TEMPLE — Michael McQuiston is learning to fly through clouds.
“With a private pilot’s license, I cannot fly through clouds. I have to stay 500 feet below clouds, 1,000 above and 2,000 feet horizontally,” said McQuiston, 33, of Temple.
He received his private pilot’s license after five months of instruction at Central Texas Flight Training. Now, he’s learning all the instruments on the airplane’s dashboard to make sure he can rely on them while flying in blurred conditions.
“I’ve scheduled so many flights and had to wait around or just cancel because the clouds are low,” said McQuiston, after a lesson on Thursday. “The clouds aren’t dangerous, it’s just I can’t see through them.”
Instrument training makes sure students know the ins and outs of their equipment.
“Your mind starts telling you different things that’s not really going on, so you’ll think that you’re flying straight and level when you’re actually flying down,” McQuiston said. “There’s different things you have to listen to and watch.”
After receiving his license, McQuiston rented one of the flight school’s six planes and flew his wife and two kids to St. Paul, Minn.
“It’s actually a little bit cheaper if you fly an airplane out, and we’re talking about four people,” he said. “It’s a little more convenient because you do it at your own pace. You don’t have to put up with searching and stuff like that at the airport.”
Craig Caddell, owner of Central Texas Flight Training, has been an instructor for almost 20 years. He said he sees customers of all types, from business professionals looking to take clients out to New York for a lunch-meeting to service members wanting to hone their skills and teenagers who are interested in being pilots.
“Some people have the aspiration to learn to fly professionally as a career, some that want to do it for a hobby because they think it’s neat,” Caddell said.
The school averages about seven students a month. Although there has been a nationwide decline in people wanting to learn how to fly, Caddell said many Fort Hood pilots come for certification.
Caleb Estes, an instructor at the school, said classes typically consist of an introductory flight as well as teaching students about the different parts of the engine and aircraft.
For residents who are interested in taking up the hobby for the first time, Caddell said they need to have the desire, time and money to follow through with training to get a pilot’s license, which typically takes four or five months.
“It’s not the cheapest thing that you can learn to do,” he said. “You spend the equivalent to what do at a four-year college.”
Although McQuiston’s hobby is expensive, he hopes to make his money back later as an instructor.
“It’s such an accomplishment,” McQuiston said of his first time flying alone. “It’s amazing. It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had.”