New Initiative Provides Chance to Test Out Flying


(Sunday, November 4, 2007 8:22 AM EST)

Ever wish you could fly?

While zooming around on broomsticks and growing wings are still only possible in storybooks, your dreams of flight might come true more easily than you'd expect.

Flying an airplane is more accessible than ever, especially with Project Pilot, a new mentoring program sponsored by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA).

The program pairs experienced pilots from AOPA with new or prospective student pilots, and gives them a taste of what it's like to fly. The mentors offer to take those who are interested on introductory flights, and introduce them to a flight school.

There are a number of flight schools relatively close to Northern Virginia that participate in the Project Pilot initiative.

One such school is AV-ED in Leesburg, which offers “Discovery Flights” in each type of aircraft they have. The half-hour flights range from $49 to $99.

In addition to 30 minutes in the air, the AV-ED instructors also cover all the basics and protocol of flying, including creating a flight plan, checking weather conditions, going through all the safety checks on the plane and explaining how everything works in the cockpit.

And once you're off the ground and flying 150 mph at 5,000 feet, the instructors allow their Discovery Flight students to steer the plane a little, and practice banking.

According to AV-ED instructor Patrick Smith, about a quarter of people who take a Discovery Flight continue and pursue their pilot's license.

But what kinds of people try their hand at flying?

“Some people come for a purpose, like getting their pilot's license,” Smith said. “But some just come looking for a challenge - risk-takers, adventurers.”

Students range from teenagers learning with their parents, to retired members of the military who want to get back in the sky, to husband-and-wife couples learning as a team, he said.

The majority of flight students are men, but women make up about 25 percent of the group of potential pilots.

Deciding to become a pilot is a big commitment (from start to finish, getting a pilot's license costs between $8,000 and $12,000), so the Discovery Flights are a good way to decide whether or not flying is for you.

But from AV-ED office manager Jeff Klotz's experience, the half hour introductory lessons “basically get you hooked.”

For information, see the Web site at

VIDEO: See more on this story, including video, on the Sun Gazette's Web site at

The Virginia and Maryland sides of the Potomac River are easily observed from the air during a recent introductory flight.
(Photo by Kristen Armstrong)

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