Learn to fly



So you want to be a pilot? Here’s how!

Learning to fly is one of the most rewarding of challenges. Students remember their first solo and their final flight test for the rest of their lives.

And, of course, anyone planning to learn wants to know how it all works, how much it will cost and how long it will take.

The cost of training varies widely, depending on a number of factors:

  • Age. Generally, the older you are, the longer it takes.
  • Weather. If it’s good, progress can be made quickly, but typical UK weather often means delays are inevitable, although some UK schools offer intensive courses abroad.
  • Availability of student. The more you fly, the faster you learn. At least once a week is best, if you have the funds and the time.

The National Private Pilot’s Licence microlight rating requires a minimum of 25 hours flying training, 10 of which must be solo. A few achieve their licences within weeks, but others can take a year or two.

Realistically, a budget of £2500 to £3500 should cover your training, including both flying and groundschool, compared to an average of £5000 to £7000 for a light aircraft licence.

The flying will involve progressing from straight and level flight and simple turns, up to taking off and landing, dealing with emergencies, and other skills, until that magical moment when the instructor steps out and sends you on your first solo circuit.

No one ever forgets it.

After that, there’s more solo taking off and landing, then cross-country flights, at first with the instructor, then solo, until you’re ready for your General Skills Test and that unforgettable moment when you are awarded your wings.

Don’t be put off by the thought of groundschool study and exams if you’re not particularly academic, since all groundschool subjects relate to what goes on in the air while flying, and they are much easier to understand when put into that context.

The subjects taught in groundschool include:

  • Principles of Flight
  • Aviation Law
  • Aviation Navigation
  • Aviation Meteorology
  • Airframes & Engines
  • Aircraft Instruments
  • Fire, First Aid, & Safety Equipment
  • Human Performance & Limitations

The Airframes & Engines and Principles of Flight exams ensure that the student pilot understands how the aircraft flies and how its engine and control systems work. They also cover the factors that affect aircraft performance.

Aviation Law training ensures that the pilot understands how the laws of the air apply to him or her.

Navigation training provides pilots with the necessary skills and knowledge to plan before a flight and then fly to that plan, knowing at all times where they are and how to get where they want to go.

A flexwing taking tourists for a trip over Victoria Falls in Zambia (photos: Bill Davis)

These days, of course, many pilots also use a GPS as backup, but the training is still crucial.

Meteorology lessons give a sufficient understanding of the weather, and how it affects the performance and safety of the aircraft, so that the pilot can know when it is safe to fly and when it is not, and can anticipate and plan for changes to the weather during a flight.

Human Performance & Limitations covers all the different factors that can affect the way a pilot performs in flight.

Exams are multiple choice except for the navigation test, which involves planning an imaginary flight using a chart and navigation tools.

For more information, visit www.bmaa.org or the National Private Pilot’s Licence website at www.nppl.uk.com, where the syllabus is available for download.