What Goes Up Must Come Down

2 minute read

Five years ago, in August 2010, I rode my motorbike from the UK to Israel. Surely it was time for another freedom-related adventure. Having sold my bike in the meantime1, my thoughts turned towards fulfilment of a dream, writing an album and touring the world learning to fly.

Four years ago, in October 2011, I wrote my previous blog post. So it’s obviously time to write a blog post about learning to fly. Or not.

It all started in 1977, in the Salvation Army hospital when M pointed out to me that this year, the Jewish High Holidays fall in such a way that they are unusually disruptive to the working week. This meant a long holiday break in return for a handful of holiday days. One conversation with a supportive boss later, and I was ready.

I decided to learn in the USA, where it’s cheaper and bigger. I won’t bore you with all of the bureaucracy as a non-US citizen, but for some reason, it’s exhausting and expensive. “Highlights” included:

  • M-1 visa for vocational students: included answering questions about whether I was a terrorist and / or involved in human trafficking.
  • TSA Alien Flight Student Program: included getting my fingerprints taken and FedExed to the USA, by the “approved” TSA agency in Israel (a Yeminite family home in Rosh HaAyin with four generations having lunch, offering me kuba, kids running around screaming, etc).
  • Third-class FAA medical certificate: arms and legs present and correct, an attempt by the doctor to set me up with his divorced friend, complete with children2.

Then I had to decide which school to learn at, a tough decision given the serious financial committment and the lack of knowledge what it will be like before you get there. The decision was severely limited from the start, as not every USA flying school has a SEVIS program qualification, and one needs SEVIS form I-901 to even apply for a visa…

After much research, talking to the schools, posting on the forums, I decided on Tailwheels, Etc. based in Lakeland, FL. They pioneered the intensive “accelerated” learning method, which takes you from zero to hero in 2-3 weeks (on average).

Accelerated learning requires the candidate to arrive ready to pass the FAA Private Pilot Knowledge Test. I put my evenings, weekends, and even my MBA3 on hold. My evenings turned into intensive study sessions, which was challenging at best. Still, you don’t get a PPL without putting the effort in. The night before leaving, I was sure I was ready, I’d gone from a tech and music geek to an expert4 on such subjects as Aeronautical Decision-Making and Principles of Flight.

I had everything mentioned above, plus:

  • Tickets to fly to Tampa, my chosen base as a more interesting alternative to staying in Lakeland. At least it’s a proper city with nightlife.
  • Rental car.
  • AirBNB booked in Ybor City, the part of Tampa that falls somewhere between regenerated and downtrodden. Except, it was actually in V.M. Ybor, a neighbourhood north of Ybor City, but not walkable to Ybor City.

I arrived after a long journey, picked up the car, and drove to the AirBNB. Shit was getting real.

(Header image: Cessna 152.)

  1. Rule 1: Never sell guitars or motorbikes. 

  2.  ”She already has kids, you don’t need to worry about that” 

  3. Soon to be cancelled anyway. 

  4. For a beginner.