Flying in the USA
He is a guide to flying in the USA written by Bradley Timmins, a student who has just completed his modular ATPL with Skyborne Airline Academy. We really appreciate Bradley sharing his experience with us.
With California alone giving roughly 320 days of VFR weather a year, America is a great place to fly with almost perfect weather, cheaper aircraft rates and NO LANDING FEES! Throughout all of my flying in the US, the only place that I had to pay a Landing fee was Santa Barbara, everywhere else that I landed is completely free. Flying in the US is very different to the UK, for anyone looking to go onto their IFR will find the experience invaluable. ATC is very complex however they are always more than happy to help, pilots venturing over will find that despite being VFR most ATC communications are all IFR related.
Compared to the UK, the US offers an immense range of airport and states that you can visit. Throughout all of my trips to the US I have covered over 8,000 NM, 12 states and landed in some of the most complex airspace in the world. Building your hours in US is an amazing experience however you can also enjoy a holiday at the same time and see some fantastic sights along the way. Some of my personal highlights include flying over the Grand Canyon, Landing into Las Vegas and over Yosemite National Park Enroute to San Fransisco. These are only a handful of destinations that I’ve personally travelled to however they will always remain with me.
There is some essential information that you need to know before you go out and I have outlined these below relating to Admin, logistics and the flying itslef.
There are a few processes that pilots going out to the US need to be aware of, first of all you need to verify your license with the FAA. This is a fairly simple process however it does take some time so be sure to get this in as far ahead of your planned travel date as possible. You can follow this linkto the FAA website where it will provide a breakdown of the process. My application took approximately 4 months however once this is completed you also need to book a review with an FAA Office for when you arrive in the US. This is a fairly simple process and simply is a chance for them to review your hours, licenses etc. in person before they let you fly. Once you have been accepted, they will give you a temporary certificate for you to keep with you. A few months after this, you will receive a green card which is your permanent FAA license conversation which you can keep with you at all times.
It is essential that you sort out all the necessary paperwork BEFORE you travel including your ESTA. Gaining your ESTA is a painless process and roughly takes 2-3 days and is an online application.
Whilst flying in the US is cheaper than the UK, I found the whole trip to be in a similar bracket to what I would expect to pay in the UK when you factor in Flights and accommodation. For example, the DA40 I flew was priced at $120 per hour dry which equates to around £92 per hour.
It is important to ensure that you pick a suitable flight school or renter before you venture to the US. For me, I chose a school in Long Beach California called Angel City Flyers renting out the DA40. I chose this school as they had experience of helping overseas pilots transition to flying in the US. I found them to be great and their aircraft were always well maintained. Part of the process for overseas pilots transitioning is to complete a flight review after you have followed the process above and they helped with this before I eventually took the aircraft.
There are loads of flight schools within the US that you can look search for on the internet. You can choose what aircraft you want to fly and where you want to fly, given the size of the US I would urge pilots to consider getting an aircraft with either a G1000 or at least a GPS as once you’ve been on your first flight you will appreciate how was the US is.
Choosing your location is vital as the weather in the US can vary quickly. California often has better weather compared to Miami where is changes violently and dramatically, so make sure you think of this before you book. Accommodation can be worrying, especially if you are unsure of where you are going to be. Fear not as most airport have special rates with local hotels/motels and they will all gladly give you a lift.
This is the fun bit! The flying is some of the best you’ll experience with a huge variety of airport you can land in. American ATC and ground controllers love VFR pilots and are always happy to help. Once you’ve landed you’ll be greeted or directed by the ground staff just as if you were a private Jet. Preparation is key in the US as the airport often have multiple runways and as such the taxi diagrams are often complex so be sure to have read through everything before your flight.
Flying in California particularly is very different to the UK and one of the stand out points is the elevation. Mountain ranges are enormous and as such you need to be particularly careful on your pre-flight preparation including Density altitudes and runway lengths. Density altitudes are vital as temperatures in some part of California can reach 40 degrees C. A key example of this would be Lake Tahoe airport (KTVL)with an elevation of 6,500’ and whilst the runway length is 8,500’ during the summer and taking the density altitude into account this may not be enough for you to take off again.
The key difference in the US is something called “VFR Flight following”. This is the easiest form of flying in the US and is a huge advantage to both pilots and ATC. By requesting Flight following with ATC, you make them aware of where you are, where you want to go and at what altitude you wish to fly at. Whilst this is VFR, you will be given a clearance similar to that of an IFR flight. By following this process this allows ATC to simply follow you throughout your flight, advising you of traffic and also liaising with other ATC units. During your flight, ATC will transfer you from unit to unit as your details have already been passed on.
There is no need to book out or PPR with any airport in the US as through the VFR flight following process, they are aware that you are inbound. Your best friend out in the US is an app called Foreflight, for those who have used SkyDemon in the UK will note it is similar however there is much more information stored on Foreflight. Foreflight allows you to plan your route, calculate mass and balance and also have access to IFR plates for those wishing to do some IFR flying.
As most airports in the US are government controlled they are nearly always in pristine condition. With smooth runways and also every single airport offering ILS and RNAV approaches including the small airport in the country. I loved flying in the US and have attached some pictures to show you some of the incredible sights that you get to see, the most important thing with a trip like this is to enjoy it.
There are some key locations for anyone venturing to the US that is a must fly. Before I flew out to the US, I bought a book online and I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone as it outlines some great locations to fly to. I would thoroughly recommend:
Salt Lake City