So you want to be a pilot? That’s nice! How do become a pilot you ask? Good question!
There is no doubt that the positive aspects of flight and being a pilot outweigh the negative realities of learning to fly. The same can be said of anything worth doing in life.
We live in an age with fewer mentors that can offer their experience as a way to save us both time and money in pursuing our flying dreams. When I say mentors, I mean the kind that meet you at the airport and just chat about aviation (at no charge).
This outline is a way of sharing with you the realities of becoming a pilot and how best to mentally prepare to come to the airfield with the best attitude for success.
Below are “Ten Realities” that you will need to deal with in order to become a pilot. I have tried to explain each of these based on my own experience. Your experience many vary but not by much. The “Ten Realities” include:
5. Study – Knowledge Test
10. Check ride – Practical Test Standards
1 – Medical
All student pilots wishing to solo, which happens early in the flight training process, must have a valid Third Class Medical Certificate. A student pilot is responsible for:
• Choosing an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME)
• Scheduling and completing the Medical Exam
• Obtaining the Third Class Medical certificate from the examiner after a successful examination in their office.
You can find an AME by going to: http://www.faa.gov/pilots/amelocator/
There is no sense in you spending a dime on aviation if there is a chance that you are medically unfit for flight, so get this p[art out of the way before you do anything else.
2 – Money
If nobody has told you yet, flying costs money. How much? It depends. Depends on what? See the previous list of ten realities!
To gain momentum you need to fly often and it would be BEST if you have the money already or have an aviation ONLY credit card with at least a $2000 limit. This could be half or a third, or a forth of what you should expect to pay…eventually. This money or line of credit is the “I deserve this fund” or the “bucket list fund”. If your heart is in this than let’s justify this “investment” right now and not worry about how much it costs, otherwise finances will be a distraction. Remember…whatever you learn or the hours you fly, all of it counts and can’t be taken away from you…except by…perhaps…time.
3 – Family
If you are single…Perfect! You can skip this! However, if you are married or have kids or a combination of a few of these or several of these…it matters to your training.
You are most likely going to college or working full-time and the result is that you will try to fly after school, after work or on weekends with nice weather, or on holidays like Mother’s Day. This can generate conflicts and put you at odds with loved ones.
It’s important that you have a one-on-one discussion with your significant other on what is needed to achieve your dream of becoming a pilot. Your time in the air could be the time your partner pursues their dreams, so they have something to gain by you being pre-occupied. If your “fun” time is interpreted as selfish and thoughtless, you will have issues!
4 – Time
Time management is so important. You will need to study in a nice, quiet place away from distractions or during a time when the kids are in bed or outside playing. Anything less than this and it will be difficult to understand aviation concepts. What you read needs to have meaning so that you can understand other principles and concepts later on. If you can pick two days out of the week and allocate an hour or more to uninterrupted study, you are on the right path.
5 – Study – Training Publications
Hitting the books and software is what you will be doing a lot of. Shown below is what I would consider the publications that will provide you the most valuable information in the least amount of time. Consult your instructor to see if they recommend others.
General Aviation Studies (recommended)
• Airplane Flying Handbook – Flight Specific (FAA-H-8083-3A)
• Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (FAA-H-8083-25A)
Gleim (www.gleim.com) – The FAA Pilot Knowledge Test Book
Study Unit 1. Airplanes and Aerodynamics
Study Unit 2. Airplane Instruments, Engines, and Systems
Study Unit 3. Airports, Air Traffic Control, and Airspace
Study Unit 4. Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR / AIM)
Study Unit 5. Airplane Performance and Weight and Balance
Study Unit 6. Aeromedical Factors and Aeronautical Decision Making (ADM)
Study Unit 7. Aviation Weather
Study Unit 8. Aviation Weather Services
Study Unit 9. Navigation: Charts and Publications
Study Unit 10. Navigation Systems
Study Unit 11. Cross-Country Flight Planning
Gleim Test Prep Software (bought with the book or separately) tests you on the above material on your PC and can be used to obtain the Instructor Sign off required for allowing you to take the FAA Private Pilot Written Exam at a local testing center.
Remember that the Gleim material is developed to help you pass the FAA Written Exam in the least amount of time by rote memorization. There are many free FAA online publication or those that can be purchased to supplement what you’re learning.
Other Required Publications include:
• ASA (www.asa2fly.com) – FAR / AIM
• ASA (www.asa2fly.com) – Practical Test Standards: Private Pilot Airplane (Single-Engine Land)
NOTE: Other resources / publications are needed to overcome rote memory deficits and flight training is the practical application of your aviation knowledge.
6 – Instructor
We all remember the teacher in school who went the extra mile to help us believe in ourselves. When things were tough they provided support and understanding, while still encouraging us to “do the work” that we were responsible for as a student. Finding a flight instructor with these same qualities can help you get the most for your money.
The flight instructor YOU choose is the most important player in the game besides you, when it comes to earning your Private Pilot Certificate. Your life is literally in their hands until you are trained well enough to demonstrator that their life is now in your hands.
Trust and respect are key factors in the student / CFI (Certified Flight Instructor) relationship and both of these are earned over time by demonstrating to the other that we are worth of them.
To help students acquire knowledge, the instructor should:
• Ask students to recite or practice newly acquired knowledge.
• Ask questions that probe student understanding and prompt them to think about what they have learned in different ways.
• Present opportunities for students to apply what they know to solving problems or making decisions.
• Present students with problems and decisions that test the limits of their knowledge.
• Demonstrate the benefits of understanding and being able to apply knowledge.
• Introduce new topics as they support the objectives of the lesson, whenever possible.
To help the instructor during training, you should:
• Tell the instructor if you do not understand what you are being asked to do, before you do it. There are NO dumb questions!
• Ask the instructor for additional instruction in areas you perceive as a weak area for you such as regulations, airspace and so on.
• Make safety the number one priority.
• Develop and exercise good judgment in flight and on the ground.
• Recognize and manage risks effectively.
• Adhere to prudent operating practices and personal operating parameters (for example, minimums), as developed with your flight instructor.
• Adhere to applicable Federal, State and local laws and regulations.
Finding a Flight Instructor is not the easiest job. Without any aviation experience on which to base your decision, selecting a good flight school with a good instructor can be a formidable task and hurried decisions can have negative consequences. A suggestion would be to investigate area flight schools and clubs and speak with various instructors concerning their style of training and availability. Don’t be afraid to ask other student pilots about their experience with a particular instructor.
Flight schools come in two flavors, Part 61 and Part 141, which refer to the parts of the federal aviation regulations (FARs) under which they operate.
Learning under Part 61 rules can often give students the flexibility to rearrange flying lesson content and sequence to meet their needs, which can be of benefit to part-time students. Many Part 141 schools also train students under Part 61 rules.
Part 141 schools are periodically audited by the FAA and must have detailed, FAA-approved course outlines and meet student pilot performance rates. Part 61 schools don’t have the same paperwork and accountability requirements.
Flying clubs are alternatives to flight schools. A flying club could be a private non-profit organization, a for-profit organization, a government or semi-government run organization, or many other unique setups.
Typically, a flying club will have members consisting of the following:
• Aircraft owners
• Aircraft users/renters
• Pilots – student pilots, private pilots, and commercial pilots.
• Flight Instructors
Flying clubs generally operate under Part 61 rules and have aircraft and instructor rates that are usually less expensive than flight schools. However, they are also less structured and operate at the discretion of their members / instructors.
7 – Aircraft
Picking the plane you learn to fly in should to some degree be based upon your flying goals and your budget.
Basic trainers are solid little airplanes with just enough room for you and you instructor. These “two-place” or two-passenger aircraft make learning to fly as easy as possible while keeping your flying cost low. Most are very forgiving to fly and are more tolerant of a beginner’s mistakes. However, they can also be a bit sparse when it comes to equipment and, in some cases, comfort.
If you and your wallet are a bit bigger, then you may want to consider learning in a larger “four-place” or four-passenger aircraft. Your costs will be higher, but you won’t have to transition or “move up” from your trainer when you want to take your spouse and two children for their first ride. These aircraft also tend to be capable of flying farther and faster, and have more advanced avionics that will help if you later decide to earn your instrument rating.
When you visit a flight school or club ask for the rate information for both types of aircraft. When you have a particular aircraft in mind, ask to see the recent “squawks” for that aircraft. Squawks are problems noted by pilots and left for maintenance crews to fix before the next flight. You have a right at ask for this information and they shouldn’t have a problem sharing that information or going over it with you.
An airplane with a long list of frequent squawks may be an indication that the equipment might not be as dependable as you need it to be to complete your training. Every plane has squawks…that’s a given, but if you see frequent landing gear issues on a plane you have picked out, why risk it?
There is no preference in my mind between a “high” wing Cessna 172 or a “low” wing Piper Cherokee. SAFE and LEGAL should be the determining factors…besides…both planes are fun to fly!
8 – Weather
Generally student flights are local (with in 50 mile radius of the airport) and preformed in good weather over a designated training area. Student pilots are generally not flying from one weather pattern into another.
Student pilots are taught before a flight to call 1-800-WX-BRIEF (Flight Service Station) and request a weather briefing related to the time of their flight, departure airport and destination airport for their flight. This is the only way to meet FAA requirements for a pre-flight weather brief.
Weather happens and it will prevent you from flying. This will disrupt your timetable and there isn’t much you can do about it other than to request ground instruction instead of flight instruction that day from your flight instructor. It would be a good time to discuss weather services, air masses, charts, metars, or whatever else is keeping your grounded.
When you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Although weather could be a contributing factor in an accident, flying into fog, clouds, or a storm, will be your fault because you are the one that flew into it, therefore the accident report would probably read as follows:
The cause of the accident was the student pilot’s failure to maintain control of the airplane while attempting to conduct visual flight in reduced visibility conditions. Factors contributing to the fatal accident include the student pilot’s inadequate preflight planning.
9 – Politics
All politics is local (and as close as your local airport). General aviation exemplifies the tension between government’s desire to control and shape the aviation environment, and a pilots desire to function within that environment as freely as possible.
When this isn’t the problem there are always personalities to deal with. A good rule of thumb…as the “newbie”…is to keep an open mind and experience things yourself and then draw your own conclusions. Pilots by definition are RIGHT until they are proven wrong and they also tend NOT to like being told what to do.
Here are a few more pilot traits, but don’t laugh too much because you are trying to be part of this group and denial is so unbecoming.
• High need to achieve
• Prefers short-range goals to long-range goals
• Male pilots exhibit anxiety when feeling too close to women (just pilots?)
• Emotionally avoidant (a personal favorite)
• More concerned with modifying their environment than changing their own behavior (is this really easier?)
• Low tolerance toward personal imperfections
• Need excitement
• Need individual initiative
• Ignore and avoid inner feelings
• Inner feelings perceived as external (trying to figure this one out)
• Avoid introspection (looking within one’s own mind or feelings)
• Cautious about close relationships (how close?)
• Avoid revealing true feelings (I’m not discussing this one)
• Rarely become tearful (Really? Ever fail an FAA Exam?)
• Use humor to cope with anxiety or stress (Like I am right now)
• Have difficulty with ambiguous situations (What do you mean?)
• Don’t handle failures well
This list was excerpted from “Stress and Adaptation: The Interaction of the Pilot Personality and Disease”, R.J. Ursano, Aviation Space and Environmental Medicine, Nov. 1980. This paper examines group adaptation and stress-related mental illness in pilots.
Do you really want to fly with a pilot now? Of course you do and besides, someone has to be in the plane with you and the cable guy just won’t cut it according to the FAA. Besides…only pilots know how to find the best pancake breakfasts!
10 – Check ride
Finally after many hours of flight training and many more hours of study it’s time to take the ride you have been working hard to earn…the check ride!
A check ride is the final step in achieving your certificate or rating. Before you can exercise the privileges of a Private Pilot certificate, you must have taken, and passed a check ride. This practical exam is taken with an FAA Inspector or an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE).
The typical check ride lasts approximately 4-5 hours. After getting acquainted with the examiner, the ground portion (oral exam) begins. After you have passed the ground portion of the test, the examiner will watch how you perform the preflight, start-up, taxi, run-up and departure checklist.
You will almost always begin your flight portion with the cross-country. The examiner will be checking your ability to follow your preflight plan. From here you will be asked to perform all or a portion of the flight maneuvers outlined in the Practical Test Standards – which is why your instructor and you should make sure that your flight training reflects what’s required in the Practical Test Standards.
Once those maneuvers are successfully accomplished, you will fly back to the airport. (Your check ride is not finished here, so don’t let down your guard!) The examiner will be inspecting your takeoff and landing abilities. Expect some short and soft field takeoffs and landings, missed approaches, simulated emergencies, and/or a possible go-around.
The result will be one of three possibilities: a temporary pilot certificate will be issued, a notice of disapproval (a pink slip) will be issued, or a letter of discontinuance (due to weather, maintenance, or illness) will be issued.
A temporary pilot certificate means you WIN! You did it!
Be proud of your accomplishment – student pilot’s drop out of training at a rate that approaches 80 percent…but not you!
Best of luck….
Blue skies and calm winds!