Monday, April 11, 2005

 

Sticking With Flying

I had my final ground school class tonight. Next Sunday, we'll have the final exam, and assuming I pass, I'll get to take the FAA Knowledge Exam the following week. At the risk of tempting fate, I'll say that I'm sure I'll get good scores on these tests - maybe not 100%, but at least in the high 90's. I'm a good test-taker, the test isn't difficult, and thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, all the questions and answers are published in test-prep guides. It seems that you've got to be pretty dense to not get the required 70% score. (I hope I don't have to eat those words.)

Thinking about this milestone has got me thinking about whether I really want to keep going with the flight training. I enjoy it, but I'm not finding it very interesting anymore. I've gotten past the "magic" part of it, and from here on it's just a matter of practicing and perfecting the skills. I know I can do it, so there is no challenge. I don't feel much pride in my accomplishments. I'm sure my first solo flight and the solo cross-country will be thrilling, but I expect the rest to be a chore.

I estimate that completing this endeavor will take about five more months and cost another six or seven thousand dollars. If I do stick with it, then I'll be spending several thousand dollars per year on this hobby. I have the time and the money available, but I wonder whether I could put them to better use.

I have no practical use for this skill. I don't have any family or friends a few hundred miles away that I'd like to visit. I don't need to travel around the region on business. I don't intend to make a career in aviation. I don't plan to build an airfield in my backyard. I don't think I'll get a chance to heroically defend Britain from the Nazis in my trusty Spitfire, or to join the Blue Angels. So why am I doing it?

At this point, the only reason I'm continuing is because I don't want to be a quitter. I know I'll always regret it if I stop. I want to finish because it's a goal I set for myself, not because I see any value in it. I predict that after I get the license, I'll fly a few times in the first couple of months, then I'll fly once or twice a month for a while, then one day I'll realize I haven't flown in three months and it wouldn't be safe for me to get back into an airplane without some more training. That will be the end of it, but I won't go to my grave wishing I'd learned how to fly.

So why bother? Well, today is Monday, and the above paragraphs summarize the way I feel every Monday. On every Tuesday I'm sure that I'm ready to quit. Then on Wednesday I'll have a flying lesson, and I'll love flying again. Friday's lesson will make me even happier, but then the four-day lesson-free stretch will get me doubting again. As long as I don't quit before Wednesday, everything will be fine until the next Monday. I'll be repeating this cycle for another few months, but I do expect to finish what I've started.

If my flight school would hire another instructor, then maybe I'd be able to add a Sunday lesson to my weekly schedule. That would help a lot with periods of depression between lessons.


Comments:
Just so that you don't get a nasty surprise, you should note that the FAA doesn't release its full answer bank any more, only samples (this column mentions that point, among other sources).

As for sticking with flying, that's a hard choice. I often wanted to quit during primary training. The main point is that when you finish, renting gets really pointless really fast (they penalize you heavily for overnight trips, and buzzing around your state won't keep your interest for long). You really have to either buy a plane, or buy into a partnership. The good news is that a 25% share in, say, a Cherokee 140 should run something like USD 6-8K, and maybe 5K/year for fuel and your share of operating costs, so it's quite doable.

It sounds like your training is a bit on the expensive side -- is there somewhere a bit less expensive that you can get to?

Best of luck either way. Feel free to send me an email it you want to chat, because I think you're in the same place I was: my gmail account is david point megginson. By the way, I'm tentatively planning to fly into your airport (DeKalb-Peachtree) next November for a conference -- it should be an interesting trip all the way down from Ottawa (with a fuel stop in Pittsburgh). The long cross-countries are the fun part of flying.
 
I chose the flight school at PDK that has the highest standards, and highest prices ($86/hour rental, $57/hour CFI). The other flight schools at PDK weren't too much cheaper. To get good deals on price, I'd have to go to an airport that's an hour away from my apartment.

Despite my doubts about my commitment to flying, I am already looking into buying a plane someday. As you say, renting becomes a problem when you want to take long trips, and that's the only thing I'd really want to do if I stick with it. I don't think I'd like a partnership (I'm too much of a control freak), so I'd need my own plane. But I've got plenty of time to figure out how to swing that.

If you land on runway 20R at PDK, beware of the "suction pits" at the north end.
 
I'm trying to think of any airport I know that doesn't have some kind of strange downdraft off the end of at least one runway (it's runway 25 at Ottawa). "Suction pits" is a great name.

I'm a control freak too -- hence the single-owner thing -- but most pilots seem to be alpha personality types, and a lot of them somehow enjoy partnerships anyway. I'm not sure I'll every try it either, but it makes a lot of economic sense.

For a first plane, you might consider a Cherokee 140 -- they're cheap (USD 25K and up), often have four seats (the older ones have just two), and are usable for IFR. There are tons of them on the market, very few ADs, and every A&P knows how to work on them blindfolded, handcuffed, and immersed upside-down in a vat of water.
 
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