What I Learned While Learning to Fly – Four Tips for Aspiring Student Pilots

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Pilots are an eager group to get new prospective students into the flying community. As of December 31, 2018 there were 167,804 student pilots certificates registered with the FAA. How many of those students are still actively working to earn their license? How many have given up?

AOPA estimates that the dropout rate for student pilots is as high as 80%. There are a number of reasons why students stop their training or do not finish. Money, career challenges, time – this list goes on. Some of the reasons are self-inflicted and can be avoided. Here are four tips for new or prospective student pilots eager to begin their journey to earning their wings: 

  • Interview your flight instructor: I have flown with multiple instructors while working to earn my private, instrument, and commercial ratings. All of them had varying schedules and availability. Find out when they are available to fly and how frequently they are able to fly. Do they only provide instruction on weekends? Maybe they only fly from 8-5 Monday through Friday? Find out their accessibility and make sure that they have a schedule that works with yours. If you are only available weeknights, make sure your instructor is willing to commit to weeknight flying. This will ensure you can fly more frequently and avoid halting the learning process, saving you money and time. 
  • Fly often and fly frequently: Too many days between lessons will require more time recapping the last lesson and additional time at the beginning of the flight for you to become comfortable in the cockpit again. You want to be mentally prepared and ready to focus on that particular days’ lesson during your flight. Your goal should be to fly 2-3 times per week minimum. You will become more proficient between lessons, and likely earn your license quicker and for less money, than students who do not fly as frequently. 
  • Don’t be afraid to be cheap: I was lucky to have access to a great flight club with multiple aircraft available to rent. Each aircraft came with various rental rates. Pick the cheapest and most available to rent. You are learning the fundamentals of flying, not trying to impress anyone. You can learn to drive in a Geo Metro or in a Ferrari – spending extra money for a nicer or better equipped aircraft is not only a drain on your checking account, but will impact your budget for fuel, flight instruction, and other necessary expenses needed to get you to the finish line. Pass your check ride and then hire your instructor to begin working on checkouts in better equipped planes or even your complex and high performance endorsements if that is your goal. 
  • Find a friend: Find a friend, spouse, co-worker – anybody to share your adventure with. Maybe they will work on earning their license jointly with you? Learning to fly is one of the most rewarding experiences. Have someone to share your experiences with, hold you accountable, and keep you motivated to get your written test and check ride completed. Having fun and being able to share your experiences with someone makes the journey all that much better. 

Earning your private pilot certificate is an experience few get to seek out and only a portion ever complete. Proper planning and execution will help you to achieve your goal. Have fun and happy flying! 

Zach Stubbs, pictured with his wife Allison, is a Midwest based instrument rated private pilot. He has been flying for nine years and currently working to earn his commercial rating.