The Truth: How Hard is Learning to Fly?


I’m easily frustrated
Let’s be honest: this could be a problem. Learning of any kind has a saw-toothed progression, three steps ahead, two back. In learning to fly, however, it can sometimes be exaggerated: there are days you can’t do anything right and it’s impossible not to get frustrated. That’s not the problem. The problem may lie in what you do about it. If you’re not a dust-myself-off-and-get-right-back-on-the-horse kind of person, maybe you’d be happier doing something with fewer challenges. However, if you like the feeling of coming back and conquering something that has previously defeated you, you’re going to love learning to fly. It’s amazing how great the feeling of accomplishment can be. That alone is reason enough to learn to fly.

 I’m older, will this be more than I can handle?
Age can be a positive in that you handle frustrations and set-backs better than one of those impulsive kids of thirty-five. You may learn a little slower, but that’ll be the extent of age-related difficulties. Also, the FAA doesn’t recognize age as a disqualifying factor. This may sound like a cliché but in aviation the effects of age are largely in your head. If you think you’re old, you’ll be old, and vice versa. Is there a logical age limit? No because it’s a demonstrated ability thing. If you can do it, you can do it. Period. No one says you can’t teach an eighty-year-oldster new tricks. It’ll take a little longer is all. The number of active octegenarian pilots is surprisingly high.

My fine motor skills aren’t good, is that a problem
Eye/hand coordination is a good thing. Too bad more of us don’t have it. Flying is primarily a head-game. You have to know what it is you want to do, see what is happening and modify it to fit. If you can safely drive, you have the motor functions required to fly. You’d be amazed how many mere mortals have learned to fly.

Tangible Excuses for Not Learning
Some of the reasons given for not learning to fly have a basis in hard fact, but quite often the limitation is assumed to be there, when in fact, the FAA doesn’t recognize it as such. Still there are those factors, most of them physical, that are deal breakers.

Is the physical difficult?
The aviation physical is fairly cursory and is aimed at spotting big problems (blood pressure, eye sight), not small ones. In many cases, if there is a disqualifying factor, is can be worked out with the FAA and a remedy found.
If, however, you think you’re going to fail because of a known condition yet you have a driver’s license, don’t take the physical! You don’t need a medical certificate to fly Light Sport Aircraft (LSA, Cubs, Champs, etc.). However, if you try for a certificate and fail the physical, the FAA won’t let you go LSA without jumping through some fairly honorous hoops. Remember, as long as you have a driver’s license, you can fly LSA without taking a physical.

Eyes. Your vision must be correctable to 20/XX and you will probably find a limitation on your medical certificate that requires you to have or wear your glasses. If you’re color blind, you’ll have a limitation on your ticket “No night flight or by color control” meaning no light guns, which are seldom seen any more anyway. Often taking a simple demonstrated ability test will result in a colorblind waiver and remove all limitations.

Blood Pressure. Blood pressure must be below 140/95, which is actually pretty high. If your blood pressure is high and you’re taking medicine for it, the FAA has a long list of acceptable blood pressure medicines and what procedures you’ll have to follow. Usually, it means occasional rechecks. This list, along with other disqualifying medicines and their requirements can be found on AOPA’s website, Some very common medicines are on the list including aspirin.

Heart. You can fly with by-passes and pacemakers, but they will have you do periodic re-checks. There are a few irregular heart beat issues that will ground you and there’s no way around it.

Cancer. There are reports that the FAA is routinely yanking medical certificates because of cancer treatments (MIKE WE NEED TO GET THE LATEST ON THIS FROM YOUR MEDICAL GUYS). If you fall in this group, ignore the medical and go LSA.
Seizures. As a general rule, any medical condition that includes seizures is grounds for disqualification. If you’re subject to seizures, go ahead and learn, but you’ll never fly solo, which isn’t as terrible as it sounds. Flying with a friend is usually better than flying alone anyway.

The Most Common Excuses Given
The two most common reasons given for not learning to fly are time and money. When someone says that, what they are saying is that every single person out there who has actually learned to fly has more time and money then they do. We seriously doubt that’s the case.
When someone says, “Oh, I don’t have the time,” what they are actually saying is “I don’t want to take the time.” It’s a cop-out and another way of saying they aren’t sufficiently motivated to find a way to make it fit their life.
When money is mentioned, that’s a cop-out too, although it often doesn’t appear that way. A number of flight training schools are allied with lending institutions, which eliminates that problem. Besides, if the will (and the credit rating) is there, banks have a way of making money available. That’s what they do for a living. Even if you don’t want to spring for the entire $5-$6,000, you can spread it out anyway you want by paying one lesson at a time. Even if you’re only flying once a month, you’re flying, and that’s progress.

Time as a Reason
Don’t think you’re going to learn to fly in your “free” time because free time doesn’t exist. It all comes from someplace, the most common being family, job and other pursuits.