Learning to Fly


Ultralight Student Checklist
Step 1:

a. Get Thee in the Air -

The literature and lore available to us centers around the aircraft, and so we tend to focus upon the vehicles rather than the flying when we first encounter ultralights. It's a very good idea to put away thoughts of buying a plane until after you have at least begun the crucial process of preparing to fly it. This process can be lengthy, frustrating and even discouraging--but it must not be skipped.

Arrange for an introductory lesson, one in which you will be primarily concerned with evaluating the experience of ultralight flight. Then...

b. Think About it -

Not on the way home, perhaps not until the next day.

Am I compelled to try that again? Did I _like_ it?
Can I devote the time necessary to learn this new skill?
Can I maintain an ultralight, or is there someone around to help?
Are vehicle storage and flight operations areas available?
Can I afford this sport?

If you can answer "yes," to these questions, you may be ready for the next step...

Step 2. Choose a Program and Instructor

The first choice you must make is a program to pursue. There are two choices: traditional training to Recreational Pilot level followed by ultralight transition training; or ultralight specific training.

TRADITIONAL FAA RATING: If your ultimate goal is to go higher, faster, farther...you may wish to take this route. It's more expensive, takes longer and might be considered overkill, if flying ultralights is your ultimate goal. The advantage to this approach is that it qualifies you to operate certificated aircraft and assures a thorough preparation for a new pilot. Once that training's done, return to "Learning to Fly" and see the selection "For Current Pilots New to Ultralights."

ULTRALIGHT-SPECIFIC TRAINING: If you are interested in flying ultralights and can't envision flying for other than sport and recreational purposes, you should consider going straight to the flight park and obtaining instruction in a two-seat ultralight trainer with a qualified, experienced ultralight instructor. The cost will be much less, the atmosphere more casual, the advice more relevant.

CHOOSING AN INSTRUCTOR: If you are lucky enough to have more than one ultralight instructor to choose from, consider:

Do I respect this person's credibility?
Can they communicate with me effectively?
Do they seem to care about my welfare?
Are they qualified in a nationally-recognized program?
Are they current?
Does the trainer (craft) appear to be well maintained?
Do they explain things before they happen?
Do they give me the confidence to take the next step?

Step 3. $chedule and Budget the Proce$$

Ultralight training can be very frustrating, especially interruptions due to weather. Although some areas have acceptable weather much of the time, others may offer acceptable training weather only part of the time. Sometimes you will travel (perhaps a long distance) for a lesson only to have it "blown out" by high winds or other weather problems. Plan for this. Some centers in mild climates offer intense, daily courses, and this can be a good choice for some students.

Your budget for learning to fly can also affect the process. You should be able to take every opportunity to fly once you begin the process, and many instructors comment that waiting too long between sessions can increase the time required. I wouldn't start the process without at least $1,000 set aside, even though the cost to complete a program and register as a pilot can be less.

Step 4. Training: The First 10 Hours

Don't fixate on the task of controlling the aircraft during this phase. Read and ask questions about the primary flight tasks, learn to analyze your own performance and insist on pre- and postflight briefings. At some point during this phase, you are probably going to solo (fly the ultralight without the instructor.) Don't fixate on this event. Control your own willingness to fly, and don't depend on the willingness of the instructor. You are beginning a process of assuming great responsibility for your actions as a pilot. Question the aircraft. Question the weather. Question your own state of mind.

When solo time arrives, make a routine flight using familiar habits and visual clues. Don't get cocky. Move on to the next phase.

Ultralight Pilot Checklist

Step 1: Supervised Solo

You may solo in the two-seater used for instruction, or you might be flying a single-seater, depending on where you take your lessons. Both craft will behave somehat differently than the two-seater with two aboard. Be sure the instructor has briefed you on any differences and that you feel prepared before proceeding.

During this portion of your training you should practice and improve the skills you have learned to this point. Always under the supervision of your instructor, you will also be dependent upon your own judgment, and your own developing skills. Don't make up maneuvers...stick to the program. Plenty of time for whoop-de-doos later. Ask your instructor for whoop-de-doo time if you must...

Be prepared for engine-outtages at any time. Be epecially aware of the traffic in the sky around you. You have only half the brains and eyes aboard during solo flight. Try to take a moment, between each maneuver, to enjoy your accomplishments and review the next step. Keep your eyes moving.

Step 2: Intermediate Topics

During this phase of your training you may mix solo and dual flights, as you add to your skills and begin to practice for the written, oral and flight check. You will need to master navigational charts, airspace restrictions, aerodynamic principles, ultralight airframe and powerplant care, micrometorology, physical effects of flight and a lot more. You should be working on wind maneuvers, navigational skills and other advanced topics under the guidance of your instructor.

This is a jolly good time to get a checkride with another instructor, if one's available, as sort of a second opinion. That would also be good practice for the next phase: the Written, Oral and Flight tests.

Step 3: Prepare for the Tests

Plan for a whole day. Obtain study guides for the written and practice the oral exam with your instructor. You should spend some dual flight time specifically preparing for the flight check.

Step 4: Schedule Written, Oral and Flight Check

Most examiners will require 2 to 4 hours set aside for all three tests.

Have a good checkride...And don't forget to check the next step!

Step 5: The Next 50 Hours...

If you get this far you have come a long way. After a short ground-based celebration, you are ready to begin learning to fly. It's the next 50 hours that will likely reveal your future in ultralights...the time when your style and skills become rote...when your brain adapts--or doesn't--to the air.

You might choose to stay hard at it, continue training, or become an apprentice instructor during this phase. You might begin the love-hate task of selecting and shopping for a plane. Whatever the next step is for you, you will be better prepared after Learning to Fly.

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Jon N. Steiger / jon@ultralighthomepage.com