10 Questions People Ask When I Tell Them I Own an Airplane

Really? You own a plane?

Yes, in the same way that a lot of my peers own cars or houses, I have a loan, and I make payments, but yes, really.

15W on the ramp at Friday Harbor Airport in Washington.

15W on the ramp at Friday Harbor Airport in Washington.

How many people can you carry?

The airplane has 4 seats, but the maximum load is such that you can usually only carry 3 adults.

The theoretical range and the realistic range of 15W.

The theoretical range and the realistic range of 15W.

How far can your airplane fly?

My airplane can carry 50 gallons of gas and burns around 10 gallons per hour. This gives me 4 hours of flying at 130 MPH, or about 500 miles. Generally though, you don't want to spend 4 hours in an airplane. At around the 2 hour mark, your bladder and your legs need a break.



Do you have to call up someone before you fly?

No. In most cases I can just get up and go.

Petaluma Municipal Airport, my home base.

Petaluma Municipal Airport, my home base.

The airport I'm based out of, O69, is an uncontrolled airport, meaning that there is no control tower. The fact that there are airports without control towers is a foreign concept to a lot of people. They are used to the rigidly controlled commercial aviation system with its security lines and formalities. A typical mission for me includes choosing a destination, preparing a little the night before, heading to the airport, and going. If the weather is good, I don't need to file a flight plan, I just go.

On an instrument approach into Newport, OR.

On an instrument approach into Newport, OR.

Can you fly in clouds?

Yes, but it requires a filed flight plan and extra pilot training. I received this required extra training, known as an instrument rating, last year. A flight plan is required in this case so that air traffic controllers can keep airplanes flying through clouds separated from each other.


Can you land at SFO?

Yes, but I don't think they'd be very happy about it. Large aiports often charge large landing fees to discourage smaller operations from clogging up their airspace. But, if I really wanted to, they would allow me to land. 



How much did your airplane cost?


That's like a car!

Exactly. And aside from the operating costs, the maintenance costs aren't too different from that of an aging german car. (I also own one of those. It provides much less enjoyment per dollar.)

Is it cheaper than commercial?

Not even close.

Flying small airplanes, while sexy, fun, and fufilling, has a hard time competing with the airlines. The economies of scale you gain from shoving hundreds of people in an aluminum tube generally keep commercial flying much cheaper. That said, if you split the fuel costs with a couple of other paying adults, the costs can be comparable. I did a round trip from San Francisco to Vegas with a couple of buddies, and the split on fuel came out to around $150, although it did take almost 5 hours each way.

Are you allowed to fly anywhere?

My 2013 in flights.

My 2013 in flights.

Yes, more or less. 

A private pilot's license gives you access to almost all of the airspace in the United States (and many other countries) the moment the examiner signs you off. This doesn't mean its wise to go burning off across the country in your first hours as a private pilot, but you could. 

Whats the farthest you've flown?

I've flown my plane all the way up to the San Juan Islands and as far south as San Diego.