- The Washington Times - Monday, July 8, 2002

David Bernier is afraid of climbing ladders, but he loves to fly airplanes.
Although the potential drop would be a lot shorter from an average ladder to the ground than from high in the sky, David's dream is to attend an aviation college and become an airline pilot. He made his first solo flight on May 18, just two days after his 16th birthday. In the fall, he will be a junior at Severna Park High School in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.
"I'm comfortable in a plane," he says. "I'm comfortable with my skills. I can control a plane, but I can't control a ladder."
Learning to fly is a challenge that many adventurous people love to undertake. Even though some students have apprehensions about spreading their wings, instructors insist that they can teach anyone who is determined to master the skill.
Marcel Bernard, the chief flight instructor at Freeway Airport in Bowie, says David is one of many of his students aspiring to have a career in aviation. He says that most people who learn to fly are highly motivated.
He advises new students to make sure they are committed to investing the time and money to complete the training. Earning a private pilot certificate costs about $6,000 when all the expenses are totaled, including test fees and instruction books. At Freeway Airport, it costs about $38 an hour for lessons from an instructor, plus the price of renting the airplane, which ranges from about $62 to $73 an hour.
"People come in who just want to do this because they've always dreamed of flying," Mr. Bernard says.
Ben Negussie, flight instructor at Dulles Aviation in Manassas, says he offers new students an introductory flight and allows them to co-pilot the plane. He says it defeats the purpose to have the novice student simply sit there and look out the window. He sits next to the pupil and gives him or her moment-by-moment instructions. An introductory flight costs about $55 for one person. Additional lessons cost about $40 an hour with an instructor, plus about $70 to $207 an hour to rent a plane.
For starters, Mr. Negussie tells his students to perform a preflight inspection for safety purposes, which includes checking the instrument gauges, the fuel level and the exterior of the plane. In order to approach the runway in preparing for takeoff, one steers the plane with the rudder pedals, by pushing the right pedal to go right and the left pedal to go left. Once in the air, the plane is directed using the ailerons, airfoils which act as a kind of steering wheel. When one pulls the ailerons, the plane moves into higher altitudes. When one pushes them, the plane moves closer to the ground.
If the student becomes nervous, Mr. Negussie takes over the controls, which he has had to do before. Occasionally, new students have motion sickness or they freeze up, but he says that usually doesn't happen. He says the most difficult part of flying is landing because it's hard to balance the plane as it descends.
"Sometimes new students look like they're drunk when trying to land," he says, referring to how the plane can move back and forth if it's not steered steadily. "You just aim for the runway like you're playing a video game."

Eric Gregory, 28, of Quantico, says he was tense the first time he was in the air taking flying lessons. He's taking lessons at Dulles Aviation before going to Pensacola, Fla., to learn to fly military aircraft for the Marines. He says he wasn't prepared for how smaller planes react to the air in flight. Beginners usually learn to fly two- or four-seat planes, made by manufacturers such as Cessna Co. in Wichita, Kan. Students start by flying with an instructor until they are capable of flying alone.
"I looked at the instructor and he wasn't freaking out, so I thought this must be normal," he says, recalling the turbulence during his first flying session. "You shouldn't be scared of the airplane. You should respect it."
Mr. Negussie emphasizes to students that they should memorize certain procedures, so that they can react quickly in an emergency. Checklists of major procedures are stored in the plane for reference, but engine failure isn't the time to be looking for them. If a pilot becomes lost while in the air, Mr. Negussie tells his students to remember "The Four C's," which are confess, climb, communicate and comply. One needs to admit that one needs help, fly to a higher altitude for better visibility, call the airport tower controller and do exactly as the controller commands.
Good radio communication skills are essential when operating an airplane, Mr. Negussie says. Pilots should know what they are going to say before calling a tower controller. One should begin by announcing the tail number of the plane and stating that one has a request. If the controller says to proceed, then report the plane's position, altitude and explain the concern. Many potential problems can be prevented by using common sense, such as checking the weather forecast before flying. One should only fly when in good health. The load limits for baggage and passengers specific to the plane should be observed.
Students also should be aware of airspace regulations, Mr. Negussie says. For instance, due to a temporary flight restriction, one cannot fly within 11 nautical miles of the Washington Monument without special permission. There also are many prohibited flight areas across the country, such as the U.S. Capitol; the White House; President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas; the Bush compound in Kennebunkport, Maine; the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md.; the Pantex nuclear plant in Amarillo, Texas; and the area around Mount Vernon. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in Southwest, violations of these rules could warrant a 150- to 240-day suspension or revocation of pilot credentials.

Don Robb, president and chief flight instructor at AV-ED Flight School in Leesburg, Va., says there are many levels of flight certification. Although most students study for their private pilot certification, some decide to earn a recreational pilot certificate because it takes about 10 fewer flight training hours to complete, Mr. Robb says. However, the recreational pilot certificate has many restrictions; pilots, for instance, can only fly during daylight with one passenger. For either license, one must be 17 years old, and 16 years old to solo without an instructor. At AV-ED Flight School, it costs from $69 to $104 an hour to rent a plane and about $39 an hour for an instructor.
"People come out here because they are intrigued by the business of being able to fly," he says. "It's a challenge to do something new and different. It's a neat adventure every time."
A private pilot certificate requires a minimum of 40 hours of flight training, according to part 61 of the FAA's regulations, which AV-ED Flight School follows. Other schools have the option to comply with part 141, which has slightly fewer hour requirements for the varying certificates. This is dependent upon whether or not a flight school allows the FAA to approve its syllabus.
Although these standards are set, it usually takes an average of 72 hours of flight time for people to master the necessary skills required by the FAA to pass the flight test, which also consists of an oral exam given by an FAA-designated pilot examiner. In addition to a flight test, students must pass a computerized test prepared by the FAA, which covers the fundamentals of flight. Once a license is earned, it is good indefinitely, but pilots must participate in a flight review process every two years.
When a private pilot certificate is awarded, one can then earn an additional "instrument rating" that is added to the original qualification. It gives a pilot advanced skills in precision flying. The FAA requires at least 40 hours of instrument flight time, of which 20 hours must be with an instructor, according to part 61. Half of this time may be accumulated in a flight simulator.
A commercial pilot certificate is the first step to earning a living as a professional pilot. It allows one to fly for compensation or hire. Many pilots who obtain a commercial certificate make flying their profession. One must be 18 years old to receive this qualification, and according to part 61 of the FAA regulations, log at least 250 hours of flight time. An airline transport pilot certificate, which is requested by most of the major airlines, requires at least 1,500 hours of experience as a pilot. At least 250 hours of that time one must be as the pilot in command.
Whatever pilot certificate a student wants to earn, Mr. Robb says that a world of wonderful opportunities await in the sky.
"You're the master of the machine," he says. "You can make it do what you want to do."


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