The hidden benefits of learning to fly

“It’s clear that we’re on the front end of something much larger than any of us can imagine, travels and adventures far greater than anything we can now picture.”

While astronaut Ed Gibson of Skylab 4 was speaking of space flight when he made that statement, his quote could be applicable to any new endeavor in life. Learning to fly is no exception.

Picacho Pass
Picacho Pass, site of the westernmost Civil War battle, southern Arizona. Photo by Dan Sobczak

Learning to fly takes time, dedication and commitment. But the reward can serve you in life far beyond flying an airplane. You probably know the benefits of flight – speed, saving time, maximizing productivity – but have you considered the benefits of learning to fly?

Learn about the world around you

Ben Franklin once wrote that “an investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”

When you learn to fly, you’re not only learning how to move the controls of an aircraft. You’re also learning more about the world around you.

When I was learning to fly, I learned how an airplane’s engine and electrical systems work. I quickly realized this also taught me how my car operates. This serendipitous knowledge allowed me to become more self-reliant when it came to resolving car troubles.

I also learned about our planet’s weather patterns. This foundation of weather knowledge gave me an advantage years later in my non-aviation career.

Just as important, I learned I was becoming part of something unique. The uniqueness wasn’t the ability to fly, although that is pretty cool. Rather it was the people in aviation. They are a unique group: friendly, willing to help, and often share common interests beyond aviation. Learning to fly has produced lifelong friends I can trust for advice.

Create memories that last a lifetime

It’s been said that life isn’t about the destination. Rather, it’s the journey that matters. When learning to fly, the destination is your private pilot certificate. While it can cost a considerable amount of time and money to learn to fly, what you’re really paying for is an investment to create new experiences.

Chino Mine
Chino Mine, southwestern New Mexico. Photo by Dan Sobczak

When you fly, you’re not just logging flight time. You’re also logging memories that will last a lifetime. Along the way, you’ll likely discover and visit some new places of which you’ve never heard.

Once as a student pilot, my flight instructor and I took to the sky on a routine mission to practice aircraft maneuvers southeast of Phoenix, Arizona. He told me to look down at the ground where I could see what remained of the Gila River War Relocation Center, an unfortunate injustice committed against Japanese Americans during World War II. I never knew that part of Arizona’s history until that flight.

On another flight, I discovered the site of the westernmost battle of the American Civil War: the Battle of Picacho Pass, 50 miles northwest of Tucson, Arizona. It was fought between a Union cavalry patrol from California and a party of Confederate pickets from Tucson in 1862.

Had it not been for aviation, I might never have learned about these nearly forgotten stories in American history.

Discover more about yourself

In addition to learning more about the world around you and creating memories along the journey, learning to fly builds character. The process gives the student a sense of self and develops confidence.

A colleague once asked me why I fly. I fly for the sense of accomplishment. The ability to guide an airplane through the sky and return it safely to earth offers a sense of achievement that nothing else can match.

Gila River Relocation
Gila River Relocation Center outside Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Dan Sobczak

I discovered that whatever problems were bothering me on the ground, I knew I could leave them all behind when I made a flight. I could commit my mind 100 percent to flying the airplane.

I fly for the opportunity to learn. By setting and accomplishing the goal of becoming a pilot, I’ve learned more about myself.

Where to go to learn more

While there are only about 300 destinations travelers can buy an airline ticket to in the United States, there are over 5,000 public use airports you have access to as a private pilot. Learning to fly makes it much easier than flying by airline, or driving by car, to get to nearly any destination in the United States.

A friend and I once made a flight from Phoenix to Las Cruces, New Mexico to attend a car show. What would have been a nearly 6-hour one-way drive was actually a 1.5 hour flight by light airplane. We were airborne by 8 a.m. and returned home in time for an early dinner.

If you’ve been curious about those magnificent people in their flying machines, learning to fly could be your ticket to a whole new world.

If you’re wondering what it takes to learn to fly, visit the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Learn to Fly page, where you can learn about your options and find a flight school in your area.

42 Comments

  • As a commercial pilot who flies both airplanes and helicopters, I could not agree with you more and after 30 years flying, I love it more everyday. Thanks for bringing this to the public.

    Safe flights
    Kyle
    ATP-SEL,MEL, helicopter

  • I like a quote from a Brazilian Capt that says: “In life the more you live, more you learn, in aviation is the opposite, the more you learn, the more you live”.

    Living and learning everyday, that’s the life.
    Great article.

    Sony.

  • Of course it is great. But then there’s the people who love shitting in punchbowls…the FAA medical division. They demand more information than is necessary or reasonable and destroy dreams with the same glee that Filth45 takes children from their parents or food from the hungry or medicine from the infirm. In other words, the FAA tends to the sociopathic rather than the regulator or even the facilitator. They can go to hell. Speaking from personal experience, and yes, I am bitter at my dream of re-learning to fly late in life was wrecked by them and their anachronistic stooge AME. To FAA medical: I hope your lives are nothing but unhappiness in payment for the unhappiness you happily inflict on others. Awful, evil people, the FAA.

    • Rivegauche610, I can understand your frustration with the FAA and its medical division.

      I’m sure you can relate to the old joke about the FAA mission statement: “We’re not happy until you’re not happy.”

      The goal of the article is focus on and share the joy of aviation, and hopefully play a small part in helping grow general aviation for future generations by sharing the positive benefits flying can bring.

      I would be sad to hear of someone being turned off from aviation based on hearing or reading about the bad experiences or government bureaucracy some people have faced.

      Certainly with any endeavor like aviation, there are obstacles that can squash that joy. I’m sorry you’ve had bad experiences with the FAA.

      That said, there is no need to wish ill-will on folks just trying to do their jobs. Certainly there is room for improvement, and it’s incumbent upon us, and the industry itself, to work constructively toward positive change. Certainly it won’t happen overnight, but change can happen by focusing on positive constructive feedback.

      In fact, with the positive change of BasicMed just in this last year, the process is improving. Perhaps not fast enough, but it is improving.

      • Well, before the FAA ended my dream I did have a marvelous flight in the left seat from Burlington to Rutland and back with my CFI in the right and my son in the back. I know well the joy of flying airplanes. Of course I don’t really wish misfortune on such folks but they could stand a good dose of reality knowing what effect their arbitrariness has on well-intentioned people just trying to realize a dream.

        • I empathize with you… It can be tough being forced to put aside a dream for reasons out of your control. I’ve been there myself.

          Glad to hear that you did get to have some positive flying experiences, and with your son to make it even more special for you!

  • I too learned to fly in Arizona – at Falcon Field – solo’d in 1973. That whole area is so different now, but the views in your photos bring back lots of memories. Getting my license in a Varga while working at the Varga Aircraft Corporation, going to A&P school in Douglas, AZ at Cochise College. Now I live in the Pacific Northwest and still work in aviation and now I’m building an airplane.

    • Hi Jim,

      Yes indeed. The area has changed greatly over the years! I’m pleased to hear my article and photos have brought back some happy memories for you. 🙂

      I too trained at KFFZ. A great local airport, and great memories for me too. Good luck with your homebuilt airplane!

  • Dan
    1st. solo flight,October 16, 1965. Prescott, Az. Cherokee 6785W. Remember it like it was yesterday. And, Like you said, go for a flight and forget everything on the ground. What a wonderful experience. Though I have not flown for over 30 years, my heart still belongs in the sky. Have you ever flown over the Yavapai county (Prescott) courthouse on Christmas Eve? That is an experience you will not forget. Thanks for the memories.

    • Hi Gary,

      I have not had the pleasure of flying over the Yavapai County (Prescott) courthouse on Christmas Eve. But flying over the beauty of the Arizona desert, especially early morning (before it gets too hot!), are some great memories for me too.

      I’m pleased to hear my article and photos have brought back some happy memories for you as well. 🙂

  • Prescott in 1965 does not look like it does today! We moved to Williams AFB in 1966, then Mesa in 1971. A buddy and I flew formation Vargas into the Grand Canyon in 1983, when you could still do that, have photos somewhere. Great fun. My instructor told me you can never get lost flying in AZ, just climb up to about 8000 AGL anywhere and look for Mt. Williams, then you know your way home.

  • This is a well worn adage but here goes anyway: “1 mile of road will take you 1 mile, but 1 mile of runway will take you anywhere”.

  • They say you retire from work but you should not retire from life.When you continue flying for fun in retirement you sure as hell do not retire from life.In fact i think the opposite is true with so many fascinating new adventures and new experiences at your disposal and of course it is a continues learning experience and great exercise for the brain and you can continue flying to age 100 if your medical is ok¨ìn my humble opinion.

    • Yes, the continued learning experiences help us to not be complacent, whether that’s in flying or any other area of life. Thanks for the comment!

  • P.S.Of course opportunities and little challenges abound and you can do instrument ratings,night ratings,seaplane ratings.Etc.Etc.Etc.plus have a fantastic social life and all the “Characters that you meet”

  • I am a student pilot and loving every minute of it. You are so right. Whatever your troubles are on earth, you leave them totally behind in flight and yes, it can give you a sense of accomplishment and boost your confidence… which I needed.

  • One is never to young to learn a new skill. I took my first flight back in 1965, and was finally able to fulfill my dream of flying as a private pilot this January at the ripe age of 63. School is not over yet but just beginning, as I start ground school for that freedom of flight ticket IFR rating. Yes the FAA medical can be a pain, but with patience and a lot of prep work prior to starting my PPL a class 3 medical was obtained and I’m healthier because of it. Issues were corrected and the new Basic Medical makes it even easier. I fly out of a non towered airport, N30 in NEPA in a new to me BE 35 Bonanza. Some men like to buy that sports car, but an airplane has no competition. Besides it’s against the law to drive over 80mph and I’m just beginning to rotate to lift off the ground at 80. My wife of 40 years has supported my leap into the sky and she loves to sit at my right side and take in the adventures from above. The best part of flying is that the grandchildren are only 2 hours away, not a 6 hour drive across Pennsylvania. Each time I take flight something new is learned and new memories are made. Be safe and enjoy what God has provided.

  • Thanks Dan.
    I learned to fly in 1973, taught by my brother.
    He was an Embry Riddle graduate (Daytona Beach), and doing CFII work to build hours. We were roommates in Knoxville, TN so we flew every day and never stopped talking aviation. He had access to the plane for the cost of gas, and I had a free instructor, so my license cost me next to nothing. He went on to an airline career and just retired from United last summer.

    We still talk aviation constantly. It stays in your blood for the long haul.

    I don’t fly much anymore because of time and expense, so I put a flight simulator in my office at home. I try to fly it every day, and usually get “airborne” 3-4 times a week.

    One of my favorite memories (too many to count) was a 10 day trip with me a 2 friends in 1975 from Knoxville to the Bahamas and back.
    In those days, the Bahamas had very poor NAV reliability, so the best thing to do was stay near land as we island hopped.
    I would’t trade the experiences for anything.

  • No kidding, Dan. I was so lucky to have Billy and his plane available.
    It not only saved a ton of money, it allowed me to learn much faster since we never stopped the “training” (it never felt like training to me … just loving every minute of it).

    When I went on my check ride, I was in North Carolina and after lots of questions on the ground, the examiner asked me where I did my ground school instruction. I told him the story and he laughed. He said no wonder … I haven’t seen a pilot as proficient in ground school operations as you, but that explains it.

    The ride itself was easy for me. I was never nervous at all. Captain Billy had been giving me check rides for months, so this was just a another day in the sky. 🙂

    • C.E.,

      The best I was able to do (with regard to saving money during flight training) was to read and study everything I could in Rod Machado’s Private Pilot Handbook. Rod’s book was my personal ground school. I learned everything I could before I had my first hour of flight training, so I could devote my time in the air to the practical side of learning to fly, instead of just the conceptual side of flying.

      But I still have a long way to go…

  • Sounds like you picked a great book to study.
    I’ve read some excerpts from it, but not the book.

    We definitively all have a long way to go. It’s a never ending learning process.
    But a fun journey … 🙂

    BTW … there’s an interesting series on National Geographic’s channel right now about 8 astronauts and their experience looking at Earth from 250 miles up. It’s narrated by Will Smith, and it’s pretty amazing. I think any pilot would like it. (or any non pilot)
    It’s a free program. I have my DVR set to record all episodes, but you can easily get them all if you’re not there when they start. So far there a 8 episodes.

  • Dan,
    Thanks for this insight. I’ve been flying off and on for over 40 years but started my aviation career as an air traffic controller. On New Years Day 2017 I received my CFI ticket (an interesting side note, I soloed in a Cherokee 140 on my 16th birthday and began instructing in the same model at 61!). Once the word got out that I was available to fly during The week ,not just weekends like most CFI s, I became a VERY popular person ! I flew almost 500 hrs last year. In regards to your subject I have started telling my students that after getting your ppl, when you are facing challenges in life, you can always say to yourself “If I can fly airplanes, surely I can do (Fill in the blank)

    • Hi John,

      Great story! What a great way to use flying to encourage confidence in accomplishing anything in life. How does the saying go? Nothing worth doing is easy. 🙂

  • Thank you Dan for sharing your thoughts.
    Flying has become a drug for me. When the weather is bad for flying for more than two days, I start feeling anxious and get bad humoured.
    After a flight, no matter how short, I always have an almost “stupid” smile on my face thats lasts at least two days, I can’t help it but feel happy.
    Besides, flying keeps your mind young and active, it’s good for your brain !

  • This article perfectly explains my passion for aviation. Being a student pilot with just 20 hours, I do not have much expirence built up yet. But I am determined to advance and better myself as a pilot. Thanks for the great article.

  • Dan,

    The Civil Air Patrol could use some of those earth-bound fliers that may find flying too expensive. All the folks that profess to enjoy learning could look forward to polishing their piloting skills and learning through the search and rescue efforts of CAP to find downed pilots. The pilots in the squadron I’m in North Carolina come from all sorts of backgrounds – civil and military. When get a comment about missing flying, tell ’em about the Civil Air Patrol.

  • I agree with your take on the benefits of becoming a pilot, but there is one plus nobody has mentioned. I am very happy to have gained through training and self-study a good understanding of our atmosphere and its weather. Even in retirement from flying, I study the sky and weather reports avidly, trying to beat the forecasters at their game. It is satisfying to have a body of useful knowledge that most ground-pounders don’t. Only sailors come close to an IFR pilot’s knowledge & appreciation of weather.

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