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Learning to Fly -- A Flight Diary


[Note: — I've added an Instrument Training Diary (detailing what it took to get my US instrument rating) under my YAFB site; it's pretty similar in style to the basic Learning To Fly Diary here — HR]

I spent six months of 1999 learning to fly. And in the great tradition of the Web as vanity press for the millions, I documented every breathless moment of it here. In general, I'm definitely not the diary-writing type, but friends and acquaintances kept asking what it's like learning to fly, what's going on, etc., so I decided to put this diary up under my old Pandemonia.com web site for anyone to read.

The Author at KSBA, 2004If you're looking for an inspiring Triumph Against The Odds sort of story here, you'll be disappointed. If nothing else, I learned that I'm not entirely the fearful uncoordinated physical klutz and arty-farty intellectual type I always thought I was....

But if you're interested in the day-by-day minutiae of what it takes for the average person to learn to fly in Northern California, then this might be useful.

The diary assumes (and was written from the viewpoint of) a reader with some pre-existing aviation knowledge (US-style). I think I've nearly always known what a VOR is, for example, or how runways were numbered, so I don't spell these things out or explain them in the main text. However, I've added a set of notes linked into the main text that attempt to explain the more obscure jargon and phraseology. I've probably missed a few, and more knowledgeable people will probably complain I explain too much, but such is life, I guess.

It's also sprinkled here and there with a few photos and diagrams, though not nearly as many as you'd expect from someone with pretensions to being a photographer in real life....

In the interests of readability and fairness, I've edited out a bunch of stuff to do with internal flying club politics, and one or two personal references the people involved might not appreciate (so much for the juicy stuff...). Otherwise, this is pretty-much as written day-by-day (or week-by-week), except that I've added the occasional later editorial comment in square brackets where I felt the need to make a comment.

Oh, one more thing: I'm a metric kind of guy, and I was brought up (in a land far away) to use the international "dd/mm/yy" style of dates rather than the parochial American "mm/dd/yy" style (e.g. 15/5/99 vs. 5/15/99). If that and the constant mixed use of metric and imperial measurements bothers you, then... erm, as y'all Americans say, get a life (this has been the single biggest source of feedback so far, believe it or not).

Now go to the diary....


The diary contains the following pages:

Pre-Solo: First Flight To First Solo:

Part 1
Part 2

Post-Solo: Second Solo to Written Test

Part 1
Part 2

Post-Solo: Written Test to Check Ride:

Part 1
Part 2

Links (a few useful annotated links to relevant sites).

What's Changed?

In reverse chronological order, some things that might have changed or been added over time or since you last visited here (not all of these additions are on this site; some of them have been added to the Alameda Aero Club website):

2005/8 -- finally organised the instrument training parts of my Yankee Alpha Foxtrot Bravo blog into a coherent Instrument Training Diary...

2005/3 -- (finally) got my instrument rating! Read all about it on Yankee Alpha Foxtrot Bravo...

2004/9 -- Added (Google) ads. Hope they're not too obtrusive (and not as hilariously out-of-sync with the surrounding text as the ones Google sometimes dishes up for my California Driving Guide site...); if I get more than a handful of objections, I'll remove 'em. But something's got to help pay the bills...

2004/4: Started slowly doing my instrument rating, and simultaneously started a vanity blog -- Yankee Alpha Foxtrot Bravo -- to document it all...

2003/3: I'm learning basic aerobatics with Ben freelove, CFII (and accomplished aerobatics kind of guy). Hmmm. I didn't really mean to end up spinning, looping, rolling, and Reverse-Half-Cubaning 6,000' over California (and I'm tired of getting defensive about it to friends and concerned relatives), but it just sort of happened (in return for doing his website for him, more or less). Seemed like a good idea at the time (and seems even better a few months later). Take a gander at my AAC article on learning aerobatics if you're interested. Can't put the instrument rating off for ever, though....

2002/7: Got my tailhweel endorsement in Dave Penney's lively little Cessna Aerobat with the Texas Taildragger tailwheel conversion. This endorsement allows me to fly (single-engine) taildraggers -- and it was a hell of a lot harder getting this than getting the complex endorsement (below). Apart from letting you fly a whole new (and inherently fun) class of aeroplanes, it's also a great way to learn much better landing and takeoff techniques -- these planes are a lot more finicky about landing than the plain vanilla tricycle gear 172's, Arrows, etc. You end up (hopefully) learning what the rudder and ailerons are really for...

Many thanks to Dave Penney CFII for getting me through the endorsement.

2001/12: Got my complex endorsement in Lou Fields's Piper PA-28R Arrow (lovely plane!). The endorsement basically allows me to fly single-engined planes with retractable landing gear and constant speed / variable pitch propellers; this isn't a difficult endorsement to get, but it's great for making it possible to conveniently fly longer distances with more people. Many thanks to Jeremy Chase, CFII, who patiently put up with all the rough landings and bad jokes.

And now on to the IFR rating...

2001/7: Wrote up my experience of the San Francisco Bay Area "Fly The Bay" ATC (air traffic control) tour organised by Terry Craft, a Palo Alto (KPAO) tower controller, for the flying club. This is a great tour -- if you live in the SF Bay Area, take it! (This article is part of the Alameda Aero Club site, not part of this site, but it's probably worth reading if you're interested in what ATC is like here).

2000/8: Wrote up a flying trip I took in Australia for the flying club. Not part of this site, but maybe worth reading if you're curious about a low-time US pilot's experience in (one of) his native land(s) (i.e. Australia).

Who Am I?

A Pair Of Red Shoes.Cadie Mtns, Route 66The flying diary is part of my old Pandemonia com site, one of my own little vanity domains (I have a bunch out there...). It's the home for several things -- Pandemonia, The California Driving Guide, etc. -- that might give you some idea of who I am. Or not. If you want to find out a bit more about me (learning to fly is frankly not quite what most people expected of me...), take a look at it all. In summary, I'm just another Anglo-Australian Berkeleyite with a thing about everyday surrealisms.

Getting In Touch

If you want to send me feedback, comments, suggestions, hatemail, etc., try flightdiary at pandemoniaXYZ dot comXYZ (without the "XYZ"s...). I welcome feedback of any kind, but due to relentless spam problems, email from Hotmail, Yahoo, and a bunch of similar sites is dropped at my server without my ever seeing it. Sorry (you could try to get yourself a real ISP...). And while I'm not the quickest of email correspondents (I get several hundred pieces of email each day, mostly work-related), I do at least try to respond to feedback, comments, suggestions, etc.


All text Copyright Hamish Reid, 1999-2007.

Learning To Fly -- A Flight Diary