What I’ve Been Doing

Getting more serious about the idea of getting an actual pilot’s license. So I’ve been reading. I have a new respect for pilots. It’s a daunting amount of information to remember. For instance, METAR reports. What is a METAR report? Stands for Metrological Aerodrome Report. What does a METAR look like? Well, like this:

KPHL 201354Z 36005KT 10SM CLR 29/16 A2994 RMK AO2 SLP138 T02890156

In that is pretty much everything you need to know about the weather in Philly to fly out of there. Winds are due north at 5 knots, visibility is 10 statute miles (specified because aircraft use nautical miles by default), clear skies, 29C (84F) degrees, dew point at 16C (60F). Pressure 29.94″ Hg. The complexity is not merely to confuse pilots. It’s to save radio bandwidth and make the report easy to parse. Another sort of code is flight plans. For this example, we’ll use my friend Jason, who is on his way to Hilton Head currently in his dad’s Twin Comanche. For a flight that long, you would typically want to file and follow a flight plan with the FAA. The route is described thusly:


Believe it or not, all of that translates into this, some of which are radio beacons, and others of which are just imaginary points in the sky. Given this string, air traffic control knows how you plan to fly, because these numbers are essentially codes for predefined routes. MXE (Modena, PA), for instance, is a VORTAC where you will pick up the V29 path to the ENO (Smyrna, DE) VORTAC, which passes through the DQO (Dupont) VORTAC on the way. If you want to see what that looks like on the chart, here’s a low enroute map of that area:

Much to learn. But it’s my goal to achieve competence first, before going through the formal process. That way I will learn quickly, and spend less money (hopefully) getting the actual license.

23 thoughts on “What I’ve Been Doing”

  1. Sebastien,

    I’m a former CFI & CFII. One thing you will need to consider if you do decide to get your license is that it will have a negative effect on any life insurance policies you may have or intend to get in the future, I don’t mean to be a killjoy I’m just pointing out a fact.

    Best of luck to you. Even if you get your license and never fly again you will be a member of a very exclusive community.

  2. ATP and CFII here….not that I do much flying anymore. But keep in mind that for people of average or better intelligence, the ‘book learning’ is fairly trivial. It’s the mechanical skill, and coordination that is expensive to learn.

    And I’m not sure that you can learn those skills on a game simulator. It’s not the same. A real simulator, sure. A procedures trainer? Great for complex airplanes and instrument flying, since learning an instrument scan and how to enter a holding pattern is not something one needs to waste avgas on. But actually flying?

  3. While I’m not CFI grade like Sterling, I do have 500 hrs of pilot time in light singles. DM me on Twitter if there’s anything you’d like to ask.

  4. And no, I don’t believe that you can learn to fly in a simulator. But it can at least let you practice basics, and I think it is relatively good for teaching how to fly on instruments.

    The main thing you’re missing is the movement part. Even if the modern game simulators get the physics mostly right, you don’t get spatial disorientation, don’t really feel what you’re doing to the plane (and you), and you’re still missing visual cues because it’s a rendered environment with a monitor as your window.

  5. In reply to Flighterdoc, I think you can learn a *lot* in a PC-based simulator.

    But two caveats:

    It won’t do a lot about teaching you how to land; the visual and other cues needed to do that right simply aren’t available with current sim tech.

    And spending too much time in a flight sim before getting into a real plane will make you a panel-watcher when you need to have your head *outside* the plane most of the time.

    That’s a habit one of my primary instructors had to break me of by covering the gyros.

    My recommendation: If you’re serious, get *some* real dual instruction as soon as possible, even if you’re not in a position to begin heads-down training immediately.

  6. And spending too much time in a flight sim before getting into a real plane will make you a panel-watcher when you need to have your head *outside* the plane most of the time.

    Yeah, I can see that. I probably spent too much time watching instruments when I tried it for real… and probably why I didn’t feel so hot after landing.

  7. Until you’re ready for an IFR rating, the instruments should be something you read with a *glance*, like the speedometer of your car.

    Obviously that’s hard to do until you have the muscle memory trained into your eyes and the interpretation of the display becomes second-nature, but it’s what you should strive for.

    Bear in mind it’s challenging–but not impossible–to fly an airplane in VMC with no instruments at all. And any instrument can and will fail.

    One tip I found useful many years ago when I was in primary: consider audio recording your lessons, and play them back afterwards. You’ll be amazed how much you can tell about what’s going on from the sound of the engine and the air. (I trained with no intercom or headset…would *not* recommend that today.

    Get used to hearing your primary instructor’s voice…because you will hear it for years afterwards when he or she is not in the plane. :-)

  8. Sebastian,

    Have you considered getting a Glider rating first? I wish someone had recommended that to me before I started flight school.

    Starting with Gliders first:

    1) is cheaper than powered aircraft (except for the towplane) and you will have spent less money upfront if you decide that you don’t want to fly 3 weeks into lessons

    2) Makes you a better pilot when you finally do transition over to Engines. Great training for engine-out procedures. Better understanding of all control surfaces.

    3) Doesn’t require a medical.

    Give it some thought.

  9. Taking a glider lesson out in Hawaii… really not so much a lesson as you pay extra to the glider ride company to be able to sit up front and they’ll instruct you, and presumably handle takeoff and landing.

    That may indeed be the route I go.

  10. Get a logbook. Every time you fly with a CFI have them sign your logbook. Make sure every flight counts. This will save you time and money in the long run.

    The minimum hours required by the FAA for a single engine license is 40 hours (last time I checked). I did mine in 41 hours—but I was full time. For a part-time student the average is something like 90 hours before the flight check. You can see how the cost of getting a license can be more expensive than most people realize.

  11. I got my license before I ever “flew” a simulator. I found some things much easier in real life than on the simulator. I especially remember having difficulty getting properly lined up to the runway on final approach on the sim. In real life you get that “seat of the pants” feel for what the aircraft is doing quicker than the response from the instruments of the view out the “window” (monitor).

  12. My friend Jason complained of the same problem…. having a hard time lining up with the runway in real life, but had difficulty in a simulator.

    I’m guessing because of visual cues you’re missing in a rendered environment, and the small view you have out your “window” in a simulator.

  13. Although I’ve never done it myself, I’ve heard great things about what learning sailplanes does for powered pilot skills.

  14. Captain Sully was a glider pilot… it obviously helped him judge how to land an aircraft without power.

    What about hang gliding? You can get one of those for $3500, and strap it to your car’s roof… no airport fees or government license needed.

  15. I have mucked about with sim-level racing games and they are significantly harder than driving

  16. Sadly, my pursuit of a pilot’s license ended in the ’80s. Divorce, and the resulting poverty. I did get 22.5 hours of dual, but never picked it back up.

    One thing I did learn though, was the value of not learning in a Cessna 152. Yeah, sacriledge, so sue me. I got my first two hours in one, and begged to switch over to the Grumman Cheetah that was also a part of the school.

    Exact same engine, max airspeed & ceiling, rate of climb, etc. But the difference in the feel of the aircraft through the yoke was a universe away and better than the 152.

    The Grumman gave me feedback akin to a classic Alfa sports car, while the 151 was like a 1967 Chevy Caprice; vauge, slushy and unresponsive.

    Also, the Grumman liked landing the way I prefered to do it. About two knots over the stall, and fly it onto the runway, vs. the classic “stall on landing” technique. The added ground effect of the low wing made this a natural.

    Not to mention the unmatched visibility from the sliding bubble canopy.

    If your FBO offers options other than the universal “152”, you might give those some consideration.

    I now return the thread to the real pilots, whom I both envy, and respect highly.

    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

  17. Don’t sweat the METAR, You’ll get he rest of the identifiers and airways for flight planning as you go.

    I trained in a 152 and it was just fine, If available I think a diamond would be really good though. My old flight school got one the year after I finished my training. If you really want to do it right I’d just do what one of my buddies did, go buy yourself a Citabria. Nothing better than learning in a taildragger.

    As far as landing goes I didn’t have so much of a problem lining up as judging the flare… That was probably the hardest thing out of my Private Pilot training.

    Blue Skies!

  18. I concur with Jeff – judging the flare on landing was the hardest part to learn; possibly because it requires a feel for, as well as visual cues of, your sink rate. Focusing on the far end of the runway helped me to better judge my sink rate. Even more difficult at night. Once I got the feel for that, everything else was easy.



  19. I recommend you do your flight training at a controlled field. There’s an expression “Once a small-field pilot, always a small field pilot.”

    Nothing beats the thrill of:

    “Hobby tower, Cessna 127 on final”
    “Cessna 127, crossing traffic is a 737 at 4 o’clock 3 miles. Step it up…”

    “Houston Hobby tower, Citation 26 inbound from Shreveport [Louisiana] with Bravo [latest weather]”
    “Citation 26, dial 0700 and squawk ident”
    “… Citation 26, positive radar contact. You are 90 miles southwest of the airport. Suggest a 180.”
    “… You mean I missed the whole fuckin’ CITY!?”

    These things just don’t happen at a grass field.

    Also, I recommend you read F. Lee Bailey’s book, “In Defense of Flying” with oodles of vignettes about drilling holes in the sky.

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