Some people have a favorite restaurant from their childhood they always eat at when they go home. But if home is any further away than Denver, enjoying a hamburger and some childhood memories can be quite the challenge.
One option is to get a private pilots license.
“Every weekend you have tons of people going out of a $100 hamburger. The burger only costs $5, but you fly someplace else to get it and that costs about $100,” said Loren Wheeless, a private pilot in Fort Collins.
Wheeless started flying when he was 30, and had trained to fly for an airline before Sept. 11, 2001. After that, there was less demand for pilots and he became part of the pilot’s pool, a collection of pilots who go fly when airlines need them.
“I was bored of what I was doing before and it looked like an interesting career,” Wheeless said. “I enjoy instruction and it keeps me flying.”
Wheeless is now an FAA Certified Flight Instructor, Certified Instrument Instructor and Advanced Ground Instructor. There are several certifications, including these, that someone training to be a pilot can receive, Wheeless said.
The first level is a private pilot’s license, which allows someone to rent and own airplanes to fly in good weather.
If a person wants to keep learning, they can get their instrument certification.
“This means you take off and you can’t see the ground anymore and you don’t see it again until 10 minutes before you land,” Wheeless said.
Wheeless said this is often one of the most difficult certifications because a pilot has to learn both new and old systems of navigation.
The third level is either a multi-engine certification or a commercial certification, depending on what a pilot’s goals are.
If a pilot then wants to teach, they must become certified to teach at each level as well.
“You have to do everything you’ve ever done before and explain it while you’re doing it,” Wheeless said. “All the certifications you got, you have to get them all over again.”
The greatest certification is an Airline Transport Pilot Certification, which is what captains of airlines must have.
“Flying is great because it is fun. Every little kid dreams of flying. It’s very empowering,” Wheeless said. “When you learn to fly it’s a significant group of skills and a significant body of knowledge and mastering that knowledge is very empowering.”
Potential pilots must be at least 17 and must be able to pass a physical exam, though Wheeless said it isn’t too demanding and they don’t have to have perfect vision.
“They just want to make sure you don’t pass out or die behind the wheel,” Wheeless said.
Lessons come in two parts; first, the ground training, which is done in a classroom setting. Classes can be found at private flight schools, most airports, some community colleges and CSU, in the spring, Wheeless said.
The Pilot Center offers classes and flight training about twice a year, corresponding with CSU’s class schedule, said Ronda Davenport, the office manager.
“There seems to be a huge interest in learning how to fly and it seems lately we’ve had really full classes,” Davenport said.
The next step is flight training, which means flying with a private instructor like Wheeless.
The FAA sets out guidelines for a private pilot’s license. For example, a candidate must have at least 40 hours in the air, 20 with an instructor and 20 flying solo, they must have flown into a towered airport and they must have done a cross-country trip, Wheeless said.
It’s hard to estimate the cost of getting a private pilot’s license, because it depends on how many hours of instruction are needed and what kind of airplane is rented, he said.
To get the certification, there is also a written exam, an oral exam and a check flight with an FAA designated instructor. The FAA also publishes a book of exactly what someone testing must know and be able to do, and to what standards.
“You know before you go into the test if you’re ready or not,” Wheeless said.
Wheeless said statistically speaking, flying is safer than driving a car and for every air accident the National Transportation Safety Board performs an investigation and reports its findings.
“Fly the least expensive airline in the world and in America you have celebrity status,” Wheeless said.
At many airports the terminals for private pilots include red carpets, free cookies, a free car while they are there, someone to fuel plane and shorter lines and fewer crowds than the regular terminal, Wheeless said.
“‘Wow, I’m like a rock star now,'” Wheeless said. “Even though you’re flying an inexpensive airplane and you just learned to fly yesterday.”
For more information on getting your private pilot’s license call Loren Wheeless at 206-4419
For information on The Pilot Center call 493-3210