Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Learn to Fly in Canada

I think a lot of kids wish that they could be a pilot when they grow up.  Unfortunately, many never decide to follow that dream.  I myself wasn't the same.  I can't really remember any specific career that I wanted to have as an adult, but I'm pretty certain that being a pilot definitely wasn't even on my radar.  It wasn't that I wasn't familiar with aviation ... I read tons of books about aviation, planes, rocketry, aviation, and that sort of thing while growing up.  But it was only about a year and a half ago that I decided that I wanted to learn how to fly.

People who think about getting a pilot's license are often deterred because of the challenges.  There are a definite a couple obstacles.  First, the cost is not insignificant.  It's possible to get a basic regular PPL (private pilot's license) in Canada for perhaps as little as $15,000.  But I'd recommend that students budget closer to $20,000, unless you've done a lot of studying in advance, and you're able to do it in a fairly short calendar time frame (a few months).  Otherwise, you'll end up wanting to do refresher flights quite often, because you'll forget things if you're not practicing regularly.


Another challenge is that the material is not easy.  Most of the material covered in a Canadian private pilot license is not terribly difficult, but there is a lot of memorization, and parts of the flight theory, navigation, and meteorology sections can be tricky.

In addition, depending on where you live in Canada, it can be difficult to find instructors.  Weather is also an issue - although a plane flies much more easily in cold weather in winter, many students try to avoid lessons when it's cold out.  And finally, if you're a bit nervous of planes or heights, or get nauseated easily, your first couple of flights might be tricky (don't worry, all of those minor problems start to disappear quickly after half a dozen lessons!).

I can't help anyone with money, finding an instructor, or a fear of heights.  However, I can help with the theory and memorization part!  As I was working on my PPL license, I made pretty extensive notes to help myself study, and I'm posting them here so they're free for anyone to use.  Please be aware that these notes are not a suitable replacement for the training that your instructor will do with you, nor as a replacement for going through ground school!  This is just some of the important information, laid out in a format that I hope will make it easier for you to study.

My notes were broken into seven sections.  I have both PDF versions of the notes, and audio (mp3) recordings, in case you want to listen rather than read.  The fastest way to download any of the items is through my public Dropbox account.  Go to this link:

Then look in the "Canadian Aviation" folder.  You'll see different sub-folders full of things, including my PDF study notes, my audio versions of my study notes, a folder full of posters and charts, and another folder full of public domain reference guides and materials.

I also have the study note PDF's available if you click on these links:

When you first go visit a flight school, you'll go on what's called a Discovery Flight.  This is a quick flight of about an hour, to let you get a sense of what it's like to be up in a small plane.  You may feel a bit nervous, but don't worry!  Your instructor may actually let you take the controls and fly the plane a little bit while you're up there on your first flight.  All training aircraft have two sets of controls, so don't worry, because the instructor will be able to override you if you do anything wrong.

For those of you who are nervous about being up there in a small plane, you've probably heard lots of statistics about how much safer airplanes are than cars.  It's true.  But here's one other thing that helps put safety into perspective.  You're used to driving a vehicle on the road, I assume?  Well, if you make a bad mistake with a vehicle, you could end up in the ditch, crashing, in about three to four seconds.  However, with a plane, it would probably take a couple minutes for you to get down to the ground.  This was one of the most memorable lessons that I learned quickly.  Even if you make a mistake and the plane starts to "fall out of the sky," you have TONS of time to think things through and react appropriately.  The only time you need to react fairly quickly is if you're diving at the ground, and that's simple enough to fix by slowly pulling up so you're in level flight again.  Incidentally, most people do their PPL training in Cessna airplanes, which are incredibly forgiving.  When you make a mistake, they're designed to usually return to a safer configuration on their own, without you touching the controls.

Anyway, some people approach their lessons differently than other.  Remember that there's the hands-on physical training, in the aircraft, but there's also a lot of theory involved (this part is called Ground School).  And there are a couple other side requirements (passing a basic "PSTAR" multiple choice exam, getting your medical done, and getting your radio license).  If I was going to recommend an order to approach everything, here's one possible way of doing it:

1.  Do your Discovery Flight, just so you feel what it's like to be in the plane in the sky.

2.  Spend a couple days reading and learning my "Beginner's Aviation" study notes.  You don't have to memorize it all, but this will give you a good base so you'll understand a lot more things when your instructor starts doing your flight lessons.

3.  Start with your regular lessons.  I'd try to go through at least two or three.

4.  Get your medical done.  Your instructor will tell you the requirements.

5.  Ask your instructor to get you set up for the P-STAR exam and the Radio License exam.  Once you have the study materials for those two exams, set of goal of something like two weeks to memorize it all and take your exam.  But keep flying while you're doing this!

6.  Once you have your P-STAR and Radio License, you need to really start learning the ground school material.  I'd recommend doing all the Air Law & Miscellaneous, and the Flight Theory & Aircraft sections first.  As you're still going through basic lessons, before you're allowed to try a solo flight, it's those two sets of study notes that will be most applicable to the hands-on learning that you're doing.  I should make a note here that if you're doing regular ground school in a classroom, you won't have much choice about timing of lessons.  If you're doing it through an online school, with videos and online testing, you proceed at your own pace.  I wouldn't recommend one approach over the other.

7.  Eventually, you'll be allowed to do your first solo.  This is a pretty significant milestone.  But before you do that, spend a day or two studying my Pre Solo Flight Basics study notes, and make sure that everything makes sense.  If it doesn't, review the appropriate manoeuvres with your instructor before you do a solo, even though your first solo will probably just be a couple of simple circuits around the airport.

8.  You still have a bunch of flight lessons to go through, but at this point, I would really take a couple weeks to go hard at learning the Navigation and Weather/Meteorology study notes.  But don't do this at the expense of continuing to fly.  You'll get rusty if you don't practice, so if it takes you more than two weeks to learn all of the Navigation and Weather/Meteorology, make sure that you keep doing at least one flight per week, to maintain your comfort level.

9.  Once you've learned Navigation & Weather/Meteorology, you need to go through the rest of your flight lessons.  While you're doing this, refer occasionally to the Abbreviations & Acronyms study notes.  That one is pretty much pure memorization, and I find that it's nice to review one or two pages each night.

10.  Now comes the big decision.  You're getting close to being ready for both your written final exam and your flight exam.  Which one do you do first?  Do you try to do them simultaneously?  Well, I wouldn't do them simultaneously.  There's a lot of last minute review that you'll probably want to do for each.  When you do the written exam, it takes a few weeks for you to get your mark back, so you might want to do that first.  With your flight exam, if you pass, you're basically going to know immediately.  But it can be tormenting if you pass the flight exam, but still need to go on to do the written exam, because that means that you can't fly your friends around for several more weeks!

Going into the flight exam, your instructor will basically take you up on mock flight tests, and make sure you're really at the point of being able to pass, before he gives you a recommendation to book an examiner.

For the written final exam, there's a really great study guide that you should pick up.  This is what it looks like:

You can find it by going to the website, and searching for "Private Pilot Exam Prep Guide."  Worth every penny.

Incidentally, there's one more book that I haven't mentioned yet, which is pretty much "The Bible" for people who are learning to fly.  It's called, "From The Ground Up," by Sandy AF MacDonald.  A classic.  It's available from Amazon, and it also has a companion Workbook that you can buy.  I'm not sure what to recommend insofar as the "best point" in the learning process to read this book.  I didn't even start to read it until I was done ground school, and long after my first solo flight.  But it could be equally productive to read this entire book as the very first thing you do, even before your discovery flight.  It's gold Jerry, gold.

Here are links to a few websites that you might find to be useful:

By the way, don't forget to look those that reference material in my public dropbox at - here's a partial list of some of the contents:

AIP Canada
Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM)
Aviation Weather Services Guide
Canada Air Pilot (CAP)
Canada Flight Supplement (CFS) sample version from 2009
Designated Airspace Handbook (DAH)
Flight Training Manual, Transport Canada, 4th Edition
Manual of Word Abbreviations (MANAB)
PPL Flight Test Study Guide
PPL Written Exam Study Guide
PSTAR Exam Study Guide
Radio Operator's License Study Guide
VFR Phraseology
Weather Report Acronyms
Canada's Airspace Poster
Cessna 172M Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH)
Environment Canada Clouds Poster

Oh, and if it's more convenient, I also posted the audio versions of my study notes on Soundcloud, and you can download them individually that way too.  I'll keep updating these same widgets any time that I revise any of the material in the notes.

Finally, learning about various types of clouds is a challenge for some students.  If you want to know about the definitive source for information on clouds, it's the World Meteorological Organization's "International Cloud Atlas."  Here's a link:

That's all for now.  Maybe some day I'll open a flight training school (although I still have a long way to go before that could ever happen).  In the meantime, enjoy learning to fly!  But be careful, it's pretty addictive ...

I'm Jonathan Clark, known online as DJ Bolivia.  Do you want to learn more about DJ'ing and music production?  If so, visit:

If you happen to enjoy techno tracks, most of my tracks are available as free downloads from this link:

Thanks so much for visit, and for your support!  I really appreciate the fan base that I've been able to build up over the years.

Also, if you want to visit any of my other sites, here are a few links:
    Main Site: