“I’ve always wanted to learn to fly.” I find myself talking to a lot of people who tell me that. It’s a dream many people have, and a privilege to be among the (relatively) few to have achieved that dream. The FAA tells us that there are currently just under 600,000 active pilots in the United States. By my math, that just 0.1% of the US population. Time or money is usually the limiting factors that people give as a reason that they haven’t pursued aviation. Perhaps it’s justifying the cost of training if they aren’t going to turn it into a career. “Seems like an expensive hobby,” one might think. I’m here to tell you about how easy the first step is, why money doesn’t have to be a barrier, and how giving yourself or a friend the gift of a Discovery Flight can be the gift that keeps on giving.
My gateway into aviation was a flight simulator that I had access to as a kid. It was a simple joystick and the now incredibly antiquated Chuck Yeagers Advanced Flight Trainer. It fascinated me, and years later I found myself driving to the airport to watch the planes. When I found out about a Discovery Flight for $49 (at the time), I couldn’t pull my wallet out fast enough.
It was at the Gwinnett County Airport (KLZU) near Atlanta, Georgia, in a Piper Warrior. I was nervous, unsure, and a little bit afraid of flying. The instructor talked me through what she was doing and what the various instruments did. I had been somewhat familiar with it given my recent purchase of Microsoft Flight Simulator, but to see the real thing and have it explained to me was fascinating. In the air, I had the opportunity to take the controls for a minute. I was timid and afraid of messing anything up. I had been reading enough about how an airplane flies, though, that I had a little more confidence than I would without that knowledge. Of course, the instructor had her hands and feet following the controls closely in case I ended help.
Once I was back on the ground and in the real world, flying was all I could think about. It’s hard to describe why it hooked me so much. It wasn’t the thrill or the sensation. I was still uneasy about being in the air and I’ve never been the thrill seeking, roller coaster loving, adrenaline junkie that one might think would lead to flying. It wasn’t the view. It’s a great view, but that wasn’t what I craved to experience again. It wasn’t the same fascination with machines that might make someone love to be in a fast, powerful car. I’ve never been much of an automotive fan. And it wasn’t the convenience of flying as a mode of transportation. After all, we ended up in the same place we started, and didn’t really go that far. So what’s so great about it?
There’s a question that I used to ponder with work colleagues. One of those “would you rather” questions that we were always coming up with. “If you could pick a special power, would you rather be able to fly at 10mph, run at 100mph, or swim 300mph?” Think of all the marathons you could win at 100mph. I’m not sure the swimming one would come in handy, but if you spend a lot of time in the water, it might be a dream. The vast majority of people chose flying, even at just 10mph. It was my choice, too, of course. Speed aside, it’s the one ability that we as humans don’t possess unaided.
For me, taking that discovery flight was like gaining the superpower of flight. When I pondered my options of powers and considered what flying at 10mph would be like, I didn’t think about the crazy tricks I could do, or what the view would be like, or how convenient it would be to fly to work. No, I just thought about how incredible it would be just to get up and fly around, with no particular reason or destination. I think that same driving force is what I tasted that day on my Discovery Flight.
Ok, so you want to fly. Maybe I didn’t need to sell you on that. It’s that time and/or money thing that gets in the way. True, it can be a challenge, but life so far has taught me that challenges can be overcome with enough passion and will power. When I earned my Private Pilot certificate, I was in college. And not the “full ride scholarship with an account set up by my parents” college. Working a part time job with a little bit of average scholarship help, I maintained a busy class schedule and scraped together the cash for each flight lesson. That doesn’t make me better, smarter or more talented than anyone else. It just means that if you have the passion to learn to fly, I’ll bet you can make it happen. We didn’t make it to the moon by resolving that “oooh yeah, that might be tough, and isn’t really that feasible.” We took the first step, and then the next, and we overcame challenges.
In learning to fly, the first step is often just taking the first flight. Maybe it’s something you’ve always wanted to do. Maybe you wonder if you can. Maybe you are a flight simulator enthusiast wondering if you could step into a real airplane. The answer is “yes you can do it, and it’s easier to get started than you think.” I’ll bet a little airport near you has a flight school. Not the big, check your baggage and fly internationally airports like Atlanta and LAX, but that little one you pass by and see the “little planes” taking off from. Look it up, give them a call, and schedule a Discovery Flight. At my home airport, they are $99. It could be a gift for yourself or someone who might be curious about it, and it doesn’t require you to enroll in a course or training program. It’s just a standalone flight that could serve either as just that – a nice flight on a nice day – or it could be your first time logged if you decide to start training. A word of caution, though. You might just ignite an unstoppable passion that can only be maintained with more flying. Welcome to the club. I’ll see you in the air.
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