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Private Pilot Ground School (ocw.mit.edu)
187 points by gbacon on June 21, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 119 comments

There is a "Special Lecture", given by a Air Force test pilot to this class that is not listed, but contains a ton of really interesting information:


Saw this last week. The guy is awesome. What a life he has led also!

Just started watching. The presenter is fantastic!

Looks very interesting. Edit: the whole video is golden, thanks for that

And the point at the beginning is very important. There's no difference between a Cessna and an F22 (or a mechanical Boeing, or an Airbus FBW plane).

If it's a fixed wing aircraft, it flies the same way (ok yeah, maybe not the MAX...). The rest are interface differences.

So there is no reason commercial pilots couldn't spend a couple hours practicing stall recovery and engine outs in a Cessna.

The way a pilot's rating works is you get your private pilot license which is the same as a driver's license for most 'general aviation' planes. In those, you are required to demonstrate stall and engine out recovery as part of the test. Theoretically, you can get your PPL with around 20 dual instruction, 20 solo. I solo'ed around 8 hours, and spent another 30'ish learning how to navigate and fly when things went sideways. For me, hour 7 was stalls and spin recovery. (fun, but glad I skipped lunch)

The Instrument rating allows you to fly IFR (in clouds and higher controlled altitudes. One of the tougher ratings of the series.

Commercial allows you to start flying stuff for hire. This usually starts with dropping parachutes or pulling banners. Theoretically flying someone from A to B and getting paid for it. Ironically, some gigs don't need Instrument to fly commercial. Brother-in-law does helicopter crop dusting and fire fighting on just a commercial ticket. You need 250 hours to qualify to take the test.

ATP is where you fly the big stuff. I forget the passenger/size limits - want to say it is near 20 seats. This is the rating where they ask for 1500 hours minimum before they allow you to take the test. For most pilots, this is where you start in the regional airlines and start working your way up to the majors (like Delta).

Unless you add a rating, every couple years you are required to demonstrate you still know what you are doing. Every time I've worked with an unknown instructor they make you go through the same stall/failure drills.

I believe (but I might be wrong) simulators might be cheaper than Cessna flight hours, plus you need training on the aircraft you operate since anything more elaborate than a 2 piston engine aircraft has a type rating and requires specific training.

My dad has his license and used to fly all the time. I told him I was interested in doing it, too, now that I have the money and he basically said, "Hell no, don't do it." His reasoning is that general aviation crashes are often fatal because you have very little time to react in the event of a problem and most private pilots simply don't have sufficient hours to have the muscle memory and awareness to react appropriately in an instant. He said it takes years of flying before you are a safe enough pilot to, say, bring your family along. He told me to search the news around Christmastime every year and that you'll see a family of four that died in a crash. Pilots get overeager to just get someplace and take risks and then their number comes up and they can't respond to it quickly enough.

Around three-quarters of accidents are due to pilot error, and about 15% of non-commercial fixed-wing accidents are fatal[0]. Flying more often keeps skills sharp. Get-there-itis is a mindset that a good instructor and other pilots will warn you against. Launching into conditions for which the pilot is unqualified for is suicidal. Winter flying adds the potential hazard of airframe icing. Accidents at night are more likely to be fatal. Believe it or not, some pilots simply fail to take enough fuel to complete the mission.

The concept of the accident chain runs contrary to the assertion that a pilot needs to react instantaneously to a potential issue. The problem commonly begins long before the situation becomes an emergency, perhaps even on the ground. Break any link in the chain to prevent tragedy.

[0]: https://www.aopa.org/training-and-safety/air-safety-institut...

The stats don’t really indicate that. It’s not low time pilots doing the crashing really, at least not disproportionately. One very common cause is engine failure due to fuel problems, which means that a pilot didn’t check the tank, put the wrong fuel in, didn’t check for water, etc.

Even in GA the vast majority of accidents are something simple like that.

You have quite a bit of time at altitude to react and your training is largely about that. Unless it’s engine failure on takeoff or something

I stopped my training after deciding that I wasn’t confident in myself to avoid such “simple” issues. I’m pretty distractible and even had trouble following checklists to some degree. I’m sure having a baby on the way contributed, but I’m still content with the decision today.

Severe ADHD? Either way good on you for knowing your limitations.

GA aircraft are fairly slow and reflexes usually aren't an issue (with a few VERY notable exceptions, such as cross controlled stalls). Most accidents start with bad judgement, such as flying overweight on hot days.

> general aviation crashes are often fatal

For the record something like 85% of GA crashes have no fatalities. A Cessna 172 will fly down to 40 knots, which is significantly slower than a car crash on the highway.

Sure, slower in absolute terms.

But a car crash on a highway typically involves two moving vehicles, reducing the delta at impact.

Moreover, cars are engineered specifically to protect occupants during a collision. They have safety cages, airbags, crumple zones, and can even be inverted and still sustain the passenger volume. A crashing airplane will not be able to protect its occupants in the same way.

Well, most “crashes” in a plane are basically just a minor bad landing. Someone touched a wing or forgot to put their landing gear down.

Aircraft too are designed to be resilient in certain collisions. Not head on with the ground, but you’d be surprised how survivable crash landings are.

Landing without your gear down does not seem like a 'minor bad landing'. Seems like a very major mistake to make?

Well your insurance company is going to be really pissed but you’re likely going to walk away. Hulls are designed to withstand that.

> But a car crash on a highway typically involves two moving vehicles, reducing the delta at impact.

This doesn't seem correct.

How not? If car A and car B are traveling on parallel routes at speeds X and Y, then their speed delta is |X-Y|, which will always be < X and < Y unless one of them is driving into oncoming traffic.

perhaps they're thinking of two vehicles moving in the same direction. Many (most?) highways have separations between oncoming traffic lanes.

I am an instrument rated private pilot. What your dad told you is true but is also mostly preventable. Sometimes there are accidents that you don't know ahead of time will happen: I've had a friend who died on a local flight trying to challenge himself with strong winds in a mountainous airport, had a heart attack and died. However, that kind of accidents, equipment failure accidents are in the minority. Most accidents are pilot error. That's been studied a lot in general aviation. The conclusion is that most general aviation accidents are preventable. Pilot going into situations that a little planning and thought could prevent. [0]

As a private pilot it is mostly your choice what situation you put yourself through. To survive being a pilot you need a certain amount of humility and understanding your limitations. Also a lot of planning, including contingency plans on what to do if you get stuck somewhere or if the weather gets bad. You are not an airline, you do not have the equipment and resources they do and you should plan accordingly. This should be part of your training and it is up to you to maintain this as you fly.

If you are interested, a good book on the subject of general aviation accidents and as it relates to private pilots is The Killing Zone, Second Edition: How & Why Pilots Die by Paul Craig. Very readable book.

Additionally, aviation accidents are studied by many people in the industry and there are checklists to follow before and during the flight (IM SAFE [1], PAVE[2]. etc...) that should help you to determine if you even should make the flight. There are also automated tools that calculate based on your experience and the environmental conditions if its a go/no go [3] and if you stick to these things they would make you a very safe pilot. So I wouldn't let a fear of getting into an accident stop you from being a pilot but be smart and follow the rules, set yourself some conservative personal minimums, follow the checklists, and plan, plan, plan and you should be safe.

[0] The Nall Report, the gold standard: https://www.aopa.org/-/media/files/aopa/home/training-and-sa... [1]https://www.thebalancecareers.com/the-i-m-safe-checklist-282... [2] https://www.faa.gov/training_testing/training/fits/guidance/... [3] AOPA used to have a go/no-go decision maker can't find the link.

I'm halfway through Killing Zone right now and I've found it enormously helpful. Great recommendation

Thank you, that was very reassuring.

> most private pilots simply don't have sufficient hours to have the muscle memory and awareness to react appropriately in an instant

An ex fighter pilot told me he wish more commercial (and private pilots) would have more time in planes that fly upside down. The JFK Jr. death/spacial distortion thing is real, and having experience in odd orientations really helps with that.

JFK Jr.’s crash[0] clearly shows the accident chain beginning on the ground. He’d injured his ankle in a snowboarding accident a few weeks prior and was wearing a boot that may have interfered with operating the rudder. His magazine was in rough shape, and his marriage wasn’t much better. They’d intended to leave during the day, but his wife and sister-in-law didn’t arrive at the airport until close to dark. His instructor had offered to fly with him, but Kennedy turned him down. Flying at night over open water, especially on a moonless night, can create the black hole effect. Although it’s technically VMC, you’re really flying by instruments. The accident airplane had a working autopilot that he knew how to use, but it wasn’t engaged. Kennedy had some instrument training but not the rating. He passed tens of airports on his way where he could have stopped. He’s a Kennedy and could have summoned transportation.

The common belief is he became spatially disoriented and entered a graveyard spiral without realizing it. Without outside visual reference, our senses can play nasty tricks on us and that instrument pilots train to ignore.

The sad part is it was all preventable: he had so many opportunities to break the accident chain that was forming.

[0]: https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2010/july/pilot...

Would this be solved by making it mandatory for all aircraft to have a HUD with an artificial horizon?

Also it seems like a level 5 autopilot should be possible, and obviously making that mandatory would be a perfect solution.

All do have an artificial horizon. Your attitude indicator has that.

Making autopilot mandatory would make a huge amount of GA pilots unable to fly due to cost. And I’m not sure It would help. JFK JR’s plane had one. (level 5 is not even available for GA, though auto land just launched, but it would be six figures. )

The problem is you don’t know when you’re spinning in the first place without visual reference. Pilots get disoriented (the g force from the spin can feel a lot like normal gravity) and get overwhelmed.

That particular incident was an overly confident, poorly skilled pilot doing something risky that most pilots simply wouldn’t

The accident airplane had both, although steam gauges and not a HUD. The pilot has to know how to use the gadgets and actually do so.

Scheduled airlines, FAR Part 121, are much safer for several reasons: pilots have much more training and at least 1,500 flight hours, they’re all instrument rated, they have mandatory recurrent training, companies drill Standard Operating Procedures, two pilots: one flying with the other monitoring, a dispatcher on the ground is pitching in too, flying IFR, talking to ATC, often making stable straight-in approaches. In short, mucho redundancy means one person’s bad decision won’t immediately imperil the flight.

Like the accident chain, the fix has to start early in primary training. Pilots need to be taught to have a healthy respect for the weather and hazards like airframe icing. Pilots have to make humble, conservative decisions and be willing to tell ourselves and our passengers or even ATC no. Frank, critical self-evaluation is not a skill we’re born with either. We have to be taught and remind each other to be on guard against the five hazardous attitudes (invulnerability, impulsivity, macho, anti-authority, and resignation). We have to continue cultivating a culture of safety that encourages good aeronautical decision making rather than foolish or brash risk taking. We have to look for opportunities to create redundancy in our own personal SOPs.

No amount of instruments will make flying a plane safe if the pilot isn't trained on how to operate the plane _only_ using instruments.

It's very counterintuitive to operate a vehicle, and force yourself to ignore all visual cues from outside the cockpit.

Aviation hardware is absurdly expensive. Not only do you get to pay an A&P to install it but the gadgets are silly expensive. Think we were quoted almost $1800 to add a USB charging port to a C180.

'Flying upside down' is certainly valuable (I offer spin training to all my students who want it, since it does not require a parachute) but it would not be very helpful in the case of weather related disorientation. JFK accident was more of a failure in decision-making than the piloting skills. 'Do not fly angry or upset' is a basic rule. It is incredible what people decide to do after gaining just a modicum of confidence. Even those who claim they are obsessed with safety. I had an airplane owner and a student who once tried to convince me to fly a twin after one of the engines shut down on take off (fortunately we were still slow)! His family was on board! He was not my student for much longer.

Would you attribute this to mechanical failures or situational complications (say, getting caught in a mountain rotor)?

Three-quarters of accidents are due to pilot error.[0]

[0]: https://www.aopa.org/training-and-safety/air-safety-institut...

Maybe he had a close call.

I heard it is roughly comparable, statistically, to being about twice as dangerous as motor cycle riding.

Correction: On par with motorcycles risk http://inspire.eaa.org/2017/05/11/how-safe-is-it/#:~:text=At...

An interesting fact about learning to fly in Australia.

All aircraft must be flown in (they can't be sent by ship). So these light aircraft are set with ferry tanks (bladders) and flown by island hopping. One notable chap from the airfield I learned is Ray Clamback. He ferried over 220 light aircraft from the United States to Australia over 30 years and ditched due to failures twice.


>All aircraft must be flown in (they can't be sent by ship).

This is just not true. I'm about to import my second plane by ship right now. It's no big deal.

Incidentally, Ray taught me to fly (only ground school, he doesn't really fly any more).

From previous discussions this is not the case. It is not illegal to ship an aircraft to Australia. See the link below talking about packed aircraft. Also some aircraft have short ranges that would make them impossible to fly across the ocean (even island hopping). https://fcbrokers.com.au/customs-clearance/aircraft/

However it works out to be cheaper for most aircraft since it is very expensive to take an aircraft to pieces and put it back together and then have it certified to fly.

Reading a few forums there seem to be several factors decided if it is cheaper to ferry or ship.



the issue is most likely the shipping and recertification process then. most modern planes, in general aviation, can have their wings "easily" removed. we're talking a handful of bolts per wing, disconnect a few hoses (fuel/air) and a couple of wiring harnesses.

It takes less than 10 minutes to attach or detach the wings on my experimental. Many of them are designed to fit into a trailer and be 'assembled' at the airport, and then hauled back home after. There are three bolts holding on the wing and one bolt for the control cable.

Some day I'll have a house where my car gets to park inside the garage too. :) https://i.imgur.com/fanxM86.jpg

Btw, a number of really great books on the art of ferry flying: - Shark Bait: The "Misadventures" of an Oceanic Ferry Pilot - Rubber Suits & Lukewarm Soup: Surviving Life As an Oceanic Ferry Pilot - Air vagabonds

Do the rules prohibit shipping the plane to someplace close to Australia, such as Papua New Guinea, and then flying from there to Australia?

Really cool job, but.... dear god what a ridiculous regulation.

Australia is the worst. Not only do you have to comply with performing all airworthiness directives but you also have to perform all service bulletins.

Which if you’re not into flying planes - an air worthiness directive is like a recall - “hey we found this problem with this seatbelt randomly unlatching - you are not allowed to fly until you take it to the dealer to get swapped”. Which is fine and I don’t have a problem with that for non-experimental aircraft.

A regular service bulletin on the other hand is like - “hey we upgraded the seats on the 2020 Honda Accord to premium vegan leather. If you drive a 2018 Honda Accord you need to swap out the seats for the 2020 model. Even if you just swapped out the seats for the regular 2019 vegan leather model 6 months ago.”

Makes private aircraft ownership prohibitive for all but commercial operations. In the US one does not need to perform service bulletins but as a rule they’re good to track.

>Not only do you have to comply with performing all airworthiness directives but you also have to perform all service bulletins.

Again, just not true. CASA is more aggressive than most other countries with maintenance requirements - their name (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) gives it away, their mandate is to increase safety and cost doesn't appear to factor into many of their decisions. I'm not defending that, but there is no requirement to apply all SB's.

The particular gripe 99% of people are upset about is covered well by Mike Busch:


Thank you for clarifying. Requiring all SIB’s, alert SB’s, but not all other SB’s is both better and worse than I imagined. Better in that this is less of a problem for new aircraft but worse as this is the quickest way to kill your general aviation community by targeting the guys in Cessnas and Beechcraft.

The recent part 149 fiasco [1] can only be justified by self serving behavior - in effect not allowing the general aviation community to self administer medicals but allowing CASA staff to do so (in effect making themselves exempt) doesn’t sound like the actions of an organization which stands for Safety. Between the two I can’t see it anything but a compromised, self-dealing institution.

[1] https://aopa.com.au/part-149-a-corruption-of-casa-integrity/

Thank you for clarifying. Requiring all SIB’s, alert SB’s, but not all other SB’s is both better and worse than I imagined. Better in that this is less of a problem for new aircraft but worse as this is the quickest way to kill your general aviation community by targeting the guys in Cessnas and Beechcraft.

The recent part 149 fiasco [1] can only be justified by self serving behavior - in effect allowing CASA staff to self administer medicals but not extending the same privilege to the general aviation community. Between the two I can’t see it anything but a compromised institution.


That doesn’t sound right.

I am not a pilot, but I am an Australian living in Australia and know some folk who own aircraft.

CASA doesn’t mention ”service bulletins” but does have a category called Airworthiness Bulletins and states:

* An Airworthiness Bulletin is an advisory document that alerts, educates and makes recommendations about airworthiness matters. Recommendations in these bulletins are not mandatory.*

A browsed some of the actual airworthiness directives and didn’t see anything about seat leather or such.


Section 2.3.1 https://www.casa.gov.au/file/138326/download?token=VRa6AR1O

CASA issued its own supplemental AD’s based on foreign AD’s AND SB’s. At the minimum looks like all alert service bulletins in addition to most non-alert sb’s. The chap I spoke to may have been technically incorrect with the all bit. If you learn differently I would love to know. I was incredulous when he told me but he insisted it was true and went on to say (in less polite terms) the current CASA leadership happened to be particularly aggressive in “looking like they were doing something.”

As it stands, even this level is still tremendously onerous for private non-commercial operations by reclassifying every alert SB as a CASA AD and then requiring official CASA inspection. Rent-seeking comes to mind.

Singapore is really touchy too.

Seletar is the only airport in the world where I've seen every single little Cessna with new tires.

I've been curious how airspace between countries is handled in GA, especially with city-states like Singapore or Hong Kong.

Can one freely file a plan that crosses to Malaysia or China without landing there? Does it require visas or special permits?

Otherwise there is not much where one can go besides the ocean, especially with those busy airports occupying much of the airspace that’s left over land.

In Western law, intent is important, but Chinese culture uses strict liability. They don't accept excuses like, "Oops, my engine failed and that's why my plane hit the apt. building."

Over Singapore, you're not allowed to overfly buildings, so you have to fly along rivers or marshes.

For international flights, you're treated like an airline.

US, Australia and Canada have a GA culture, but most countries cater only to airlines, and tolerate flight training for airlines.

> Chinese culture uses strict liability. They don't accept excuses

Daily life in mainland China or South Korea gives such a different impression. “Oops, I was late/bored/tired/on the phone and that’s why I drove on a red light.”

Now, Hong Kong does accurately match your description.

(Personal anecdata.)

> All aircraft must be flown in

That's very weird. For example, small airplanes get from the US mainland to Hawaii in shipping containers. Two Cessna 152s fit in one container, or one 172.

I’m assuming he means for some dumb legal reason.

I realize that.

I provided an example of how another distant island handles that to show what reasonable behavior is.

Anyone here want to weigh in on the value of a private pilot license?

I can cut a long drive in half or by two-thirds in what are considered slow (read: beginner-friendly) single-engine airplanes.

You take on an entirely different relationship with the weather.

Flying into expected congestion beats driving any time. I really enjoy flying to college football games, where just getting out of town afterward may take 90 minutes or more and then the rest of the trip home.

It creates flexibility and opens up options that road travel does not. I can get to the beach in two hours from where I live, making a day trip for fresh seafood doable. My son was in Auburn last year for the Tennessee game. Another couple flew down with me; we picked him up in Auburn and thence headed to Tuscaloosa. He got to watch four SEC teams play each other live in the same day.

Charities Pilots N Paws and Angel Flight transport rescue animals to their forever homes and vulnerable medical patients to and from treatments.

Fewer interactions with TSA creeps.

Maintaining my required medical certificate and protecting my investment in flight training creates a strong incentive to stay healthy. I’m in my best shape in decades. Of course it’s possible to find overweight pilots.

If you intend to fly to any sort of scheduled event, strongly consider adding an instrument rating, which will make you a much safer, more precise pilot and should increase your likelihood of surviving inadvertent flight into IMC.

It’s a rewarding intellectual and physical challenge. Phil Greenspun posits[0] that it keeps the mind active and young longer.

If you go to the local general aviation airport, you'll find lots of guys in their 60s and 70s who are tackling challenges that are way beyond your own capabilities. Certainly these guys are much sharper and in better mental and physical shape than the average person of their age. Flying requires mental acuity and real-time decision-making that seems to keep pilots young. A lot of older folks seem to be preoccupied with trivial matters, such as organizing their junk mail or minutia within their childrens' lives. Old pilots don't seem to be subject to these preoccupations and the topics of their conversations have more in common with young pilots than with other old people.

[0]: http://philip.greenspun.com/materialism/early-retirement/avi...

Do you own your plane? That’s the part I’m trying to sort out before i get started.

I co-own a Piper Cherokee Six/300 with two other pilots. It’s an easy way to dilute overhead costs of hangar, maintenance, insurance, and so on along with the time commitment of care and feeding.

Insurance may be cost-prohibitive for a brand new private pilot. For your first couple hundred hours, renting will likely be the better option. Airplanes rent by the Hobbs meter hour, or time the engine is running. “Wet” rentals, which means fuel included, is a common arrangement as well. A club I belong to reimburses us at the wholesale rate for fuel purchased at other airports. For overnight rentals, some places have a minimum number of hours per day that they charge because the airplane isn’t generating any revenue sitting on the ground.

Awesome, this is great insight...thank you for the reply!

Best decision ever. You don't see the world the same way. Nothing beats the convenience. Buy yourself a cheap Cessna and don't look back.

I took a lesson in a Cessna, it was enjoyable enough, landing was a little scary. A few years later, I got to ride in an L-39. It's hard to go back to a Cessna.

They recently made an ultralight version UL-39

Wow. I thought you were joking but UL-39 really does look like an amazing concept. Jet propulsion with a piston engine! And an LSA at that! Incredible. Thanks for the reference.

It's also going to be rather cheap - around 5 million CZK ~ 210k USD

-some professionals take great benefit from it. it's the fastest way to move around the US. -look up STOL flying, that's a really fun hobby to get into, you can land anywhere in the world -you can do a bunch of volunteer work with a license. -I personally do it because of the challenge and I find it very fun !

That's surprising. I was under the impression that landing outside of an airfield is only permitted in a few states and parts of Canada? In Europe it's generally forbidden (with the sailplane exception of course).

Look on YouTube for folks flying something like a Kit Fox (start with Trent Palmer). You'll find some fun videos of some cool spots they land. Also, STOL drags are cool to watch.

In the US, you may generally land anywhere the landowner permits it. There’s lots of publicly owned land, and although it’s up to individual management agencies, you can generally operate a plane wherever you can operate any other motor vehicle.

Crop dusting is still a thing. I live in the middle of nowhere and there are several strips of flat grassland that are landing strips for crop dusters.

In my case made me reconnect with friends in LA while living in SF which totally altered my life trajectory.

There's no set value in that. You just can't pilot an airplane without a license.

You actually can pilot a plane without a license after some instruction and passing a medical exam. The main thing getting a license changes is the ability to fly others.

In what jurisdiction?

You can fly a category of airplanes called ultra-light and you don't need a pilot's license. You can take a single passenger. It is based on airplane weight and horse power. Different countries have different standards. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultralight_aviation

As a student pilot in the US you can fly without a passenger but also with other restrictions like your flight instructor has to give you an endorsement to fly and most won't give you an unrestricted endorsement. It is really there to get you a certificate and not as a way to bypass it. All other require a certificate (technically it is not a license but rather a pilot certificate). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilot_certification_in_the_Uni...

No, ultralights are single seat to protect members of the public:

"For example, the assumption can be made that a person who elects, without pilot qualifications, to operate an uncertificated vehicle alone is fully aware of the risks involved. This assumption does not hold true of a passenger selected randomly from the general public. Persons in the general public will likely assume that the operator has certificated pilot qualifications."

Also, not all airports allow ultralight operations.


Also, for insurance and legal reasons, no professional CFI is going to endorse you as a student pilot on an on-going basis.

Yes. Sorry. Ultralight can have one seat. Sport can have up to two.

Agreed about the student pilot not getting an endorsement on an on-going basis. It's too much of a risk to them.

To HN readers in general, here is how to understand how the FAA thinks, and why they will never deviate:

1) Passengers are assumed, correctly, that they cannot evaluate the risks of a flight, and FAA regulations must protect them.

That's why you won't see passenger drone flights in this century in the US, or any advertised "ride sharing" between strangers.

(The FAA has been slow on banning helicopter skid pop-out floats for sightseeing flights, but I predict that will change.)

2) That VFR and IFR flights must be physically separated.

That's why everything that moves will be required to have ADS-B out.

If you're involved in any kind of business model that opposes the above, it is only a matter of time until the FAA stops you. You're welcome to use the words "doctrine" or "never" when explaining the above.

In the US, they could be referring to getting signed off to solo by an instructor. It is very restrictive and not something you should plan on long term.

Fun, expensive hobby

And it's as expensive as your budget allows.

Get a PPL if:

- you plan a long-term commitment to flying, and more ratings later

- you live near an airport, or can trailer in an airplane

- you make a good salary for your region (or live at home)

- you're healthy (can pass a required FAA airman exam)

- you plan to fly at least once or twice a month for airplanes, twice per month for helicopters

Don't get a PPL if:

- you want to travel and can't afford a fast-enough airplane

- it's an expensive bucket list item to cross off, then forget

- you have severe ADHD, dyslexia or problems reading

- you have a DUI or seizures (disallowed), diabetes, apnea or cardiac problems (on-going special issuance paperwork.)

- you care about family approval, but your partner is afraid for your safety

- you don't like rules (FAA, flight schools and clubs have tons of rules and regulations)

- want to make money flying (you need a commercial+ rating to charge money)

Note that after you get your PPL, you will have a baseline of skills that lets you fly safely under cheaper, less-regulated rules, like ultralight, experimental and LSA.

For example, for safe, low-cost long-term flying, a PPL followed by purchase of a Hummel all-metal ultralight trailerable airplane (~$30k) would be ideal for local VFR flight for one person.


Source: commercially-rated pilot.

Forget about flying if you have any treated ADHD. The FAA will throw a hissy fit during the medical, and getting a medical exception is a spectacular collection of hoops - you basically have to completely go off meds, because according to FAA, being distracted while flying is a much better plan than just taking your meds.

(Funny side effects: There are plenty of pilots who are pretty certain they have ADHD, but since getting the license was expensive, and this is now their job, they won't seek diagnosis)

Other things that make you skip PPL: Color blindness. Again, endless hoops needed. Night flights are out even if you get the exception.

In general, get the medical cert out the way first if you care about PPL. Be prepared to spend good chunks of money if you're anywhere around SV. PAO especially is a hideously expensive place to learn flying.

A commercial rating just lets you fly for hire, not run a commercial aviation business. Those are regulated separately.

Edit: I'd also suggest avoiding becoming a pilot if you're adverse to turbulence or sweat, as not many light aircraft have ACs.

1) With just a commercial license, you can do a variety of non-passenger businesses with minimal insurance (photography, pipeline patrol, banner towing, cargo, mail).

If you want to carry passengers, especially on scheduled flights, then it gets complicated as you're really starting an airline as far as the FAA sees it.

2) You can fly in the early morning if you're new to turbulence.

I got most of my ratings in Hawaii, and we'd tell new students to show up at 8 am or 9 am if that was an issue for the first couple of flights.

In your 1) you mentioned cargo, so just to clarify, you can fly cargo for somebody, i.e. not in your own airplane. In general, flying and operating your airplane for any kind of compensation is what the FAA calls 'holding out' and just a commercial rating is not enough for it (more precisely, you need other, nonflying related qualifications for that, like a 135 certificate).

On 2), my experience has been that most students get airsick because of anxiety (I guess it is associated with them fixing their gaze inside the airplane) and is usually not an issue once they gain confidence. Before that, flying early is great advice.

+1 to calling out the holding out stuff. Lots of people assume commercial means you can start flying people for cash - so not true.

I’m still early in my training but the sport pilot license just doesn’t seem like enough time to me. I’m usually a fast learner but I really don’t feel I’ll be safe after I hit 20 hours!

The 20 hrs/ 40 hrs for PPL is not a hard limit. If you are not ready, a decent instructor will not sign you off to take the check ride. Even if you have 20/40/100 hours—the instructor will not let you take it until they feel you are ready.

So it may cost you more or take you longer. If you are truly interested, you keep with it, or decide to stop.

The Sport Pilot license is not recommended in general for that reason, or if you need confidence to fly in Class B or C airspace.

However, if you do a bunch of research it may be right for you even though it usually isn't for anybody else.

For example, if I was a CFI and had a partner who flew with me, and who wanted a rating and refused to spend serious money, I might tell them to do a Sport and endorse it. But from this example you can see how super-narrow the use cases can be.

Or if you own a Japanese flight school in Hawaii, and get 20 candidates per month who are doing hobby-only flying, then maybe that business model works for everybody. (This is based on a real situation. PPLs were granted to students who could not speak English on the radio, so the FAA stopped that.)

Yeah and I know a lot of people who couldn’t pass the medical for the ppl get them too.

I have well controlled diabetes type 2 and sleep apnea that has never resulted in nodding off. What's the scale of additional red tape for that?

The Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) may request months of CPAP data. Insulin-dependent diabetes may require special issuance.

For a broad reference, see the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) database on health conditions that may affect medical certification.


Call the FAA yourself and ask. They have a hotline for medical related questions. I have had heart related issues in the past and AMEs gave me conflicting answers about the way forward but the FAA is the source of truth

If you insist on having an airman medical certificate becaue you're already a rated pilot and need it to make money, then special issuance makes sense.

But if you're not a paid pilot, you're better off not going down that route, since once you're on record as having a deficiency, that's a permanent concern to the FAA. And if they decline the special issuance, you're also not eligible for the drivers license medical.

I would advise nobody with issues who wants to fly for hobby reasons to go down the PPL route since you can get banned for failng a medical. There's almost no upside and huge downside to risking that.

Definitely agree. In my case it was use of antidepressants. I thought the whole country is basically doing them so surely that’s not a problem when I went to an FAA AME for the PPL 3rd class medical. Well now I’m fucked for life apparently. There only 3 antidepressants they accept for a special issuance with costly on-going tests each year. Even if I’m off them entirely it’s still a problem.

I did witness an AME re-approve a commercial guy with a DUI though while in the waiting room. Good on you, FAA.

Well, the Hummel is an all-metal ultralight that looks like a real airplane, so try that route.

Thanks for the DUI anecdote. Great that he got re-approved, but that can be retracted anytime.

Just to recap - the FAA assumes if you get an airman medical, you might try to carry passengers, so their medical rules are maximally strict.

I would bet you can get a third class medical. Go to an AME, they’ll ask you to get letters from your other doctors.

I'd recommend avoiding trying to obtain the PPL with those medical conditions, since there will be a lot of paperwork, and the goalposts can be moved on you.

The 2 better options are:

1) Do some research on Sport Pilot and LSA planes. No FAA medical or PPL required, just a valid drivers license.

2) Get involved in the ultralight community, ask around about training, and buy a Hummel. No FAA medical or license required, but I'd recommend doing PPL-level training for safety reasons.

Just for those reading along: all FAA licenses require demonstrating mastery of the aircraft to certain tolerances. PPL has pretty basic requirements that get you from Point A to Point B, but no acro or IFR, so it doesn't make you an ace. But a PPL is still a world away from an untrained ultralight pilot.

> - want to make money flying (you need a commercial+ rating to charge money)

Correct, but you need a PP to get the CPL (which only allows you to basically fly the same plane you did your PP on, just for money). Then there's IFR training, ATPL, AMEL, and that's only to get you at the door of a major company

(Just adding a bit of detail to the story)

Do you want to travel up and down the California coast in 2 hours, or spend 3 hours in an airport getting groped by TSA?

This is a nice set of lectures. I looked through the notes on aerodynamics and they are better than most sources, however I do have an issue with two items there. When talking about the minimal drag every book (for pilots that is) mentions that it occurs where the induced drag and the parasitic drag are the same (they even have a graph to reinforce that) while some simple calculus shows that it is rather the point where the two grow/decrease at the same rate and I have seen no reason to believe these are the same point (most aerodynamics books just state that such a point exists).

The discussion of the left turning tendency, while technically thorough and correct fails to mention the relative contributions of the various sources. Again, any introductory aerodynamics test has a 'back of an envelope' calculation that shows that for the majority of GA aircraft 95 percent or more (in terms of force) of left turning tendency is due to the spiralling slipstream. Precession and torque are only significant for very large radial engines (and helicopters, of course) and the asymmetry of lift is responsible for barely 1-2 percent (this is why during landing the plane still tends to turn left even though the asymmetry of lift would suggest otherwise).

They formulas for lift calculation were a nice touch. I wish they would also mention the Coanda effect.

Edit: of course most of this is totally unnecessary for a pilot to know. Even though it helps to understand the spiralling slipstream if one is flying a high-tail plane.

Precession and torque are uniquely important to understand in tailwheel aircraft where you are pitching the plane up and down while the wheels remain on the ground. The thing that always bothers me about the explanations personally is how rarely it is explained that precession is a function of the change in angle, torque the change in power, slipstream absolute torque, and p-factor absolute angle.

While theoretically true, the numbers do not lie. The angular momentum of the prop alone and the applicable geometric (dis)advantage are just not enough to significantly affect a typical taildragger. Not to mention that while (both) mains are on the ground, torque has almost no effect at all (aside from the microscopic compression of the tires :)). Once you start flying something like the T-6 things change, of course, because of the large radial engine.

The effect of the P-factor (pitch asymmetry) is so miniscule that aside from making pretty pictures and explanations with a prop mock up and its shadow it can be disregarded entirely. Again, things are different in helicopters (this is why a typical helicopter tends to roll appreciably on takeoff).

I like the way this 2-minute video illustrates the increase in P factor during a climb.


I took this class in person during this past IAP.

It’s an info packed 3 days, but certainly worth it. Would recommend to anyone who’s interested in learning about flying or getting their PPL.

Funny to see this on here. I've started the process of getting my PPL and these lecture videos have been really helpful in studying for the written exam.

25 years I gave up my airline ambitions due to bad eyesight after obtaining both american an european CPLs and flight instructor certificates. During the lockdown I decided to give XPlane a try and now I'm hooked. I'm regulary shooting IFR approaches down to minimums in dense fog at night in mountainous terrains in modern jets. Add VATSIM or Pilot's Edge and the thing is as real as it gets. I'm now a more proficient pilot than I've ever been in real life. If I was based in the US, I'd try to make a business out of teaching people learn to fly on XPlane. It's crazy if you think about it. I believe you can train pilots up to airline standards using equipment costing no more than 5000 Dollars.

Definitely useful for IFR procedures and such, but so much of basic skill is VFR, looking outside. Last I tried a sim on screens, it was like watching a movie through a keyhole. I guess VR goggles are finally an option now, but even then, you don't get bodily feedback. Can you really learn turn coordination without having felt it in the seat of your pants?

Well, in the end there is some real world flying to be done. But seat of the pants flying is the easiest part. The hard part is all the procedural and system knowledge you need to fly professionally. Unfortunately, I'm out of the game now. But if I was still active, I'd be really interested to see how far I could take a student using nothing but some basic XPlane setup.

Flight sims are getting there, and with a good VR gear experience will be almost indistinguishable from the real thing. Cheaper, safer, more fun even, as you can fly whatever the hell you want.

Nonsense. The FEELING of a landing includes movement that you feel. No VR gear will make you feel like you are sliding left.


Finishing up mine now, couldn't get the checkride done last week but got the oral portion done. Just need to fly with the examiner.

Not sure what I'll do with it, it has cost a lot, but I enjoy flying and I've enjoyed learning a LOT along the way. You'll learn a little of everything: aerodynamics, systems, airspace, weather, etc.

Note this is NOT a cheap hobby. Not trying to discourage anyone, but I'm not sure I would do it all over again. I'm glad to be done, I'll have fun with it, but there aren't a lot of practical applications for a private (you'll need a commercial license to work for hire, plus a whole lot of flight hours).

Outstanding, good luck on your checkride

What motivated you to get started?

Good luck on your checkride!

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