One of the first things people ask me about being a pilot is if I own an airplane. My answer? “I wish I did. Well, kinda.” You see, it’s not assumed that a pilot owns an airplane like it is that a driver owns a car. I think of it more like a house. There are times where renting a house makes more sense than owning a house, and vice versa. The scope of this blog is not to dive into aircraft ownership, although that will certainly be a topic for another day. Whether you are trying to figure out what kind of airplane you’d like use for your training or want to know what is out there to rent after you have your pilot’s license, it’s best to know your options. Although flight schools can have all sorts of different airplanes for training and rental, let’s look at five of the most common options.
The Cessna 172 is the very recognizable four seat, high wing airplane. As one of the most available rental aircraft on the market, it is likely that you’ll spend some time in one of these throughout your adventures in flying. The 152 is the two seat little brother version of the 172. As a 6’5″ pilot, I have flown in a 152, but the 172 is much more comfortable for a big guy like me. If you are an avgeek like me, one side bonus to flying a 172 is that most home flight simulator software you could get comes with one – you can read about how flight simulators can be beneficial here.
With the Sport Pilot License now being an option, lighter trainers like this high wing Cessna 162 Skycatcher are gaining popularity in training fleets. Similar to the Cessna 152 with its two seats, the 162 is lighter and is a relatively simple aircraft featuring a control stick (instead of a yoke). This is a great cost effective option to build some hours without hurting the bank account (as much).
The Diamond DA40 (Diamond Star) shown is a four seat, low wing airplane made of lightweight, composite materials. The high visibility canopy along with the T-tail make this airplane recognizable. The Diamond DA20 (Diamond Katana) is the slightly smaller two seat model. I flew a Diamond DA40 for most of my instrument training and enjoyed the fact that it is controlled with a stick (instead of a yoke). I kinda felt like I was in a fighter. I never found that missile launch button, though…
The Piper Cherokee, Warrior, and Arrow are all variants of the same airplane (the PA-28) and have a close resemblance to each other. Pilots debate over the benefits of a high wing vs. low wing airplane (a debate that flows something like the toilet paper roll front/back argument – which should hang to the front, of course), but the Piper series has been a great choice for those who prefer a low wing airplane. The Piper Cherokee has been a comparable trainer to the Cessna 172 through the years.
Cirrus SR 20/22
A Cirrus might look similar to other low wing training airplanes, but make no mistake about it – this is one powerful piece of machinery. It is well known for its Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS), which is a parachute for the airplane itself. Check it out in action. The primary difference in the SR20 and SR22 is the engine power (The SR22 has 110 more horsepower). My 7 year old son can spot this plane a mile away – I suppose I’ve mentioned how much I like them a time or two.
The Rental Process
So beyond taking lessons, how do you rent an airplane once you have your pilot’s license? It all starts with a checkout. Last year, I got back in the air after several years of being a flightless bird. I called around to a few flight schools in my area to check their fleet of aircraft and rental rates. When I found one that fit my needs, I scheduled a checkout flight. Like most students train for, my license is called Private Pilot, with a class rating of Airplane Single Engine Land (as opposed to a rotorcraft, or multi-engine seaplane, for example). This means I can fly most single engine airplanes (assuming the airplane doesn’t need a special training endorsement like high performance, complex, or tailwheel), but the first flight in any new airplane is with an instructor to show you the nuances of that airplane as well as the flight school and local area before taking it on up your own. Once you are checked out in an airplane, you can book it and go.
A New Way To Rent
The checkout process works well when establishing your regularly used rental aircraft but makes it less than practical to rent anywhere and anything other than your home base. To solve this, a nationwide system called OpenAirplane has been established and growing. In a nutshell, a pilot can take a single “Universal Checkout” flight at an OpenAirplane location. This will then allow you to rent the same type of aircraft from any OpenAirplane location around the country. Take a look at the video here for a closer look into the checkout process (the video is hosted by Jason Miller, an incredible flight instructor from the San Francisco Bay Area with a podcast called The Finer Points of Flying – I have listened through every single one). OpenAirplane is a mutually beneficial system. Pilots have an easier time renting airplanes anywhere they go (even booking it though a smartphone), and flight schools have more pilots flying their aircraft – with the enhancement that those pilots are operating under a thorough, standardized checkout process. Before a system like this, I was basically bound to my home airport and how far I could fly from there. Now, I can vacation in California, hop in a plane and cruise the town. Stay tuned for a blog on the checkout process.
Spreading Your Wings
If you’re like me, you probably dream about flying, you know, TO places. While practicing landings at your home airport is great – and necessary – I’m one who wants to take the family somewhere. Where I live, I can fly to the beach in Savannah, GA, in about an hour, which makes a trip there for the day realistic and practical, but what about for the weekend? Since you only pay for the airplane when it is on, it makes sense that your operator wouldn’t want you to fly the airplane one hour to the beach to let it sit all weekend while you hang out and explore, only returning with a couple hours on it. Each flight school has their own policy, but most have a minimum number of hours (mine is 3) that they like you put on the airplane per day that you have it. Thus, for an overnight trip, it makes sense to fly somewhere at least 3 hours away. While there is no wrong choice about which aircraft to rent or use for training, I would encourage you to make your selection and then learn it inside and out. And as a renter, treat the airplane as if it is your own and leave it better than you found it. Most of all, have fun.
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