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Your First Flight Lesson

By Helen Woods

Joe Clark
Helen Woods

I know of no pilot, no matter how many years she’s been flying or hours she’s accrued, who won’t break into a huge grin when asked to recall her first flight. A pilot’s first flight is always one of the highlights of her flying career.

Once you’ve located a sport pilot flight school, it’s time to give the school a call and sign up for your first flight lesson. When you call, you should be prepared to tell the person scheduling you a few things about yourself, such as your height and weight, so he or she can set you up in a plane that will fit you, as well as with an appropriate instructor. It’s a good idea to ask if the school has any requirements for things you should do beforehand or bring to your first flight; some schools may request that you bring proof of U.S. citizenship. Also, dress sensibly for the outdoors. Sandals, large boots, and high heels don’t work well in light planes, and heating and air cooling can leave something to be desired. Sunglasses or a brimmed hat that will fit over or under a headset is also very helpful. You may bring a camera, but if you’re prone to motion sickness, leave it on the ground or let the instructor use it for you.

Most flight schools will give you a choice of taking an introductory flight for your first flight or a full lesson. Introductory flights are a good way to test the waters as they are short and discounted but allow you a long enough flight (generally half an hour to an hour depending upon the school) to determine if you like the plane and instructor. Flight time from an introductory flight counts toward your certificate, but because of the short time length of an introductory flight, you likely won’t learn as much during it as you will if you opt to do the full first lesson.

The main difference between an introductory flight and full first lesson is the time length, especially on the ground. At most schools, for an introductory flight, expect the instructor to have completed the preflight inspection and servicing of the aircraft before your arrival. There may or may not be a very brief ground lesson before your flight. For a full flight lesson, you will likely spend about an hour on the ground learning how to complete the preflight inspection before you even get into the plane. Flight time will typically be about an hour, and you’ll probably spend at least half an hour after your flight on learning how to fuel and secure your plane as well as debriefing from the lesson. Since you’ll be paying for instruction the entire time that your instructor is teaching you these things, a full lesson will cost more than an introductory flight; however, you’ll get more out of it.

Tecnam Eaglet
Your first lesson begins here.

During your first flight, expect to begin learning the basics of taxiing and to have the opportunity to control the plane while aloft. The instructor will likely handle the takeoff and landing, allowing you to concentrate on learning basic maneuvering in the air. Coordinated turns, climbs, descents, and basic airspeed control are typically part of the first flight lesson. The instructor may also demonstrate the aircraft’s ability to glide and other safety features to help you feel at home in the plane.

If you express an interest in continuing training with that school, the instructor will likely spend some time after your flight explaining the school’s pricing to you and selling you the required books.

It’s important to realize that flight training is a commitment. Like learning a new language at the local community college, it requires intense repetition at school and home study. While 20 hours of training are all that is required by the FAA, most students require additional training beyond 20 hours.

To minimize your time and cost, you should try to set up a schedule that allows you to fly as frequently as possible, preferably at least two to three times per week. Students who fly frequently remember more from lesson to lesson than those who fly less frequently and therefore spend less time reviewing and more time moving forward. Also be sure to plan adequate time at home to study and keep current on your lessons, and tell your spouse about your study needs.

Your first flight is the experience of a lifetime. Call your local flight school and start the fun today!

Helen Woods is an FAA master certificated flight instructor, and she’s chief flight instructor at Chesapeake Sport Pilot, located in Stevensville, Maryland.

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