Time To Fly

Recently I decided it was time to fly. It had been time for a while now.

For most of my life I've fantasized about flying. Some time last year I started talking about it and researching it in earnest. I was mostly looking at helicopters at the time. Sophie, being the amazing wife that she is, picked up on my interest and bought me a gift certificate to do a discovery flight with Golden Gate Helicopters, out of Hayward. Probably the best birthday gift I've ever received!

It took a while to find an open weekend in our busy schedule, but on May 28, 2011, it finally happened. I had a blast. Trying to control a helicopter in flight was a humbling experience. At first the thing would begin plummeting out of the sky within a few seconds of my taking over the controls. Eventually, I got the hang of it. However, I was once again humbled while trying to hover close to the ground at the end of the flight. It was so much fun. Sophie and Max came along to watch.

At this point I was hooked and began looking for ways to make this flying thing actually happen. Golden Gate Helicopters estimates a total cost of over $23k to get your private pilot's license. Staring at that number, I decided to look into airplanes. Airplanes are cheaper, almost as fun, sometimes more useful, and there is a lot of overlap in the training so it makes sense to get an airplane license first.

After talking to several instructors at various flying clubs, I decided to do my first flight with Scott Stauter out of West Valley Flying Club at Palo Alto Airport (KPAO). On the evening of June 13, 2011, I took off from PAO in a Piper Archer and flew up and down the 280 freeway. My friend, Adam Heder, came along for the ride, in the back seat. I logged my first 0.6 hours as an airplane pilot. Scott was an excellent instructor, and a very kind person.

After just 0.6 hours I was serious enough to start looking at used aircraft for sale. Crazy, I know. The only thing more expensive than owning an airplane is renting one (sometimes). So I figured if I'm going to be flying a lot (and I hope to be), it makes sense to own one. Especially if I can find a friend to split it with me so we each shoulder only half the cost. Plus, I really just want an airplane I can call my own! I put some feelers out. OK, I basically asked everyone I know if they were interested in owning 50% of an airplane. I even posted an ad on Hot Ads, Apple's internal craigslist.

This wild goose chase led me to a fellow Appler named Caroline Cranfill who works with Jorge Fino, a former coworker of mine. Caroline and her husband, Drew, are both training for their private pilot's licenses right now. They're almost done, in fact. Caroline seemed reticently interested in splitting an airplane with me, but she was not shy about heaping praise upon her instructor, Jassen Todorov. Jassen, she said, is a fantastic instructor, being a teacher by trade (he teaches violin at SF State). He can also save me a lot of money, because, unlike every other instructor I talked to, he only charges for flight time, not for time on the ground. More importantly, he really tries to help his students finish in close to the FAA minimum 40 hours instead of the ~60 that most instructors quoted me. I was sold.

I started training regularly with Jassen out of Half Moon Bay Airport (KHAF). So far I've logged about 12 hours in his Piper Warrior and an hour in the other plane at the Half Moon Bay Flying Club, a Cessna 172. I'm loving every minute of it! More recently, Jassen decided to temporarily move his Piper to PAO due to foggy conditions in Half Moon Bay during the summer. So, I've had to become familiar with taxiing and flying at a more crowded airport with a control tower. This is great stuff to learn, of course. All the challenges of learning to fly have been more fun than I even expected them to be. Sometimes it feels like I still have a ton to learn, but when I see myself improving it feels great.

The search for an airplane continues... more on that later.