First Flying Lesson – “At least one of us knows where the airport is”

Ever since my introductory flight at the Pacific Flying Club at the Boundary Bay Airport, I’ve always been looking for an opportunity to continue on and get my private pilot license. For those that aren’t familiar, a PPL allows you to fly pretty much any single engine propeller plane for non-commercial purposes, in good weather. Takes about 50-60 hours of flight time, and variable number of hours of ground instruction. Usually takes about 5 months if you fly 3 times a week, etc.

I didn’t really have time when I was in Vancouver, but I got a co-op work term in Santa Clara, California, so I’ll be here for 8 months, and it seems like a perfect opportunity, because

  • Flying in California is much cheaper, mostly due to lower fuel cost. About $7000 everything, compared to >$10000 in Canada.
  • I can only fly in good weather (high cloud ceiling, slow wind), and California weather is certainly a lot nicer than Vancouver.
  • I live 15 minutes away from the airport.

An American license can be easily transferred into Canadian license by doing a short written test.

In the San Jose area, the most prominent general aviation airport is KRHV (Reid-Hillview Airport), and there are about 5 flight schools there.

I did a lot of research, and decided on Aerodynamic Aviation ( It’s a flight school with long history, and very good reputation.

Today I took the first lesson! It was a lot of fun. Spent about 2.5 hours, 0.8 hours of which flying (rest was paperwork, inspections, talking, etc).

The plane was a Champion Citabria.

(Wikipedia’s picture. I would have taken pictures if my phone didn’t die on me)

It’s pretty old, and definitely not high performance, but it was more fun to fly (IMHO) than the more common Cessna 152/172, since it was designed for aerobatics. Very low stall speed, and no flaps (which was a little unusual). It’s also tailwheel, instead of the more common and easier tricycle gears. The cockpit view is a lot better than a Cessna. I could see EVERYTHING.

I was planning to use a Cessna 172, but I’ve decided to use the Champion instead, because the instructor says it usually only takes about 3 additional hours (tailwheel landings are more difficult), and Cessna 172s are harder to book because they are used for instrument training. Plus, who can say no to a $85/hr airplane…

The CFI (flight instructor) was a nice guy. Very thorough explanation of everything from instruments, to aerodynamics, to airplane components. We took around 20 minutes on pre-flight inspections, because he tried to point every little detail to me, plus his own experiences (what are the common things that break, and how they break), which is really cool. During the 50 minutes flight, we did turns, climbing turns, descending turns, and a lot of miscellaneous stuff (throttle control, mixture, etc). Instruction was awesome, and I got plenty of chances to practice until I felt pretty comfortable in those maneuvers.

We climbed to 5000′, went to the practice area, and just did a lot of turns…

(Why does it look like a one way trip? Because my phone ran out of battery)

I looked him up afterwards, and apparently he is an ATP/CFII/MEI with 7000 hours experience! I’m not sure why they gave me such a “high end” instructor when I’m only doing PPL, but I’m not complaining. The name is Rich Digrazzi. Highly recommended.

Looking forward to my next lesson next week. Will definitely need to schedule more lessons if I want to finish this in 7 months, though.