January 27, 1999


What did Leonardo DaVinci doodle? Bass boats?... Ski lifts?... Golf course architecture? If he did, there is no record of it. He did doodle airplanes though. Since before our human species rose to walk on two legs, we have looked up and wondered, looked skyward and imagined. Flight has captivated human thought since the inception of thought itself.

It has been only a few generations since we have fulfilled the dream of the ages and taken flight. Even today it is not every nation that allows its citizenry to fly at will around its countryside, and it is not every person on this earth that has the financial resources to fulfill this dream.

Flying is intensely rewarding, relaxing, and generally pleasurable. It broadens your perspectives. Let's not pretend though, that mankind has aspired to the heavens all these centuries only to discover that it is easy. Learning to fly an airplane is not something that just happens in the course of sitting in the left seat of a Cessna for forty hours. There are many things that must be learned,not just heard, read, or studied. Flying is not a video game that you can pause while you think, and it is not a test that can be graded on a curve.

How long does it take? As extremes, I have had some students that required less than 50 hours, and some that required more than 100 hours. Nobody should start out taking lessons with an expectation of it requiring less than 65 hours. It depends upon how often a student flies, it depends upon their natural abilities, their background and upon how well they prepare themselves for each lesson. Once a student gains the necessary knowledge, and learns to sense and react to the airplane's different moods, flying becomes quite natural.

Flying at its most basic level is more art than science. It involves the senses more than the cerebrum, much like riding a bicycle. As one moves farther, faster, and higher, through weather, and into more crowded airspace, the demands of basic control change little, but the demands for clear and decisive thinking increase exponentially.

I stress the importance of the airplanes attitudes as seen through the windshield. By the time that the airplane's instruments show that the flight path is changing, a change in the aircraft's attitude has already occurred. New pilots should learn the sight, the sound, and the feel of the airplane, and use the airplane's instruments primarily to calibrate these senses.

The airplane is maintained in a delicate balance as it moves through the air. When the pilot changes any element of this balance to maneuver the airplane, all other aspects of the balance also change. An effective pilot understands this, and almost instinctively moves the controls to counteract the unwanted changes as he maneuvers the airplane. Basic control of the airplane through all normal regimes of flight should be subconscious, so that the pilot can afford the time to think ahead.

Call it seat of the pants flying, or call it common sense. To know the woods, you have to think like one of its creatures. To know the air, you have to think like a bird. Some people want to be more than just rabbits or wrens, they want to be real pilots, but first they must be patient. A pilot's control of the airplane must be almost subliminal before it is appropriate to take on the world of instrument flight in faster and heavier airplanes.

Today there are many things that we can do to fulfill our lives, and few are inexpensive. If flying is your secret ambition, nothing short of flying will satisfy you. It might cost a bit more, or in the long run, it might not. You owe it to yourself to give it a try though. Even on your first lesson, you will fly the plane for most of the flight.

Make this the year that you come to the airport and try the real thing!

Plane Talk Archives

To contact Bob Tilden, send an e-mail.