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.
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.
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.