Jagged Thoughts | Dr. John Linwood Griffin

The price of flying

When deciding whether to pursue my dream of learning to fly, I found remarkably little information online about the amount I could expect to pay in the process.  My flight school in Massachusetts provided a quantitative estimate ($12,234 in a Cessna 172SP for 45 hours of dual flight, 15 hours solo flight, plus ground instruction and materials) and a friend in New York provided a qualitative estimate:

It’s harder than you think and costs more than you think to become a pilot, but it’s worth it. You’ll enjoy going out to fly once in a while. You’ll enjoy taking people places that are hard to reach by car. You’ll enjoy aerobatics if you do that. You’ll enjoy all of the cool aviation stuff you’ll get to learn. You’ll enjoy the challenges. Try to fly at least once a week. Twice a week is good. Here in the northeast that means you schedule three to four times a week. You’ll progress faster and spend less money that way.

In the hope that a record of actual experience might be helpful for prospective pilots, here is my log of lessons taken and payments made during my flight instruction so far:

$199.001.1Discovery flight: straight and level, climbs, descents, Dutch rolls, slow flight, crosswind landing.
2/15423.94Purchase of "private pilot kit", includes online ground school training, required books and checklist, fuel tester, etc.
2/15110.002.0Flight cancelled due to marginal VFR conditions. Instead, learned how to obtain and interpret weather reports including METARs, TAFs, and PIREPs.
2/1581.00Application fee for background investigation, required to gain unescorted access to the airport ramp areas.
2/17300.501.30.5(New instructor due to scheduling conflicts.) Back to basics review, climbs, turns, descents, adverse yaw demo, trim demo, stability demo.
2/20315.001.5Slow flight (clean and with flaps), power-off stalls (imminent and full), power-on stalls partial power (full).
2/26110.002.0Flight cancelled due to high winds. Reviewed the Cessna 172 information manual (POH), key aircraft systems, stall and spin procedures, and traffic pattern and landing procedures.
2/29336.001.6(3 landings!) Slow flight, stalls, steep turns, ground reference maneuvers, introduction to pattern and landings.
3/595.00Aviation medical exam for "medical certificate third class and student pilot certificate".
3/7315.001.5Normal and crosswind landings (8 at KLWM runway 23), radio work, traffic pattern procedures, go around procedures.
3/1416.58Purchase of New York sectional chart and Boston terminal area chart.
3/14307.001.21.0Flight shortened due to instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). Crosswind landings (8 at KBED runway 11) and traffic pattern practice. Reviewed sectional charts, airspace classes, and related weather minima.
3/17294.001.4Crosswind landings (5 at KLWM runway 5), maintenance training at LWM, introduction to IFR and autopilot on return flight.
3/20357.001.7Emergency procedures, slow flight, stalls (power on and off), steep turns, ground reference maneuvers, normal and crosswind landings (4 at KBED runway 29). Landing #3 was my best yet!
3/28273.001.3Flight shortened due to deteriorating weather. Flight by reference to instruments (basic attitude instruction), recovery from unusual attitudes, crosswind landing practice (4 at KBED runways 11 and 23).
3/30507.001.41.0Spin awareness training in 8KCAB Super Decathlon. Spins from various flight conditions (including while upside down), power-off stalls, Dutch rolls, loops (wow!), aileron rolls (wow again!), recoveries from inverted attitudes.
4/4315.001.5Slow flight, stalls, steep turns, emergencies, turns around a point, crosswind landings (4 at KBED runway 29). Landing #2 was my worst yet, possibly due to my having set the seat height too low.
4/9Flight cancelled due to illness.
4/15336.001.6Pilotage to Nashua, NH, and crosswind landings (7 at KASH runway 32).
4/18357.001.7Crosswind landing practice (13 at KBED runways 5 and 29). Received a logbook endorsement for passing the "presolo aeronautical knowledge test."
4/22Flight cancelled due to low ceiling.
4/29357.001.7Pre-solo review: slow flight, stalls, steep turns, emergency procedures, normal and no-flap landings.
5/2104.001.3Flight cancelled due to low ceiling. Completed the ground portion of the pre-solo progress check.
5/5305.501.3Flight delayed due to low ceiling. Completed the FAA part 141 pre-solo progress check.
5/1682.501.5Flight cancelled due to low ceiling. Reviewed cross-country flight planning and the use of the E6B flight computer.
5/19336.001.00.6First supervised solo flight! 3 dual and 3 solo takeoffs and landings at KLWM runway 5. Received logbook endorsements for "presolo flight training" and "first solo" and a C172S make-and-model endorsement on my student pilot certificate.
5/27273.000.60.7Second supervised solo. 4 dual and 4 solo landings at KBED runway 11.
5/30273.000.50.8Third supervised solo. 3 dual and 6 solo landings at KBED runway 29. Received approval for unsupervised solos.
6/2Flight cancelled due to low visibility.
6/3147.000.7Flight abbreviated due to deteriorating visibility. Crosswind landing practice (4 at KBED runway 29).
6/6399.001.925-nautical-mile checkout flight: Flew west to practice area, north to KASH (runway 32), east to KLWM (runway 14), and south to KBED (runway 23). Received logbook endorsements for solo flight between BED and either LWM or ASH.
6/10387.502.5First unsupervised solo! Steep turns, ground reference maneuvers, stalls, and landings (6 at KLWM runway 5 and 3 at KBED runway 29).
6/16294.501.910+ knot winds made for good landing practice (8 at KBED runway 11). Slow flight, stalls, steep turns, turns about a point.
6/23310.002.0Pilotage and landing practice (8 at KASH runway 32, 5 at KBED runway 29).
6/30517.002.21.0First dual cross-country flight. Pilotage, dead reckoning (to KSFM runway 32), VOR navigation (to KMHT runway 35), GPS navigation (to KBED runway 29), flight following, operations at uncontrolled airports.
7/7504.002.4Second dual cross-country flight. Pilotage, dead reckoning (to KHYA runway 24), VOR navigation, diversion (to KTAN runway 30), GPS navigation (to KBED runway 29), flight following, operations at uncontrolled airports.
7/8413.501.60.3Solo flight (to KLWM runway 32) then dual flight: diversion practice, short and soft field takeoff and landings (3 at KORH runway 29 then 1 at KBED runway 29).
7/8252.001.2Night takeoff and landings (3 at KASH runway 32, 4 at KBED runways 5 and 29), operations at uncontrolled airports.
7/11399.001.9Night cross-country, takeoffs and landings (2 at KSFM runway 25, 2 at KBED runway 11); completed night landing requirements. Received logbook endorsement for solo cross country flights in a C172S.
7/21519.501.71.5Cross-country progress check: pilotage, dead reckoning---groundspeed and ETA, IMC (instrument meteorological conditions) turn, lost procedures, diversion (course and ETA), simulated engine fire and forced landing, traffic pattern, crosswind landing (KBED runway 11).
8/8282.001.2New instructor due to previous one being hired as a first officer. Steep turns, power on/off stalls, high engine failure and immediate engine failure, loss of altitude on takeoff demo, full aft stick parachute, 0/20/30 flap landings (3 at KBED runway 29).
8/12Flight cancelled due to low ceiling.
8/13248.001.6Maneuvering practice: Steep turns, power on/off stalls, turns about a point, headwind landings (5 at KBED runway 29).
8/15376.001.6Short and soft field landings and takeoffs, slow flight at 60 KIAS with no flaps, power on/off stalls, emergency descents, engine failure on takeoff steep turns, simulated emergency landing (on KBED runway 5).
8/18155.001.0Flight time shifted due to VIP temporary flight restriction, and shortened due to heavy rain nearby. Go arounds, short and soft field landings (5 at KBED runway 29).
8/22258.501.1Cross-country preparation and diversion. Short-field, no-flap, and soft-field landings.
8/2237.33Purchase of updated sectional and terminal area charts, and review book for FAA knowledge test. I've also bought several airport/facility directories (A/FD) during training but haven't been charged for them.
8/25418.502.7First solo cross-country flight! KBED to Sanford, ME (KSFM runway 25) to Concord, NH (KCON runway 17) to KBED runway 11. Flight following, operations at uncontrolled airports, inadvertent encounter with clouds.
8/29305.501.3Short field takeoff, basic attitude instrument flight, unusual attitude recovery, steep turns, stalls, emergency descent, high altitude engine failure, no-flap, short-field, soft-field landings (3 at KBED runways 5 and 29).
9/1170.501.1Cross-country flight cancelled due to low ceilings. Short-field, soft-field, no-flap landings (3 at KBED runway 11). Traffic congestion required me to execute a "left 1080" in the pattern.
9/5120.001.5Flight cancelled due to low ceilings. Reviewed material for end-of-course checkride.
9/8Cross-country flight cancelled due to low ceilings.
9/16465.003.0Second solo cross-country flight. KBED to Groton, CT (KGON runway 33) to New Bedford, MA (KEWB runway 32) to KBED runway 29. After the flight I texted Evelyn: "I LOVE FLYING".
9/21353.001.40.3Short and soft field takeoffs and landings, basic attitude instrument flight, steep turns, power-on and -off stalls while turning, simulated engine failure, emergency descent, full aft stick stall, short and soft field landings (3 at KBED runway 29). Received logbook endorsement to take the private pilot knowledge test.
9/22150.00Passed the FAA-required private pilot knowledge test (scored 90% correct).
10/1Flight cancelled due to high winds.
10/3110.002.0Private pilot end-of-course oral examination with check instructor.
10/6672.003.2Private pilot end-of-course flights. Pilotage, dead reckoning, VOR, diversion, slow flight, stalls, steep turns, soft field and short field takeoffs and landings (5 at KBED runway 23). Wind gusts to 25 knots on landing.
10/10Flight cancelled due to low ceiling. Passed oral portion of the FAA practical test.
10/11617.001.4Passed U.S. FAA private pilot practical test!

Medical exam: If you need an aviation medical examiner (AME) in the Boston area I recommend Dr. Tomas Lichauco of Dedham, MA.  He’s one of the most conversant and conversational physicians I’ve ever visited; he clearly enjoys flying and he spent a good deal of my appointment explaining the exam procedures, describing the FAA’s objectives with medical certification, and relating his past experiences with aviation medicine.  He was also available on a timely basis:  Of the three AMEs I called in February to make an appointment, one wasn’t available until May, one wasn’t available until September(!), but Dr. Lichauco was able to see me in March.

Headset: On March 12 I purchased an aviation headset.  The models I considered (active noise reduction or ANR headsets) ranged in price from $525 to $900.  Non-ANR headsets are also available in the range $145 to $330.  I did not include this headset expense in the table above because it’s not a required purchase; if needed the flight school will provide students with a free loaner headset for each lesson.  Regarding “when to purchase a headset?” my instructor recommends that you wait until after your medical exam, and after you’re certain that you want to stick with the training, but that you purchase one before you take your first solo flight.