I started flying for fun when I was 29 years old. I never had any intention to make it into a career. I just wanted to experience the unique combination of science, technology, techniques, legislation, freedom, restrictions, danger, control, safety, navigation, … while I get my income from a stable job that brings me everywhere in the world anyhow, albeit in economy class instead of cockpits…
If you intend to start flying for fun, you need to realize that:
- It’s highly addictive
- It’s bloody expensive, and it will probably get more expensive as gas prices & insurance costs soar
- It consumes huge amounts of time (let your spouse read this if you’re married)
- It’s not always popular (perceived noise, perceived danger, perceived pollution, …)
- It can be dangerous if you are not a careful, safety minded person
Also, check my disclaimer about the information on this site. So, having the disclaimers behind us, let’s see where I stand after 6 years of flying: about 200 hours in total, having flown in Malaysia, Europe, Australia & US. I practice a lot on flight simulator and I am proud to say that I obtained the toughest rating you can get: the instrument rating, giving me the privilege to fly into clouds (what’s the fun about that, I hear you think…).
Alright, so what kind of training did I have, how much efforts does it cost, what money does it cost and what is the paperwork involved.
This is by far the cheapest way of flying! Buy a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator, a decent joystick, and you can take off from every airport in the world with every airplane you can dream off. And if you crash your virtual metal, it doesn’t bother anyone … only after a couple of real flights you will feel really bad when you crash your simulator into computer generated mud…
Contrary to popular belief, I *really* learned almost everything about flying with MSFS ! What do all the buttons do? How do you not get lost in the air? Procedures… instrument flying … The things that you really do not learn are landing, emergencies, hot and sweaty cockpits and how stupid you become under the hood of a real simulated instrument flight. You can even learn how to speak with ATC through online Air Traffic Control: you don’t get super professional controllers, but some do a pretty fine job over the internet in front of their simulated radar screen !
I not only learned to fly through MSFS, but I also keep current. Of course, you cannot log your hours legally, and of course, real flying and real flying courses are an absolute necessity to learn and keep current, but MSFS costs only time, and a quarrel with your spouse every now and then …
With MSFS you get to learn to fly B737, A320 and the likes. I am not talking about the models that ship with the program itself. These models are too simple and probably not accurate. But I am talking about the add-on programs you can buy online which do a terrific job in modeling the real thing: from Cessna to Airbus.
I’d recommend everyone who thinks about flying, or who is actually flying to try the ‘game’ and to go online on Ivao. Expect to be amazed.
Basic Private Pilot Training in Malaysia
I took up real world flying in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. On the very old military airport in the city center, there is a venerable flying club started by English colonials with lots of time and airplanes at their hands. This club, started in the 30-ties, still runs and trains PPL pilots. Flying in Malaysia is cheap to European standards. Fuel costs are low, and the airplanes that are being flown with are very much written off already, but kept in immaculate condition. I believe that Malaysia is thé most GA-friendly country in Asia !
When you want to start flying, join the club first. Congratulations: you just made your first payment of a never ending list of payments. You think joining an aero club is expensive? Brace for the future or stop now !
It is a good idea to ask for a test flight to see if you are really comfortable. I did my first flight in a small airplane in my life and it was also my first flight lesson. Yaakub, my wonderful instructor even let my fly ! Check out my 9M-TOP story …
Malaysian Medical & Student License
Before you continue taking flight lessons, pass your medical first. It is possible that for one or another reason, you are not fit for flying. Better find it out early. The clubs have a list of medical practitioners. I went to the Mount Kiara KL clinic in KLCC with Lt. Col. (B) Dr. Dalbir Singh Sagoo for my Class 2 medical certificate, which is what you need for a private pilot license. Any healthy person should be able to obtain it. Non-perfect eyesight shouldn’t be a problem. I am wearing lenses and I need to carry a spare set of glasses when I am flying. Worldwide there is some debate on obtaining your medical when your eyes have been corrected with laser or with scratches. So check it out before you undergo this type of cure.
Before you can fly solo, you not only need a medical certificate, but also a green Student Pilot License. This is only a matter of paperwork with DCA in Putrajaya … and of course some money (but it’s cheap in Malaysia!).
From zero to solo
The first couple of lessons give you the feel of an aircraft. In KL, we flew to training area R-236 which is north of Kajang. Next you practice take-offs and landings, you practice flying circuits, touch-and-goes, emergencies, … Whenever I had performed a flight, I repractised in on my PC with Flight Simulator. Again it’s a great and cheap tool to train the procedures, aircraft settings, …
During your pilot courses, the main focus is on safety and what to do about in flight emergencies like engine failure, radio failure, electrical failures, getting lost, no flaps, sick passengers, … You basically learn to use pre-fixed procedure and checklist so you don’t have to think hard in-flight when an emergency occurs and the adrenaline starts flowing. To tell you a secret: flying isn’t really that hard. You use most time in practicing how to overcome emergencies ! One advise though: don’t take any unprepared passengers with you when you are practicing stalls, steep turns and simulated engine failures. I did it, and my friends got sick…
A fun emergency to prepare for is ‘radio failure’. If you ask Simpang Tower to get prepared for this, you can actually have them firing red and/or green fireworks from the tower to indicate you are cleared to land or not… they like it !
When you have flown about 10 to 15 hours, you are ready for you first solo. The instructor leaves the cockpit, your airplane gets lighter and your heart starts going twice as fast. I did three touch-and-goes on runway 4 in Simpang while I had only trained on runway 22, but that worked fine too. When I got out of the plane, Yaakub, my instructor, broke an egg on my head and threw a bucket of water over me to get clean: I was officially baptized as a captain !
Next to your first practice lessons, you have to get on with studying your theory. In principle you don’t need to pass your written exams until you want to do your practical flight test, but it does make sense to get on with it pretty early during the training.
In Malaysia, I had to prepare for five papers (if I remember well): air law, navigation & meteo, principles of flight, aircraft systems and ATC theory. For ATC I also had to pass a practical exam with the dreaded but fair Mr. Williams. I prepared for all of these papers myself, without taking classes. I am not a taking-classes-person, so that worked for me. Other people would probably want to sit in a classroom for some time. In Malaysia, they follow the old UK CAA syllabus (not JAR !). We could buy an illegal photocopy of Trevor Thom’s sets of syllabi. At that time, I didn’t have any list of questions to practice the multiple-choice exams, but you don’t really need them.
When you believe you are ready, you have to apply for an exam with the DCA. I believe they are being held regularly on Wednesdays. The day of the exams, you go to DCA in Putrajaya. You sit in the room with another 20 students (mostly cadets from MFA) and you do your 5 papers. The ATC practical I spoke about has to be arranged on another day.
The papers, a copy of the old UK CAA exams, aren’t really that hard if you studied well. The results become available quite fast and they get posted on the billboards and on the internet. You also get an official statement that you passed (if you have …).
Navigation, practice & practice
Once you learned to fly solo, you quickly move on outside the circuit and the training area to practice navigation. That’s where the real fun starts: you can actually use the flying machine to go places (obvious isn’t it?) ! At this stage it is handy to have studied and passed the navigation & meteo paper as you will use these skills plentiful.
In Malaysia, there are no real up-to-date VFR charts. No Jeppesen, no Bottlang, no government charts… So we use the old American miltary charts. I bought an AIP (can be easily bought of the DCA) and I adapted the old charts with up to date information about airspace in Malaysia so I could fly safely and not bust any restricted airspace. The AIP also contains up-to-date information and charts on airports in Malaysia. Simpang, however, lacks a chart. Here you find two examples:
In Malaysia, my first navigation flight was towards Melakka, followed by one to Ipoh & Pangkor. You learn about basic compass & clock navigation and you find out how remarkably precise this type of navigation is. This is certainly the case in Malaysia where there are hardly any winds to drift you off course due to imprecise forecast winds.
Once the instructor is satisfied to let you go alone on a navigation, you get signed off for solo navigation … and off you go. I redid both navigation sorties.
During this period, I also couldn’t resist going to fly in Australia. Of course, then I did it with a safety pilot / instructor.
Practical Test !
After about 45 hours you practiced your circuits, you practice any possible emergency in the training area, you stalled your airplane like a thousand times, you flew around with and without instructor in your country, you take some friends with the instructor right of you… then comes the time for you to do the practical test. Of course, you need to have done your written papers, your ATC practical exams and your medical (you actually need this for solo already).
If you are well prepared (and you are otherwise your instructor will not take the risk to sign you off), then the practical test is a non-event. Except that the examinator might actually teach you another trick or two if he feels comfortable with you. You have to show your proficiency with circuit work, handling emergencies, diverting during a navigation exercise, …
Once you land with a broad smile, you are a Private Pilot and you can go get your license at DCA in Putrajaya. This time it is a brown booklet … and you are very proud of it! It gives your the right to fly anywhere in the world with a Malaysian registered airplane (9M-xxx) with passengers in VMC (visual) weather. You cannot charge money for your flights, therefore you need a commercial license, but you can equally share the flying costs.
The whole license cost me about €6000, but don’t quote me on that. Considerably cheaper than Europe!
Practising short field operations
In Malaysia, there are a lot of scattered air strips: small grass or stone airfields with one runway, a shack and a torn apart windsock. They are typically used by palm oil plantage owners or by the police. Others are one-way island airstrips like Pangkor, Tioman or Redang.
It is really fun to go touring these airstrips, but you do need to practice your short field landing and take-off skills first. Also, you need to get a thorough briefing beforehand by somebody who intimately knows the airstrip. Jenderata is outright dangerous for the uninitiated! In the Royal Selangor Flying Club, you do need a positive checkout by an instructor before you can land solo.
As a preparation to my flight to Taman Negara, I flew with Lokman to the private Pantai Remis airstrip. This is how I learned to land short field:
- On final select 40° flaps and keep enough throttle to overcome the additional drag
- Descend on final on a shallow slope and aim to pass the palm trees (about 20m high) located at the threshold of the strip
- Once you pass the tops of the palm trees with about 2m clearance, cut back the throttle completely
- When loosing power, the airplane sinks rapidly. Once close to ground, the rate of descend is hampered by the ground effect.
- When in ground effect, the airplane touches down quickly and you have landed in the grass in a very short distance