When I Got My Wings

As a kid, a common question is, “if you could have a superpower, what would it be.” For me, that has always been the ability to fly. It’s one thing I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. In 2011 I was fortunate enough to be taken up in a family friend’s airplane - my first peak into general aviation. Ever since, I knew I would have to pursue a pilot’s license at some point in my life. That’s not something I really knew much about beforehand though. I had assumed it worked much like a drivers license; get it and you can fly around without much restriction. But it was only upon starting my aviation journey in January 2022 that I started to see how much there really was to this.

I never realized how long it would take. Students are told they can get their license in as little as two to four months, but mine took well over a year. I got my private pilot license on May 8, 2023. During that time, I had three different instructors and accrued 90 hours of flight time. Although I was ready for my checkride around 65 hours, I had to wait for two months before the DPE had an appointment time for me. It’s one thing to learn how to steer and airplane; it’s another to learn the rules of the air. Outside of flight training I read numerous books, taking notes and memorizing rules and procedures. I learned more about airplane engines than I’ll ever learn about cars. Meteorology became a serious field of study. Being a pilot isn’t just about knowing how to take off and land; it’s about having a total understanding of every flight.

My flight school had Cessna and Piper airplanes; I’ve had plenty of training in both. The Cessnas area great sight-seeing airplanes. The high wings give the pilot and passengers a fantastic view of the ground and give shade to everyone inside the airplane. Compared to a Piper, it feels more like flying a truck; you feel a little higher off the ground. It’s much easier to get into and out of, with doors on both sides. But I don’t like how the high wings obscure the view of the sky, nor do I like the design; it’s not sleek. On the other hand, Piper aircraft are sleek and are comparable to fast cars compared to Cessnas. Although the have one door and it’s awkward to get in, it feels like a car lower to the ground. Visibility is great from Pipers, unless you want to look behind you or at the ground. I can’t exactly explain why, but they just feel more satisfying to fly. Most of my training has been in Piper Cherokees.

I’ll never forget my first solo flight, and the few thereafter. It’s remarkable how much more visibility there is when nobody is blocking your view on the right. It felt illegal the first couple of times, like I should have had somebody’s supervision on the ground, but there’s a reason it’s called a solo flight. My second solo flight lasted just a few minutes. I tried to squeeze a flight in at the very end of the day only to realize I made a mistake; the sun was setting and I needed to be on the ground by civil twilight. I literally did one lap in the pattern before calling it a day. My third solo was my first solo cross-country. I was overly concerned about looking out for other airplanes and stressing out about remembering every step, but it was still quite an accomplishment. As a private pilot now, there’s a chance I’ll never do another solo flight again; why do that when I could have a passenger?

The most important thing in aviation is safety. I was taught to look at pretty much every conveniently accessible square inch of the airplane during preflight inspections, and I always have. Part of being a private pilot was determining the limit for how bad the weather could be before I decide to cancel a flight. To start, that’s 16 knots of wind with no more than a 10 knot crosswind. As far as a ceiling goes, I’ll fly locally with a ceiling of 4000 feet MSL or further than 50 nautical miles with a ceiling of 5000 feet MSL. Those numbers may change over time, but I’m not willing to risk my life or that of another with weather conditions I’m not used to flying in.