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Flight training and how to get started, Part 1

So you've been sitting on the ground looking up for too long. You've made the decision to join that prestigious club, Pilots, the highest form of life. You've made the first step in a very rewarding endeavor. But you probably have no idea what to do from here on out.

I'm going to try to make sense of it all for you and give you your very first check list, something you will come to have lots of experience with (checklists that is).

1st step, lets make sure you are comfortable in a small aircraft. It isn't for everyone. I recommend everyone take what is known as a "Discovery flight". These are short flights (usually less than an hour) with your local flight school. You'll do a little bit of training with a instructor and probably get the chance to take the controls for a bit. This gives you a bit of a taste for what you are in for. If your stomach survives the flight move on to step two.

Next up find a flight school. Don't rush into this though. You want to make a good decision here. You are going to be spending a significant amount of money and want to make sure you get the best bang for your buck. Go and interview a couple of schools for comparison. Take a discovery flight with a couple of them. Get to know the management and the aircraft.

A dirty little secret about the flight training industry is that most flight schools are not run by successful business people. Do not expect the Nordstrom's level of customer service. You're going to be dealing with a business that is likely going to be operating on very small margins (meaning they don't make a lot of money) and it is entirely likely that you will not complete your 1st pilot certificate, the private pilot, with the company you started out with.

Interview the management, the instructors, and even some of the customers. Get a feel for the way the school operates. How long have they been in business. How do other business on the airport get along with them. How much flight experience do they have. How is the staff treated.

Go look at their aircraft. Good looking aircraft is an indicator of how successful an operation is. What you really want to be looking for is how often the aircraft go down for maintenance. How many aircraft do the schools have. What is the aircraft to student ratio. What do they do for maintenance.
Do not expect pristine aircraft. That isn't normal, in most cases the aircraft you will be flying will probably be older that you are. A lot of fixed wing schools use aircraft built in the 60s and 70s. I've flown in so many aircraft that look like they have been dragged through the mud by a 2 year old but were very stable easy to fly airplanes. These aircraft are meant to fly, not sit on the ramp and look good.

More in part 2

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