"People sometimes ask why they should be a pilot," says Tailwheels Etc. Flight School Owner John Amundsen. "I've been flying for forty-six years now and always have to give pause when answering this question. Flying is freedom. Airplanes can become time machines. Weekend trips become easy. Business trips can expand one's business. But being able to be alone with yourself and your machine is truly the most awesome thing I can imagine."
The sublime feeling of soaring above the masses is one that man can only share with birds through piloting airplanes. Taking flight is a feeling unlike any other, and equates the ultimate substantiation of personal freedom. At Tailwheels in Lakeland, Florida, newcomers get to participate in this singular experience.
Originally, Tailwheels began training pilots to fly airplanes with a small wheel at the back of the plane. These were generally older planes from the classic era of aviation. Today, however, few pilots are skilled at flying these old taildraggers. Amundsen takes pride in imparting this storied wisdom onto his future pilots. "We love teaching tailwheel flying to new pilots," says Amundsen. "Learning to fly a tailwheel plane makes any pilot a better pilot because of the skills he or she learns."
At Tailwheels, pilots can complete their training in as quickly as two weeks. Nevertheless, there are no shortcuts to training: safety and painstaking maintenance are far too important. Any parts of these planes that aren't 100% are immediately replaced. Every 100 hours of flight time, each plane is brought into the shop for a thorough inspection. Moreover, an FAA approved syllabus is implemented for training to accomplish student goals. This training is arduous, detailed, safe, and efficient.
"There are several rigorous stage checks that each student must pass prior to moving to the next phase of flight. Typically a student will fly 45 to 50 hours before being ready for the FAA checkride," says Amundsen.
"Some will have less and some will have more. In order to qualify for our two-week training course a student must put in quite a bit of home study: usually about 65 to 85 hours with an approved online course," says Amundsen. "Or they can allow a third week and we can do the ground school here prior to beginning their flight training. During the training each student usually gets another 40 to 50 hours of one-on-one ground instruction with their instructor in addition to the prep for the written test."
Ground training is considered just as important as flight training at Tailwheels. In order to receive a private pilot certificate, one must go through ground training for the written test, followed by flying prep for the flight test. This is difficult work, and students are asked to put aside anything else they have going on in their lives to focus on training.
Despite this arduous process, hard work pays off once students take flight for the first time. Looking down on the world below is an incredibly liberating feeling.
"I always enjoy taking folks for their first ride in a plane," says Amundsen. "I love watching the smiles on their faces."