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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Rich, brilliant people

"I didn’t think it was an option... I thought that was something only rich, brilliant people can do. I didn’t even think that would be an opportunity for someone like me."
—Eirlys Willis
This, unfortunately, is what so many people understandably think about flying. They think it's something only other people can do, and they don't realize that they can experience aviation for themselves! This quotation of 17-year-old student Eirlys Willis from a very good recent news story shows how misunderstood general aviation is in the United States. She learned how easy it is, and it has changed her life.
Eirlys Willis. Photo credit: Gary White/The Ledger

Many people think you have to go to the military to learn to fly. You don't. The only thing you have to do to start flying is go to an airport and take a discovery flight. That's it! If you have a driver's license, you don't even need to pass a medical exam to become a sport pilot now. I know it sounds amazing, but the only thing you really have to do to learn to fly is to take flying lessons!

You don't have to fly for a living to have a pilot certificate, either. In fact, a large percentage of pilots don't fly for a living. (Including, for many years, me before aviation got so deeply in my blood I decided to make a career change.) While Willis says she plans on making a career out of it, that's just one of many options:

Willis said she has long been determined to avoid a career that involves sitting in an office cubicle. She also aspires to travel. The discovery of potential aviation jobs perfectly fits those preferences.

"I have all these different opportunities coming right at me, and it just feels like this is something I need to do,” Willis said. "It’s crazy how everything has been here the whole time and I had no idea."
She's not the only one in the story who has started to learn to fly after finding out about the opportunity. Another is Tiffany Carr, who said, "I remember being behind the yoke of a plane was like magic, and I just knew that was what I wanted to do. It was like my happy place."

But wait, there's more! Genesah Duffy is yet another one in the article with the same story to tell. After getting out of the Navy, she took a discovery flight in a Cessna Skyhawk for the first time:

"It was just kind of a rush, surprisingly enough — I’m super-scared of heights. I didn’t think I’d be able to take it, but it’s a totally different feeling once you’re up in the air. It just sparks a light in you."
I see the same surprise when I'm trying to let people know that they can take their ground school at Lorain County Community College. When I talk to visiting classes from local high schools, the class almost sells itself. All I have to do is tell them it exists and the response is often, "Really? I never knew I could do that!" And then I tend to see some of those same people in class the following semester.

Not only can you learn to fly simply because you want to, there are also a ton of resources available to help pay for it! You don't have to be rich—there are tons of scholarships available to you. The competition for them is also lower because, unfortunately, so few people know there's a whole aviation community supporting them and encouraging them to join it!

AOPA, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, offers a large scholarship and also has links to several more. Many of these are designed to pay for the flight training itself, which generally runs around $10,000 or so. If you're looking at going to college for aviation, the University Aviation Association has a scholarship resource center to help you find even more. (And this is on top of the regular college scholarships you can find through normal scholarship sites.)

You don't have to be rich or brilliant to learn to fly. All you have to do is start with a visit to your airport and the skies will open to you! If you're still not sure where to start, leave a comment below and I'll be happy to help.

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The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with ERJ-145 and DHC-8 type ratings, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program and a former FAASafety Team representative. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

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