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Monthly Archives: September 2016

September 7, 2016

Flying Lesson Costs and how to reduce them

Flying Lesson Costs - Manage your finances

You will be seeing these in your sleep

Learning to fly and obtaining a Private Pilot’s Licence isn’t cheap but you can avoid unnecessary expense with a little forward planning.  Flying lesson costs will vary but in the long run the cheaper hourly rate may not be your best option.

In this post I discuss the cost of obtaining a fixed wing Pilot’s Licence for flying light aircraft in the UK.   There are two types available; PPL (Private Pilot’s Licence) and LAPL (Light Aircraft Pilot’s Licence).

The LAPL gives the pilot fewer privileges than the PPL so the requirements are less stringent.  As a rough guide the cost of a PPL will start at £8,000 and the LAPL will start at £6,000.  Costs for other types of aircraft like microlights or helicopters for example, will vary proportionally according to aircraft type.

Flying Lesson Costs

As well as the lessons themselves you will need to add several other smaller sums:

  • Flying lessons (CAA minimums plus contingency)
  • Student pilot kit (books, maps, navigational computer etc)
  • Headset (the school may lend them but for several reasons it’s best to have your own)
  • Travel to and from the flight training club or school
  • Other training aids e.g. DVDs, apps, software
  • Ground school exam fees
  • Licence application fee

Minimum Hours and Actual Hours Logged

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What secrets does this hold?

If you visit the CAA’s website and read the requirements for a PPL(A) you will see that you need minimum of 45 hours of training.  This should include a minimum of  25 hours of dual instruction and 10 hours of solo flight.  I’ll leave it to the CAA or your flying instructor to explain the finer details.

The keyword here though is minimum.  Some people do manage to complete all the requirements at or close to that figure.  Will you be able to do so?  You will need to factor in a contingency into your budget for extra hours above the minimum requirements.

Continuity of Training

Flight training

When are you coming back?

As my previous post illustrates you will save yourself a lot of money if your budget organised and available at the start of your training.  If you run out of money the continuity is broken and when you return to training you’ll have to revise and repeat previous exercises.

So plan your finances in such a way that you won’t run out of money at a critical stage.  Trust me, there’s nothing more frustrating!  As you empty your bank account or reach your credit card limit you realise that you’re about to shelve your logbook just when things are getting interesting.

Flying schools are subject to the same economic forces as any other business, so your flying lesson costs may increase over time due to inflation.

Choosing the right Flight Training School

Grass airfields

Don’t get tied down

Flight training costs vary around the UK.  You’ll pay more per hour at a club with a shiny fleet of new aircraft and an immaculate club house with all the facilities than you will at a small grass strip with a portakabin as an office.

Things to consider when choosing a flight school

  • Proximity.  How long will it take you to get there?
  • Runway(s).  If it’s a grass airfield will it be out of use in very wet weather?
  • Facilities.  Do the buildings look well maintained?
  • Fleet.  How many aircraft are there and how old are they?
  • Instructors.  Talk to a few and ask to be shown around.
  • Reputation. Google the school name and read what others are saying about it.

The school that is closest to you might not be the ideal choice.  On the other hand you don’t want to travel for an hour more to reach your flight school at short notice if a weather window opens.

Learning to fly abroad

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You’re unlikely to train in a Cirrus

The attractive prospect of learning to fly wherever there are near constant blues skies and uncluttered airspace lures some to book flight training holidays in Florida, South Africa, Australia, or perhaps just across the Channel.

The attractions are obvious and the additional cost of flights accommodation and subsistence may seem a price worth paying, particularly if the hourly rate is favourable.

However, there is another cost that is sometimes overlooked. If you cover most of the syllabus in areas where the weather is often predictably pleasant and the airspace is wide open and free of restrictions how will you cope when you return to the UK?

Ultralight power glider taking off

Blue skies every day

Will you have the necessary skills and, just as importantly, confidence to make a judgement when the weather is borderline?  Will your navigation skills keep you out of Controlled Airspace and Danger Areas?

Some students who return from flight training trips find themselves asking for additional training with a UK flying instructor in order to bring their skills up the standard required in Britain’s comparatively congested airspace.

Perhaps your flying holiday would be better spent hour building after you’ve obtained your PPL.  On the other hand, learning to fly in a quiet airstrip in predictable weather might give you the time to learn how to fly the aircraft well and without other distractions.

Changing instructors

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“La-la-la-la I can’t hear you Steve”

You are going to be spending thousands of pounds so it’s worth remembering that you are the customer.  You may be in awe of the instructors and in particular the CFI (Chief Flying Instructor) but they depend on students like you for their livelihood.

If you have any complaints or concerns don’t let them fester.  If you feel it’s appropriate go and see the CFI and ask for a quiet chat.  Assuming he/she is professionally minded then you will be met with an open mind.

For example, you may find that you don’t get along with your instructor.  This is unusual but it does happen.  We’re all different personality types and just occasionally we don’t gel with the person sitting next to us for hours on end.

So remembering that it’s your money you’re spending go and address this with the CFI and he or she should offer an alternative.  This is likely to save you money because you will learn faster with an instructor who is on your wavelength.

Conclusion and a warning

Going flying

Going flying. Wanna come?

Like any other commercial establishment running on tight margins and reliant upon a strong economy flight schools can go out of business if mismanaged or if they run out of students.  For this reason it’s never a good idea to hand over large amounts of cash upfront.  If they tempt you with a discount for a large deposit then perhaps a few hundred pounds might be worth the risk but I would suggest not handing over a thousand or more.

Perhaps things have improved greatly since I was a student pilot so feel free to ignore all my advice!  Just remember that you want to go from zero hours to Pilot In Command, so managing the finances is your first lesson in being control.

Feel free to add your comments, suggestions, stories, and other feedback in the comments below.

Meanwhile, book yourself a trial flight…

September 6, 2016

7 Essential Tips To Help You Through PPL Ground School

Essential tips for PPL Ground School

For some students the prospect of studying the PPL Ground School subjects is just as daunting as learning to fly itself.  Perhaps you were not top of the class in Maths or English.  Maybe you doubt your own abilities, or is it the thought of speaking on the radio that worries you?

The sheer amount of knowledge on unfamiliar subjects that you will be expected to absorb may fill you with dread.  If you’re learning to fly later in life then it could be a while since you did any formal study, let a alone pass any exams.

However, the PPL ground school subjects fall into several categories. Each of those categories is further sub divided into related sections.  By taking it slowly and building as you go you will be surprised just how much you have learned in a few weeks.

  1. There’s a wealth of information out there

Not so long ago the only way to study the PPL ground school subjects was using books and going to classes. The books and the classes remain an essential component, but now there are so many other supplements you can use:

  • Interactive DVDs for the home or office
  • CDs or digital files while you travel
  • Simulator software
  • Apps that both teach and quiz you
  • Social media groups in which you learn from each other
  1. Go at your pace.  It’s not a race

You’re not competing with other students so if you attend classes and others seem more knowledgeable then don’t be dismayed.  This is not about being first past the post.  This is about learning and understanding in such a way that it makes you a more confident and competent pilot.  If you need more time, take it, and remind yourself that often the people who learn more slowly learn more deeply.

  1. Enjoy the PPL Ground School subjects

Presumably you’re learning to fly because you have more than a slight interest in aviation. So approach all the ground school subjects with a sense of curiosity.  Be open minded to the ideas and concepts.  By making this conscious effort you will remove some the resistance that makes learning difficult at times.

  1. Don’t be shy to ask for extra help

If your flying school provides only group classes and you feel yourself falling behind or if you simply don’t understand certain aspects, then ask for additional help.  Many of us went to schools with large class sizes so we didn’t always receive the tuition that we needed.  The advantage of flying schools is that you can easily obtain that extra one to one tuition from an instructor.

  1. Get into the habit of regular study

A little an often is usually the best way to proceed. Read a chapter, mull it over, contemplate it until you’re satisfied you’ve got the general idea, then move on.  It can be helpful to set aside the same times each week to that it becomes a habit.  Set a schedule that’s realistic for you and stick to it.

  1. Remember why you are studying

Studying the PPL ground school subjects is not a tick-box exercise designed just to get you through a multiple choice exam.  A good understanding of all the subjects will enhance your enjoyment of flying by making you a more confident pilot.

  1. The learning never stops

Once you’ve passed the exams, don’t stop there.  Continue to maintain a healthy standard of knowledge by reading aviation books and magazines.  Learn from other pilots who have made mistakes and written about them.

The I Learned About Flying from That volumes are packed with stories written by pilots who made a mistake or an error of judgement.  They learned from the experience and have now passed on that knowledge to us.

Ready to start?  Thinking of Revising?

Here’s a reminder of what you’ll be studying in your PPL ground school.

  • Air Law & Operational Procedures
  • Navigation & Radio Aids
  • Meteorology
  • Aircraft General & Principles of Flight
  • Human Performance & Limitations
  • Flight Performance & Planning
  • VHF Radio written and oral exam

What are you waiting for?  Go Flying!

September 5, 2016

Now you’ve got your Pilot’s Licence, what next?

Pilot's Licence - Luscombe Goodwood

Maintain or restore something special

In a previous post I described my journey from the first trial flight through to PPL completion.  Whether, like me, it took you several years or just a few months to obtain your own PPL what are you going to do now that you have your pilot’s licence?

The post PPL phase is an important time for the recently qualified pilot.  You have learned to fly up to an acceptable standard but this when a new phase of learning begins.

Assuming the funds are available and you can afford to fly on a regular basis you might find yourself giving pleasure flights to friends and family until the novelty (for them) wears off. What then?

Tiger Moth

Convert to vintage

If you have not planned ahead you might find yourself flying less often.  If you don’t form the habit you might stop landing away at other airfields.  Without this practice your confidence will lessen and eventually your flying might be confined to short trips in the local area.

There is a risk that the fall in your confidence level may lead you to stop flying altogether.  It would be a great shame to withdraw having come so far but it’s all too common for PPL holders to abandon it at this early stage.

To maintain your interest and continuity of learning, and build your confidence, set new goals.  Consider the variety in aviation and stretch yourself to reach each of these objectives when you’ve built up enough confidence and ability:

  • Join a flying club and socialise with other aviators.
  • Join AOPA and enjoy hotel, fuel, and pilot supply discounts.
  • Join the LAA and build, maintain, or restore aircraft.
  • Visit other airfields.  Land on grass, concrete, and tarmac.
  • Fly throughout the year and study the weather.
  • Convert to different aircraft types.
  • Convert to a taildragger, or vice versa.
  • Learn to fly vintage aircraft.
  • Learn to fly aerobatics and take part in amateur competitions.
  • Go to fly-ins and air rallies.
  • Take part in air races.
  • Fly around the UK.
  • Fly across water.  Fly to the Channel Islands.
  • Fly to the continent and visit other countries.  Lachlan Smart, an 18 year old Australian pilot has just flown around the world.  His advice, “Don’t be afraid to dream big and when you have a goal – go for it.”

If the PPL was the first step on a professional career then you’re probably already aware of the path to further training. You may be heading for a CPL/IR, ATPL, or a Flight Instructor rating.

Pilot’s Licence – done, but the cash runs out

For any number of reasons you may find, as I did, that the money just isn’t available for flying.  The Pilot’s licence had to be put aside while I took care of other responsibilities.

However, if it’s obvious that you’re hooked on aviation then you may find your Christmas and birthday wishes are fulfilled and you continue to add entries into your logbook.  They may not be entries in the Pilot in Command column but you can still experience flight in all kinds of ways.

2014-06-07 12.42.43 Gyrocopter

What’s your next logbook entry going to be?

Since obtaining my PPL I have had to confine my logbook entries to dual instruction but I’ve chosen flights that are memorable due to the aircraft type and the maneouvers flown.

  • Harvard T6G
  • Extra300 – aerobatics (five times)
  • Piper PA-28-161
  • Cessna C172 – around Barbados
  • Cessna C172SP – glass panel
  • De Havilland DH82 Tiger Moth
  • Harvard IIB – aerobatics
  • Bulldog – aerobatics
  • AutoGyro MT-03
  • Piper Cub

What are you waiting for?  Go Flying!

September 5, 2016

From Trial Flight To PPL – Private Pilots Licence

G-BFTE Grumman AA-5A Cheetah

For some the path from a trial flight to the acquisition of a Private Pilots Licence is one that takes only a few months to complete, but for me it was to last a little longer.

Helicopter Bell-47D G-ASOL

Bell-47D G-ASOL and passengers

My first taste of flying was as a child in the 1960s.  My father had hired a helicopter to spray fertiliser onto a small crop of conifers planted on some of his land in Wales.  Once the job was done the pilot agreed to give we three children a ride in his Bell 47-D (G-ASOL).

I don’t remember much about it, but it must have planted a seed.  It seems it wasn’t just the trees that benefited from a little boost that day.  However, it would be nearly two decades later before the seed bore fruit.

I left school at 16 with only a few qualifications and spent several years in and out of dead-end jobs so  I was restless for a challenge.  I needed to set and achieve a goal, go on an adventure of sorts and spread my wings.

Learning to fly fitted the bill in every way.  I was also inspired by the books of Richard Bach, in particular Gift of Wings and Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah.  There was a new world to explore but I didn’t have to cross the globe to find a rain forest.  All I had to do was to go up, not across.

Replica of Spitfire prototype K5054

Replica of Spitfire Prototype K5054 which first flew from Eastleigh Aerodrome

I lived within a few miles of Southampton (Eastleigh) Airport, birthplace of the Spitfire.  The airfield has been in use for over 100 years.  The first aircraft took off from this airfield in 1910.  At the time, in the mid 1980s, it was still a mix of GA (General Aviation) and commercial flights to the the Channel Islands and elsewhere.

I chose a flying school called Flight Preparation.  They had a small fleet of Grumman AA5A Cheetahs and some office space on the first floor of the old terminal building.  They also rented offices a few miles away in Chandlers Ford where they provided evening ground school classes.

My first lesson was on the 3rd November 1984 in a Cheetah with the registration G-NASH.  Being a bit of a slow learner and with weather and other delays, it was to be seven months and a total of 17 hours and 35 minutes of dual instruction before I was ready for my first solo on 4th July 1985.

My First Solo

G-BFTE Grumman AA5A Cheetah

© Ian Haskell

They say no pilot ever forgets their first solo, and they are right.  I can still feel the anticipation after another round of circuit bashing in G-BFTE.  As a student you know that the day is imminent but you’re never quite sure when the instructor is going to ask you to fly that first solo.

After several take-offs and landings in during which my instructor criticised my abilities to the point where I was ready to complain we taxied onto the apron.

Are we going to park, return to the terminal building, and discuss my obvious inability to control an aircraft?  Or is today the day?

As we came to a halt my instructor said, “Right. Do that again, just the once.  I’m going for a cup of tea.”  Before I could issue any kind of protest he was out of the aircraft and walking away without looking back.

First Solo PPL

Instructor to student: don’t screw it up

Of course, tea was the last thing on his mind.  He would have probably watched as I made my radio call and taxied back to the holding point. Perhaps he watched as I made every turn and kept his finger crossed for a half decent landing with no bounces, wheel-barrowing or worse.

Once the tower had given permission I moved out onto the centre line of that big concrete runway.  I glanced once again at the Ts and Ps (Temperatures and Pressures).  They were all in the green.  Full throttle, gently, and off we go.

The first thing I noticed was how much faster the aircraft climbed without the instructor.  Then, it was a case of follow the drill.  Climb out, turn, downwind call.  For a few moments on the downwind leg I allowed myself the luxury of looking around.  “I AM FLYING THIS PLANE! I – ME – I AM FLYING THIS AIRCRAFT!”

Grumman Cheetah AA5A G-NASH

G-NASH – First flight and several solos in this aircraft

I made my downwind call and turn onto base leg.  Moments later I was on final approach and the view out of the cockpit looked about right.  I made my last radio call of the circuit and concentrated, hearing my instructor’s voice in my head as I looked at the end of the runway and my position relative to it.

A gentle flare, a little more, and the main wheels were down.  I held the nose up as the speed decreased and let it too drop onto the runway.  Not a perfect landing but I was down safely.

The elation I felt as I walked across that apron to the terminal is still vivid 30 years later.  It was as if I had crossed into another world, from the land where people don’t fly, to the land of pilots.  I felt ten feet tall and couldn’t stop smiling.

After the First Solo.  Celebration, and delays

Lauren Richardson's Pitts Special S1-S G-BKDR

Lauren Richardson’s Pitts Special S1-S

Four days later I celebrated my first solo with the first of two 20 minute rides in a Pitts Special S2-A in which I experienced open cockpit aerobatics for the first time.  The contrast between the enclosed, gentle flying of the Cheetah with the power and maneouverability of the Pitts could not have been greater.

I can still remember the sensation of being at the top of loop as my backside left the seat and I realised why the instructor had made sure my shoulder straps were so tight.

After several loops, flick-rolls and stall turns I was left in no doubt as to the unbridled joy of aerobatics.

Between the summer of 1985 and the autumn of 1986 another 14 hours of dual instruction and 8 hours of solo flight was logged before I passed what was then called the General Flight Test (now called the Skills Test).

The solo time included a Qualifying Cross Country (QCC) flight from Southampton to Exeter, Exeter to Bournemouth, and Bournemouth to Southampton.  Approaching Exeter I still vividly remember looking down and seeing the VOR at Ottery St Mary.  My navigation was spot on!

However, despite completing the QCC and the GFT something went awry.  I was out of work again and both the flight school and I didn’t pull all the various components together and submit an application to the CAA for the licence.

1988 – Another push to complete

Aircraft Propeller

Delays and frustration

Nearly two years later, in May 1988, the funds were available to complete the goal.  This time I choose a school based at Blackbushe airfield in the north of Hampshire. I am not certain but I think Flight Preparation in Southampton had gone out of business by then.

Due to the lack of continuity in my training and changes to the PPL syllabus I had to go through several hours of dual training before I was ready to go solo again.

Then, after a few hour of solo navigation exercises I was given an NFT (Navigational Flight Test), which I failed!

The flying funds ran out again and my training at Blackbushe came to an end in February 1989.  It wasn’t until September 1991 that I could afford to fly again.

Completion at last!

Compton Abbas C150

Completed at last! Only took me seven years.

On 6th September 1991 I began a series of lessons at Compton Abbas airfield, this time in Cessna 150s.  Once again, revision was necessary before I was ready to solo, but the training went well and I passed the NFT on the 13th September.

A week later I completed the Qualifying Cross Country to a satisfactory standard by flying from Compton to Sandown (Isle of Wight), Sandown to Exeter, and back to Compton.

After another 50 minutes of preparation after the QCC I passed the GFT on the 20th October 1991.

I had done it, and this time there would be no foul-ups with the paperwork.  All the forms were filled in and sent to the CAA and my licence arrived a few weeks later.

It had taken me seven years, but I got there in the end.

I was the proud owner of a Private Pilots Licence at last.

What are you waiting for?  Go Flying!

Flight Preparation Fleet  – Southampton (Eastleigh) Airport in the 1980s

With thanks to Ian Haskell for the photos.  Ian worked at the airport as an Air Traffic Controller and learned to fly there too.

All these aircraft are Grumman American AA-5A Cheetahs apart from G-ECCO which is a Grumman American GA-7 Cougar.

G-RJMI Grumman AA-5A Cheetah

G-RJMI

G-NASH Grumman AA-5A Cheetah

G-NASH

G-ECCO Grumman Cougar

G-ECCO

G-BJDO Grumman AA-5A Cheetah

G-BJDO

G-BIPV Grumman AA-5A Cheetah

G-BIPV

G-BIJT Grumman AA-5A Cheetah

G-BIJT

G-BGCM Grumman AA-5A Cheetah

G-BGCM

G-BFTE Grumman AA-5A Cheetah

G-BFTE

September 3, 2016

Knowlton Church and Earthworks – A Ceremonial Henge

Knowlton Church and Earthworks

Knowlton Church and Earthworks

The ruins of Knowlton Church sit in the centre of the ceremonial henge that predates it by about 3,500 years.  It is one of the most striking examples of how the new religion of Christianity adopted many existing sites of worship and ceremony, and in so doing persuaded the population to convert to the new religion.

However, this conversion was never fully completed and the old religion has endured to this day.  If you click on the aerial photograph above and to the right then zoom in on the area just below the church ruins you will see a small black circular area of bare soil.

Knowlton Church, Knowlton RingsWhen I visited the site early one morning in October 2014 I found a used tea light in that space.  It seems it had recently been used for a ceremony of some kind, perhaps a solitary follower of the path of Wicca.

It would seem that the Old Religion created the site, Christianity used for several hundred years, and now neo Pagans are using it once again.

Knowlton Church and Ceremonial Henge 1Knowlton Church

The Normans built the original church in the 12th Century and in was in continuous use until the 18th Century.  The tower was added in the 15th Century.  After the roof collapsed in the 18th Century it was abandoned in favour of another, more recently constructed church in Woodlands.

Knowlton Earthworks – A Ceremonial Henge

Knowlton Church and Ceremonial Henge 2The earthworks were built about 4,500 years ago in the Neolithic Age.  It is clear from the size and dimensions that the earthworks were designed for ceremonial use and were not defensive structures.  English Heritage suggest that there may have been wooden walls and a roof covering the whole area.

If you want more details and facts about the site’s history then just google it and you’ll find plenty, but I would suggest the best way to get to know the site is to visit it.

Ideally, go as I did in the early morning, preferably when it’s sunny.  To see the sun come up and cast the long shadows you can see in these aerial pictures is very atmospheric.  It reminds you of the timelessness of the space.

Imagine all the history that has passed while the church has been there.   That’s less than a thousand years. Then continue your journey back in time to the point when the earthworks were constructed and you will be going back another three and half thousand years.

The site is managed by English Heritage. For more information please visit their website.

Aerial Photography

I took theses aerial photos (with the permission of English Heritage) using a DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ drone in 2014.  This model has been discontinued and you would be best investing your money in a more modern version like the DJI Phantom 4 Drone Camera.

There are cheaper drones available, but DJI are the a market leader that others seek to emulate.  If you intend to buy a drone for personal use then explore the full DJI range and choose one that suits your budget and ambitions.  Below is a link to the DJI Phantom 3 model.