I Believe I Can Fly

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Once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.” – Leonardo da Vinci

This summer, at a place far far away from home, my biggest childhood dream just came true. It’s good to have dreams, and even better to have them come true once in a while.

As of August 28, 2012, I am now a FAA certified private pilot.

It wasn’t easy, and not everyone can do it. Most people who started it never finished it. I did, and I’m pretty happy about that.

It took me about 8 months in total, using up most of my weekends. In the past 2 months, I actually had to get up at 6:30AM in the morning everyday, to take a 1.5 hours flight before going to work at 11, to make sure I can finish my training on time.

It’s a great feeling when all the hard work pays off though! In the end, the flight test was really not that bad. I KNEW I can fly an airplane. All I had to do that day was to prove that to the examiner. Turned out, she was so impressed with my flying that she couldn’t wait till I taxi back to tell me that my flying was “gorgeous”, and that I should think about eventually becoming a flight instructor!

I think flying is one of those things that really made me realize how practice can make perfection. I would say the experience is way more valuable than the end result.

Of course, I didn’t always felt that way through the whole ordeal. At some point, even the thought of quitting crossed my mind. I’m so glad I didn’t give in. One time I felt that way was when I was learning to land, about half way through the training.

Landings are the hardest part to learn in flying, because while the theory is very easy, a lot of it depends on muscle memory and just “intuition” of what the plane will do in different situations, and how control inputs will change things. There’s really no other way to learn landings except practice, practice, and practice. It took me about 100 landings to get to the point where they are consistent and at least “safe” if not very smooth.

The problem is, a real airplane is not like Microsoft Flight Sim. You can’t just keep reloading a save file and try the landing over the over. In a real airplane, a landing must be accompanied by a take-off, and a flight in the traffic pattern (a rectangular course around the airport), and that takes about 10 minutes, for every 30 seconds of landing practice, while the clock is ticking at $150/hr for plane + instructor.

After a few weeks of doing the same thing over and over, and watching the money flow out of the bank account like water through a river, all the while not noticing any improvement, it really becomes frustrating and makes you doubt yourself a lot. Every “controlled crash” is like the aviation god testing you to see if you REALLY want to be a pilot.

The story has a happy ending though. One day, everything just felt right for some reason, and I was able to do consistent landings all day. Now I actually feel landings are relaxing and pretty fun. According to my instructor, that’s how ALL student pilots learn landings. They just “get it” one day for no apparent reason. Pretty funny stuff (unless you are going through it).

So if you are a student pilot reading this blog – keep going! There really is cake at the end of the tunnel!

My next step – write a written test to convert my license to a Canadian license, and keep flying!

There is SO much to learn in aviation, that a pilot license is really just a license to learn. Every time I fly, with or without an instructor, I always learn at least a thing or two, making me a slightly better pilot. I really like it that way (unlike driving, where every time you drive, you just die a little thanks to bad drivers). Mighty excited!