Experiencing a High Altitude Chamber

On Friday Patrick and I went to the Great Lakes Aviation Conference and saw some great exhibitors and presentations. The most memorable experience there was definitely the high altitude chamber.

After signing your life away on some waiver forms you get to step directly into 28,000 ft. In aviation it’s encouraged to use supplemental oxygen at 10,000 ft and there are legal requirements on oxygen use above 12,500 ft. Most jets are flying at 18,000ft plus and your typical airliner is flying a little over 30,000 ft. We were stepping directly into some very thin air. You could start to feel the symptoms of the lack of oxygen within 30 – 60 seconds. After about 90 seconds I was struggling to do some multiple digit multiplication problems and multiple digit subtraction.

I was asked to count down from 100 by 3. It took me awhile to understand what was even being requested of me and then I failed miserably at it.

I was however able to make it through the maze on the worksheet and get a couple crossword answers.

Throughout the experiment we were asked to write down our oxygen level and heart rate. When we were in the low 60’s we were suppose to put on our mask, he says it multiple times and even after saying and writing down 64 I didn’t put my mask on. The guy towards the end is trying to coax me into putting my mask on without specifically telling me to, just to see if I’ll catch on. I don’t. I still think I’m fine and continue without the mask. Eventually he tells everyone to put their masks on and on my first attempt I put the mask on my chin, the guy had to tell me to move it up my face.

It was definitely worthwhile. I fly a naturally aspirated single so I’m not going to be getting to altitudes where this is a real concern. But, who knows, in the future I might be flying a turbo or something that can get higher and this will have been a valuable experience.


How much does it cost to learn to fly?

Ryan Doom Passes CheckrideThe most common route to go if you are not looking at a career in aviation is to follow part 61 of the FAA guidelines.  If you are following part 61 all you need is a certified flight instructor to spend the necessary time with you in the air and approve you for your written and practical test.  The instructor has some flexibility on how they deliver the training and does not have to follow a strict agenda or routine.  There are more formal flight schools who will deliver training under part 141 which will follow a rigid agenda and may be less flexible for your schedule.

You can check out the details in this Flying Magazine article.

I did my flight instruction at a part 61 school and the overall process looked something like this:

  • If you are flying for recreation / business purposes you must have at least a 3rd class medical.  You can get a 2nd or 1st class but the medical examination is more rigorous.  If you do want to eventually fly for the airlines or in some commercial capacity it is best to get your 1st class. I have a 3rd class medical. You can find a medical examiner using the FAA website.  A medical examination is around $100.  You don’t want to fail this, it’s a real pain if you do. If you have any health concerns do a little more research beforehand and see what you might need to have prepared to help this process go smoothly.
  • I did not do an organized ground school. I purchased a box of books that were recommended by the flight school and read through them all and asked my instructor questions here and there as necessary.  This also came with some helpful study guides and materials you’ll need to help you prepare for your written test. Books: $225.
  • Once you are comfortable with the written materials and consistently scoring well on practice exams your instructor can sign your logbook approving you to take your written exam. Written Exam: $130.
  • You have to do a minimum of 40 hours in the airplane before your instructor can consider approving you for your practical exam usually referred to as your checkride.  The amount of time it will take you to get ready is unknown, I think the national average is around 70.  However, if you fly 2 to 3 times a week you should be able to build your skills and knowledge up enough to finish in under 50 hours.  I had 46.2 hours when I took my checkride.
    • Instruction:$2,557
    • Plane Rental: $4,436.50
  • The practical exam consists  of a sit down portion where a designated FAA examiner asks you questions and reviews your knowledge on critical flight topics.  After you have completed the oral exam you then do your flight checkride. This consists of a handful of maneuvers, different landings and takeoffs and gives the examiner time to ensure you are not a risk to yourself or others. Checkride: $400
  • There will also be a handful of miscellaneous items you are going to want to get.  I purchased a physical copy of the operating handbook for the plane I was flying regularly. POH $25  If you don’t have a tablet you will probably want to purchase one and buy a subscription to ForeFlight $75/yr or Garmin Pilot.  These applications make navigation and flight planning significantly easier; I always have it with me.  I would also recommend buying your own headset, I didn’t purchase one until I was licensed but in hindsight I should have purchased one immediately. It’s nice to have your own.

The total costs involved for me to learn to fly and take my tests during the 6 month period between July 2013 and December 2013 was $7,948.50.  Pricing for instruction and plane rental will vary from place to place.  Overall I think Great Lakes Air Ventures is extremely competitive and they work really hard to get you finished in under 50 hours.  If you are planning to learn to fly in Michigan I would budget $10,000 to be safe.  It was certainly an investment but earning my pilots license was more gratifying than any of my technical certifications and even my college diploma.  It’s an amazing feeling when you pass your checkride and you have a license to fly the skies. A client of mine is an attorney and she earned her pilot’s license about 5 years ago. She said that she was more proud of earning her wings than passing the bar exam.  These things are certainly not equivalent in effort, but it just goes to show you how emotional some people are about their achievement.

If you have the time and the money to invest in the education I would strongly recommend it.

It will change you forever.

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