Max Rockatansky, the hero of the Mad Max movie series, accomplished the seemingly impossible, including single-handedly thwarting a diabolical biker gang, safeguarded a developing community from marauders, bested Master-Blaster, rescued a group of feral children, and liberated Immortan Joe’s harem. However, as fate would have it, the tables were turned on him by a near-sighted weakling and his young child. Recall the moment when Max was knocked off his rig and left to wander the wasteland until he stumbled upon Bartertown? The reason why Jedidiah and his son were able to best Max? They were able to fly.
Having a post-apocalyptic aviation capability is not going to be easy and frankly not tenable by the majority of preppers; however, I would also encourage those interested to not give up too quickly. It may be more straightforward that one would initially think. If one is capable of creating an aviation prep, it will give them an asymmetric advantage over the vast majority of wasteland warriors.
Operating an aerial vehicle requires training and experience – like any other machine. The biggest difference in learning to operate an aircraft and learning to operate a skid steer is that the cost of making a mistake is much higher. That being said, the similarities of learning to operate an aircraft and learning to operate a skid steer, at least conceptually, are many. Both require manipulation of a machine using all four appendages, both require fine motor skills to achieve a harmonious balance of engine output and mechanical capability and both require the operator to think into the future to ensure the control inputs they are using now will produce the effect they want to achieve later.
My point being, if you can learn to operate a skid steer (or a fork-lift, or a bulldozer) then you can probably learn how to fly.
COUNT THE COST
Flying magazine states the average cost of getting one’s single-engine fixed-wing private pilot license is somewhere between $10,000 and $20,000. Most of that expense will be spent on renting aircraft. It costs about $100/hour to rent an airplane. Most individuals will require 60-75 hours of training, according to Flying magazine’s research. Therefore, just renting the aircraft alone will cost somewhere between $6,000 and $7,500. One must also account for the instructor pilot, which typically costs an additional $50-$60 per hour. Approximately 80% of the training program must be completed in ‘dual’ instruction, which is to say a student pilot accompanied by an instructor pilot.
Note that it takes most individuals 60-to-75 hours of training. The minimum required by the FAA is 40 hours. Anecdotally, based on my experience of observing several people I know go through this process, I can confidently state a lot of the disparity in FAA requirements and what individuals actually flew in training can be linked to breaks in training. Individuals who prioritize flight training are able to successfully complete the requirements much closer to 40 hours. Individuals that fly a bit here, and then fly a bit there are more likely to need more time because they will have to spend time re-learning things rather than continuously advance through the training. This thought process is supported by Edward Thorndike’s law of exercise – which, simply put, states the more one does a task, the better one can do that task.
So, my point is that if you are considering learning to fly, be realistic about how much time you are willing to spend on this endeavor. Unless you can spend 2-3 days a week at the airport, expect you will need to spend more money in the long run. I have witnessed people get their pilot certificate in a month and I have seen it take as long as five years.
GAINING SKILLS AT NO COST
There are ways to gain flight experience with little to no monetary investment. What they don’t cost in monetary investment, they do cost in time investment. Of course, I am talking about joining the military to gain these skills. I know there are a lot of people who read SurvivalBlog who would strongly advise against joining the military these days. While I agree with many of the points I have read, I would also say it seems most of these points are made by people who have served. They have already reaped the training benefits, GI Bill benefits, VA loan benefits, and so forth. The US military is not only a great place to gain aviation skills, it is a great place to learn the skills that will make one much more prepared for a Stuff Hits The Fan (SHTF) scenario. There are risks, being used in a proxy war against Russia being one that comes to mind. Additionally, I also recognize the contemporary military is often the social laboratory for kooky political agendas. As a current member of the active duty military, I think that one can join the military and not succumb to the political agenda being forced on its members as long as one stays grounded in The Word and that’s all I’ll say about that. In short, it is not for everybody!
Most military aviation opportunities come with a long-term commitment. Both the Air Force and Army require members to serve 10 years after they complete their aviation training. Based on the fact that it generally takes two years to complete the training, then expect a 12-year stint in uniform — both active duty and then a reserve duty commitment. The USMC and Navy requirements are not much different. When the US military recruits a prospective pilot, they are expecting that person to make a career of the military. Additionally, the prerequisites for military flight training programs are relatively stringent, medically, physically, and academically.
If one were looking to spend 4-6 years in the military, get their skills then get on with their life, then I would suggest Unmanned Aerial Systems (aka drones) or Enlisted Aircrew jobs. All four services have opportunities encompassing these areas. The most important advice I would give an individual interested in these opportunities is to ensure they have a guaranteed slot in their desired job and/or school before signing on the recruiter’s dotted line. It is important to mention that these jobs will not train one to be a pilot; however, they will train peripheral skills that will accelerate learning to fly later. Plus, the benefits gained during this timeframe will enable one to complete a civil pilot training program at reduced cost. There are even some military installations that have flying clubs that will train military members how to fly during off-duty time.
As I mentioned previously, while flying is similar to operating any other machine, the cost of making a mistake is much higher. I have read a multitude of articles on this site that harp on how important it is to continuously hone one’s shooting skills, medical skills, fieldcraft skills, etc. Based on my experience as a military aviator, I can assure you that flying skills are some of the most perishable, particularly at the earlier stages in one’s flying experience.
That is why when planning out an aviation prep, one should consider the long game. For private pilots, the FAA requires one to fly three take-offs and landings every 90 days. I would use this as a starting point for currency. Therefore, assuming the cost of renting an aircraft is $100/hour, as mentioned previously, one can assume a minimal cost of ~$400/annually to remain current.
Allow me to illustrate this point by making a comparison to another machine operating currency issue. Imagine you just got a load of gravel delivered to re-surface a driveway. “Nah, I don’t need you to spread it. I’ve got my old skid-steer in the barn, I’ll use that to spread the gravel” says you to the quarry clerk. You walk out to the barn, check the fluids in the skid steer, take the trickle charger off the battery, and fire it up. Keeping in mind you haven’t used it in over 8 months, you scan around the cockpit to refresh yourself of where all the knobs and switches are. Once the engine has had a moment to warm up, you drive the skid steer over to the gravel pile. You push the scoop into the pile of gravel and as you begin to twist the scoop, the engine dies because you didn’t have the throttle opened enough. “Crud!” you say under your breath. You knew better than that, but your lack of currency resulted in you forgetting to open the throttle before operating the scoop. Now think in terms of aviation. If one were to forget to apply carburetor heat before decreasing the throttle on an approach to landing, the result could be a frozen carburetor, ultimately resulting in engine shutdown, which could lead to a forced landing short of the runway (which could be lethal).
Furthermore, I would consider currency to be the bare minimum of aviation capability. Many insurance companies have more stringent currency requirements. If one is renting an aircraft, the company renting you the aircraft may also have increased currency requirements in order to mitigate risk and thus lower their insurance burden. Additionally, if one aspires to achieve a more exquisite aviation skill, like instrument or night flying, then the costs in time and treasure will go up. This begs the question, if everything is so darned expensive, then how does this investment pay off for a family or community in a TEOTWAWKI situation?
(To be concluded tomorrow, in Pat 2.)