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Learn to Fly Aeroplanes | Your Passport to General Aviation

Written by darren. Posted in Aviation General

Learn to Fly General Aviation Aeroplanes

If you decide to learn to fly a general aviation aircraft or opt to learn to fly in the light sports aviation or microlight category of aircraft either way I guarantee it may well be one of the most exciting, fulfilling and rewarding things you have ever done.

I wanted to learn to fly way back in the early 1990’s but didn’t start until a decade later. Having obtained my wings several years ago I can honestly tell you that the buzz of taking to the air and going places, particularly with other aviator friends never wanes, so lets take a look at what is involved at what you need to know before you learn to fly.

Barton Aerodrome (or City Airport Manchester) where many in the North West of England learn to fly is one of the oldest airfields in the UK. It is a very busy and bustling airfield just on the edge of Manchester Airports controlled airspace, with no less than 4 grass strip runways, a friendly flying club and some of the best bacon and sausage butties on offer at any airfield cafe in the UK.

It was also the location from which I decided to learn to fly and where I took one of my first flying experiences, a 30-minute trial flight in a 3 axis Thruster microlight which, as is recorded in my logbook, covered exercise four in the PPL syllabus – the effects of controls. I shortly thereafter had a trial flight in a flexwing microlight at the same flying school and was hooked. I decided that I wanted to learn to fly the flexwing due to it’s unrivalled freedom in the air, this is real flying; just ask any commercial pilot that has been in a flexwing and they will tell you the same. It is definitely the closest a human can get to being a bird, in my humble opinion.

Learn to Fly

To learn to fly and gain a PPL (Private Pilot Licence) you are going to have a genuinely fascinating, exciting and fulfilling pastime, with many flights starting at airfields just like Barton or even much smaller strips or airfields. And yet there are some amazing places to fly into that have enormous concrete runways. And the good news is, if you really want to learn to fly, getting involved is a lot more achievable than you might have originally thought.



So What do You Learn to Fly in?

Thanks to an increasing number and range of easy-to-fly and relatively affordable aircraft that have recently started to appear at airfields around the world, and an increase in the various types of licences available, there has rarely been a better time to learn to fly than there is today.

And no matter what type of aircraft you learn to fly in – be it a flexwing microlight like the one I fly, a four-seat tourer, a vintage biplane, a super-fast helicopter or even a super-powerful Airbus 380 – the chances are that you started at the controls of a single engined standard training aeroplane.

The question I often get asked is “So do you need to be super-clever and super-fit to learn to fly an aeroplane?” The simple answer thankfully is – no. If you can work out the recording facilities on Sky+ or any other satellite TV system, there’s a very good chance of covering the technical aspects you’ll need to learn to fly an aeroplane. As for fitness, anybody who can ride a bike safely will stand a good chance of measuring up to the aviation medical requirements and depending on age and licence type you may only need a self declaration of medical fitness.

So you want to learn to fly but what’s the first step? Well, it’s a good idea to find your local airfield (a quick google search using your local town or city should do the trick) and pay it a visit. Better still, book a trial lesson in one of the flying school’s training aircraft. This is an ideal way to discover if the practical side of flying really is for you, before spending a small fortune on lessons, text books and a pair of trendy Ray Ban aviator shades.

Trial lessons usually last from around 20 minutes to an hour (go for the longer one – you really can’t tell anything in 20 minutes) and will cost up to £200-£250. If you want to learn to fly today (2011) it is getting more expensive and the way that fuel prices are increasing almost on a daily basis at the moment don’t be surprised to see prices being higher than what I have stated here. Trial lessons in microlight aircraft be it 3 axis or flexwing are somewhat cheaper.

And best of all, once you decide that yes, I definitely want to learn to fly, you can record the time from your trial lesson in your logbook.

Your trial lesson will probably start in exactly the same way as every other flight you’ll ever do – with a pre-flight check/walk around. This is a routine safety exercise where the pilot checks the aircraft for general good condition and airworthiness – that the controls which determine the direction of the aircraft work perfectly well; that air intakes/pitot tubes connected to speed and pressure instruments are clear; that there’s enough oil and fuel for the engine; that the lights work and everything else is just as it should be to make sure your flight is as enjoyable as possible.

Once the checks are complete, you’ll be invited to sit in the all-important left-hand seat – the place where the pilot-in-command(PIC) usually sits and where you will spend your time as you learn to fly. The interior of most training aircraft is often quite a cramped affair and you’ll be surprised that some microlight aircraft are actually more comfortable than a lot of GA aircraft.

You’ll immediately notice a whole range of initially confusing displays and two identical sets of controls – one on each side of the cockpit. In all honesty, it really won’t take you long at all to learn what each of those knobs, dials and switches does, with your instructor introducing you to them as the lessons progress.

As for the controls, at this early stage, the main ones to bear in mind are the control column (this might either be a simple stick or a steering-wheel-like assembly) and the rudder pedals. With your instructor starting the engine and making all the necessary engine checks and radio calls (again, the responsibility for these will gradually be passed over to you as your training progresses), it will be time to taxi out towards the runway.

Steering an aeroplane on the ground is actually controlled by the rudder pedals; press the right one to go right, and the left one to go left – simple really. However if you decided to learn to fly a flexwing microlight these controls are different. In a flexwing trike the ground controls work like a kids go-kart or bogie; if you want to turn right you push your left foot forward and your right foot forward if you want to turn left. This is where many that learn to fly can get confused as to some it seems counter intuitive.

Before too long, you’ll find yourself at the end of the runway and ready for take-off. Every aeroplane has an optimum speed for take-off – for example, in a Cessna 152 it’s 55kt (aeroplane speeds are still in measured in knots) – so your instructor will gently open the throttle to full power for take-off and as the aeroplane moves down the runway and reaches that speed, will carefully pull back on the control column and you’ll gently lift into the air. In a flexwing aircraft again it is different in that the bar is pushed forward and full power is applied using the foot throttle. As you achieve the required flying speed the aircraft unsticks from the ground and you become air-born.

That first departure is a truly memorable experience. You encounter a unique form of three-dimensional freedom where you can control whatever direction you want to go with a simple movement of the controls. For the truly fortunate individuals that learn to fly and become seasoned pilots, the thrill that accompanies this feeling of freedom never leaves you and it’s at the core of all that’s so great about flying. It is nothing like flying in a big jet. It’s hard to describe the feeling, you just have to experience it.

Once you’re in the air and safely away from other airfield traffic, the instructor will let you take over the controls. As you learn to fly, you will soon discover that aeroplanes move in three ways – roll, pitch and yaw. Roll refers to the banking movement which takes place along an imaginary line running from the front of the aeroplane to the rear, where as one wingtip goes up, the other goes down.

This is controlled by moving the control column from side to side. Pitch is where the nose of the aircraft goes up and down as the tail does the opposite – this is controlled by moving the control column forwards and backwards. Finally, yaw is the movement which takes place along an imaginary vertical line down through the centre of the aircraft, with the wingtips moving along a horizontal plane in opposite directions to each other. This is controlled by the two rudder pedals.

Again if you learn to fly in a flexwing microlight aircraft you will discover the controls are totally the opposite. You will also discover that there is no rudder to control. Pitch is controlled by moving the control bar forwards to pitch up and is pulled towards you to pitch the nose down. To go left, the control bar is moved to the right and in the opposite direction to turn right.

It may all seem strange and confusing, however these controls in both aircraft soon become second nature. The difficulties only manifest if you ultimately fly both types of aircraft. You don’t want to get the controls of one aircraft type mixed up with the other, particularly when close to the ground.

These basic controls are at the core of learning to fly, and soon you’ll be using them, alongside the throttle, flaps and trim – to control your altitude, speed and direction in a smooth and relaxed manner. Then it’s just a matter of figuring out where you’re going, who to talk to along the way and how to land the aircraft, and you’re pretty much on the way to earning your PPL. Of course, there are a few other requirements before you can call yourself a qualified pilot. In the case of a JAA PPL(A) licence, you’ll need to pass a Class 2 Medical, along with seven aviation exams. In truth, the medical really isn’t as demanding as you might think, while the ground school exams do demand a fair amount of study, there are plenty of study aids and courses available to help you, PPL Exam Pro being just one of them.

As you progress through your lessons, there are certain milestones along the way that you’ll remember as long as you continue to fly. Your first solo flight is an incredible thrill, often described as the best piece of flying that you’ll ever experience, thanks to how prepared and focused you’ll inevitably be for the event. Then your first successful cross-country flight and your first approach carried out purely on instruments, with no reference to landmarks outside the plane – all quite unforgettable and worthy reminders of the very exciting and fulfilling nature you get when you decided to learn to fly.

The “Learn to Fly” Experience Concludes

Then comes the day when you’re ready to take that final exam – the general flight test (GFT). While licence requirements may demand a minimum of 45 hours tuition (32 hours in the case of an NPPL), in reality this is more likely to have taken typically in excess of 50 hours over a period of up to 18 months, by which time you’ll have completed a thorough and demanding syllabus of exercises, scenarios and legal requirements that will leave you capable of flying a single-engined aircraft on your own in UK airspace.

You decided 18 months ago to learn to fly and then it happens – six or so weeks after you send off your paperwork to the CAA and that PPL with your name on arrives through your letterbox – Oh Joy! Now you need to out and truly learn to fly.



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