After the Check Ride

How to keep flying with your new wings.

On the day you earn your private pilot certificate, a transformation takes place. You became a pilot when you soloed the airplane for the first time, but now you are a pilot recognized by the greater world. You’re able to do a lot with your new privileges. Maybe you have a few in mind, such as taking the special people who supported you through your training up for a flight or heading to your favorite vacation spot on wings instead of wheels.

But like many of us, once you tick through these initial, delightful firsts, you might find yourself searching for new ideas. If you’re not immediately jumping into the next rating, here are a handful of suggestions.

Spread Your Wings

It’s probably been recommended to you that, in order to take full advantage of your new certificate, you may need to check out in a slightly larger airplane than the one in which you took your training. Once you have a few hours of solo, post-check-ride time, step up into a Cessna 182, Piper Cherokee 235 or Six, or Diamond DA40. A few of those choices could involve a high-performance endorsement, but that’s pretty straightforward to achieve—and it unlocks the ability to fly something capable of carrying more than a friend or two at a time. You could go for a complex signoff as well and add a Piper Arrow or Cessna 210 to your repertoire, but insurance minimums might be a bit higher for these aircraft for a newly minted pilot.

If you’re looking to add to your stick-and-rudder skills—and you didn’t do your training in a conventional-gear airplane—it might be a good time to try a tailwheel mount. Lots of relatively low-cost options include the Piper Cub, the American Champion Citabria, a Glastar Sportsman or a Kitfox. You’ll take a little more time in the logbook to achieve the tailwheel endorsement, but the tradeoff will be an ease with flying and understanding of flight dynamics you never quite get flying nosewheel-equipped airplanes.

New ideas don’t always involve new airplanes, though. Often, it just takes a challenge to set you on course to cool flying. One you might try: flying to all of the airports in your state. In fact, some states offer a “passport” to pilots to collect stamps at each airport—such as Virginia’s Aviation Ambassadors Program—and learn more about aviation in their given locale.

Give Back

One of the best ways to make your time in the air purposeful is to volunteer for a worthy cause. The key lies in finding one close to your core values—and given the breadth of general aviation’s reach, that’s not hard.

Perhaps you’re an animal lover, and scenes of abandoned pups at the pound pull at your heartstrings. In certain regions of the country, there are typically more rescue-category pets than people to take them in. Light aircraft create a remarkable way to move these animals to areas where foster and forever homes are easier to find. There are several well-regarded organizations that arrange for their transportation by connecting pilots and aircraft with these pets, such as Pilots N Paws.

Maybe you kick into high gear following news of a natural disaster striking communities either locally or around the world. A number of groups coordinate the movement of supplies and people in and out of impacted regions, such as AeroBridge and Operation Airlift, which were both involved when Hurricane Dorian slammed into the Bahamas in August 2019.

Medical-transport flights organized by the folks at Angel Flight and Corporate Angel Network (to name just two) help patients reach doctor’s appointments and treatment centers from locations not readily accessed by the airlines—and with patients who sometimes cannot withstand the stress of commercial air travel.

Want to inspire the next generation to follow in your shoes? You can reach out and join your nearest EAA chapter and help out with the Young Eagles program. These flights give kids the opportunity to take a brief introductory flight and connect them with the resources to get started flying.

If you don’t yet meet the requirements to participate in these charitable flight operations, you can still make their minimums your goal—and give purpose to the hours you log toward helping others.

Find Flight Forums

Want to stick with flying? One key way to ensure you keep after it is to get together with other pilots, either face to face or virtually.

For real-world meetups, check out organizations such as the EAA, state aviation clubs, the Ninety-Nines and Women in Aviation, which all have local chapters depending on where you live.

To meet up in the virtual space, you can join online forums. Aviation forums cover a wide range of special topics and exist on a variety of channels. Knowing which deliver the best advice and community will help you steer clear of those who might derail your training with bad information.

Greg Brown’s Student Pilot Pep Talk Group on Facebook stands out above many, and it can be taken as an example of the right kind of forum in which to participate. With roughly 2,400 members, the group sticks closely to the goal of mentoring and providing mutual support for students, both from fellow students and flight instructors. Moderator (and founder) Greg Brown, a longtime CFI, keeps close tabs on the group to maintain an air of camaraderie and weeds out those who don’t contribute positivity, in the spirit of the group. Because it’s a private group, you’ll need to answer questions to join—but that helps to keep the conversations on track.

Other associations that specifically offer instructional tips and expert advice include SAFE (Society of Aviation and Flight Educators) and NAFI (National Association of Flight Instructors), which has just launched a mentorship program on its Facebook page. Both deliver information and contacts that may be useful to you as you seek an instructor or communicate with the one you’ve got. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the EAA, Women in Aviation and the Ninety-Nines also offer support and mentorship through their various channels.

If you’re training in a particular state, search in that state to find groups focused on aviation at the regional level. Students learning to fly outside the US can often locate a national group via Facebook that offers a country-specific aviation community and contacts that are useful for flight training in that country.

Airport-user groups form a category to check out on social media, and get even more specific to where you are flying and the challenges you might face at that airport or in that region. Various companies in the business of flight training can have groups as well, such as alumni or current-student groups within an aviation training organization—or groups like Russell Still’s Gold Seal Ground School group, which stays very active on training topics. It’s definitely worth looking up the flight school or company from which you’ve purchased training materials to see if they have a worthwhile forum to join. You may get marketed to, but you can also get some sound advice from people who really care about your success.

Flying also hosts its own Facebook page, and on it, you’ll find the latest news and aviation developments that might affect your training. Through Flying’s social media channels, you can contact the editorial staff to ask questions—and we’ll work to steer you in the right direction. Many of us are instructors as well as journalists, and we love to find answers for you.

Broader general aviation groups on social media tend to be more of a free-for-all, and unless you have a thick skin—or can distinguish the useless or bad info from the good stuff—you may want to steer clear. It’s a great way to kill time, watching someone’s latest stunt posted on YouTube, but that might be time better spent in focused study.


This story appeared in the Learn to Fly Special Issue of Flying Magazine


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