A Starter for Ten

Nowadays driving a car is second nature, no one considers that at one point there was no such thing like learning to drive and the majority of people couldn’t afford to drive let alone own a car. This timescale isn’t 100 years ago, this is within 5 decades. Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” believed we would all be driving flying cars by 2005, of course that hasn’t come to pass but technology is allowing flight and opportunity to fly much more commercially viable for a holiday or for a hobby.

Following more up to date trends: “[1]The 2014 Boeing Pilot and Technician Outlook projects that 533,000 new commercial airline pilots and 584,000 new maintenance technicians will be needed to fly and maintain the world fleet over the next 20 years.”

[1] http://www.boeing.com/commercial/market/long-term-market/pilot-and-technician-outlook/

So, for someone embarking on investing in some pilot lessons, I’d strongly advise a trial lesson first. Most training centres offer trial 30-60 minute flights at relatively cheap rates ranging from £70-100. On groupon you can get them for even cheaper. In your trial flight assess first and foremost enjoyment throughout the flight. What I mean by this is: spatial and physical orientation throughout the flight, do you feel ill? If physical well being hasn’t been affected by flying, assess your enjoyment of learning about the aircraft, movement and potential techniques. When on the ground, if your immediate thoughts are “I want to continue this” then situation dependent, you are likely to be a happy flier. However, if there is any doubt at all, question the school, or discomfort in any way ensure you get all the facts first from the school and medically before proceeding.

The above is crucial because of the potential investment involved moving forward. A PPL can set you back up to £10k. For those straight out of university, education or apprenticeship and in their first job that is a large sum of money that can be put toward a house deposit. Therefore, inspect the schools hourly charges and check to see if they have any bulk hour deals that may get you a discount per hour you buy. Ensure there are no hidden costs or fees, this includes 2 specific ones: A fuel surcharge and landing fees. Landing fees are the more costly ones and can rack up to potentially being the equivalent for half the hourly fee which is on top of the instruction depending on the amount of landings carried out. Expect hourly instruction (dual charge) charges in a Cessna 152 to be between £160-200 per hour excluding landing fees and any fuel surcharge depending on the school. Other aircraft like a PA28 (Piper Warrior) or a Tecnam are costlier per hour and provide fewer other benefits to begin your flying in.

Once decided, the next most important task is to ensure you get the right instructor that matches your learning style and ability. As you are paying to learn, they are there to teach you and ensure you are enjoying it as that is when you learn most. I have been exceptionally lucky, in that, I have had 2 fantastic instructors that have suited me down to the ground; so do not waste fuel, money and your time if at all uncomfortable in the aircraft as you will likely be spending many more hours in a confined space with this person.

Once in the rudimentary stages of the flying syllabus you will be taught the basics of the control surfaces of the aircraft, how to inspect them whilst on the ground, carrying out the pre flight checks, and ideally each time before you fly you will be briefed before doing a sortie. Most importantly, do not show up unprepared, in terms of knowledge and equipment. Therefore, within the first 3-5 lessons and ideally once you have come to the conclusion flying is what you want to do, purchase the following things:

  1. AFE PPL Course Series pack – All 5 text books that cover the basic 9 PPL ground exam topics and the flying syllabus
  2. A checklist for your aircraft type (that you are learning on)
  3. A Flying Logbook
  4. A Fuel Dipstick (Maybe provided by your school)
  5. A fuel Tester (Maybe provided by your school)

Pilot supply shops that I regularly use: http://www.afeonline.com & http://www.pooleys.com/index.cfm

Number 1, 2 and 3 are key to begin with and 4 & 5 are dependent upon your school. However, are required once you start flying on your own to carry out the checks on the aircraft. This should set you back by a maximum of £150. The majority is for the course text books. You can buy the e-content versions that come on a CD/ DVD but I’m old fashioned and prefer to pick up something from a shelf to read than a screen.

Within the next 10 lessons, if all going smoothly look to expand your flying kit to the following:

  1. 1:500,000 aeronautical chart
  2. Staedtler permanent marker pens
  3. PP-2 Commercial Square Protractor
  4. A Scale Ruler NHB010 HBM-1 (24 cm)
  5. A4/A5 Kneeboard
  6. PLOG pad (maybe provided by school)
  7. A CRP Flight computer
  8. A carry case
  9. An aviation headset

The above isn’t the cheapest and in total can set you back £400-700 depending on what headset you buy. Therefore, a few cost saving tricks are in order. The first is your flight case. Do NOT buy a bulky flight case from a well known brand when learning because first off it’s about £50 and really not worth it, I repurposed a Targus shoulder strap laptop bag that cost me all of a £10 and fits all my flight kit above minus my headset and looks smart. Do not go buying flying clothes, they are often a rip off and when being taught your PPL, you will be encouraged to wear what is comfortable (unless you are on a commercial course where they may mandate some form of formal dress in the cockpit). Buy your kneeboard when you know what size your PLOG (Pilots LOG, which is where all your navigation data is written) will be.

The most expensive items are the Aviation headset (£200-1000) and the flight computer (circa. £40-90). Therefore, leave these bits till later in the course. The Flight computer isn’t needed until you begin navigation training which doesn’t start till lesson 18 with my advice to purchase a CRP-5. This is a commercial flight computer at around £75 but allows you to do more calculations and is indestructible. The alternative is a CRP-1 which is also a decent computer at around £40. My view is biased on this as I received a CRP-5 as a birthday present but have since briefly used a CRP-1 and it is perfectly good, more compact and can be bought cheaply second had on eBay but cannot be used for anything more than PPL training. Further training requires a CRP-5. Likewise, I have no experience of electronic versions. Therefore, the best policy is to try before you buy and heed the advice of your instructor.

The aviation headset is a serious investment with many factors to consider and is a very personal choice. The best advice is buying a headset that suits your maximum budget taking into consideration the following:

  1. Passive or active noise attenuation (Active Noise Reduction is considerably more expensive)
  2. Passive engine and aircraft noise attenuation
  3. Microphone quality
  4. Additional features

A passive headset blocks sound by the sound proofing the ears with solid materials and a tight seal round the ears, an active noise cancelling system generates electrical signals that equalise the frequency of the surrounding noise to effectively cancel them out. This allows ANR headsets to be lighter than passive headsets as it doesn’t require as much material proofing. There is evidence to suggest that although ANR poses many benefits, it isn’t as effective at protecting your hearing because although the noise is cancelled out, this doesn’t stop your eardrum vibrating at the decibel level the sound is produced. This is conjecture based on some research I have conducted and not science fact.

Small aircraft cockpits tend to be the loudest due to the confined space and proximity to the engine. As such, high aircraft noise over an extended period is exceptionally draining and over a period of extended concentration can be exhausting. As such, ANR tends to free up some capacity and allows you to fly for longer. However, there are perks of having a passive headset other than price, student pilots are taught to gauge engine setting by sound to stop students fixating on instruments allowing them to improve airmanship, and as ANR cancels out a lot of engine noise this can often be hard to discern. My advice is to try both in cockpit environments, try and borrow your instructor’s pair and compare it to a school loaned pair (Passive vs. ANR). I ended up settling on an ANR headset simply because I found them much more comfortable and less exhausting to wear when flying.

Lastly, rely on your instructor and heed his/her advice!

If you have read this far and haven’t exited your browser or fallen asleep, I hope it gives you an informative read as these were all the lessons I went through relying on rubbish forum posts full of contradicting views and numerous hours web research. I hope it provides someone with a starter for ten.

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