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Through endless sources available it's possible to learn the rules of flying without undertaking formal training: I can take practice tests, study flying rules, laws, altitudes, speeds, controls, etc., however, I'd like to try out actually flying (preferably for free) before considering the option of paying for a full license.

Basically I'd like to take a trial flight - I don't care if someone has to sit with me, but I'm not keen on the idea of spending a lot of money before at least having one flight under my belt.

Teens often drive before getting licensed in private; any options for me to do the same with aircraft machines?

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Teens might drive before paying anything, but the drive is not free.... someone has to pay for the car, and the gas and maintenance, unless something definitely illegal is going on! If the $100 or so it costs to take a discovery flight is beyond your impulse budget (meaning it's enough that you would not be comfortable spending it), flying lessons simply are not for you until your financial situation changes. This is a rewarding hobby but not an inexpensive one, and if you're curious for the career aspect, understand it takes a long time to pay back your learning costs. – mah Mar 4 '14 at 0:36
Teens driving around before they get their license need to have access to a car -- Either one their family owns ("free"), or one provided by a driving school ($$$). A similar situation exists with aircraft: Either you know someone with a plane, or you get access to one through a flight school... – voretaq7 Mar 4 '14 at 4:31

5 Answers 5

Well, to put it bluntly, somebody has to pay for the airplane. Much like a car, somebody has to pay for the gas and maintenance. The major difference is that both cost a lot more on an airplane so it is a lot harder to get someone else to pay for it.

However, similar to a car, if you have a friend that owns an airplane they may take you up for a ride and even (legally) let you fly it, but they remain the person in charge and responsible for the safe outcome of the flight. If you want to try it for free this is probably one of the only ways to do it.

If you are willing to pay for a one-time flight which does not commit you to pay for your entire license, then you can go to almost any place that teaches people how to fly and they will be happy to let you fly with an instructor and charge you only for the time in the airplane and the time with the instructor. Often they have an "introductory" flight just for this purpose which is discounted for potential students. This is a relatively small cost in comparison to learning to fly that I highly recommend to anyone before they commit to getting their license.

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Training for Free

Very many if not all flight schools offer a scenic/tour/experience/introductory flight in a general aviation aircraft such as a Cessna for the specific purpose of knowing if you want to seriously pick up flying, but I doubt you can convince you to do it for free- possibly they might give it as a discount when you sign up for a full course.

Otherwise there are many facilities nowadays which offer to test a full-scale simulator. Here again, it will cost a bit but you'll probably be a good deal of fun.

The 'problem' is that aircraft are prohibitively expensive to ride on for free- you're often looking at 100$+ an hour with an instructor, who you can't go without. In europe, there's a good chance you're looking at 150€ or so for the same, but these are just estimates. It's an awfully lot more expensive than cars.

But if you're serious about spending several thousand dollars for a license, it won't hurt to get up a little before you commit yourself fully, and even paying the cost of a flight will be tiny if insignificant in regards to the future training cost.

Information Online

I certainly agree with you that there's a lot of information online, but it doesn't substitute learning to understand the aircraft, and there's no substitute to the real world. The FAA says you need at least 40 hours of flying, along with a list of other requirements to get your license.

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As has been pointed out, most flight schools aren't going to take you up "for free" -- at a bare minimum they need to recoup the cost of fuel (right now somewhere between US\$50-70 for an hour in the air) and pay the instructor that goes up with you (flight instructors have this odd desire to eat food occasionally).

This usually boils down to about US\$100 to \$150 for a "discovery flight" (and at that price the school is often taking a small loss with the hope that you'll come back and train with them). It will probably be your cheapest flight lesson.

All is not lost however! There is one reasonably viable option to get a free flight: Meet a pilot and ask if you can tag along on their next trip.

You don't say where you're located, but most general aviation airports have a pilot's association or flying club. Visit your local airport and find out when they meet, show up, and introduce yourself. If local pilots know you're interested in flying the good ones will usually go out out of their way to keep you interested, and if you're not sure about committing the time and money to obtain a license a trip with a local pilot where you actually go somewhere is a great introduction (arguably better than the typical "discovery flight" where you go up, do some maneuvers, and go back to the airport you started at).

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I remember I got a free hour from American Flyers when I told them I was thinking about switching to them in the middle of my instrument rating training. Not sure if they do that for intro flights as well.

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They do exist, almost every flight school has them but I have never heard of a free one. As is mentioned it will most likely run you in the range of $100 (that's how much mine was when I got started). They take you up for about 45 minutes of flying and let you maneuver the plane, generally basic stuff, show you what it's all about and then bring you back. I am a little confused about your line:

I don't care if someone has to sit with me

Planes are not like cars, they will not just let you take them out for a test flight willy nilly, especially if you don't have a PPL and most assuredly if you have never even flown before.

A CFI will be right next to you for the first large chunk of your actual training. The other option is to ask around and see if you can find a family friend with a plane. Some times driving to small air fields and asking around may get you somewhere. I have never done it but it really depends where you live. Usually pilots are looking for people to fly with and you may get lucky and get a free ride but you wont find one from a flight school.

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