Learning to Fly

Why Become a Pilot?

A quick search on the internet reveals dozens of websites and blogs that can get downright poetic in describing the joys of flight. Since obtaining a private pilot's certificate can consume a significant amount of time and money it's natural to ask what value it has. Here is just a small sampling:


Sunset over southern Maine taken from the
Club's Cessna 152

Fun and Adventure: The first time you take control of an airplane is an experience you won't forget. It's an exciting experience that gets under your skin, and makes you want to learn more. Each new maneuver can be challenging, but you're having fun during the process. A pilot's certificate lets you experience this over and over again.

Exploration: Flying gives you a brand new perspective on the world. Although you may have been wowed a time or two through the tiny window of a commercial airline, the experience changes completely once you get to control where you go and what you want to see. What is mundane on the ground can be new, exciting, and even beautiful from the air. And, since flying allows you to get to remote areas with much greater speed and ease than driving, you can make a point of exploring areas you haven't gotten to before.

Accomplishment: Certain parts of pilot training can be downright difficult, but that's a good thing. When you stick to and master a new skill, or bit of knowledge, you get the satisfaction of knowing you worked it out. Even experienced pilots learn something new every time they fly.

Sightseeing: Maine and the surrounding areas offer many beautiful places to see and visit, but they can be spread out and remote. Enjoying the rocky shoreline, Mt. Katahdin or Moosehead Lake from the air is not something to be missed.

Fast, Traffic Free Travel: Once you can begin traveling to your destination in a straight line, at 100 miles per hour or greater, never having to worry about tourist traffic or construction, travel times start to shrink dramatically. New opportunities to visit family, friends, or places of interest open up to pilots. Here are a few examples of travel times from Bangor (assuming a straight flight at 100 knots):

Destination By Car By Plane
Montreal 6:30 2:00
Boston 4:00 1:45
Portland 2:00 0:55
Moosehead Lake (Greenville) 1:30 0:30
Acadia National Park (Bar Harbor) 1:15 0:20
Mt. Katahdin (Millinocket) 1:15 0:30

Is it Safe?

When pilots fly well maintained aircraft within their limits, general aviation is quite safe.

The University Flying Club's maintenance is performed by an FAA certified aircraft mechanic. As is required of all aircraft, our planes undergo in-depth annual inspections where the interior of the aircraft is removed, and every aspect of the airframe and instruments are reviewed with a fine-toothed comb by a certified mechanic. Any reports of regular maintenance items by our club members are addressed immediately.

If you haven't been exposed to the requirements of becoming a pilot, it's natural to think about the requirements for car licenses. It's important to note that the requirements to obtain a private pilot's license are much more rigorous. If you decide to become a pilot you will be required to learn a great deal about how to avoid problems, and what to do if one comes up. To some extent safety is up to you; it's important to set and respect your own limits, to avoid dangerous weather, and to obey the rules that are designed to keep you safe.

For a cogent, more specific discussion about safety you may want to review this safety article published by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

Obtaining a Pilot's Certificate

As a beginner, there are several types of pilot's certificates available:

Sport Pilot May only operate small, simple planes called "light sport aircraft", only during daytime and for pleasure
Recreational Pilot May operate planes up to 180 hp and 4 seats, only during daytime and for pleasure, within 50 miles of departure airport
Private Pilot May operate a wider range of planes, for business or pleasure, without accepting compensation (though costs may be shared)

The University Flying Club does not operate any light-sport aircraft, and the Recreational Certificate is quite limiting. Consequently, Club members hold or pursue the Private Certificate.

To earn a Private Pilot Certificate you must acquire both the knowledge and the skill to operate an aircraft safely. The FAA requires that you pass both a knowledge (written) test and a practical test consisting of oral and flight sections. The knowledge test must be passed sometime in the two years preceeding the practical test. Ground school helps prepare you for the knowledge test, though it is not necessarily required to obtain a pilot's certificate. You must also obtain a medical certificate, which is valid for 5 years while under the age of 40, and 2 years while over the age of 40.

The FAA requires a minimum of 40 hours of flight time that includes at least 20 hours of flight training from an authorized instructor, and 10 hours of solo flight training. Although 40 hours is the requirement, the average person usually takes 50 to 60 hours to master all the necessary skills. Compressing your training into the shortest possible timeframe usually helps to reduce the number of hours you will need, since you will forget less between lessons. There are no rules that require you to complete your training within a specific amount of time, but most people take between 3 months and 1 year to fit in the required hours.

Along the way you will learn how to handle the airplane, complete take-offs and landings under various conditions, fly using your instruments (in the event of an emergency), and fly at night. You will learn about airports, traffic patterns, communications, weather, cross-country planning, federal aviation regulations, and a host of other things.

For more information you can review the following websites:

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
Federal Aviation Administration
Wikipedia

Ground School

As noted above, ground school can be helpful to prepare you for the written FAA knowledge test. To help control costs the University Flying Club has been sponsoring a private pilot ground school on campus during recent semesters. The class is open to everyone, whether or not they are affiliated with the University, though it is not for academic credit.

The class is $120, while books and materials cost about $200.

Contact our faculty adviser, Rick Eason (rick_eason@umit.maine.edu, 207-581-2242), if you would like to be notified of future ground school classes.

What Will it Cost?

With current fuel prices, the cost of pilot training can be a bit expensive these days. But remember, earning a pilot's certificate is an investment in yourself, it opens up a world of opportunity, and it will never expire. To determine if it's right for you, we encourage you take advantage of our introductory membership as a low cost option to experience piloting for yourself.

Once you decide to pursue a pilot's certificate, the University Flying Club is the place to do it. We can confidently say it is one of the very lowest costs you will find across the entire country, often by a very large margin. Here are how the costs stack up, assuming you take 6 months and 50 hours to obtain your certificate:


University Flying Club
Item Amount Average Cost Elsewhere
Plane Rental 50 hours $65 / hour $130 / hour
Instructor Hours 30 hours usu. $30 / hour $45 / hour
Renter's Insurance Per year $0 $450
Ground School - $120 $300
Learning Materials - $200 $200
Medical Certificate - $150 $150
Written Exam - $150 $150
Practical Test - $200 $200
Club Membership One-time fee $130 $0
Club Dues 6 months $25 / month $0
Total $5,225 $9,300