How and where can I learn to fly?
This is the question any aviation enthusiast will ask sooner or later.
Every country has it`s own regulations but there are many places people can learn to fly a plane. In USA ,you must be at least 16 years old to solo a powered aircraft, and 17 to take the private pilot flight test. More than that, you can fly solo a glider at 14.
Every time I went with my son to an air show, this is one of the topic I have discussed with different recreational pilots and aviation clubs members. In general, a flight student can learn the theory of flight from books, videotapes, audiotapes, or CD-ROMs purchased form the school, on-line or mail order catalogs. Some students take classes only during weekends.
The basic training consists in four steps:
- ground training,
- pre-solo flight training,
- the en-route navigation phase,
- preparation for the final flight examination.
Also, a medical examination performed by an certified aviation medical examiner is required before the final test.
Aviation students can use a study guide known as the Practical Test Standards(PTS) that describes in detail the maneuvers you must perform on the flight test and explains acceptable standards of performance. This final flight exam is given either by an FAA inspector or another designated examiner who lives and works in your local area.
Also, you will need a minimum of 40 hours flying time for a powered aircraft and 20 hours for a glider.
The certificate you can get this way is good to fly a glider or a single-engine airplane in good weather, for pleasure, but not for compensation or hire.
Learn to fly programs for children
As I have mentioned before, aviation is also accessible for children and there are many organizations that encourage and help future young pilots fulfill their dream of flying and airplane. One of these organizations is the Experimental Aviation Association (EAA).
This organization has chapters in many cities across the country and they host the Young Eagles program for children. In this program, children between 8 and 17 years old can fly in a small plane with a volunteer pilot for about 20 minutes, for free.
At the end of the flight they will receive a certificate and an official Young Eagles logbook and logbook with a personal code to activate the free EAA Student Membership.
Best Flight Simulators
This is a short list of what I consider to be some of the best flight simulators. Each one has it’s advantages and disadvantages. Most of them are free or have a free trial version. Also,I have included a couple of other simulators very useful to teach kids astronomy and space technology.
FlightGear – airplane games for kids
FlightGear is a free flight simulator project. It is being developed through the contributions of source code and spare time by many talented people from around the globe.
- Over 20,000 real world airports included in the full scenery set.
- Correct runway markings and placement, correct runway and approach lighting. · Taxiways available for many larger airports (even including the green center line lights when appropriate.)
- Sloping runways (runways change elevation like they usually do in real life.)
- Directional airport lighting that smoothly changes intensity as your relative view direction changes.
- Accurate terrain worldwide, based on the most recently released SRTM terrain data.) 3 arc second resolution (about 90m post spacing) for North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia.
- Scenery includes lakes, rivers, roads, railroads, cities, towns, land cover, etc.
- Nice scenery night lighting with ground lighting concentrated in urban areas (based on real maps) and headlights visible on major highways. This allows for realistic night VFR flying with the ability to spot towns and cities and follow roads.
A large number of civilian and military aircrafts, including an UFO.
WARNING: You might see on the market another heavily advertised simulator, the VIRTUAL PILOT 3D.Three guys are just repackaging and selling the free Flight Gear simulator through a ton of affiliates. Check the affiliates commission and you will understand why it`s so hard to find an honest review of this program.
Google Earth Flight Simulator
Google Earth Flight Simulator have at least two qualities: it’s free and you can fly over the most realistic terrain available fort his category of products. There are only two planes available(an SR-22 high-performance four seat propeller airplane and a F-16 jet plane) and you have only the cockpit view. This is well compensated by the ability to fly over any place in the world. I have used this simulator to plan a trip around the world which has included a flight over the mysterious drawings in the Nazca desert (you can fly even over the Area 51 if you like. You can take a look to this simulator in the video below.
Microsoft Flight Simulator X has 50 missions to accomplish and a wider range of airports to visit recreate the experience of being a pilot, right down to the smallest detail. Complete point-to-point objectives and skill-based tests, or just fly around the world if you’d prefer that to ferrying passengers or cargo. Compared to FlightGear, this flight simulator has the advantage of assisted flight lessons. For a child (and not only) is much easier to learn having the voice of an instructor along. There are many opinions about this program but I still enjoy using it and I believe it’s worth the financial effort. You can visit their site and download a free trial version.
Air Traffic Control Simulator
I have been always impressed by the mysterious and stressful job of an air traffic controller. Now you have the chance to “try his boots”.
Air Traffic Control Simulator is a free program developed by NASA and it has a great educational value. You will have to line up a couple of planes using route or speed change so that the planes are 3 nautical miles apart, the last plane arrives as soon as possible at the junction point and the planes are never closer than 2 miles. There will be atmospheric situation to be considered and you will have to constantly modify the airplanes speed in order to achieve your mission. In the Simulator you can choose and solve a NASA problem, replay your solution and create your own problem. Also, you can playback your solution to any problem that you are currently working on.
My son is only in the third grade but he was able to use this simulator with no problems. This game is a nice introduction to the Critical Path and Graph Theory. Sounds intimidating? Try this game and you will be amazed how easy your child will solve the problems and avoid midair collisions o f2 to 6 airplanes flying in various weather situations.
The video below is an actual representation of the the world wide air traffic during a 24 hours period. Notice how the planes leave United States in the evening to arrive in Europe the next morning and return from Europe as the night falls. Beautiful!
ORBITER is a free flight simulator that goes beyond the confines of Earth’s atmosphere. Launch the Space Shuttle from Kennedy Space Center to deploy a satellite, rendezvous with the International Space Station or take the futuristic Delta-glider for a tour through the solar system – the choice is yours. But make no mistake – ORBITER is not a space shooter. The emphasis is firmly on realism, and the learning curve can be steep. Be prepared to invest some time and effort to brush up on your orbital mechanics background.
My son enjoy to fly the space shuttle and I was surprised to see that he was able to spare quite a long time with a flight simulator that do not have the dynamic of a shooter game. He mastered pretty quick the controls and he learned how to interpret the board displays. This space flight simulator is very realistic and the mathematical approach in describing the flight mechanics might be a little intimidating. Don`t be discouraged, the program can be used even if you are not comfortable with the complex formulas presented in the tutorial. You can only show your kid that flying is not just playing with a joystick and good grades at math are a perquisite to pilot or space scientist. This is another great way to make kids understand that math is very useful and it`s in the school curriculum not as an instrument of torture.
This is a new version of the classic game Lunar Lander and it was created by a team from the University of Colorado. Much more difficult to play but more challenging, this video game accurately simulates the real motion of the lunar lander with the correct mass, thrust, fuel consumption rate, and lunar gravity.
Besides this game, you will find many other simulations design to help teaching and learning physics and chemistry. The simulations are animated, interactive, and game-like environments in which students learn through exploration. Also,there is a very useful teacher ideas and activities page with homework assignments, lectures, activities, concept questions and more.
CELESTIA is more than a flight simulator. This is a free real-time space simulation that lets you visually experience our universe in three dimensions. CELESTIA was the initial inspiration and creation of Mr. Chris Laurel, a Seattle, WA computer programmer who in 2001, decided to write a free software program to be made available to everyone on the world-wide-web that would place you in control of a virtual reality world of the universe. This program will enable you to travel throughout the Solar System and elsewhere in space, at any speed, at any moment of time and in any direction you choose.
Over 2.7 million people have downloaded the program for use at home or school. It is in use in homes, schools and government agencies throughout the world. The ability of CELESTIA to educate the public about Astronomy has also led to the development of a series of Educational Activities that take Celestia users on extensive, detailed virtual tours of the universe, some lasting several hours. Designed for all general audiences and for students in 7th – 12th grades, these exciting activities teach you a host of facts about specific astronomical topics, while employing the stunning ability of CELESTIA to give you control of your own spaceship to explore the universe at your own speed and pace. Unlike a script, you participate in an educational journey not as a spectator but as pilot of your own spacecraft. Each journey includes student worksheets that can be printed, copied and distributed by teachers to students for a grade, and meet all National Educational Standards in Science.
One of the features I like most is the ability to create your own journeys through space. Even if CELESTIA is not exactly a flight simulator, you can travel through the universe at any speed in a virtual space ship and even record the flight for later view. Your kids will love this feature which is a great tool for parents and educators.
WARNING: This great program is very addictive. There are so many contributions from different users(all of them ,free) that ,if you love space and astronomy you won’t be able to resist not to explore.Which is a good thing!
Also, Celestia has a great technical support. I had some problems installing this simulator(some bad hardware configuration in my computer) and I got a personal assistance from one of the creators of the program. Besides that, you will find in their home page a great forum where you can share your experience with the world, get technical support and be updated with the latest add-on’s.
World Wide Telescope
This free program is the Microsoft replica to CELESTIA. The WorldWide Telescope (WWT) is a Web 2.0 visualization software environment that enables your computer to function as a virtual telescope—bringing together imagery from the best ground and space-based telescopes in the world for a seamless exploration of the universe. WWT also contains features to help you explore the Earth, satellites, such as the Moon, and 360 degree panoramas of Yosemite’s Half Dome and other locations.
WWT is a powerful “virtual observatory” for scientists, educators, and the public. Similar to GoogleEarth, this is more like a portal that will give you access to massive amounts of data(currently hundreds of terabytes and will soon be measured in petabytes) generated by the various scientific and research facilities. It has a beautiful graphic interface that will to help you explore the Earth, satellites, such as the Moon, and 360 degree panoramas of Yosemite’s Half Dome and other locations.
Race to Mars
This is an extensive project about the exploration of the planet Mars and is hosted by the Discovery Chanel. Besides tons of information about Mars you will find here a couple of excellent free games. “Rover XPL” and “Mission Two” have to be downloaded but their superb graphic and multiplayer capability makes the effort worthwhile.
The FMS is a free flight simulator developed by Roman and Michael Möller. This program is an excellent start in flying a remote plane or helicopter. You will get used with the characteristics of this type of flight and get some “hands-on” experience which will save you later a lot of money by avoiding “nose-down” landings of your aircraft. If you don’t plan to start in this hobby, FMS still has a good educational and entertainment value.
Real Flight Simulator is much more sophisticated than FMS. It comes with a real radio controller and it has many features as dynamic backgrounds, night fly options,4D physics, advance flight recording and playback and many more. Of course, everything come at a price. Unfortunately, this excellent simulator cost around $200 but you can download a free demo from their site.