Flying can be a career or an exhilarating hobby Ever dreamed of flying, really piloting an aircraft? The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association can make these dreams come true. The AOPA “Stop Dreaming, Start Flying” campaign, now in its third successful year, allows anyone interested in learning to fly to receive an introductory flight certificate which entitles participants to their first flight lesson for just $99. Prospective pilots must choose between one of two primary certificates: the recreational pilot certificate or the private pilot certificate. The recreational pilot certificate requires less hours but more restrictions: recreational pilots must remain within 50 nautical miles of their home base. Also, night flight and instrument flying are eliminated from the curriculum. For the private pilot, the sky is the limit. The private pilot certificate allows flight anywhere in the United States and in foreign countries. Private pilots may carry any number of passengers although flying commercially requires extensive training. Choosing a flight school and an instructor are extremely important. There are large, medium and small schools. The Project Pilot Web site lists schools in the area. There are 3500 flight schools nation-wide; all must meet strict Federal Aviation Administration rules and regulations to be certified. Locally, David Wayne Hooks Airport in Spring has a number of flight schools on the property. It is suggested that you visit three or four schools to ask questions, look at their equipment, enter the classrooms, meet the instructors, talk to the students and ask about the costs associated with learning to be a pilot. Instructors, naturally, have personalities; it is important to find one you are comfortable with. Project Pilot has a mentoring program that pairs experienced pilots with student pilots to encourage and coach students while they learn to fly. The AOPA has found that students who join the mentor program are more likely to succeed and earn their license.Project Pilot mentors also can assist in choosing an instructor. At the United Flight Systems flight school at Hooks Airport, flight instructor Laura Richmond explained that the first question most prospective students ask is how long does it take to solo? “Soloing depends on the individual,” said Richmond. “The average time is 20 to 30 hours of flight time. “The next question they usually ask is, ‘How much is this going to cost me?’ I always tell the students that the costs can vary, but the average cost at United Flight Systems for a private license is between $6000 and $7000. The variance in cost is usually due to how dedicated the student is to learning. For other schools the price may be different. The price of fuel is now a large factor in the cost of learning to fly. We are always working with students who are hurting for money,” she said. United stresses safety first and foremost in all aspects of the learning process. “Before a student can solo, we take them to a special practice area to make sure they are comfortable with all the skills necessary to solo. We, the instructors, then decide when a student can start flying on their own,” Richmond emphasized. For additional information on flying, flight schools, instructors and the Project Pilot mentoring program, go to http://flighttraining.aopa.org/projectpilot. The first step in becoming a pilot is:  Be 16 years old to solo.  Be 17 to receive your pilot certificate.  Read, speak, write and understand the English language.  Hold at least a third-class medical certificate. Photos by KATHY PARKS

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