, etc.  Sporty’s has a pretty reasonably priced DVD course, and it seems that Flight Simulator is a pretty good training tool as well.  There is a tremendous amount to learn!  The flight controls (throttle, mixture, ailerons, rudder, elevator) are no big deal — as a former radio control flyer, I’m pretty familiar with how airplanes fly and why.  The instruments, procedures, navigation, radio, landing pattern, charts, weather, and calculating things like altitude density, takeoff distance, that sort of thing…  that’s going to take a lot of study and practice.  It seems at this point to be very daunting, but of course once put into context and actual practice a few times, I’m sure it will get better.