I passed my General Flight Test in October 1996, qualifying me for my PPL(A) (Private Pilot's License, Aeroplanes). I took flying lessons at Marshall's of Cambridge. I passed my IMC written and flight test at U.K. Flight Training in Long Beach, CA., in December 1997. I added a night rating (the U.K. license does not normally include this) at Southend in May 1998, and a U.S. seaplane rating in September of 2000.

I took quite a long elapsed time over the PPL, which was extended due to poor winter weather, pressure of work, lack of time at weekends, and lack of large amounts of cash. Initially, I was flying about once every fortnight, rising to once a week and then about twice a week as I got nearer the end of the course. I think the secret of making infrequent lessons useful was preparation; I made sure I had read over all of the relevant material before each lesson, and was clear about what I was trying to do, and what questions I wanted to ask.

Here's the statistics on how long it took and how much it costed. The cost of flying in the U.K. is much higher than in the U.S.A., but I didn't have time to go and do a cram course elsewhere. I was also prepared to accept a bit of extra cost in order to have such a convenient location (the airfield is less than 10 minutes from my house, I could go in for a lesson before going to work in the morning).

Time spent gaining PPL
Elapsed time1 year, 5 months
Total hours49h 25m
Total dual37h 55m
Total solo11h 30m
First solo after10h 35m

The costs involved (in pounds sterling, multiply by about 1.6 for dollars) were:

Money spent gaining PPL
Flying & instruction4500.24 (Max charge was for Qualifying X-C, at 221.18)
R/T course & exam68.00
Navigation Equipment60.00
Course materials104.40
Course fees100.00
Club membership10.00
Landing fees26.21
License Issue183.00

(I didn't dare add these up before I passed, in case I got discouraged.)

I got my IMC rating with U.K. Flight Training at Long Beach, CA. The instruction was alright, but they were rather disorganised at times, and the planes were not as well maintained as those at West Valley or Marshall's. I did my own ground school studying for the IMC written exam, which helped me get a 100% mark. The total cost of the IMC rating was about $2100, because I did a lot of the training in Cessna 172s rather than the 152 to which their advertised rates apply.

I did most of the training for my night rating at my club in the U.S.A., but finished it off at Southend Flying Club.

Marshall's follows the Cessna Pilot Centre course, conforming to the C.A.A. syllabus. The flying and ground tests covered:

There are five C.A.A. ground exams which must be passed before getting the Private Pilot's License, as well as two flight tests (a navigation test and a general flight test). The exams are Navigation, Meteorology, Aviation Law, aircraft Technical Knowledge and Human Performance and Limitations. To use a VHF radio, an additional exam in Radiotelephony must be passed.

The flying lessons are done in Cessna 152 trainers, equipped with VHF radio, VOR, ADF and transponders.

It's much more expensive to fly (and to learn to fly) in the U.K. than in the U.S.A. (about 85 pounds an hour versus under 50 dollars an hour), but at least the training at Marshall's is very thorough, and the 'planes are maintained to a very high standard.

As well flying the Cessna 152s at Cambridge, I have flown (and been signed off on) the Cessna 172, 172RG (Cutlass), 182 and 182RG (Skylane), Piper Warrior (PA-28-161) and Arrow (PA-28-RT201), Bellanca Citabria and Bellanca Decathon.

While I was in California, I flew at West Valley Flying Club, from Palo Alto and San Carlos airports. I took a taildragger conversion there, and flew Cessna 152s, 172s and Cutlasses, Piper Warriors and Arrows, Citabrias and Decathlons. I also did a mountain flying checkout, a bit of aerobatics (which is great fun), and a complex endorsement (for flying retractable gear aeroplanes).

California is a great place to fly; the weather is good (except for the morning and late afternoon fog in coastal areas), there are many airports in interesting places, it is cheap to fly, and the system is very general aviation friendly.

I am now flying at Wings Aloft in Seattle. It is more expensive than California, and the selection of planes is more limited, but there are some great places to fly in the Pacific Northwest.

The Pacific Northwest is also famous for floatplane flying. I got a floatplane rating in September of 2000, from Kenmore Air. Unfortunately, hiring floatplanes is nearly impossible because of the insurance costs, but it was a fun way to do a biennial renewal :-).

There are many newsgroups for aviation-related matters, including rec.aviation.piloting for discussion of flying, technique, navigation, etc., and rec.aviation.student for discussing flight training. One of the UK's best aviation magazines, Pilot is on-line, and has current METARs and TAFs available. TAFs and METARs are also available from AvNet. AvWeb is one of the best aviation Web sites, with news, articles, and other aviation related information available.

Here's the address of the Aero Club at Marshall's, for anyone who's interested:

Cambridge Aero Club, The Airport, Newmarket Road, Cambridge
Tel: +44 (0) 1223 373214

Back in 1996, rates at Marshall's were 83.80 pounds including VAT per hour for dual or solo flying, plus 5.88 pounds per year membership when I started, I haven't checked them recently. Ground training for the Cessna Pilot Centre course was 117.50 pounds for instruction and use of audio-visual equipment, and 110 pounds for student manuals. C.A.A. exam fees are extra. These rates are probably well out of date now.

Since I've been in the U.S.A., I've had to find U.K. qualified instructors to sign Certificates of Experience and the like. Here are the U.K. instructors that I have heard of on the west coast of the U.S.A. Note: appearance in this list does not constitute a recommendation. Check with the instructor involved and with the C.A.A. to make sure that their qualifications and currency are sufficient for your purpose.

Mike Burr
Anglo American Aviation (Gillespie Field), San Diego area.
Roger Conway
Armstrong Air, Los Angeles area.
Ajay Sinha
U.K. Flight Training (Long Beach), Los Angeles area. QFI and PPL/IMC examiner.

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Last modified on 12th February 2004 by