I’ve already lined out in another blog post (see How I got here) what it was that made me want to fly in the first place. Now let’s talk about the training!
The Flying School
After I’ve made my decision to start my Private Pilot License (PPL), it was time to find a suitable flying school. I’d recommend anyone with flying ambitions to spend some time going through all possible options here, as this can get quite confusing, since each flying school or club has a different approach to their training and aircraft rental. After some consideration I decided to go with Take Flight Aviation because of their club atmosphere, good selection of aircraft in all sorts of price ranges and friendly members, many of which often get together on club fly-outs. I preferred the social aspect over a professional flying school’s approach.
There are many differences between flying organisations; some of which have monthly membership fees, others don’t; some require a minimum amount of hours to be flown if you rent an aircraft and so on. I highly recommended a trip to the local airfield and checking out all schools/clubs in person before signing up.
The First Lesson
I signed up in January, and for the first couple of months I learned the hard lesson that the British winter weather has to offer: all of my January/February lessons have been cancelled. On March 1st the weather was finally good for a flying lesson, and I cycled all the way down to Wellesbourne for my first lesson.
Before even getting close to any aircraft I had to endure a rather lengthy briefing in which my instructor Jerry explained everything from the workings of the aircraft’s controls, to the contents of the lesson. The lesson was supposed to be about getting a ‘feel’ for the aircraft, hands on the controls and feet on the pedals, but Jerry’s idea of teaching also means that the student should do as much as possible from early on, even though it’s not the focus of the lesson. Following this philosophy, he showed me how to do the preflight inspection (on G-BPEO pictured above!), startup, taxiing and all checks, until he said he’d like me to do the take-off. It was a huge load of new information for me to process, but it was totally worth it. It kept me too busy to be nervous, and when any actual lesson came up I at least had some basic knowledge of the topic.
After about an hour of flying time we landed back in Wellesbourne, and I was a transformed person!
The Way to Solo
After spending roughly 10 hours over a period of three months learning how to take off, fly turns, climb and descent and other basic flying manoeuvres, it was time to learn to fly airfield circuits (or ‘patterns’ as they are known in North America). The circuit is the last step before the first solo flight, in which the student usually performs one or more circuits without an instructor to help out. But it wasn’t supposed to happen that year.
I’ve spent another 10 hours flying circuits with Jerry. It must’ve been 60 landings or more, but I didn’t get it. I couldn’t land those bloody flying machines! The next winter was around the corner, and with it another few months of cancellations. From February 2015 on, I started to learn more complex manoeuvres, such as steep turns, climbing/descending turns, stall/spin recovery and practised forced landings (PFL’s), each time with a few circuits to finish the lesson off, but it still wouldn’t work out despite my flying skills being quite good. It was very, very frustrating!
In July 2015 Jerry suggested I go up with another instructor to give me a new perspective on things and reduce some of the pressure I was now putting onto myself. I started flying circuits with John, and Jerry’s idea proved successful! John had a very different approach to flying, and it really paid off! After only a few lessons with him, he sent me off solo! I flew a circuit from runway 23 in Wellesbourne, and I came back alive and in one piece. It was finally done!
Nav, Hour Building and my QXC
Back in the cockpit with Jerry, it was time to start learning navigation skills. I never really had any problems with this, and on October 25 I did my first solo land-away to Northampton/Sywell. I decided to go for an airfield that I have never seen before, as an extra challenge. All went well, and after about 20 minutes flying time I was back in Wellesbourne. Now it was all about hour building, the license requires 10 hours of solo time, of which 5 must be cross-country flights. I spent about 5 hours practising landings in circuits (still not over-confident on those), and then it was time for the Qualifying Cross-Country (QXC), which is another license requirement.
I asked my instructor if I could do a QXC to a new location which requires landing in Class D controlled airspace, and suggested to land at Cardiff International Airport. My flying club was ok with this, and so I planned a route to Cardiff, and from there to Gloucester before coming back to Wellesbourne. My plan was approved, and off I went! I again had no problems navigating, and dealing with controlled airspace was easy peasy. I only had to extent my downwind leg on approach in Cardiff to allow for some distance between me and that Flybe jet. No problem! After a nice coffee and cake in Gloucester I was back in Wellesbourne quickly, and so I had my solo time for the license complete!
The Skills Test
Now there was only one thing left to do: the skills test! I took a bit of a break after my QXC, and did a few refreshing lessons to prepare myself for the test. Jerry decided that any further lessons would be a waste of time and money and recommended me for the test, which I booked for October 9th.
My assigned examiner was Sharlene, and she gave me a route to plan for the test day. The route led us from Wellesbourne over to South Marston (near Swindon), which led us through Brize Norton Class D controlled airspace, and then to Abergavenny in Wales. Arriving in South Marston and after turning westwards towards Abergavenny Sharlene told me to divert north up to Great Malvern. The diversion was quite simple as the Malvern Hills are easy to spot from quite some distance. I avoided Kemble airfield to keep away from traffic and talked to Gloucester Radar on the way up North. We arrived at Great Malvern without hassle.
Next was flying manoeuvres. Stalls, spins, steep turns and all that. They all went well and we were off back to Wellesbourne. A PFL on the way, followed by some circuits and landings in different configurations, and I was done. I personally thought I failed, as I made some small mistakes here and there, but I passed on first attempt! My mistakes were forgiven as I noticed and mitigated them myself, which proves good airmanship. It’s all part of the test, and a pilot never stops learning! From this day on, I was officially a pilot!
For the sake of readability and word count I’ve left out quite significant bits of my training (no mention of theory tests or radio exams for example), so please don’t consider this a thorough guide to PPL training. Also I’m not an instructor myself, so for all questions regarding CAA regulations and training syllabus please contact a certified flight instructor. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments, I’ll give my best to answer them to the best of my knowledge!