“Well, you have to start somewhere, right?” I’m sure you have either had someone tell you that, or you thought it yourself. In this article, I will be setting up an assumption: You have decided to learn to fly, but have not committed your time, energy or financial resources yet. You know the old adage when you are looking to buy a car: “You want to kick the tires first.” This can also apply to flying or confronting your doubts about REALLY wanting to fly.
It’s okay, and in the flight training world, you are prime for conducting your discovery flight. “What is that?” you may ask. Well just as it sounds, it is a flight in a training aircraft with a flight instructor so as to get the ‘feel’ (yes, your entire body will definitely FEEL something) or discovery of what flying is all about. If you have only flown aboard a commercial airline aircraft, this experience is totally different. I call it ‘REAL’ flying.
Call it an experimental dry run; to arrange and accomplish a Discovery Flight, you simply go to your local airport and check out one of the flight schools (you want to align yourself with a Part 141 flight school for best results) and schedule a discovery flight with an instructor. Usually, the instructor or owner of the school will ask some general questions about your desires to fly and answer any questions you may have. Discovery flights most likely will be the least expensive flight you will have; on average they typically cost around $100.00.
When the day arrives, you will show up at the prearranged time (very excited or with butterflies in your stomach). The instructor will conduct what is called a ‘pre-flight’ inspection of the aircraft as he or she explain what they are checking and why it is important. You will strap yourself in (maybe with some help) and you begin your journey. You will notice right away you have entered a world of instruments, levers, and switches that look to you as complex and confusing. Don’t worry, the instructor will explain each one and why they are important. Additionally, once your headset comes alive, you will hear strange words spoken very fast. Just like understating the instruments, you will also learn how to speak, but more importantly, how to listen to the world of flight.
While your head is still spinning from all the verbal and physical stimulation around you, find yourself sitting at the end of the runway accelerating towards takeoff. Then “IT” happens, the instructor lifts the nosewheel of the aircraft off the ground at a predetermined airspeed and Voila! You are airborne. You have now become part of a different, peaceful, exciting world. You see your hometown as never before. You are looking down on a real life map as the world unfolds below you. If you are like I was, you are paying no attention to flight instruments, calls from other aircraft in your area or air traffic control (thank goodness the Instructor is!). You are conducting your discovery flight and beyond.
I had my Voila! moment many years ago, but to this day, it is still something I hold dear. I was living in Southern California at the time and my flight took place at John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Orange County. Exactly as I described what your flight would be like, I felt the same experiences, though with a bit of a twist. If you are not familiar with that region of the country, it is some of the busiest airspace in the world. For the sake of flight safety, almost all training occurs along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. It was there that I discovered how peaceful and beautiful flying can be; like I said something I will never forget.
Once back on the ground, (at least physically), it may take you some time to fully grasp what you just experienced. From this time forward it is all a formality. By your discovery of the world of flight, everything on the ground will seem to have secondary perspective. For you will long for the next flight and the journey skyward. This quote, widely attributed to the great inventor, philosopher, and discoverer himself, Leonardo DaVinci could not express it any better:
“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward. For there you have been and there you’ll always long to return.”