Now that you’ve identified your mission, I bet you’re eager to get into that cockpit. Hold on though. Have you thought it completely through? Have you planned out your path? Flying is expensive and training takes time, so before you get too far ahead of yourself, let’s develop a plan to help you save time, money, and maybe even your life.
At every good flight school, each flight follows a set pattern: (1) preflight, (2) flight, and (3) postflight. Whether you're completing your training under Part 61 or Part 141, you need to know the purpose of your flight before you get into the cockpit.
Your instructor is more than happy to just go fly, as most CFIs are simply looking to build time and letting you pay for it. But you now have a mission and your next step is to work with your CFI to fulfill this mission.
Work on developing a syllabus, even if it's an informal one. Whether you’re trying to complete your first solo flight, master crosswind landings, or work on improving your ground reference maneuvers, make sure you know the standards and include them in your syllabus, so that you know exactly what you need to achieve during each flight. The Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) and the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Airman Certification Standards (ACS) dictate your training objectives, so reference them frequently.
Key Takeaway: Be prepared. Use each flight to meet your mission objectives. Use preflight and postflight briefings to maximize your learning.
You pass your written exam and think you know everything because you learned all about Va and how it relates to gross weight. Except now you realize every airplane has its own Va and you haven't look at your Pilot Operating Handbook (POH) in a while to verify what it is. You're not sure if Va is 85mph or 85kts, or was that Vno? Remember, you're no longer a student asking these questions; you’re a pilot. Knowing these numbers can save your life and the lives of your passengers. It’s serious business.
Key Takeaway: Know your airplane. You're going to be spending a great deal of time with it.
You need to know up front that becoming a pilot is a mentally and physically exhausting journey. We've touched on the importance of planning. We’ve discussed how your CFI wants to fly with you, but always for a fee. Your flight school wants to hang on to you as a student because you’re their revenue source. You’re spending a lot of money on this, so expect to be treated accordingly.
I talked to a student once who told me his school wouldn't let him solo until he had more than 50 hours and when he finally threatened to quit, they relented. I didn’t fly with him, but he was a bright individual and I'm confident he met the solo requirements well before 50 hours.
You can read horror stories on the Internet all day long of people who wasted years of their life and tens of thousands of dollars on their flight training. So, I encourage you to become an informed customer. If you do your research ahead of time, you’ll be able to see through the lies. If you've met all the airman certification standards, then you've met the standards. Period.
If you need to practice stabilized landings and there is a 12 knot gusting crosswind component at your airport that you know will disrupt your training, I'd cancel the flight. Your flight school or CFI will still be more than happy to take you flying, but it's up to you to make the call on whether your investment is worth the time. All you can do is be informed, know the standards, know your mission, and don't be afraid to speak up. Remember, you're the one paying for this flight time.
Key Takeaway: Look out for yourself, nobody else will.
So, this is an obvious one, but you will likely not hear it from your CFI or flight school. Did I mention you pay their rent?
You learn on the ground and you apply your knowledge in the cockpit. You fly to apply the knowledge you gained on the ground and to build muscle memory. Most pilots find they don't learn in the cockpit. So, get your written exam out of the way first and then start flying.
I prepared for the written exam on my own. When I was ready to take the Private Pilot written exam, I didn't have a CFI endorsement. I emailed a random guy in my local area. He quickly validated my ID, ensured I spoke English, and I was ready to take the written exam.
Key Takeaway: Always pass your written exam before you begin flight training.
On September 12, 1962 at the Rice University football stadium, President John F. Kennedy gave arguably his most memorable speech.
"We choose to go to the Moon...We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." said the President.
You will be challenged physically, intellectually, and morally during your flight training days. Many, if not most pilots, think about quitting at some point in their flying careers. It won’t be fun at all times. You may have a difficult instructor, you may be running out of money, you may have to cancel due to weather, you may have a hard landing, you may have to fire your CFI, they may fire you, and the list goes on and on. You will have adversity; it’s simply part of the process.
In the end, always ask yourself, “How bad do I want it?”
Key Takeaway: Why does Rice play Texas? Because it is hard.