Nestled in the heart of Florida, Citrus County boasts natural beauty, serene landscapes, and the famous Crystal River, one of the best destinations for manatee encounters in Florida.
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To experience the region’s beauty in a unique way, we joined an aerial discovery flight with Right Rudder Aviation, a local flight school out of Inverness, Florida.
Read on to get a first-hand account of our experience on a 2-seater glider plane and learn more about how you too, can add this experience to your list of things to do in Crystal River.
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Flight Training in the US
Before we dive into our flight experience, let us step back and share a bit about the flight industry and the journey of becoming a pilot in the US. After all, discovery flights, like the ones we experienced during our time in Crystal River, are typically offered to aspiring pilots, to introduce them to the world of aviation and inspire them to pursue their flight training.
As we learned during our time with Right Rudder Aviation, becoming a licensed pilot in the United States is no small feat.
Historically, the primary responsibility for training pilots in the United States lay with the Armed Forces. However, due to recent technological advancements and the rise of drone usage, there has been a significant decline in military aviation training, leaving aspiring pilots with the burden of privately funded flight training.
In addition to completing Ground School, which covers a wide range of topics related to aviation theory and knowledge, aspiring pilots need to obtain a pilot license and clock many hours in the air.
For a Commercial Pilot License, students must log at least 250 total flight hours, including 100 hours as pilot-in-command and 50 hours of cross-country flight time. To qualify for an Airline Transport Pilot License, you need at least 1,500 total flight hours.
It costs some $120,000 to clock those first 250 hours of flight time and much more to reach the golden standard of 1,500. To help finance the training, one can become a certified flight instructor and earn money while gaining flight time and experience or choose to invest in their own airplane to reduce the cost of additional flight hours.
But the most common route for other pilots is to pursue flight training programs like the one offered by Right Rudder Aviation.
About Right Rudder Aviation
Right Rudder Aviation is a flight school based in Inverness, Florida, specializing in operating environmentally friendly and cost-effective small aircrafts like the Pipistrel Alpha Trainer.
These glider planes consume just 2.3 gallons of fuel per hour, compared to about 10 gallons per hour for a more traditional small airplane, like the Cessna 172. These fuel savings significantly reduce training costs. But that’s not it. In addition to being cheaper to operate, the gliders are equipped with full airframes and ballistic parachutes, offering additional safety in flight.
Right Rudder Aviation offers a number of flight training programs, including Primary Flight Instruction with a Private Pilot License, Sport Pilot License, Instrument Rating, and even a Commercial Pilot License, as well as Secondary Flight Instruction, with a wide variety of additional endorsements and ratings.
For an aspiring pilot, their programs seem fantastic, but for an everyday visitor to the region like us, it was their Discovery Flights offering that caught our attention.
What is a Discovery Flight
A Discovery Flight, also known as an introductory flight, is a unique offering from Right Rudder Aviation that gives anyone an opportunity to experience flying a small airplane.
Led by a certified flight instructor, the hour-long flight includes a pre-flight briefing, an introduction to basic controls and safety protocols and an opportunity to take the reigns and control the aircraft at a safe altitude.
For many aspiring pilots, a discovery flight is a taste of the open skies that gives them an understanding of just what it feels like to soar among the clouds. This first flight is an essential first step on the road to a pilot’s license.
Scenic Discovery Flight at Right Rudder Aviation
For us, the Discovery Flight with Right Rudder Aviation was not at all about learning to fly (although we can definitely see how it would spark the desire to pursue one’s pilot’s license).
In our case, this was an opportunity to see what it’s like to fly in a small plane and admire the region from a bird’s eye view. And boy, did the experience deliver!
Before hopping in the cockpit, we sat down with Andrew and Tommy, certified flight instructors and our pilots for this amazing adventure, for a pre-flight briefing.
Andrew took us through the basics of the experience, sharing details about the specs and safety features of the Pipistrel Alpha glider planes and some essential info for take-off and landing.
We learned more about Right Rudder Aviation and their licensed pilot training and went over the route for our flight. It was then time to board.
Takeoff and the Skies Ahead
Boarding the planes was an adventure in its own right. No customs, and no security, just walk up to the plane and hop right in. A unique experience akin only to boarding a flight on an airstrip in the middle of the Serengeti in Tanzania.
Because Pipistrel Alpha Gliders are 2-seater planes, Max and I were split up for our discovery flights, enjoying our own private experience led by our pilots, Andrew and Tommy. It was our first time flying on a tiny plane without each other!
I slipped into a padded seat, fastening my seatbelt snugly and donning radio headphones to connect to the world beyond the cockpit. The radio crackled to life with a medley of voices and a hum of aviation chatter.
My nerves were running high as the pilots double-checked the equipment and conducted their pre-flight checks inside the cockpit. The interactive map on the screen offered insight into our flight path.
We agreed that Tommy and Max would take off first, and Andrew and I would follow, creating a formation with 2 airplanes in the air. It was time…
Soaring Over Citrus County
It didn’t take long before all the preparations were complete, and we were on the runway, picking up speed. With a steady hand on the controls, Andrew adjusted the flaps and guided the glider down the runway. In a blink of an eye, the aircraft’s nose gently lifted, and the glider’s wheels left the ground.
The first few minutes of our discovery flight were a thrill. The sensation of weightlessness settled in, and the once-familiar landscape offered a new perspective from above.
Soon, the other glider appeared on our left, giving Max and I the opportunity to snap some photos of each other. The 2 planes danced through the sky in perfect harmony, their wings aligned with meticulous precision. The synchronized motion was an incredible display of skill and coordination. It was beautiful but mildly terrifying.
The gliders followed this formation for another 10-15 minutes, before the pilots agreed to split up and proceed along their designated flight schedule and route.
“Only 0.5% of pilots can fly in this type of formation”, noted Andrew as we split off from the other glider. “Luckily for you, both Tommy and I belong to this elite group”
I was happy to hear the stat now, upon completing the formation. I breathed a sigh of relief and settled into my seat for the more relaxing portion of the flight.
Now that I was no longer worried about crashing into the other glider, I could relax and finally take in the surroundings.
As we navigated away from Inverness and towards Crystal River, the scenery became more and more spectacular. From above, Crystal River’s natural beauty was even more impressive.
The landscape was green and lush, filled with waterways, forests, and open fields. We flew over Three Sisters Springs, searching for signs of manatees on the water’s surface, past King’s Bay, Salt River, and Dixie Bay spotting fishing boats and scalloping charters along the way.
On the way back, Andrew descended us to a lower altitude to get a closer look at the islands and keys in the bay. The bird’s eye view was mesmerizing!
Before I knew it, we were back in Inverness, flying over the Citrus Wildlife Management Area en route back to Inverness Airport.
“Are you ready for the best part of the flight?”, Andrew asked me as we approached the airport. I nodded without hesitation. “I’ll be turning off the engine now, and we will land with the engine off so that you can see the beauty of this glider plane in action”
A detailed explanation followed. Planes don’t simply fall out of the sky without engine power; they simply glider through the air. By controlling the aircraft’s attitude and airspeed, the pilots harnessed the forces of air thermals, lift and gravity to maintain forward motion and altitude.
It was a fascinating demonstration. The engine’s roar subsided, replaced by a gentle hum as we glided through the air. The plane descended slowly, landing softly on the runway.
A successful discovery flight, an incredible experience teetering on the edge of thrill and freedom.
Essential Travel Info
If you’re looking to embark on this aerial glider discovery flight, here are some essential travel tips to make the most of your experience
Discovery Flight (aka Introductory flight) with Right Rudder Aviation starts at $150 per person and last 1 hour. Flights depart from Inverness Airport, located about 30 minutes from Crystal River or 1 hour from Orlando, Florida.
- Book in Advance: Right Rudder Aviation offers a limited number of Discovery Flights per week. So it’s a good idea to book your discovery flight in advance. Contact Right Rudder Aviation via their website or email at [email protected]. If you are already in Crystal River and are looking for a cool last-minute experience, give Right Rudder Aviation a call at +1 (407) 734-1442 to see if they accommodate you on a discovery flight last-minute.
- Check the Weather: Keep an eye on the weather forecast for the day of your flight. Clear skies and calm winds create optimal conditions for an enjoyable experience. Know that if the weather is sub-optimal, your flight may be delayed or rescheduled.
- Wear Comfortable Attire: Dress in comfortable clothing and closed-toe shoes. Layering is recommended, as temperatures can vary during the flight.
- Stay Hydrated: Drink lots of water before your flight, as you will not be able to have any drinks mid-flight. If you are hungry, have a light snack to prevent discomfort during the flight.
- Pre-Flight Briefing: Pay close attention during the pre-flight briefing provided by your pilot. They’ll explain safety procedures, communication, and what to expect during the flight.
- Seatbelts and Headphones: Follow the instructions on wearing your seatbelt properly and using the provided radio headphones. Ladies, for additional comfort, I recommend taking off your earrings.
- Be Camera Ready: Bring a camera or smartphone to capture stunning aerial views. Be sure you secure any loose items before takeoff.
- Motion Sickness: If you’re prone to motion sickness, consider taking preventive measures before the flight. We flew on a windy day which made for a slightly bumpy ride that could cause some discomfort for those with motion sickness sensitivities.
- Ask Questions: Don’t hesitate to ask your pilot questions about the flight, gliding techniques, or the area you’ll be flying over.
- Relax and Enjoy: Once in the air, take a moment to relax and enjoy the unique perspective. Soak in the breathtaking scenery and the sensation of gliding through the skies.
Disclaimer: Big thanks to Right Rudder Aviation for this incredible discovery flight experience. Our visit to Crystal River was organized as a part of a partnership with Visit Florida, but as always, all opinions expressed in this article are our own.