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You write: > For long cross-country trips with a friend and a dog, > one really needs a 4-seat airplane. I'd add: for anything else, a 1946 Piper Cub, Taylorcraft or Aeronca Champ would teach you more about flying, be more fun to fly, and make you feel much more a part of what's going on around you. Oh, and they're great for long cross-country trips too - if you're not in a hurry. I spent a wonderful summer flying from NJ to ND, down the Mississippi to SC, back to NJ and finally again to ND. I met many, many great people and learnt how to fly that '46 Taylorcraft in every condition imaginable short of IFR. Ahhh... That was life at 25 - when I'm 50 I'll do it again!
I agree with Phil's observations here. Trying to fly 2-3 times a week works out less expensive and faster in the long run - assuming time to read and study between flights. Especially when, say, 3 planned flights a week might actually end up being 1 or 2 depending on weather and other last minute problems (plane hasn't returned from the previous person, instructor called in sick, etc., etc.). This is especially true when you start doing cross country flights.
Other things I found useful were:
- flying early. This won't be for everyone, but I liked lessons at 6-6:30am. The plane was always available and usually fueled, the instructor wasn't running late from another lesson. There was no/little traffic in the pattern and on the field - providing more time flying and less time taxiing or extending downwind. And the air was usually calm and cool - great while you're still starting out. Of course I still flew at other times of the day, but I loved those early morning...