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Learning to Fly
Old 11-30-2017, 11:01 AM   #1
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Learning to Fly

Hello FIRE aviators, my wife and I are a few years out from FI and are finally starting to work up a bucket list. Chief among those is taking up general aviation. We live in Alaska and plan to stay here for a long time to come, and having easy access to so much of this beautiful land makes flying irresistible.

Neither of us have any time with an instructor, although we both have been in small aircraft plenty of times and have familiarity and comfort with the idea of flying. We have some remote property and have hired an air taxi several times to land us on the lake. Our pilot is about my age, and one concern I have is that he'll get the retirement bug too and head south emulating Jimmy Buffet.

We're at a point in the retirement planning to where we have our future expenses pretty well charted out. There are unknowns of course, but it looks like I can still RE at age 58 and cover the costs of a small plane and about 200 hours of flying per year.

I am seeking the advice and opinons (yes, I said that) of anyone who has or had a PPL. The questions I am kicking around are, in no particular order:

1. Should we wait until retirement to start? At that point we'll have much more time to learn and access to funds which are currently in retirement accounts.

2. Our ideal plane would probably be a taildragger 4-place, with a useful load of over 1,000 lbs. Should we hold off on that and buy a beater nose-wheel plane to learn on first?

3. Heaps of other questions, but there are probably too many to really list. I understand that for many flying becomes a passion and a lifestyle choice. I'd welcome your thoughts on how to more readily accommodate that into our FIREd life.
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Old 11-30-2017, 11:22 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by ChugiakTinkerer View Post
...
I am seeking the advice and opinons (yes, I said that) of anyone who has or had a PPL. ...
1000+ hours, Commercial/Instrument, Search & Rescue qualified, 130+ airports in my log book.

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1. Should we wait until retirement to start? At that point we'll have much more time to learn and access to funds which are currently in retirement accounts. ...
I would suggest that you get on it assuming you can fly fairly often. At least once a week for each of you. And plan to head for an instrument rating. Particularly in west-facing coastal areas, rain, clouds, and fog are common occurrences due to warm offshore currents and orographic lifting. Plan to avoid "hard IFR" instrument flying, but having the rating will at least save your flight for you if not save your bacon.


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Originally Posted by ChugiakTinkerer View Post
2. Our ideal plane would probably be a taildragger 4-place, with a useful load of over 1,000 lbs. Should we hold off on that and buy a beater nose-wheel plane to learn on first? ...
Absolutely do not buy an airplane until you have your ratings or at least some serious experience. Renting will be cheaper but, more importantly, you will gain huge amounts of knowledge very quickly as you train. If you can join a club with several airplane options that would be ideal.

You mentioned 200/hours per year. That is a lot of PPL flying, particularly when you realize that winter flying may be limited due to icing and, in Alaska, probably the danger of low temperature survival. 50-100 hours is more typical. At this stage your estimate doesn't matter much, but as you train I'd suggest that you ask people about their flying and learn from it. Another reason to join a large club if possible.
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Old 11-30-2017, 11:22 AM   #3
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I have a pilot's license and an instrument rating. Here are my thoughts:
Flying in Alaska is tremendously expensive You might want to look into what many foreign students do and take an accelerated course in the lower 48. Embry Riddle comes to mind, but that is not a recommendation.
It will save you a lot of money.
I have done a cost analysis of renting vs owning, and the rule of thumb is break even is about 100 hours a year, or 2 hours a week.
Weather in Alaska, as you know, is unpredictable. Once you get enough hours under your belt, an instrument rating is a must.
Here are the FAA requirements:
At least 50 hours of cross-country flight time as pilot in command.
A total of 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument time on the areas of operation listed in 61.65(c).
There are places that offer the rating in 10 days, but that means you have to fly a minimum of 4 hours a day, which is tremendously stressful.
If you do decide to buy a plane, make sure it has a GPS similar to a Garmin 430 or equivalent. There are few nav aids in Alaska, I believe.
If you have any questions, you can e-mail me at: highlandpark@mindspring.com
While I was typing this, Old Shooter offered some advice, which I second.
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Old 11-30-2017, 12:46 PM   #4
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As to owning an airplane, I did that for a number of years. It was a great convenience, but a HUGE money suck and I had one of the cheapest planes out there (and I was able to do most of the maintenance myself).

If you have never heard of an "Airworthiness Directive", take a look. I am sure others that have owned will agree with me that whenever I got an email from the FAA with "AD ACTION REQUIRED" in the subject line, my heart would skip a couple of beats. The last one I got (after I sold the airplane) would have cost me about $13,000 to comply with. I am very happy to rent these days.

I will also add, that an IR is a must, but even more important is that you HAVE to maintain instrument proficiency. Only flying "under the hood" every couple months is NOT a smart idea if you will be flying in Alaska...there doing the minimum could very well kill you.
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Old 11-30-2017, 02:58 PM   #5
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I have PPL, and was working toward Instrument Rating when w*rk got in the way. I was headed to the rating because a friend and flight instructor told me "Always be training". I will go back to it once I retire, but just don't fly enough to be "comfortable" on my own now. I would start training when you can devote serious time to it. It's not hard, but it is subject to repetition...

Owned a plane with 3 partners. Yes, there was some cost to it, but really not all that bad. I agree that 100 hours/year sounds pretty close for break even point of owning being advantage. (The bigger issue was partnership, but that's another story).

Good luck if you start soon! It will be/is a great feeling of accomplishment to SOLO, and when you pass that PPL check ride!
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Old 11-30-2017, 03:56 PM   #6
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Also a PPL here, no instrument rating but I did get about halfway there before other things got in the way. I have a bit over 300 hours, so not much compared to the others. Since you plan on buying a taildragger later try to learn on one if you can find it. They are a bit more difficult to handle when taking off and landing so that's why it may be hard (or impossible) to find one for rent. The extra experience will help a lot. I learned on a Piper J-3 in 1974-5 but those are scarce to rent. As said, plan on flying at least once a week when learning, less than that and you'll forget too much between lessons.

I know nothing of weather in Alaska but agree on the opinion of getting the instrument rating. There were lots of flights I didn't make because the weather in Maryland or the destination was marginal or just closed in.

I bought a Piper Tri-Pacer when I was close to getting my license and agree that owning is expensive but it does greatly expand your opportunities. Most places that rent will charge a minimum of two or more hours a day whether you fly it or not so that limits overnight stays. I would never have flown to Oshkosh and stayed a week for example if I had not owned the airplane I flew there.

Oh, and make sure to buy renter's liability and hull insurance and then heavily insure the airplane that you do buy. Hopefully you'll never need it but if you do you'll be ecstatic that you spent the money. Back when I owned the Tri-Pacer the rule of thumb was to figure 10% of the hull value yearly in premiums for hull and liability. I haven't been active for 30 years so that may have changed.
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Old 11-30-2017, 04:51 PM   #7
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It does sound like you need a seaplane license as well. Licenses classify themselves as land or sea. (Because your remote property is on a lake and folks can land there). Consider that the airplane single engine land and airplane single engine sea are different
It supposedly takes 6-10 hours after the land license is obtained to train for the sea plane license. https://www.seaplanepilotsassociatio...aplane-rating/

Note that at least you can get the training between Seward and Anchorage in ak at the proper time.
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Old 11-30-2017, 05:26 PM   #8
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I flew a few hours in a Cessna 150. Maybe 5-6 hours. On one lesson, I (and the instructor) were doing full power on stalls, barely keeping the plane flying and nose pointed to the sky. We stalled, as was expected. I saw nothing but ground in the windshield.

I let go of everything and told the instructor, "It's all yours". I flew one more time just to prove I was not afraid to fly and quit.

I thought it was an expensive way to kill yourself.
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Old 11-30-2017, 05:40 PM   #9
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A couple of added comments:

Re: Currency and proficiency. The posters who mention this are correct; it is paramount. The reason I didn't mention it is that I have yet be meet an aspiring birdman who isn't convinced that he will be flying everywhere, all the time, and proficiency will be automatic. So IMO the need will become a consideration after getting the rating.

Re seaplane rating: Float planes are expensive (straight floats alone can be north of $20K, amphibs much more.) and float planes are deadly slow, so really not much good for traveling any distance. Also, at least here in the lower 48, they are almost impossible to rent due to insurance costs. Learning to fly and land a a float plane is not big deal. The training is mostly on how to handle the thing on the water in the wind, doing things like using the doors for sails. Again, IMO dreaming about float planes is premature at this stage though I did a lot of it myself early on. Skis and tundra tires, same opinion. Walk before you run.
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Old 11-30-2017, 05:46 PM   #10
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I had a career in aviation and have owned an aircraft. I recommend you get some flight experience in the type of aircraft you are interested in buying. As previous posters noted, owning a plane is a money pit. Flying 200 hours a year is a lofty goal for private pilots, but few achieve this amount. Which, unfortunately, makes your hourly costs go up. Renting from a reputable FBO is a better option for most pilots.
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Old 11-30-2017, 11:16 PM   #11
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I say dip your toe...and sooner is gooder. The rest will work itself out.
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Old 11-30-2017, 11:54 PM   #12
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I was going to ask how much $$$ it costs, then decided to just bing for it.

This article goes through the hourly amortized cost of a used plane, and it is much cheaper to rent than own. These are expensive toys.

https://www.quora.com/How-much-does-...-a-small-plane
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Old 12-01-2017, 01:40 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by ChugiakTinkerer View Post
1. Should we wait until retirement to start? At that point we'll have much more time to learn and access to funds which are currently in retirement accounts.
For reference it cost me about $9000 over about 8 months to earn a certificate. This was in Oregon over a wet winter. Weather often got in the way. That and a couple who came down from Alaska and did a cram-course with my CFI so they could both earn licenses. Curse those kinds of Alaskan couples!
Oh, and I was in my mid-50s. I should have earned it earlier. Too much fun. Sooner is always better than later if you can afford it.

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2. Our ideal plane would probably be a taildragger 4-place, with a useful load of over 1,000 lbs. Should we hold off on that and buy a beater nose-wheel plane to learn on first?
Canít help you there. Learned in a C-152 and only ever flew that or a C-172.

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3. Heaps of other questions, but there are probably too many to really list. I understand that for many flying becomes a passion and a lifestyle choice. I'd welcome your thoughts on how to more readily accommodate that into our FIREd life.
There are pilot-oriented forums with plenty of opinionated pilots who could answer your questions even if they donít know the answer! I know of a couple Alaskan pilots over on purpleboard.net (odd name but a GA forum) who may be able to help.
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Old 12-01-2017, 05:24 AM   #14
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What goes up....
Old 12-01-2017, 06:14 AM   #15
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What goes up....

"Learning To Fly" brought me to this thread in memory of Tom Petty.
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Old 12-01-2017, 06:19 AM   #16
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I have a PPL (SEL), own a small airplane, and have a couple of hundred hours of (very old) USAF jet time.

The least expensive way to learn to fly is to do it intensively--that means you have the time and money to fly a few times per week and to do all the prep work between lessons. And dedicate yourself to doing the homework, including "chair flying" (or, today, practicing and rehearsing your lessons on a rudimentary flight simulator on your computer). Few private students actually get their license in less than 50 hours of flight time, but you can get close if you do your homework (come to every lesson knowing exactly what you'll be doing, having studied the material, and with any questions for your instructor before you strap in), if you fly intensively, and if you have a good instructor.

Virtually nobody is highly proficient when they get their PPL. Getting good requires practice. Alaska has some of the most challenging flying in the world, and as a newly minted pilot there will probably be many days when you just can't safely take to the air. Never put yourself in the position where you have to fly somewhere at a particular time.

A tailwheel endorsement will take additional flight hours, and your insurance rates for a taildragger will generally be higher than for a proper airplane (one with the small wheel on the front, where it belongs ). There are nosewheel airplanes that can handle sod strips well, but if you're going into truly rough airstrips then you'll want a taildragger.

I would recommend waiting to buy a plane, rent at first. Definitely.

In Alaska, an instrument rating will significantly increase the number of days you can fly, and the safety of the time you spend flying. Maintaining real proficiency is expensive in time and money. I'm not talking about barely staying legal, which is not a safe or comfortable situation to be in. But even if you get your instrument rating and let it lapse, you'll be a better VFR pilot after learning how to fly in bad weather in a properly equipped airplane.

Seaplanes: I don't know anything about them except they look like a lot of fun and that they probably combine the big costs of an airplane and the big costs of a boat into one big fat bill.

"Experimental" Aviation: There are plenty of very good, safe, fun airplanes out there which are not "certified" aircraft. These are "Experimental, Amateur Built" (EAB), often known as "homebuilts." They can purchased and maintained (if you are mechanically inclined) less expensively than a certified plane, and some models are capable of getting into/out of small strips and can operate on floats.

If you want to learn to fly because you think you'll enjoy flying, then go for it. If you are learning to fly so that you can get to/from Alaska destinations 10-20 times per year (i.e. flying is just transportation), then you might want to seriously consider sticking with renting the services of a pilot/air taxi service. It will be cheaper, safer, and less hassle.
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Old 12-01-2017, 03:23 PM   #17
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I flew a few hours in a Cessna 150. Maybe 5-6 hours. On one lesson, I (and the instructor) were doing full power on stalls, barely keeping the plane flying and nose pointed to the sky. We stalled, as was expected. I saw nothing but ground in the windshield.

I let go of everything and told the instructor, "It's all yours". I flew one more time just to prove I was not afraid to fly and quit.

I thought it was an expensive way to kill yourself.
Unusual attitudes bothered me too for a long time, so after I got my private I decided to confront it and took (I think) about five or six hours of acrobatic instruction. It is a great confidence-builder to know with certainty that you can recover from any position without ripping the wings off. The aircraft was a Citabria or Decathlon, or perhaps both, I don't remember.

Yes, in a spin the windshield is filled with dirt. Sustained inverted is fun (but admittedly is an acquired taste) and so is ballistic flight - start in a dive to build up airspeed and pull up so you are weightless, and end up back in a dive. It was fun to drop a pencil and then "fly" the airplane around it to keep the pencil hanging in front of me.

Once I even upset the instructor's tummy and we had to fly straight & level for a few minutes to get him settled down. He was expecting an aileron roll and I stopped at inverted because I didn't have the stick over far enough.
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Old 12-01-2017, 03:34 PM   #18
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I flew a few hours in a Cessna 150. Maybe 5-6 hours. On one lesson, I (and the instructor) were doing full power on stalls, barely keeping the plane flying and nose pointed to the sky. We stalled, as was expected. I saw nothing but ground in the windshield.

I let go of everything and told the instructor, "It's all yours". I flew one more time just to prove I was not afraid to fly and quit.

I thought it was an expensive way to kill yourself.
Very similar to the story of my attempt. Got about 6 hours in then could not maintain altitude near stall speed (part of learning how to land), and after every lesson was drenched in sweat, so I decided to pay that much to drenched in sweat after every lesson was just on worth it and stopped.

(just decided the cost benefit ratio was negative)
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Old 12-01-2017, 04:04 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by Senator View Post
I flew a few hours in a Cessna 150. Maybe 5-6 hours. On one lesson, I (and the instructor) were doing full power on stalls, barely keeping the plane flying and nose pointed to the sky. We stalled, as was expected. I saw nothing but ground in the windshield.

I let go of everything and told the instructor, "It's all yours". I flew one more time just to prove I was not afraid to fly and quit.

I thought it was an expensive way to kill yourself.
My high school senior is close to their PPL (x-country & check ride left)

The only time they invited me to ride along (backseat) was the day they were practicing stall recoveries. :0
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Old 12-01-2017, 04:33 PM   #20
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... The only time they invited me to ride along (backseat) was the day they were practicing stall recoveries. :0
Makes sense. The extra weight in the back seat moves the CG aft and makes it easier to get the nose up.
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