As Pink Floyd once sang, “I learned to fly on a wing and a prayer,” with emphasis on the prayer part. While there are many frustrations with being an entertainment journalist, more times than not there are moments where you go, yeah, this is why I do this. It’s the out of the blue, weird, totally unexpected opportunities you get that make everything worthwhile.
It is Air Show season in many states across the country. One of the biggest ones is the Andrews Air Force Base Joint Open House Air show in Maryland. Ironically enough, or perhaps not, my Maryland Home is directly behind Andrews and I grew up on the base so I’m no stranger to this amazing show. As part of this recent event someone from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association – the folks who help put on these shows – reached out to me about whether I’d like to learn how to fly. Um, OK.
I have to admit, I do not have a bucket list, and even if I did, the idea of learning to fly never occurred to me. The process to start was simple. I was set up with a local flight school – since I was in New Jersey at the time, I went with the Morristown, New Jersey based Best In Flight run by Chief Pilot Robert Hadow.
When we first arrived, I was struck by how mundane it was. The school is located in a very nice, upscale office park where private pilots have their offices. Out back, hidden from street view, are the hangars and airfield. When we first walked through the hangar, the first thing you notice are all the absolutely beautiful Gulfstream jets parked and waiting for their wealthy masters.
Apparently, not only do those planes cost millions of dollars, but according to my instructor, they cost at least $15,000 per trip to fly. Of course we were not allowed within 10 feet of those planes. If I had a bucket list, one thing I’d love to do is take a first class trip overseas on one of these beauties.
Your first flight begins with some on-the-ground book learning. Robert taught us a lot about the plane we would be flying in and even schooled us on some basic physics. A funny moment occurred when he told us we’d be talking to the Air Tower and we needed to practice sounding bored – which was surprisingly hard to do!
During an extensive interview, my instructor said that a lot of older people have started taking up flying. They have the free time and money to do it. Ironically enough the cost to learn how to fly is actually relatively cheap. A one-hour intro lesson that includes a flight is less than $150. Best in Flight also offers discounts and sometimes-free introductory lessons.
I played a lot of Microsoft Flight Simulator back in the day, but nothing prepares you for the feeling you get when you first step into the cockpit and actually steer and control a plane for the first time.
When we first walked out and had a good look at the little single engine Diamond DA20-C1 Eclipse, my mind was screaming – run! Getting into the thing was hard as heck. It is like getting on a horse where you have to step high up and in. I was actually more scared I’d fall off the plane than out of the sky. The instructor was gentle with me and helped me in.
My very patient instructor let me talk to the traffic controller, pilot the plane on the runway, and control the takeoff. Once in the air I learned how to maneuver the plane and all about the various instrument panels.
This two-seater was all cockpit and canopy so you get a full, unobstructed view of the sky. Normally I’m not scared of heights, but my stomach dropped when I took a gander at the amazing full view. It seems like you are literally floating in the air with nothing between you and the sky.
While learning to fly hadn’t been something on my radar, and even after getting sick (in my own defense it was a very windy day), I would definitely be down for more lessons. This is something everyone should experience at least once in one’s lifetime. For information on how you can start, check out letsgoflying.com and use the Find a Flight School tool.