At Flights & Dreams we teach for the JAR(European)Private Pilots Licence in the Pitts S2C. The training is based on the recommended syllabus, but includes much more in the way of general handling and navigational skills. The reason this is possible is twofold. Firstly the Pitts is a far more capable aircraft than most used in flying training today. Secondly we spend much more time on ground instruction than is generally the case.
If you had learned to fly eighty years ago it is likely that you would have been taught in a de Havilland Moth. This was a tandem seat biplane capable of providing ab initio, aerobatic and instrument training. Your instructor would probably have been someone who survived the war in the RAF, and would have known a bit about flying. As a matter of course he would have taught you some basic aerobatics. This would be to ensure that you had the skills available to recover the aircraft from any attitude that you may one day find yourself in. Included in this would be spin recovery, as the spin is one flight condition where the recovery inputs are not intuitive. He would have considered himself negligent had he not instilled such skills in you. Times have changed. Over the years the number of regulations regarding flying training have multiplied, with an accompanying decline in standards. Today's flying school aircrafts are mainly aerial cars, and the teaching is based largely on flying straight and level by instructors who have experienced little else. The laws of physics however have not changed, and these aircraft can still be bumped into any attitude regardless of whether the rules allow it. You, however, will not be shown how to recover from such an event. Rather than be taught to control the aircraft in all attitudes, you will be frightened off approaching those where such skills are needed.
The Flight & Dreams PPL syllabus naturally covers everything in the current PPL syllabus, but as you might expect, includes a bit more on the control side. The minimum standard we expect on completion in this respect, is the capability to fly a beginners competition sequence, and to be able to recover from a variety of spins.
In addition as the PPL now allows you to fly anywhere in Europe, it seems sensible to teach you something about it. Although such skills can be self taught afterwards, this technique is not generally the cheapest or the safest way in the long run. To this end we recommend a block training regime.
In this method the instruction is split into a number of three day periods possibly covering the weekend. One of these days will be devoted to briefing and planning. The others to a combination of flying and debriefing over a variety of routes.
Typically one of these would be to Koblenz(Winningen), in Germany via Kortrijk in Belgium, stopping overnight in Winningen, a pretty town on the bank of the Moselle river.The Delphi, a superb Greek restaurant on the airfield provides the ideal place to debrief, and to plan for the next day with the aid of the laptop.A likely return route would be through Northern France, approximately eight hours of flying over two days.
During the first two blocks the emphasis will be on the early training exercises, leading you up to the first solo. Inherently of course, you will learn something of navigation and flight planning on the way. The routes chosen will be partly dependent on the weather and stage of your training, and partly on your own particular interest. Such periods of concentrated learning are generally of greater value than an intermittent series of,usually, one hour flights. Later on there will be greater emphasis on aerobatics and an introduction to instrument flying. Surprisingly perhaps the Pitts S2C is quite capable of being flown on instruments, albeit limited. It is however certified VFR only, so that part of the training is simulated. This is easily done as the rear cockpit can be covered in much the same way as it used to be done with the Moth. In order to provide some experience in real cloud,however, some time will be spent in a Bulldog. This will also equip you with the necessary differences training should you ever wish to fly a nosewheel aircraft.
Some will say that this type of program is too intensive or too ambitious, especially in a Pitts. It certainly is intensive, but that may have its appeal. You will certainly be unable to think about work for those three days . As for too ambitious, it has already been done and the standard set.
Clearly, the Flight & Dreams PPL course is not going to be the cheapest way to obtain a licence, more likely one of the most expensive. It will only suit those who are more interested in getting the maximum from their training period rather than doing the minimum. Moreover, we will only consider those who show sufficient aptitude on an introductory flight. Some may find it a little too demanding. Previous gliding experience will be an asset. At the current prices the three day block of about eight hours flying will cost in the region of £3000. The minimum number of hours required for the PPL is 45, so budget for £18-20 K.
If this level of expense sounds a bit severe then consider the alternatives. This is the way most of us have come to fly a Pitts. I am assuming that is still what you want to fly or you would not have read this far.
Firstly you find a flying school, local if possible, but often not, and learn to fly a Cessna or some similar, perhaps more modern aerial car. Lessons will generally be of an hour's duration and flown mainly in the vicinity of the airfield with a few navigation exercises within an hour or so's range. Eventually you will be able to fly a cross country qualifying exercise solo which will include landing at two other airfields and returning on the same day. These will be chosen so that the navigation and radio work are not too demanding for you. Afterwards comes the flight test with an examiner and, hopefully, a piece of paper licensing you to fly. So far you will have spent 6-10K and made 45 visits at least to the airfield, hopefully not too far from your home. If it rains where you live then add a few to this figure
Your instructor will have pointed out that tailwheel aircraft require differences training and that the Pitts is not the easiest aircraft to fly. Perhaps he has flown one, but probably not. He will recommend that you do a tailwheel conversion in something a bit easier, like the Piper Cub or Aviat Husky. So next you find a school that can do this. There are not so many. The Husky will feel a bit different. You will find your feet are much busier than they have been. However, after 5 hours you should be getting the hang of it. Allow longer to be comfortable with it. By now you will be wishing you had learned from the start in a tailwheel aircraft. Allow £1500 or so for this.
Your tailwheel instructor will have pointed out that the Pitts is more lively than the Husky and more difficult to land. Maybe he has flow one, maybe not. By now, you will be getting a bit nervous about it. You did want to fly a Pitts, didn't you? The next stage is the Pitts conversion and there are not many instructors offering that. Obviously you will want to learn to land it, but first you must learn to fly it. This will take a little while as the level of performance and control will be quite an eye-opener. You might as well learn some aerobatics as you are doing this, but first you must do some spin training, as you will not have been taught it yet. After perhaps 10 hours you should be able to fly some sort of aerobatic sequence and hopefully be able to land the aircraft. This bit may take longer! When judged competent at landing it your instructor should send you solo. Allow 3-4K for this part of your training and do not be surprised if it ends up more.
You still have not been across the English Channel. You will not fancy this much in the Pitts yet as you will have had no experience in navigating with just a compass. So back to the first flying school for the cross channel checkout to Le Touquet in the aerial car. That's the one you didn't want to fly much in the first place. Still, this exercise is fairly cheap, say £300-£500. However, you have not learned much. The continental airspace in Belgium and the restricted airspace in Northern France still looks as daunting as before and your instructor can not help you because he only goes to Le Touquet.
Total cost so far 10-17K (These things usually end up costing more). Also 60-70 visits to various airfields and associated days off work. Was this really such a good idea? You have landed a Pitts once on your own and would not have dreamed of flying it anywhere without a GPS. Now you are wishing you had done it properly in the first place.
Compare this with the Flight & Dreams PPL. Read Marco's account. He wanted to fly a Pitts, so he did his PPL training in a Pitts. After a dual navigation exercise to his home in East Germany he felt competent and confident to fly his cross country qualifier to Belgium. But so he should have been. He had the sense to fly a proper aeroplane from the start. Perhaps you should too?
There are some who will say that the Pitts is not really a suitable aircraft for ab initio training. They will say it is too twitchy, too unstable or just too difficult to land. It is likely that they will not have flown one, certainly not the S2C, which is really quite forgiving. It should be remembered that the Pitts is a certified aircraft and has been for thirty five years. One of the requirements for certification is that the aircraft must be capable of being flown by anyone holding the required licence. If people now say that the Pitts is beyond normal piloting skills, then that should tell you something about the way standards have changed over the last four decades.
Whatever you may think of this training program, we welcome your comments. Constructive criticism is essential to improving standards.