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So You Think You Can Be a Pilot?

Monday, February 13, 2012

 

So this week on my blog, I thought I’d let you all in on a little hobby of mine. Flying planes. By myself.

That’s right, I am well on my way to earning my private pilot’s license. The training began almost two years ago, but I’ve wanted to be a pilot for as long as I can remember wanting to be something besides a Tyrannosaurus Rex or superhero or something. It’s hard to say exactly what it is about flying that has such a hold on me, but the feeling of being free from the ground is definitely a huge draw. It’s so amazing to be three or four thousand feet off the ground, just soaring with (but hopefully safely away from) all the birds. Not to mention the views. I wish I’d have taken pictures from the cockpit during flight in the past, but you guys will have to settle with just seeing me in the cockpit on the ground.

“So how do you get into flying?” you might ask. Well, the answer is to visit your local flight school and talk to an instructor. For me, the closest airport back home is the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA). Intimidating name, yes? Well it fits! It actually is a pretty busy airport to start learning to fly at.

Airports are classified into 4 classes: Class B, which are your fairly rare (only about 40 in the U.S.) gigantic, hustling and bustling airports like DIA, Chicago O’Hare, Dallas-Fort Worth, JFK, LAX, etc. etc. Then you have the Class C airports, which include large airports which host a lot of commercial traffic, as well as some private traffic, but mostly commercial. Class C airports include Colorado Springs Municipal Airport (actually the only Class C airport in Colorado) and ABIA, among about 120 others in the U.S. Then there are the Class D airports, which are mainly small airports that serve a lot of general aviation (basically, anything non-commercial) planes. Rocky Mountain Metropolitan airport is a good example of a busy Class D airport, and there are many, many of this size airport in the U.S. Last on the list are Class E airports, which have no control tower, and serve a very small amount of planes and pilots. Boulder Municipal Airport is an example of this kind of airport.

Now that you’re a scholar on airport classification, you can see that ABIA is a pretty busy airport. During the day, Southwest, Frontier, American Airlines, JetBlue, and many other airlines are constantly flying in and out, while pilots of little planes kind of shuffle around and slip in between airliners.

So back to getting started. The first step is to take a “discovery flight,” where the instructor takes you up in a plane similar to the one you’ll be learning in and lets you handle the airplane a little bit and just generally shows you what it’s like soaring a few thousand feet above the not-as-lucky people below. When I took my discovery flight in May of 2010, the control tower told a Southwest airlines 737 to wait while we got in front of them and took off. So to the people who were aboard that flight: I apologize for the slight delay. My bad. The flight itself was awesome, and got me hooked. I got to see my house and high school from 2,500 hundred feet above ground level, and that was pretty sweet, to say the least.

To keep this relatively CU and Boulder oriented, I’ll summarize most of my flight training that took place back in Texas. After the discovery flight, I took lessons with every spare minute I had, and eventually got to the point where my instructor had me solo the airplane, by myself, while he watched on the ground. Pretty scary at first! After that, I started flying solo in and out of ABIA, which is definitely the most quick-paced, exhilarating experience I’ve ever had.

Once back in Boulder, I contacted a flight school at the airport in north Boulder. I started to take a few lessons here and there, but with my schedule, I didn’t have a lot of time. Unfortunately for me, Boulder doesn’t have the best flight-friendly weather in the spring, which is when I have more time to fly. The Chinook winds may seem bad on the ground, but they’re many times worse in the air, especially for a light plane. And the snow is a whole different issue. So unfortunately, I haven’t been able to finish up my training quite yet. I did fly a good deal in Boulder this past summer, and actually soloed again here. I thought it was nerve-wracking flying near airliners, but dealing with those gliders and their tow planes is almost as dangerous, if not more so, than flying near jumbo jets. My plan is to finish up my license this summer, back home in Texas. So hopefully at this time next year, I’ll be writing about the coolest date ever that I just took a girl on: Sunset over the Rockies.

Speaking of that, one of the prettiest sights I’ve ever seen, I saw on an evening flight over Boulder. We went up just before sundown, so we could practice the transition into night, and the sunset over the mountains was spectacular. If you think it looks cool from the ground, imagine seeing it set over all of the Rockies.

Wow, I probably just set my personal record for longest blog post, and no wonder, because I could probably write books on how much I love flying. Thank you for reading, and have a good week! Go Buffs!

 

Me sitting in the cockpit of the Cessna 152 that I learned to fly in.

Mike
Biochemistry, Atmospheric/Oceanic Studies (ATOC) minor • Austin, Texas