Beginning flight lessons – a few tips

Getting my pilot’s license has been a bucket list item for me since before I knew what a bucket list was. It takes lots of time and money and energy but life is short so I decided to jump in and get to it!

I’ve already had a few lessons now so consider this the first of many summaries where I’ll share some things that I wish I had known before and perhaps do some product reviews and whatever else comes to mind. So without further ado, here we go!

Where to take lessons?
Turns out there are a few flying clubs on the peninsula. And they each have their own stable of CFIs (certified flight instructors) although many of them teach with multiple clubs. I went with West Valley Flying Club at the San Carlos airport (KSQL) although San Carlos Flight Center seemed to be fine too. Basically, joining the flying club lets you rent from their stable of aircraft, provides a facility for you to meet with your instructor as well as other resources such as insurance, simulators, etc. From their website, you can access a slew of learning resources and also schedule time with instructors and the aircraft. There’s a social element of the club as well as they host dinners as well as ground schools for those who prefer to learn in a more classroom like setting.

I should also mention that West Valley has a nice facility at the Palo Alto airport as well. I chose San Carlos just because it’s closer to work/home.

Which instructor?
There are lots of resources out there on how to choose an instructor. It seems like their rates are primarily based on how many hours of teaching they have under their belt vs how good a teacher they actually are. I’m sure there’s at least a weak correlation. The range is from $50-$100 per hour. I spoke to about 4 instructors and ended up choosing one who was relatively inexperienced but was flexible in schedule. I figured I could always switch instructors if we didn’t gel so might as well start with someone with lower rates. So far so good as he’s very skilled and knowledgeable and I’m progressing as expected.

What did I buy?
Half the fun is in researching for and buying gear and accessories! I didn’t get anything particularly fancy or expensive except for the headset. Long VFR TriFold Kneeboard KB-3L, ASA Rotating Plotter, ASAs Color E6B Flight Computer, and a number books such as the Federal Aviation Regulations / Aeronautical Information Manual, a used Jeppsen private pilot text book, and the Private Pilot Test Prep.

As I mentioned, the headset was the one thing that I spent a little money on. I ended up with the Quiet Technologies Halo Headset. I liked the fact that it was small and light as well as the strong performance from a noise attenuation perspective. There are much more expensive headsets that offer active noise cancellation. But I’m used to wearing ear plugs similar to how this headset works and the price to performance ratio was good. So far so good. I haven’t tried other headsets, but I’ve been happy with these so far.

I should also mention that I paid for a one year subscription to ForeFlight, an iPad app. It’s pretty amazing. It’s really a very comprehensive digital flight bag. And with an ADS-B accessory, it can also be a pretty darn good “glass cockpit.” Those accessories in addition to some other safety items (stall indicator, handheld radio) are on my wishlist.

What resources do I use?
Although I bought a few books, I probably would have just downloaded the free FAA airplane flying handbook and pilot handbook. These are actually very well produced especially given they’re free. As you might imagine, there are a ton of online resources out there that cover a wide swath of topics. Here are some of the ones that I found interesting:

1. Swayne Martin documented his own pilot journey in a pretty well written blog… for a 15 year old!
2. The AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) website is worth browsing.

What plane did I choose to learn on?
I did my first flight in a Cessna 172.

Cessna 172
It’s the most produced plane of all time and very popular among student pilots. My second flight was in a Piper Archer II.
Piper Archer II

It’s probably the second most popular trainer for new pilots. They are similar in a lot of ways with the most obvious difference being that the Cessna is a high wing plane and the Piper is a low wing plane. I personally liked the look of the Piper better. And the rental rates are about 15% cheaper too.

Which license am I shooting for?
Basically you can choose between a sport license and a private pilot license. The private pilot license is a bit more rigorous and sets you up for instrument flying, commercial pilot license, etc. if you want to do more later on. So that’s what I’m working against. I also considered getting a glider license but there aren’t a lot of glider opportunities nearby. And obviously, you can’t really go point to point in a glider. That is something I do want to try at some point though.

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