License to Learn: ground to solo

Editor’s Note: In order to have a robust general aviation community, we need to learn from all participants, not just those multi-thousand hour pilots. Here 18-year old Kyle Libby, a new pilot, shares his insight into the training process and his flight training experience. His perspective offers a lot to think about for more experienced pilots.

A Fresh Private Pilot’s Story on the Trials and Adventure of Flight Training (Part 1 of 3)

It wasn’t something that I would describe as easy.

But worth it? Absolutely.

Kyle Libby

The author says learning to fly in high school wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

What I mean is being a senior in high school, managing the work load of AP classes, getting college applications in, studying for finals, and trying to maintain a semblance of a social life, while training for my private ticket. Have people been through more adverse conditions? Sure, and I’m not knocking those, but I never expected the work that a Private Pilot’s license could take in conjunction with everything else.

As pilots, we’ve all been asked that question, “What’s it like to fly?” I normally have trouble putting it into words, as it is something that can rarely be described until you experience it; this is even more true for those who haven’t been in a smaller aircraft before. How do you transfer the feeling of being able to go almost anywhere when you want? (Weather and TFRs permitting of course) The feeling of squeaking that landing after a long cross country? Or that feeling of rapid fire communication and terminology with ATC that goes flawless? A lot of them are abstract concepts that require the dive into flight training to get fully immersed.

I was gifted with the funds to go ahead with my training, and I realized two things. One, how grateful I am to my family and how much they really care about my dreams. Second, I understood how lucky I was, and how I was obligated to share and give back where I could to other aspiring pilots or people just interested in aviation. I’ve found that some of my favorite flights are those where I take someone new up and try to show them what we experience. It isn’t a bad way to ask a girl to prom either.

Late 2011 is when I started in general aviation with ground school, offered for free to a few of our mutual friends by my friend’s father, a CFI named Gary. I went wanting to learn to fly, though not even remotely expecting to begin the in-air stuff. I was 16 at the time, and had an understanding with my mom and dad that getting my PPL was just something the parental budget committee could not put through. I understood, really, I mean look at prices these days, but I figured I could at least get free ground school, save money there, and get my foot in the GA door.

The airport which would become my home field is Apple Valley Airport, KAPV. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, Apple Valley is about halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It’s a dusty, fairly small place, one I lovingly describe as a small town trying to be a big one. With a population of a bit less than 70,000, our area’s claim to fame is a house on a hill where a James Bond scene had been filmed, the fact that the Roy Rogers museum used to be nearby, and Route 66.

I reserve the right to poke fun at my home in the Mojave Desert, as I do so with pride. Growing up in this area, I had a lot of aviation influences in my life. We had the Mojave Spaceport, Edwards Air Force Base, China Lake, and airways in the area that would make me always want to glance at the low flying C-17 or Cessna passing overhead while talking with someone. For some reason, non-pilots didn’t appreciate that.

KAPV

Apple Valley Airport (KAPV), where the author learned to fly.

The FBO I would be using amounted to a building attached to a large hangar. The building was older, worn down, and nothing like the FBOs I would visit later on. Later though, I learned that I could appreciate and even prefer the humble office, as it made for more intimate discussion and lessons. It made me feel more like a student, and less like a client or customer, something I think some FBOs need to reconsider, especially with younger students.

The first time I went to ground school at the FBO I remember driving my Jeep past the lit up blue taxi lights and getting a feeling of excitement and slight trepidation because I honestly didn’t know where I was supposed to go, or if I was on a runway. I figured that’s what the blue lights, which I later learned were taxi lights, indicated.

That night ended with my getting introduced formally to the field of aviation, walking out with my first logbook and written test prep guide. As time progressed, and our little class of seven or so high school students advanced, I found myself longing to actually get in an airplane. When ground school was over, I was gifted with two hours of flight training from my family. Finally I was going to be able to get the wheels rolling and the prop spinning.

The first takeoff roll was probably more memorable than my solo. The feeling of firewalling the throttle and putting in right rudder as the plane begins its roll is something I never get tired of, but the first time I wasn’t sure what to expect. That first lesson, the first time I left the ground in a private aircraft, is when it all clicked. I could feel the airplane rise and me with it! I could see the ground steadily fall away and shrink as the altimeter did its little circular dance upwards. I think it’s a more vivid memory than my solo because, let’s be honest, the solo is just more pattern work.

Once my family realized that I had gotten the flying bug, we agreed on twice a month. It wasn’t until I was around 15 hours that I realized I could, in fact, get this done before I turned 18, but that comes later.

Stalls were probably the first time I can honestly say I was worried.

“Alright then, Kyle, note to self: the plane can stop flying; this is how to know when it is coming.”

“If a spin happens, power off, aileron neutral, rudder opposite, recover.”

“What is that? Ah, the stall horn, OK, now what? Oh wow, OK didn’t expect that.”

“OK so that’s what it looks and feels like.”

It’s those lessons of practicality that make experience so much more valuable than just book knowledge. It was lessons like this, along with stories, recordings and NTSB reports I would read about accidents and mishaps that I purposely search out, just to learn from them. It was haunting and graphic yes, but at my young age I forced my ego down whenever I flew, and still do. I had to realize that once I take someone up, I am responsible for our lives. That it isn’t the time to get all macho, pull a “watch this,” or push my personal minimums.

For example, I cancelled a night flight today with some friends. The METAR shows 19G23, mostly crosswind. These are some questions I asked myself, ones that I encourage student and low hour pilots alike to do as well: Could I do it? Maybe. Am I comfortable with it? Not really, no. Should I go when I know that I’ve been entrusted with three lives? Absolutely not.

Yes, impressing people is awesome, fun, and honestly, easy with a pilot’s license. What isn’t awesome is having to explain to their parents that their kid has been killed or injured because I was too eager to show off and tried to handle a crosswind beyond my comfort, or that I took off into MVFR and got into a tricky situation. Older and more experienced readers will know this, but I write this now for the students, for the low hours, for those who might think they know all there is.

Flight training has taught me responsibility and situational awareness unlike anything else, and it is essential that it does so. When we get into the GA world with a PPL, we have a license to learn, and need to be careful and responsible that we do just that; learn and not become the lesson.

I moved forward in my training, soloing around ten hours. Now I had to get into the more complex parts of flying. With navigation, cross countries, instrument flying, and communications coming up, I was extremely eager to keep going, to push on for my PPL and to learn more about the world of aviation at a young age.

In Part Two of License to Learn, Kyle moves on to the next part of his flight training, learning about navigation, cross-country flying, and dead reckoning, which comes in handy when he gets off course on his long solo cross country.

25 Comments

  1. Wayne says:

    Kyle,

    Thanks for the article. I think we can all learn from you. Especially the part of taking responsibility for those we take for rides. This is true for all pilots, not just low time ones. Us older, gray haired ones need the reminder.

    ” The METAR shows 19G23, mostly crosswind. These are some questions I asked myself, ones that I encourage student and low hour pilots alike to do as well: Could I do it? Maybe. Am I comfortable with it? Not really, no. Should I go when I know that I’ve been entrusted with three lives? Absolutely not.

    Yes, impressing people is awesome, fun, and honestly, easy with a pilot’s license. What isn’t awesome is having to explain to their parents that their kid has been killed or injured because I was too eager to show off and tried to handle a crosswind beyond my comfort, or that I took off into MVFR and got into a tricky situation. Older and more experienced readers will know this, but I write this now for the students, for the low hours, for those who might think they know all there is.”

    • Kyle Libby says:

      Thank you very much sir, it is something I hope others will consider. Lots to still learn, but I do enjoy writing and passing what I can on, when I can.

  2. Cathy Bendrr says:

    Kyle, outstanding article. Well written and very interesting. I’m a friend of you’re Aunt Amy Bair.

  3. Brandon Freeman says:

    Kyle,

    Outstanding article. I think your comments on making sure pilots don’t submit to the siren call of showing off is pertinent for pilots of all ages and experiences.

  4. Jared says:

    Cool article,

    I’m a low hour pp working on instrument rating. One of my favorite parts of taking up new people is when they realize how much work goes into flying before you even get off the ground, from flight planning and checking weather to pre-flights and run-ups/ops checks. There is a reason people look up to pilots ;)

  5. John says:

    I really don’t appreciate the tone this is set in. I’m not one to be subjective but I’m assuming you received your ppl within recent months and you talk like you have accumulated a mass of hours since receiving you ppl. Its great that you are able to judge your ability according to weather conditions and other such variables. It also seems as if since receiving your ppl it gives you the right to talk down to lower hour private pilots but you have to remember you also just got yours and you still have low hours compared to most pilots. “I encourage student and low hour pilots to do the same” this line right here. You seem like a very humble kid and you will go far in life with kind of attitude but don’t get cocky with yourself.

    • Tony says:

      Wow, I must be reading a different article. I thought Kyle was humble, honest and down-to-earth. I think saying things like “you will go far in life” is a bad tone.

      Let’s encourage everyone, especially those rare teenagers who learn to fly these days.

    • Christopher Nguyen says:

      Some people are just good at putting things into words and reflecting on experiences, however short it might have been. I don’t really feel cockiness coming from this article, if the guy states that he isn’t going to break personal minimums and human life for ego, I am taking him to his word.

      As another pilot his age, I understand that we aren’t the folks with thousands of hours. We’re just trying to speak from our perspective, however we can.

      PS; JJ, is that you?

  6. Tyler Henley says:

    This article hits right at home for me. I started for my PPL when I was 13 and have been focused on it ever sense. I deal with the same things such as Homework, studying, and having a social life, I don’t however have to deal with 19G23 often. I have found that many people want to take the first steps to becoming a pilot but don’t know how. I try to encourage and motivate people to take the first step but sometimes I think it seams to confusing and they give up. Let me know if you have and suggestions on what to tell them. Great article!!!

    • Kyle Libby says:

      Hey awesome! Can I ask where you are now on your training?

      You’re right, some people see it as an unattainable goal, when getting into it isn’t too hard. As far as getting them into it, I’d just suggest to them a discovery flight! Or if they’re close to you and you have an extra seat, let them tag along! Other than that I’ve found telling stories, photos, and videos get them interested :)

      Good luck!

  7. Christopher Nguyen says:

    Great job, Kyle! Also a very well written article (AP English Lit? lol).

    I’m also a high school Senior, thankfully graduating soon. I started Instrument training this January and finished last Wed. By some stroke of luck, I found it a bit easier to complete than my PPL. Unfortunately I traded off focus from my 7 AP classes to get that rating, and I’m now playing catch-up…

    Have you done any flying for the Young Eagles program? It’s a great program that encourages youth aged 8-17 to get interested and into aviation. It’s how I got started when I was 9, and I started flying for the program almost right after I got my PPL last summer.

    Do you have a college/university picked out? I’m headed to Riddle in Daytona this fall.

    • Kyle Libby says:

      Hey Christopher,

      Yes I am in AP Lit haha, although that isn’t necessarily where my style came from. Really you got your instrument done too? Congrats, that’s awesome! Yeah, nothing like AP classes to depress any happy news… Good luck on the tests in the next two weeks by the way!

      No I haven’t, but I’ve been really meaning and wanting too! I think they have a meeting soon actually…

      Also, I do, Cal Poly SLO, aero engi :D

      • Christopher Nguyen says:

        I solo’d when I was 16 (and a half), tried to test for my PPL on my 17th birthday but didn’t do so well (the examiner was nice enough to give me a letter of discontinuance) on the oral since I had junior year in the way. I finished it up last summer in July. So this year I started off with my Instrument rating, was pretty fun flying in the clouds. Thanks, and good luck on your exams too!

        It is a really great program and I met lots of new pilot buddies through that, though most of them are nowhere near our age lol. I’m happy to say I safely flew 10 Young Eagles before I turned 18. Small accomplishment, but it satisfied a personal goal to give back to the program.

        I hear the Aerospace Engineering field is starting to take off with all these companies trying new things such as private rockets and supersonic business jets. Good luck in that field!

      • Brian says:

        Great article, I love to hear about young people getting into aviation. We need more people like you to keep aviation going. I got my private certificate 10 years ago when I was 18. I am finding not enough people are into aviation anymore. I always try to encourage young aviators. I joined the Civil Air Patrol for a couple years but found that with to much regulation it really wasn’t that fun, and the kids really weren’t having much fun.

        Thanks for the other posters for mentioning the Young Eagles program. It seems more of what I am looking for to encourage the younger generation. I have just started working on my CFI and can’t wait to start instructing. You can’t beat the view from the office!

  8. Chris says:

    Great article! I will be turning 18 in a few days, and I got my ppl last summer. I experienced many of the same things that you did and I think it is great that you have such a sense of responsibility while you are flying! Blue skies and tailwinds!
    Chris

    • Kyle Libby says:

      This is what I was hoping for, to talk with other teen pilots! Thanks for reading. Stay safe!

      Kyle

  9. Hunter Heath says:

    Kyle,
    Well-written and thoughtful; ignore the commenter who missed the point. You seem to have a mature and methodical approach to flying that we all need to be reminded to follow.
    I am pleased to see other comments coming from young pilots-in-training– a future for GA on the horizon! I hope Kyle and other young readers of this journal find local mentors and fellow enthusiasts to sustain their interest and spread the word.

    • Kyle Libby says:

      Thank you very much for the reply! I know I always try to spread the word, sometimes to the annoyance of others around me…

  10. Leonel says:

    Kyle,

    Love your insight to aviation. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I feel like I relived all the same sensations on my first discovery flight I took by reading your article. I’m still working on my PPL but hopefully this summer it will be complete. I’m a family man trying to juggle family,work,flying of course all in that order of importance. Keep on doing what you do Kyle. Kudos to your parents for raising such a well rounded young man. They must be so proud of you. Look forward to hearing about the rest of your journey. Might have to make a trip out to your home Airport in Apple Valley(KAPV). I’m not too far over in Long Beach airport(KLGB). Oh and about that comment that was posted earlier don’t pay any attention to that its obvious that he must have gotten confused with some other article he read.

    • Kyle Libby says:

      Yeah, what I’ve found is that it is important to make sure you can finish up, otherwise you’ll spend half of a lesson reviewing. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t though, keep going for it! For me, now, it’s more of a, “Ok I had the money to finish… now I need some to stay current.” So I try to go up at least once a month.
      And thank you, I owe them a lot.
      While I’d be glad to meet you out here, and there is a decent restaurant, there isn’t a lot to do at KAPV other than fly. No crew cars and not a lot in town anyway. So as a day trip, not so much, but if you’re looking for those in our area (Go SoCal pilots!) check this site out, 160knots.com . Great reviews of airports.

  11. Drake G says:

    It is encouraging to see someone else my age get their license.

  12. Doyle Frost says:

    First, let me open with “Good writing and good subject.” Next is how jealous I was reading how you young whippersnappers managed to get your license at such a young age. (Had to wait until I was 56, and family all grown up and left the hangar.) But, you are an inspiration, even for us old codgers, especially if you keep your wits about while enjoying the freedom of flight. Keep up the good work, and thank you for a very good article.