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Learning to Fly in the United States

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Getting a Student Visa for Flight Training

In spite of worldwide demand for qualified commercial pilots, flight training in many regions is prohibitively expensive, a regulatory nightmare, or both. While it may seem strange to travel to a completely different country to train, learning to fly in the United States can be a huge benefit to student pilots from many regions. There's only one major catch - getting a student visa for flight training.

Which visa is right for me?

Let's jump ahead in the process slightly and discuss visa specifics. The United States issues two kinds of student visas - F1 and M1. With such descriptive titles, I'm sure you know exactly which one you need right? Honestly, in spite of their unhelpful titles, the basic difference between them is when they expire.

An M-1 visa, which is good for up to 12 months, is best for a student pilot seeking a limited number of certificates or ratings. For example, a typical commercial pilot course (including private pilot training and an instrument rating) might take 8 months to complete. In this case, when you enter the U.S., officials will stamp your visa with an expiration date of 8 months plus a 30 day grace period to complete your training and return home.

An F-1 visa, which is not given an expiration date, is best for student pilots in university programs or certain longer professional pilot courses that might include flight instructor certificates or time-building. Such programs may take years to complete or allow a very limited amount of work-study opportunities for students without requiring a work visa.

Where do I start?

Now that you understand the difference in the two types of visas, you're probably curious where to begin. As an international student, you must choose a flight school which offers training approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) under Federal Aviation Regulation Part 141 and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to issue I-20 forms. It is highly recommended to seek out a school that caters to international students, because those schools will know how to navigate all the regulatory hurdles and keep you flying.

Photo: Nic McPhee from Morris, MN, USA (Bush pilot) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

What do I need?

Once you've located a school, most of the hard work is done. You will need to contact the school, such as Phoenix East Aviation, and provide them with all the necessary documents and fees in order to get a signed I-20 form that you will take to the nearest United States Embassy or Consulate with your completed visa application on your scheduled interview date.

I'm sure all of this sounds complex, but the most important thing to remember is you need to find an approved school here in the U.S. that offers the training you want. Since they regularly work with student pilots from all over the world they can help you navigate through the process and get started learning to fly in the U.S. today.

To find a school in the USA start here: AviationSchoolsOnline.com. You can also search Globalair.com’s aviation training directory. For more information on visas, please go to https://visaguide.world/us-visa/

About the author - Kyle Garrett is the founder of Aviation Schools Online, has over 20 years of experience in the marketing and vocational school industry, and is an experienced instrument-rated private pilot.

A Conversation with the Next Generation of Pilots

The Kentucky Institute for Aerospace Education (KIAE) is a one-of-a-kind endeavor, currently networking 20 high schools in the state to provide students direct experiences in aeronautical engineering, flight, aircraft maintenance, and space systems. When I asked Tim Smith, Director of Frankfort High School’s Aviation program and CIO for KIAE, why this was important, he said, "Programs like these will lead to more students enrolling in post-secondary opportunities in flight/aeronautics, aircraft maintenance, aeronautical engineering, space systems engineering, aerospace computer engineering, air traffic control, and aviation management/operations. Another important element of expansion is that potential grant opportunities and other sponsorships examine viability and scale of the initiative. So, it is important to show its implementation in a variety of environments. In short, the more students that are studying aerospace, the more that will enter the workforce."

Three of their students got to experience a different end of the spectrum when they rode along with a gathering of Yakolevs at Bowman Field in Louisville, KY (just outside GlobalAir.com’s office). See more on the gathering itself here. I spent a few minutes with Michael Dahl, Jason Smith and Seth Padgett just before they climbed into their respective cockpits for a bit of formation flying.

Michael Dahl climbing into a Yak to experience formation flying.

GlobalAir: What inspired each your interests in aviation?

Michael Dahl: My uncle took me flying in an open-air cockpit bi-plane right here at Bowman Field when I was 11 years old, and that summer I flew on a commercial airliner on our vacation to California - all that exposure to flying in a short amount of time got my attention. When I found there was an aviation-related program at Frankfort High School, I made sure to get involved!

Jason Smith: My mother often took me to the airport as a baby to let the sounds of aircraft calm me, so I’ve been interested a long time! I knew after seeing "Top Gun" that I wanted to be a fighter pilot – I even dressed like Maverick for Halloween once.

GA: You’re too tall to play Tom Cruise!

JS: (laughs) Well, this was a while ago. Then I got involved with the aviation program at school. I was also motivated by learning about the various mission aviation programs that exist when I was at Oshkosh, so I’ve also become interested in contributing there.

Seth Padgett: I was born in Germany, so I’ve been on aircraft since I was a child flying back and forth to visit family. I became more seriously involved through an aviation camp where we did flight planning, and from there Tim Smith turned me on to the KIAE program in Frankfort.

Jason Smith receiving a safety briefing on riding along in the Yak.

GA: What have been the biggest obstacles for each of you in pursuing your pilot’s licenses?

MD: I was always concerned about "what if there’s a problem during flight"? I had to tell myself to get past it and stop being afraid to try.

JS: For me, it’s the number of hoops you have to jump thru, plus the financial burden. But, even though it’s a cliché, you truly can do anything you set your mind to do.

SP: It’s so much easier to get a driver’s license – take a test, drive an instructor around, and you’re done. Earning your pilot’s license is such a time investment; it’s easy to get discouraged. You have to remind yourself that you will get there, just be patient and stay focused!

GA: We, in the aviation industry, already know that bringing youth to aviation is vital to growing the industry. So what would you want to share with kids your age that may be interested, but intimidated, by flying?

SP: Statistically speaking, flying is very safe. When you see how many check-ups and tests you have to do to become a pilot and take care of your aircraft, you’ll see there’s nothing to be intimidated by.

MD: If you’ve never flown before, or are scared of flying, find an airport and see if anyone is willing to take you up and experience it for yourself. Learn more about airplanes & how they work - that’s how I got hooked!

JS: I agree – get up and fly! Talking about it isn’t enough!

Seth Padgett scoping the taxi path as they maneuver for takeoff.

GA: Lastly, what do you plan to do with your licenses – personal enjoyment, or career aspirations?

MD: Right now, mostly personal enjoyment. It’s still a little early for me to look beyond to career options.

JS: I mentioned earlier about being a fighter pilot and doing missionary work – which requires mechanical knowledge as well, so I’m putting focus there too.

SP: I’d like to fly for the Air Force initially. Afterward, I’ll likely transition to flying for services like UPS, FedEx, Delta – many options! But also personal enjoyment for sure!

Shortly after our conversations, all six pilots met and discussed formations, with the three boys listening intently. The students then met with the pilots of their Yaks and got personal instructions for their safety and knowledge about occupying the second seat. I marveled at the focus they all had on the task at hand as I snapped a few pictures – my presence wasn’t even registering anymore. They were now sponges, soaking in everything about the aircraft they were climbing aboard!

A few gallons of avgas were added, the Yaks (and their accompanying Cessna 172R and Christen Eagle II) taxied out and took to the air. I managed to catch a couple of passes over Bowman Field before I had to leave for another appointment, so I didn’t get to stick around to get their impressions afterward. But I think it was safe to assume that it was nothing but joy and excitement all around!

Watch the Yaks, 172 and Christen Eagle taxi out for takeoff!

What is 100SF?

There has been talk for years of "alternative fuels" and the impact that lead in all forms has upon the environment – ask any resident of Los Angeles at rush hour to see if gas emissions are a problem. One company that has been steadily making strides in this particular field is Swift Fuels, LLC, based out of West Lafayette, Indiana.

We met with Jon Ziulkowski, Vice-President of Commercial Operations, at Oshkosh this year. He was showing off a Cessna 150M that Swift Fuels has been flying for over two years on their patented unleaded 102+ motor octane (MON) Swift Fuel (100SF), a hydrocarbon blended fuel, specifically designed to replace 100LL Avgas. While the 150M has been reclassified Experimental, pilots won’t be expected to make this change themselves – the 150M was re-certificated for proof-of-concept purposes. Once their FAA certification is complete, Swift Fuels will be able to be used interchangeably.

"The primary benefit to Swift Fuels is that it is 100% unleaded, eliminating lead emissions in the atmosphere," explained Ziulkowski. "Another benefit is that there is no change in operation or performance, and it does not require you to put in a new fuel tank, or different corrosion proof materials throughout your engine. The 102 MON closely mimics 100LL – any aircraft flying today on low lead can easily make the transition to Swift Fuel." Other benefits include 7-15% improved range (MPG) over 100LL, lower deposits, less engine wear and tear, and potentially longer TBOs. And since the fuel components can be derived from a variety of biological sources – including sugars, starches, lignin, bio-waste and more – it has the potential to be a renewable fuel as well.

Swift Fuels began as a special collaboration between chemical engineering and aviation expertise at their offices adjacent to Purdue University. Beginning in 2005, several hundred samples were blended in small quantities and tested in the laboratory and through computer modeling software to find an unleaded replacement fuel for 100LL. From 2007 to early 2008, testing began to expand outside of Swift’s laboratories, and tests were conducted on small engines at the Delphi Municipal Airport (1I9). On April 16, 2008, SwiftFuel Sample 702, now called 100SF, was proven to meet all of the critical performance parameters set forth for aviation gasoline by ASTM D910.

To ensure the worldwide acceptance and use of SwiftFuel, Swift has taken the very important step of establishing a subsidiary in Europe, an ongoing process since late 2010. In January 2011, Swift Fuel GmbH was established as a registered company in Germany.

100SF fuel is to be balloted for "Production Specification" by the ASTM Fuel Task Force in the next 90 days. After that, engine and aircraft companies will be collaborating on the timing of the announcements for using 100SF fuel. Once the fuel is certified by both engine and aircraft companies, it can be purchased and used in the aviation marketplace. Swift Fuels believes pockets of availability of their fuel will appear in early 2014, and, as demand increases, they expect a much larger population of pilots will utilize their fuel in 2015 and beyond.

To learn more about Swift Fuels and 100SF, visit their website at https://swiftfuels.com/.

Preliminary details of UPS crash in Birmingham

David W. Thornton

Yesterday United Parcel Service Flight 1354 crashed while on approach to runway 18 in Birmingham, Al. The crash occurred at approximately 4:45 a.m. Central Time (9:45 Zulu). Both crewmembers died in the crash. The flight originated at the UPS hub in Louisville, KY.

The hourly weather report taken shortly after the crash at 4:53 a.m. (0953Z) indicated few clouds at 1,100 feet with a broken ceiling layer at 3,500 feet. There was an overcast layer at 7,500 feet. Rain was not reported. The wind was reported from 340 degrees at four knots. This would have meant a slight tailwind for a landing on runway 18, but would have likely been within acceptable limits.

GlobalAir.com’s airport directory reports that runway 18 is 7,099 feet long. There are two instrument approaches to runway 18, a GPS approach and a localizer approach. Both approaches would have taken the airplane to a minimum altitude of 600 feet above the ground, which would have been sufficient to clear the lowest cloud layer.

For more information, check out David Thornton’s complete article.

Youth Aviation Adventure – Igniting Interest in Aviation Careers

I took some time at Oshkosh this year with Steve Wathen, Co-founder and Chairman of Youth Aviation Adventure, to learn about their program. "YAA is a fast-paced, ½-day program for youth ages 12-18 to foster interest in aviation. More than 300 pilots and aviation enthusiasts’ nationwide, using curriculum developed with and endorsed by the Ohio State University Department of Education, train in aviation fields such as aircraft instrumentation, aerodynamics, pre-flight routine, airport operations and careers in aviation and more."

According to the FAA, the number of student pilot certificates issued in 2009 was approximately 72,000, a 23% decline from 2000, and the forecast shows continued decline. In the next 20 years, the demand for aviation professionals will exceed supply, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). This shortage will include commercial pilots, aviation engineers and aircraft maintenance personnel.

YAA, through their Partner Programs (currently 27 nationwide, in 17 states total) offers a unique experience. The 20-minute station sessions include time for Q&A with the pilots and aviation professionals. A typical program hosts 25 to several hundred youth at each event, presented by at least seven volunteers. While the majority of participants are Boy and Girl Scouts (fulfills requirements for the Aviation Merit Badge), the program is open to any young person interested in learning more about aviation.

The Youth Aviation Adventure’s primary goals are growth and awareness. They are currently seeking installing their Large Group Program (LGP) in 50 cities nationwide by 2017, reaching an average of 30,000 kids per year. YAA has also is developing a new Small Group Program (SGP) for a dozen or fewer youth at any given time. This project timeline calls for modifying the curriculum and beta testing the program in 250 locations starting in January of 2014, with full national rollout by the end of the year.

During the first ten years of its existence, YAA operated solely in Columbus, OH. By 2007, they has expended to Cincinnati, OH. In its time, more than 8,000 youth have been exposed to aviation by the YAA, and nearly 2,000 adults accompanying youth at their events have gone through the YAA program. Financial support comes from individuals, businesses, organizations and foundations, including the AOPA, the Aviation Electronics Association, Boeing, Jeppesen, the Professional Pilots Association, the Sporty’s Foundation and the Wolf Aviation Fund.

At this year’s EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh (YAA’s 5th year in attendance), the YAA spoke with over 20 potential Partner Programs, so interest is continuing to grow. Partner Programs are asked for a minimum of an annual program (some do it as often as twice a year). To reach their goals, additional Partner Programs are essential, so the search for more volunteers is constant.

In addition to awareness, the Youth Aviation Adventure is also a finalist in the Lightspeed Aviation Foundation’s Pilots Choice Awards, in which the top five non-profit vote-getters in each of two divisions will receive grants to assist in program growth.

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