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09/07 - How to Find a Flight School and a Flight Instructor
By Steve Krog
Steve Krog is a flight instructor and EAA member.
You’ve made the decision that you want to learn to fly, but now what? You’re unsure of what next to do. Locate a flight school? Find a flight instructor? Sport pilot rating? What airplane(s) do I want to fly? How much will it cost? How often am I able to fly? So many questions. Where can I go for answers?
These are all good questions, and all need to be answered to your satisfaction and understanding before making the commitment to begin flight lessons.
Before You Begin
Before you begin your search for a flight school, I would suggest visiting the following website - www.SportPilot.org. Once there, click on the pull-down menu titled “Training” on the left side of the page, and look for the “Find an Instructor” menu. Then select the state in which you are located and a list of flight instructors and their phone numbers will appear. Jot down the name and number of the instructors nearest you and give them a call. Let them know who you are and of your interest in learning to fly. Don’t be afraid to ask any question you might have regarding flight training. If the flight instructor is a true professional, he or she will provide you with the answers.
The website will also provide you with a great deal of solid information about learning to fly. Spend some time scanning the information available as it may begin answering many of the questions you might have. Then make your call to the flight instructor that you have selected. Along with answering your many questions, the flight instructor will make an appointment for you to visit the airport for a face-to-face meeting.
Finding a Flight School
Locating a flight school can be a challenge. If you live in or near a major metropolitan area, there may be several flight schools from which to choose. But if you live in a more rural setting, there may only be one flight school within a comfortable driving distance.
If you’ve never before visited a general aviation airport, it can be intimidating. Due to national security many airports are now surrounded by cyclone-type fences and closed gates, creating a “prison yard” first impression. Unfortunately, that is the price we pay for security today. The flight instructor with whom you have an appointment will provide you with the necessary directions for getting to the airport and finding the flight school. Fortunately, many flight schools and independent instructors are located on smaller grass-roots airports without the intimidating fences.
What Should You Expect on Your First Visit
You have visited the Sport Pilot website, selected and called a flight instructor in your area, made an appointment, and have found the airport. You’ve just entered a whole new environment. Now what?
Here are some things that you’ll want to look for and some questions that you’ll want answered:
- Were you greeted in a warm yet professional manner?
- Were you made to feel that you were the most important person there?
- How long has the flight school/instructor been in business?
- How many students are currently taking flight lessons?
- What airplane(s) will you be flying?
- Is flight instruction the sole purpose for the business or is it but a small part?
- How many flight instructors are working there and how long have they been there?
- What is the flight school’s reputation?
- Will the school provide you with names and phone numbers of other students?
The last question may well be the most important in forming your opinion about the flight school. Be sure and talk to several past and present students and get their opinions about the flight school and the instructor(s) with whom they flew. A satisfied customer can be the best source of candid information.
Evaluating the Flight Instructor
The flight instructor is the single most important element in your desire to fly. He or she will be teaching you all things required to achieve your sport pilot certificate and will assume the role of mentor during the time frame in which you are learning to fly. Do not take this first meeting lightly. This person can easily influence you and will help you achieve your goal to fly, or he or she can just as easily influence you in a negative way and cause you to give up on your goal!
The flight instructor, if he or she is a true professional, will greet you in a warm, friendly manner and should make you feel as if you are the only person in the room throughout your meeting. He or she will answer all of your questions in terminology that you understand. If the instructor was easily distracted or talked in aviation lingo beyond your comprehension, you may want to find another instructor with whom you will be more comfortable.
Additionally, a good instructor will want to ask questions of you as well to learn more about you, the person, as well as your expected flight goals. He or she may ask you what type of flying you expect to do after obtaining your sport pilot certificate. Is your goal to learn to fly for fun and pleasure, or do you have a desire to pursue other pilot ratings in the future?
Flight instructors come in all ages. Don’t be alarmed if the flight instructor is younger than your youngest child. There are two important issues you’ll want to evaluate regardless of age. Does the flight instructor conduct himself or herself in a professional manner? Was the instructor able to easily relate to you and answer your questions to your satisfaction?
The Discovery Flight
Upon answering all of your questions to your satisfaction and understanding, a good flight instructor will offer to take you on a short discovery flight. This flight will give you not only an opportunity to experience flight in a small airplane (maybe for the first time), but also an opportunity to make your final evaluation of the flight instructor and the flight school he or she represents.
A good flight instructor with you at his or her side will first conduct a preflight inspection of the aircraft in which you will make your discovery flight. Observe the preflight closely as you will learn all about the aircraft and its various parts. Then ask yourself this question: Did the instructor conduct the preflight in a thorough, professional manner so that you better understood the aircraft?
In aviation we always practice safety first! A detailed preflight inspection will assure you that the aircraft is both safe and airworthy.
Once you are comfortably seated in the aircraft with seat belt and shoulder harness fastened, the flight instructor will briefly explain and demonstrate the starting, taxi, and pre-takeoff procedures. Then it’s time for that first flight!
Listen closely and observe the flight instructor during the discovery flight. Did he or she explain the control movements and give you an opportunity to feel and fly the airplane? Did the instructor explain all of the first-time sensations you are experiencing? Were you comfortable and made to feel at ease during the flight? A professional instructor will see that all of these questions are addressed to your satisfaction during the flight.
Making Your Flight School Selection
Upon successful completion of your visit to the flight school, your meeting with the flight instructor, and the discovery flight, you should experience a near state of euphoria and a strong desire to schedule and experience your first flight lesson. Anything less, you may want to continue your search for a flight school with a more comfortable “fit” for you and your flight goals.
I have been providing flight instruction, either part time or full time, for more than 30 years and have had the pleasure of conducting dozens of discovery flights. This I know: Flying is meant to be both safe and fun. Learning to fly should not only be a positive challenge for you but also safe and fun!
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