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Learning to fly at Culver

Mary Kaye Welch

Summer Aviation


July 8, 2021

Editor's Note: The following article is by Mary Kaye Welch, the director of the Culver Summer Schools & Camps Aviation School.

Are you at least 17 years old?  Do you read, speak, and write fluent English?  Earning a Private Pilot License (PPL) is challenging but may not be as out-of-reach as you think. And the Aviation School at Culver Summer Schools & Camps can help.

The Aviation School currently has 50 students, ages 14-18, working on developing the skills needed to earn their PPL. Many have aspirations of a career in the aviation field. Several of those who are at least 16 (minimum age required by Federal Aviation Administration) will be soloing for the first time in the next few days.

The FAA requires a minimum of 40 flight hours to be eligible to test for a PPL, but most students feel more comfortable with a few more hours under their belt before they take that final check-ride. (The national average is nearly double.)

And those 40 flight hours have some additional requirements. At least 10 hours must be solo hours, including a cross-country solo flight of at least 150 miles. Plus, a minimum of three hours at night, and three hours “under the hood” where the student cannot see outside of the plane and must fly using the instruments only (with an instructor, of course!).


Students reviewing the aircraft checklist with a flight instructor. (photos by Lauren Chupp '18)


But putting in these specific flight hours isn’t a matter of just checking the boxes. The whole point is to learn and practice the skills required to pass the practical check-ride at the end of training. Sort of like the ride-along instructor at the DMV before you earn a driver’s license — only a bit more intense!  The FAA Check Airman will not only be assessing your skills, like maneuvers, landing, radio calls, and instrument usage, you will also be assessed on your aeronautic knowledge, including emergency procedures, and risk management skills.  Oh, and did I mention an FAA written exam that must be passed with a 70% score or better?

Culver contracts with AlphaFlight, a local FAA-certified flight school based at the Plymouth Municipal Airport, for the students’ flight instruction. All Upper School Aviation students take six-weeks of ground school classes on Culver’s campus. Five groups of students per day are bused to Plymouth for their scheduled time in the planes. In 2019, Culver Aviation School students flew 621 flights during the six-week summer camp, and 2021 is on track for even more.

Over 100 Woodcraft students are enrolled in a two-week Basic Aviation class this summer. They are able to take an optional flight as well, typically over the Culver campus.

So when you look up and see single-engine planes flying over Culver this summer, know they are Culver Aviation students taking one more step toward achieving their goals, and let them inspire you to reach for the sky if you want to be a pilot, too!

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