Sadly, many of the people who begin flight lessons are never able to see them through to earning a certificate. Much as the NCAA basketball tournament that begins with 68 teams gets whittled down to the final four, pilot candidates fall to the wayside for a plethora of reasons. But this article will discuss the four most common pitfalls and suggest strategies so you become a pilot rather than falling victim to these obstacles.
Obstacle 1 – Money
Unfortunately, flying is not an activity for the thin of wallet. I began taking lessons when I was in college and would fly until I ran out of money, earn money, fly until broke again, earn more money, fly some more – lather, rinse, repeat. During each layoff, whether for a few weeks or a few months, I lost skills requiring more time and more money being spent than if I would have been able to complete my training in a single session.
The most affordable solution to this obstacle is to formulate a plan so your flight training will not be interrupted by a lack of funds. Start with a realistic notion of what the training will cost. Some flight schools will quote the minimum 40 hours of flight and 20 instructional hours as to what you should expect to earn a Private Pilot Certificate. I am not saying this never happens, but I will commit that few students achieve their rating with the minimum hours of training.
Figure a more common number of 60 flight hours with 2/3 of that being time with an instructor for your Private certificate. A Sport or Recreational certificate, however, can be earned in 40 hours or less. Either of these ratings will allow you to take a friend along on your aeronautical adventures! Throw in another $2,000 for incidentals such as study material, charts, headsets, plotters, flashlights and barf bags. Now we have a realistic number somewhere just north of $10,000. By starting a savings plan on the order of $500 per month, this time next year your “flying” account will be worth $6000. If it takes six months to complete the training, an additional $3000 will be added to – pocket some “flying around” money and there you have it. This savings system offers the advantages of a pilot’s license with no additional debt because of it.
Obstacle 2 – Time
It takes time to become an accomplished pilot. Sure there are those whose work schedule and innate ability allows them to realize their pilot license goal in a couple of weeks, but for most of us, for a variety of reasons, the process usually takes from six months to a year or more. Most pilot candidates are smart, successful and driven. They can go to the boat dealer today and be captain of their ship tomorrow. The American Motorcycle Association conducts courses allowing a beginner to earn his motorcycle license in one weekend. Open water SCUBA certificates can be earned at a resort in less than a week.
Being a pilot is going to require more time and effort than any of the aforementioned pastimes. In addition to the physical skills of launching an airplane into the sky and returning it safely to the earth, the prospective pilot must learn to navigate, develop an understanding of the voluminous Federal Air Regulations (14CFR), be conversant in the physics of flight, let alone familiarity with the engine, fuel, electrical, and environmental systems for any airplane they intend to fly. Substandard performance is not acceptable and will likely lead to tragedy for the hapless pilot, his or her family, and perhaps unintended victims on the ground.
Great results can be achieved by devoting time for twice weekly lessons. Starting in the spring as the days are lengthening provides the extra daylight after most of us finish work which is essential for the initial training. The shorter periods of daylight as fall approaches makes it easier to get in the required night flying experience as you prepare for your check ride. Some days due to weather, maintenance or scheduling problems, you may not be able to fly. Use this time to study in preparation for the written and practical tests. The point here is to stay on schedule. It can be easy to allow one missed lesson to turn into two – then another. Soon three or four weeks have gone by and you haven’t flown. Now you may be out of the habit and find it might be easier to give up on your dream rather than completing it.
Obstacle 3 – The Reluctant Family
Confession time here. I learned to fly before I got married and my wife, Rose Ann, is all on board with general aviation. My mother, however, was a worrier (I think that is what mothers do) and I knew it would upset her to think I was learning to fly – so I didn’t tell her until after I earned my license. I would NOT recommend this approach with a spouse, but would suggest getting your family on board before your training begins. Talk about the benefits of general aviation. The vacations, the day and weekend trips only possible when cruising over the countryside at 120 mph rather than being stuck on a highway dodging distracted motorists and orange barrels at half that speed.
One of the best and often overlooked methods to ease your spouse’s mind is to offer them a “Pinch Hitter” course. This will usually consist of ground sessions and enough dual instruction for them to be able take control of the airplane, operate the radios, and land it in case of an emergency. They will learn how aircraft fly and why the aircraft won’t necessarily fall out of the sky with every little thing that could possibly go wrong.
Now when they are at a party, reception, or barbeque and someone exclaims, “Oh my goodness, you’re not letting YOUR NAME HERE fly in those little airplanes are you?” Your significant other will be prepared to explain why they are happy you are flying, how they learned to land the plane in an emergency, how they can help on every flight, and why they are happy you are learning to fly. In addition to easing their mind the Pinch Hitter training has the added benefit of providing you with a knowledgeable “co-pilot” when you fly together.
Obstacle 4 – Fear of the Unknown
Do I have the right stuff to fly an airplane? I hear you have to pass a medical exam, am I up to that? Ground school, I haven’t been to school in years! Written and practical tests, I hear they are tough and no one passes on the first try! I live in a metropolitan area with several flight schools how do I choose the right one? /conversely/ I live in a rural area with no advertised flight instruction how can I find someone to teach me?
These are all valid concerns. A great solution to these concerns (and others that may come up) is to seek out a mentor. You may already know someone who flies. If not, visit your local airport, hang out for a while on the weekend. Pilots as a group are eager to share their knowledge and experience. Ask around. You can probably get a ride in exchange for an offer to share in the gas bill or buy lunch. The pilot may even agree to let you take over the controls for a while so you can see how easy and comfortable it is to fly a modern airplane.
Talk to them about the medical requirements. For the rural airport lacking a flight school, your mentor may be able to point the way to a Certified Flight Instructor and a local flying club with training aircraft looking for an additional members. Where choice exists, your mentor can help you find the best flight school to accomplish you goal. Together with the instructor your mentor can coach you through the knowledge test and explain what is involved with the medical examination. AOPA.org is an excellent source of information about certain disqualifying medical conditions but remember for a Sport, Glider and Balloon Pilot certificate, no additional medical requirements than those requested for a state driver’s license are needed.
Start saving or set aside savings for your flight instruction. Plan when you will have time over a several week period to complete your training. Get all the stake holders on board. Find a mentor. Soon – much sooner than you think – you can add the title “Pilot” to your resume. So the time to get started is now.
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