Getting Started

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Getting Started

Postby Setch » Mon Dec 19, 2016 10:53 am

Hi folks. I'm John.

I'm in my late 30's and recently started to consider learning to fly a personal aircraft.

It took me a long time to warm up to the idea. I'm naturally risk-averse; my dad died in the crash of a company commuter plane when I was 10. The engine failed and I assume they couldn't find a safe place to land. Paradoxically I soon found myself drawn to aviation, but not wanting to repeat earlier tragedy I decided to keep my feet on the ground and enjoy flight vicariously instead through sims, drones, FPV, etc. Given my history I'm naturally inclined to worry about equipment failure, but modern aircraft design is gradually earning my trust. Watching youtube videos of Super-STOL's land and launch from the sort of space one would ordinarily park a midsize sedan, I started to think, "in the hands of a competent pilot, that machine actually looks pretty safe". I know these light aircraft are sensitive to the elements, and nothing in flight is ever really foolproof... but there's still a big difference between big heavy complicated machines operating at the brink of mechanical tolerance, vs something light and simple and human-scale, landing at the speed of a fast bicycle. I am confident in my own level head and operating discipline. I feel like (with proper training) I will be able to fulfill the pilot side of the equation and put a machine down safely, as long as it has generous tolerances. And modern ultralights and sport aircraft do seem to offer those generous tolerances.

So maybe it's time to go flying.

At this point I'm still in the very early stages of this decision; taking stock of my objectives and trying to formulate a plan. I've contacted a local CFI, and expect to be taking a demo flight soon to make sure I know what I'm getting into. In the meantime, I'm thinking ahead about what sort of aircraft I'd like to own and fly.

From you the forum I could use general advice, a sanity check on all my reasoning, and help finding the right aircraft.
This helpful article from Sport Pilot Examiner ... ight_i.pdf makes several tongue-in-cheek references to plan for divorce -- which just goes to show how totally unprepared I am at this point: I am not even in a relationship yet!!

Here are my priorities:
My budget is between 10 and perhaps 40k.
My intentions are purely recreational.
I think I'd be happy with a something minimal, light and slow, exposed to the elements and flying on calm days.
I want an aircraft that is safe and docile and rugged, with a low stall speed and an ability to land safely on an unprepared space if necessary.
After adequate practice, I'd like to be able to carry a passenger (a way to involve friends from outside the sport).
In the short term I'll probably stay within a few miles of my home field, but in the longer-term future, I like to imagine touring cross country on an airborne road-trip, so endurance and range would be a nice bonus.
I'm a software developer, and not a natural mechanic. I've built RC aircraft from kits, learning to solder and do minor electrical stuff along the way... but the main lesson I learned is that I'm just not a builder by nature. I might consider a kit if it's simple enough, but I'd rather find something pre-owned and inspected by a professional. Especially if I'm going to trust my life to it.
I don't think I need much in the way of aerobatics; I've never been much of an adrenaline junkie, and anyway I have sims for that. But crisp handling is definitely valued.
I put a high value on cockpit visibility. I want to be able to see clearly in all directions. And that includes over the nose. I'd probably appreciate a small cowling, windscreen, and instrument panel, but the less invasive it is, the better.
Aesthetically, I prefer tandem arrangements (visibility; symmetry of weight distribution when flying solo).
I have a pet peeve about designs that put a strut directly in front of the pilot. It just bothers me.

Some of those priorities are naturally aligned. Others are in conflict.
Like, there are plenty of ultralights that would seem to fit most of my requirements... but if I want a passenger, and extended range, that requires moving up to the Primary Sport category. And that in turn means accepting a higher stall speed and (usually) less forgiving landing options.
My preferences for visibility suggest a tandem pusher design, but that rules out a lot of otherwise promising STOL's.

Taking all of those factors into account, I've been drawn towards the Quicksilver GT 500. It has a semi-open cockpit with an amazing view, 40 mph stall (I'd prefer lower, but I guess this will do), and what strikes me as probably adequate range. And there are some available for resale within my price range.

Recently I've also taken interest in the Rans S-18 Stinger II. I like the fact that it's a hundred pounds lighter than the Quicksilver; a fully fueled Stinger has enough available payload to carry an adult male passenger. With the GT 500, even if I lose a few pounds, I think I'd technically be restricted to carrying hobbits. I'm not really a fan of the Stinger's tail-dragger arrangement, but its tall landing gear does look like it would be more likely to protect my butt from stumps and rocks, if I had to set down in a field. Although, again, it's a tail dragger, which means I would have to worry about nosing over.
While both aircraft feel right to me, there is something particularly appealing about the cleanness of the Stinger's frame (though I might miss the Quicksilver's canvas enclosure in cold weather). And my very limited assessment based on watching youtube videos, it's clear that the Stinger has crisp handling... whereas I'm not as sure about the Quicksilver.

But there are fewer Stingers available, and they seem to be more expensive. I'm not sure I'm ready to build one as a kit... and anyway, the kits are expensive too.

Can anybody give me more insight into these options? Or suggest another aircraft to consider? I'm think I'm leaning pretty heavily towards a tandem pusher of one sort or another. Are there other noteworthy options in that category?

And on the broader subject of getting started... I'm trying to work out an arrangement with a CFI, get a demo flight and arrange for training, search for hangar space... I guess I'll need to arrange a physical...
Are there other things I need to plan ahead for? Or just general words of advice or warning that seem prudent for a potential new pilot like myself to consider?

Thanks in advance for your time and advice, everybody!
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