How was a Navy flight school

For license acquisition in the USA

Summer, semester break and a daring dream of flying! Is this enough of the prerequisites for training with the ambitious goal of FAA PPL / IR? Let's see.

Learn to fly and save

About three months before departure, I register with the Florida Aviation Career Training flight school in St. Augustine, Florida. I receive the so-called I-20 form, which I use to apply for my M1 student visa at the US Consulate General in Frankfurt. Unfortunately, there is no avoiding a personal visit to Frankfurt, Berlin or Munich. Another act of bureaucracy, albeit a really uncomplicated one, is the so-called TSA check. In short: register online, submit the application and transfer $ 130 - done! Isn't there still something missing? Yes, the FAA Medical!

Basically it is not a problem at all to get the medical in the USA. As a Swabian I not only have a keen sense of economy, but also a certain planning security, I get an FAA 3rd Class Medical in the Aeromedical Center Germany in Stuttgart, which is also valid as a student pilot certificate for later solo flights. If you are concerned about all the preparation and deadlines, you can rest assured. The US flight school provides you with information and the correct order of the individual steps in advance. That's it - America can come!

As soon as you arrive at the training location, you go straight to the plane

From Germany, my first destination is Miami. Almost overwhelmed by the unfamiliar and humid heat of Florida, I go to the greyhound station at the airport, where the first adventure awaits me. For only $ 26, I'll take the bus through the night for almost eight hours to get to St. Augustine the next morning at 7:30 a.m. There all I have to do is give my fingerprints to complete the TSA check accompanied by a flight school employee in the local courthouse, and that same afternoon I find myself with my flight instructor in the left seat of a - admittedly battered - Cessna 152.

America seems to me personally almost ideal for flight training despite the current high dollar exchange rate. A Cessna 152 costs $ 88 wet an hour, an IFR-equipped PA-28 $ 119. Almost every airfield has some form of instrument approach. It can be flown at any time of the day or night, 24 hours a day. The tower in St. Augustine closes at 9 p.m. sharp, and all aircraft arriving and departing communicate easily and effectively with one another. With a mischievous smile on my face, I think back to Germany when we discussed a departing A320 in our rickety Cessna in the night sky over Florida. Landing fees or aircraft noise opponents are not even known here from hearsay! I will try to take the theory test as soon as possible. I had already learned the 800 or so questions by heart in Germany, and personally I don't know anyone for whom the theory test was even remotely difficult. After around three and a half weeks and exactly 40.5 flight hours, the time has finally come: the PPL exam is pending!

The test flight with examiner Bob

I meet my examiner Bob early in the morning. A robust, former Navy pilot and Vietnam veteran, who later turned out to be quite uncomfortable. Before the three-and-a-half-hour oral exam, also known as the oral exam, can start, another 400 dollars in cash will go into the examiner's pocket as a fee. Then our test flight begins.

It starts with various little things. “What the hell are you doing?” Grunts Bob to my right. "You failed! Let's go home! "I hear this saying at least three times, but we always continue the examination program undeterred. A trick to lure me out of my reserve? “Do you know what my wife would be thinking if she would be sitting here?” I am asked, but I can't manage more than a puzzled shake of the head. “What a bad pilot you are!” He shouts loudly and with a raised index finger from the right. To cut a long story short: We land after a nearly two-hour flight, and I finally hear the words of relief: "It's okay, you passed. Congratulations! ”I slowly realize that there was a lot of show here. In fact, I really like Bob in a strange way - I decide to also choose him for my IFR exam, which I hope will be soon.

While the author is gaining flight experience, he visits the sights of Florida

Time goes by in an instant and I get to know more and more pilots on the airfield. A local pilot even offers me to gather flight experience with him on his two-seater PA-38 for the cost of fuel of just 30 dollars an hour. Another highlight of my stay in St. Augustine is a trip to Cape Canaveral. I ask the controller about a deep fly over the runway of the NASA Space Shuttle Landing Facility. "Piper 344, you're cleared for the low approach, stay west of the centerline, do not touch the runway and check in back on this frequency." All launch ramps and other buildings of the Kennedy Space Center can be seen. Just great!

The IFR training turns out to be quite demanding. 35 hours of hood time, i.e. time under the hood that restricts the view, are required for admission to the examination. I need four weeks before I take off again for the test flight with my now dear examiner Bob. This time everything runs like clockwork, and Bob praises me after an ILS and GPS approach: “That was the best pilotage I've ever seen.” But here too, a slight distortion of reality can be assumed.

Explore Florida with the newly acquired license

I still use the time before my departure to collect hours cheaply. I am invited to a trip to Key West by three aviation friends I have made in the USA. With a chartered Cirrus SR22 we explore the south of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.

I take home incredible pictures of the small archipelago between America and Cuba. In conclusion, I am completely satisfied with the quality of the practical training. It should not be left unmentioned that the condition of the aircraft, at least in my flight school, is far from being in line with European standards. In particular, a GPS receiver is far from standard in IFR training.

There are many opportunities to explore the area on site

The flight school arranged for me a very nice private room with a former flight instructor, which cost just 160 dollars a week. The recreational value is also high if you do your training in such a beautiful landscape. Our typical training area was between Jacksonville and Daytona Beach, of course with wonderful views of the seemingly endless sandy beaches of the west coast. For mobility on site, you should definitely rent a rental car or scooter ($ 600 for two and a half months). I was informed by the German representative of the flight school about the possibility of cycling my way, but I surrendered on the second day. For us Europeans, the routes even within a small American town should not be underestimated, and extracurricular leisure activities without a motor vehicle are practically impossible.

Satisfied and a little proud, I am leaving America with a US PPL including instrument rating for a total of 11,500 euros. As ridiculous as it may sound, back in Germany the first step of the license transfer begins for me with the ZÜP, which is well known to us. At the regional council I take a written exam in the subjects of aviation law and human performance and get myself a European medical. A few weeks later, the invitation for the practical test is in my mailbox. I can hardly believe my eyes to see who my examiner will be: Verena Dolderer from Tannheim! On a Piper Archer I do my now European test flight in the Allgäu; two weeks before Christmas I have my EASA-PPL in my hands as an early Christmas present according to Part FCL. Goal achieved! And now my US IFR rating is already being rewritten.

Text & photos: Lukas Straubinger aviator magazine 04/2016

  • United States
  • Flight training
  • Cessna 152
  • Flight school
  • Florida
  • Florida Keys
  • Cape Canaveral
  • Key West
  • PPL exam
  • IFR