How I achieved my Private Pilots Licence (PPL)


In my blog ‘Why do pilots make better CEO’s‘ I shared my own experiences of how lessons from aviation can be used in the business world.

 
As 2012 marks the 12th anniversary of my becoming a pilot, which was a lifetime goal of mine, I thought it would be a good opportunity to share my journey in becoming one.
 
I had always wanted to fly since I had been a young boy but was deterred as I wear glasses and believed that you had to have perfect eyesight in order to be a pilot.
 
However that is not the case, and an aviation medical was the first step towards qualifying.
 
After that there were seven written exams to complete, covering the subjects of:

  • Air Law and Operational Procedures
  • Aircraft General and Principles of Flight
  • Flight Performance and Planning
  • Human Performance and Limitations
  • Meteorology
  • Navigation and Radio Navigation
  • Radio Telephony Communications
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    As well as the written examinations, I also had to complete the flying experience too, which was a minimum of forty hours followed by two flight tests with an examiner – the navigational flight test and the general handling flight test.
     
    Flight training in the UK can be a frustrating experience sometimes due to our somewhat unique and changeable weather. There is also the cost element to consider as flying lessons cost more than just hiring a plane once you have the licence, as you are paying for the instructor too.
     
    Generally many people in the UK aim to complete their training over a year, however for myself training with 3 different flight schools before I settled into the final one that I qualified with meant that it took about 5 years in total. Working full-time also meant that, as for many pilots, my flying was almost always restricted to weekends only – and if the weather happens to be bad that day then you can’t fly.
     
    Initially I heard about a private flying club that had a small office at Biggin Hill airfield, so I did a few hours training with them. It was a fairly long drive for me to get there though and with the airfield being based on a hill sometimes the weather was no good there, despite being ok where I lived. I had several trips there only to find that there was no flying and I had to drive straight back home. After a few of these I lost my enthusiasm for the club and took a break.
     
    After a while my thoughts returned to flying again and this time I went to the closest airfield to me, which was Fairoaks near Woking in Surrey. I completed my first solo flight there in a Piper PA28 Warrior, however being based near to London the costs were fairly expensive and I took a break after soloing.
     
    A couple of years later I had time between to train midweek as well as at weekends and I found a school at Redhill that was offering flying training at a low cost.
     
    It was again a fair amount of travel but the location was better, being just a few miles up the road from London Gatwick international airport. I felt comfortable there and was able to complete my training fairly quickly and qualified as a private pilot in August 2000.
     
    After that I was lucky to have several adventures:

    ATOP
    Back in early September 2001 I had travelled to the USA to attend a two-day course in Denver, Colorado to find out just what it was like to be an airline pilot.
     
    The Airline Transport Orientation Program (ATOP) was a course that ran over a weekend at a major airlines flight training facility in the USA and involved a condensed course on the Boeing 737-200. This involved all the training on the operation of its different systems and the normal flight procedures that an airline pilot goes through on a typical flight.
     
    The first day was taken up with the basic systems training and also practicing drills in a cockpit simulator. On day two we actually flew the multimillion pound full motion airline simulator – with a couple of approaches using the instrument landing system and also the occasional emergency thrown in by our simulator instructor.
     
    It was satisfying that at the end of the course we were able to start a ‘cold & dark’ Boeing airliner and be able to take off, fly it and then land it too.
     
    Whilst there I also took an additional course option that was available and which qualified me to fly pressurised aircraft, the FAA ‘high altitude endorsement.’ This involved extra ground training as well as a check flight in the simulator, where we simulated a depressurisation and a rapid descent down to level that didn’t require oxygen.
     
    There were several of us on the course and it gave us a real introduction into the world of airline flying and what was involved. We all came from different backgrounds and there was a mixture of ages too. People there ranged from a college student to an already qualified commercial pilot on propeller aircraft and to someone nearing early retirement and considering a career change.
     

    Instrument & night flying
    At the end of an intense month was that I had now passed the UK IMC rating; this is a rating for private pilots that qualifies you to fly an aeroplane inside clouds and in bad weather when the visibility is much lower than with a standard pilots licence. You also learn how to use the same navigation and instrument landing systems that commercial airliners do, so that apart from takeoff and landing you can fly the whole flight without being able to see anything outside the windows.
     
    Whilst the IMC rating is valid for UK private pilots only, the instrument hours I accumulated for this also counted towards the experience requirements for the grant of my American full instrument rating. The American instrument rating would train me to a greater standard and also allow me to fly alongside commercial planes in restricted airspace, such as at London Heathrow or Gatwick.
     
    As well as qualifying for the IMC rating, I also completed training and was checked out on what are termed ‘complex’ planes. Generally most private planes have wheels that are fixed in position and a simple fixed pitch propeller. As you venture onto more advanced aircraft, you find that these usually have retractable undercarriage and propellers that can be adjusted in the air to bring better cruising performance (similar to changing gears in a car.)
     
    On top of this, at the same time I also completed my night rating. A standard UK private pilot’s licence allows you to fly during the day and up to half an hour before or after sunset before it is officially classed as being night-time.
     
    I completed additional training so that I could fly during the night hours,  navigating and landing – both with and without the landing light, in case it failed when you were flying. Landing without a landing light is actually fairly straightforward as you can judge your height from the position of the runway edge lighting in your peripheral vision.
     
    Flying at night is a great experience, the winds are generally calmer and it gives you another perspective on towns and cities when you can see them at night. Whenever I am on a commercial flight at night I always take a window seat and am surprised how many people pull down the blind and never look outside – missing such a great view.
     

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